Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis

December 24, 2008

swamp-thing-1I want to remember Len Wein’s Swamp Thing today. Mention Swamp Thing, and most comics aficionados will rave about Alan Moore’s undoubtedly powerful and genre-changing run. Blah-blah-blah-Alan-Moore-ing they will go. Or they will talk about the honestly awkward TV series and movies, which are conversational roads less travelled for very good reasons.

Wein’s original — with Berni Wrightson’s competent art — has a refreshingly clean beauty in both intellectual and visual terms. Given its appearance in the 1970s, the fact that these stories still read smart, gripping, and provocative makes them even more revolutionary. The entrance of the Un-Men’s Arcane as the Swamp Thing’s archenemy is apt, teasing a reader to imagine how it would be like to have the Frankenstein monster on Dr Moreau’s island. Extending its relation to traditional horror, there is a werewolf story too, and, not forgetting comicdom’s own gothic realm, the Swamp Thing wanders into Gotham City and meets the Batman!

Wein has a wonderful way of letting his tales fray and then tying the ends together elegantly. He gives among the best hooks, as when, upon the Swamp Thing acknowledging his eternal solitude at the end of Chapter 1, the scene zooms out to show a framing mirror with a voice-over announcing him as the one being long searched for. Or, when we finally accept a complete close to the creature’s return to humanity, we see on the next page rather anachronistic frames of his earlier happy married life.  To be able to make a reader think “What’s going on? But I thought…” is an old underrated art which Wein is undisputed master of. It makes his Swamp Thing stories as much adventure and character portrait as they are horror.

What, or who, is the Swamp Thing? One can say he is DC’s version of Marvel’s Man-Thing, or, if one follows the idea of a brooding but intelligent lonesome super-protagonist, he is the Incredible Hulk (before he became stupid). He is comic’s Frankenstein monster — and, to help us tell them apart, there’s even a real Frankenstein monster who the Swamp Thing encounters. Wein’s creation may later become something far greater as a planetary elemental, but, at the start, it is simply the result of a science experiment gone right.

Wein, bless him, never lets his readers forget that the Swamp Thing is Alec Holland all along, that the creature is great only because Alec is an exemplary human in a world of human corruption. While Alec then laments all the time about his loneliness and loss, yet one never comes to believe that he would ever surrender these at the price of his own conscience or true love for others. Wein redefines through this enigmatic figure the idea of a superhero: alone in his affirmation of what is right and good, the Swamp Thing is a bulwark of inner strength and sacrificial humanity. 

Gweek gives this classic 10 seaweeds.

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