“Swamp Thing” by Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson, Alan Moore & Co, Urban Comics
Regularly reprinted, regularly exhausted, fans had long been waiting for a definitive edition of this cult comic book. A title that began in the early 1970s with a fairly short horror story, in the vein of those of Poe or Lovecraft, whose Richard Corben (Lire le coup de cœur) who began his work at the same time, will be one of the work’s great successors. An immediate success far ahead of the usual champions Batman, Superman & Co, followed by a regular series the following year: the Swamp Thing phenomenon was launched.
Behind this creature, two young unknown authors. A scriptwriter who will be Wolverine’s creator, who saved the X-Men from limbo to become Marvel’s star series and will editorially supervise Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen once back at DC. Alongside a self-taught cartoonist who has become the great figure of Gothic and horror drawing, whose image of Frankenstein or his dark run on Batman is recommended: The Cult with Jim Starlin (the creator of Thanos).
This thing lurking in the shadows
Scientist victim of a chemical explosion, who owes his salvation to a dive in the Louisiana marshes, where his DNA will recombine with that of biodiversity. The Swamp Thing, the thing from the marsh, will haunt the scene of the accident and make a reputation for itself. A creature with superhuman strength, insensitive to pain and almost invulnerable in its environment, it will evolve over the years to acquire a status of hero a little apart. Sometimes close to the intrigues of Spider-Man and the Lizard Man, sometimes close to the Gothic accounts, the title will oscillate between the story of superheroes and the wonderful. Werewolves, witches, aliens or a fight with Batman, the authors try several leads by following a common thread, the quest for the murderer of his wife and the protection of his friends. The series stops after ten issues, passes a little bit into oblivion and resumes almost ten years later thanks to Wes Craven’s film in 1982 (I just reviewed the trailer while preparing this article and it aged very badly, I had a good memory of it, but it must be irresistible today. There have been several sequels, but to be put away on the nanars side, we are waiting to see the contemporary version in series planned for this year.).
Wrightson’s trait is virtuoso, his mastery of black & white and his attention to detail have given substance to a powerful mythology in a few pages. The perfect and angular inking gives a gloomy atmosphere while remaining aesthetic, an organic and detailed rendering that remains extremely readable. An artist quite apart in the comic book industry, his (rare) plates are quite sought after in framing and staging.
The complete set is completed by Len Wein’s latest script illustrated by Kelley Jones, as well as a tribute story by Tom King & Jason Fabok that gives this collection a melancholic, beautiful and endless side.
Heroes never Moore
After this strong comeback, the series starts again with Martin Pasko & Tom Yeates and then passes the baton to a new kid, a young British screenwriter demanding Alan Moore. It was him in 1984, helped by the illustrators Stephen Bissette with John Totleben at the inking (but also Dan Day, Shawn McManus, Rick Veitch and Ron Randall) who gave the creature its true stature.
For this first major series, the scriptwriter is already putting in place several themes and writing techniques that will make his next great successes. In 1982, he had just started V for Vendetta with David Lloyd, and will attack Watchmen with Dave Gibbons in 1986.
With Wein’s agreement, he changed his bias and introduced the idea that Swamp Thing was a vegetable creature with the memories of a man, Alec Holland, and began to reflect on his nature more than the consequences of an accident. A quest for himself, interspersed with a hunt to escape the scientists, Moore reverses it in a few episodes. Reflection on language & identity, very literary passages and inserted quotations. Games of opposition between his rich inner life and his repulsive aspect, between his memories and desires, or between nature and ecology in the face of science and industry…
The series becomes more poetic & mystical and leaves the crazy scientists of series B. or the far-fetched intrigues of previous issues for a real fantastic, gothic & dream comic book. But also political & societal, an inseparable subtext of all its future productions.
If Stephen Bissette does not deviate too much from the style of his predecessors, he adds an extra dimension to the work by working on his line in the manner of Gustave Doré’s engravings, Arthur Rackham’s illustrations or John Everett Millais’ paintings. A graphic heritage that allows him to accompany Moore’s dreamlike prose, a choice accompanied by Tajana Wood’s colouring, which also evokes these references on the authors’ indications.
We can also note for the fans of the English wizard, that it is in these pages that John Constantine appears, who will have the right to his own series shortly after in 1988: Hellblazer, where we discover his abilities for the occult and his innate charisma. A master of the occult who will help the creature to advance in his quest. First complete of Moore’s passage for 3 years of “Swampy”, which he connects to Nature long before Avatar and which he extracts from his status as a soap opera to make it a work apart.
Two beautiful releases to read absolutely: whether it is the complete Swamp Thing by Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson or the Alan Moore Présente Swamp Thing integrals whose T1 has just been released.
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