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Swamp Thing, The All-Vegetable Anti-Hero, Returns

Mar 24, 2009

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Alan Moore is best known as the author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta, but his breakout work in America was the horror title Swamp Thing. In 1984, Moore took an unpopular second-tier comic book character — a superstrong, all-vegetable anti-hero from the bayou — and re-imagined him as a creature that longed for humans and the natural world to coexist in peace. Moore, a famous lefty, mixed his penchant for plumbing the psyche's unholy depths with concepts from the nascent environmental movement, making his revamped Swamp Thing a sensation.

The original Swamp Thing series was created in 1972 by Len Wein (who also birthed Wolverine) and Bernie Wrightson. In their vision, Swamp Thing came into being when, in an experiment gone wrong, biologist Alex Holland perished in the muck and re-emerged as a plant-creature in search of its lost humanity. Moore's Swamp Thing differs a bit; it's a true, conscious plant, one that had patterned itself on Holland's mind.

In Moore's revision, Swamp Thing is imprisoned by Floronic Man, a minor supervillain transformed into his own state of vegetation by yet another experiment gone wrong. In Floronic's lab, Swamp Thing discovers he's not a human trapped in a plant, but a plant trying to be human.

The dream sequences in which Swamp Thing comes to grips with his vegetable nature are beautiful and horrifying. In one, giant planarian worms attack, leaving Swamp Thing holding the skeleton of the man he thought he once was. "This is the human race," the skull says. "You have to keep running, or you get disqualified."

Drawn in the style of a '70s slasher flick, Swamp Thing is a surreal discourse on the blurry line between man and monster, with a strong dose of mystical environmentalism. This hardback reissue, with its art printed in lurid '80s colors, is part of the massive revisiting of Moore's work in the wake of the recently released Watchmen film.

Although he's a red-eyed, gorilla-shaped mass of dripping lichen, our hero is inherently compassionate, logical and just. Swamp Thing is a horror comic, but it's also a late-century incarnation of the idea of the noble savage, straight out of Dryden or Rousseau — only made of roots, twigs and swamp muck.

Read a graphic excerpt of 'Saga Of The Swamp Thing'.

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Saga Of The Swamp Thing, Book One
By Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben
Hardcover, 173 pages
List price: $19.99

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