Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One: The figures seem to jump out of the pages

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Jacob Brummeler:

Jacob Brummeler is a sophomore at Oxford College of Emory University and is pursuing a double major in Playwriting and Media Studies. He lives on Long Island, New York and enjoys telling stories in any medium. Jacob aspires to be playwright and a cinematographer in the future.

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One (Issues 20-27) by Alan Moore (writer) & Stephen Bissette (artist) & John Totleben (artist)

SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING VOL 1Before I begin my review of Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One, I want to outline the creation of this piece. If you are not familiar with comic book history, then you have stumbled upon one of the seminal works of the form. Swamp Thing’s history is essential to understanding the magnitude of Alan Moore’s rendition of the title.

In April of 1971, the DC horror title The House of Secrets debuted Issue #92, which featured a story about a murdered scientist whose body, left to rot in a swamp, came back to life to seek revenge on the man who had killed him. The comic outsold Superman, Batman, and every other DC title that month. One year later, Swamp Thing #1 appeared to critical acclaim under the helm of Len Wein, author of The House of Secrets #92. After twelve issues and a rotating crew of artists, the series ended. Ten years later, the director Wes Craven announced his plans to make a Swamp Thing movie and Len immediately started to assemble a team of writers and artists to craft a complementary comic series. The new Saga of the Swamp Thing lasted for nineteen issues before the head writer, Martin Pasko, left the project. In need of a new writer, Len turned to Alan Moore, who came aboard for Issue #20. At the same time, Tom Yeates, the lead artist, left the strip in the hands of his two assistants, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. The story that emerged from these three men defined comic book history.

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One is a fantastic piece of literature that includes issues #20-#27. Starting with Issue #20, Moore ties up loose ends from the preceding nineteen issues before unveiling the dramatic changes to the character of the Swamp Thing in Issue #21. From that point a complex and engaging narrative unfolds over each issue. Moore reveals information with a master’s touch, which means that for many readers, a reread of each issue is highly recommended. Bissette and Totleben’s layouts are just as multifaceted and are absolutely breathtaking when paired with Moore’s writing. Moore’s nonlinear style may take some getting used to for those who are new to comics, but once picked up you will come to appreciate the attention to detail that Moore displays in his writing.

After discovering the truth of his identity, the Swamp Thing struggles to accept himself and his relationship to the environment. As a being composed of various flora, he is in touch with nature in a way that no one else understands. This relationship becomes both a strength and a weakness for the Swamp Thing. On a deeper level, Swamp Thing’s very essence is a foil for our relationship with the Earth, and Moore explores that theme in a brilliantly personal way. Swamp Thing’s connection to the Louisiana bayou, which he calls home, is threatened by multiple villains who range from shady corporations to deranged scientists to extra-dimensional demons. In every showdown, Swamp Thing also finds himself up against himself. Is he a monster? Should he protect nature or humans? Who deserves to be protected? These questions are embodied in the antagonists of Book One, and they force Swamp Thing to come up with answers under the most extreme circumstances.

While Alan Moore is critically known for his definitive take on the Swamp Thing, serious praise should also be given to the artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben for their interpretation of the story. Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One will remind comic book fans of many comics from the eighties in its color scheme. Often bright and pastel-like, the figures seem to jump out of the pages. The backgrounds are more muted, drawing the eye to the characters rather than the set, although this is not the case in some areas when the bayou is the object of focus. If you expect a dark and moody color range for such a serious comic, you will be surprised. But I do not think that this cheapens the comic. The colors reflect the dynamic mode of the Swamp Thing; bright and saturated as a hero, dark and shadowy as a figure of the swamp. As the titular character struggles to understand himself, the art depicts his battle in an easy to understand way.

In reading Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One, it might be difficult to understand the significance of such a work. The story is confusing and dense, the art shifts between super-saturated and darkly silhouetted. The important thing to consider, and the reason why I give this story five stars, is the personalization of the Swamp Thing. This is a story about an alien, a freak of nature, who struggles with love, loss, and self-doubt in a universally familiar way. A creature of the swamp becomes a symbol of trust and compassion, of responsibility and strength. He is made human in his struggle.


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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One comment

  1. Jacob, I appreciate the history of the book you’ve given us here. It seems like Alan Moore pops up everywhere! His influence is hard to quantify.

    Thanks again for the background and the review.

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