Alan Moore. His name alone is sure to give comic book readers a nerdgasm for Moore is one of, if not the, best comic book writers (hell, just plain writers) of all time. But before there was Watchmen, before League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, before Promethea, there was Swamp Thing.
It all started in 1982 when Wes Craven’s muddled Swamp Thing movie starring scream queen Adrienne Barbeau was being released. Trying to cash in on the movie buzz Swampy editor and co-creator Len Wein revived the Saga of the Swamp Thing series with Martin Pasko taking on the writing chores. After writing 19 issues Pasko left the book and Wein was left scrambling to find who to replace him. He took a chance on one Alan Moore, whose work on 2000 AD and V for Vendetta impressed Wein. When Moore took over with issue 20 (along with superb artists Steve Bissett, John Totleben and Rick Veitch) he essentially wiped the slate clean by having Swampy “killed” by the evil Sunderland Corp. Swampy was then born anew as a creature that never was human to begin with, a “thing” in the truest definition of the word. You see, Moore was not merely content with having Alec Holland be the Swamp Thing due to the explosion and mix of toxic chemicals (as all b-movie monsters seem to be) but instead revealed that the Swamp Thing was just a tangle of plants that was morphed by the chemicals and given Holland’s memories. With this interesting twist Moore explored what it truly meant to be human and the power of the subconscious over the body. With Swampy now a being made up entirely of sentient plant life, new powers began to emerge. It now had the ability to commune with and control any plant life. It also had the ability to dissolve its body and transfer its consciousness around the globe where Swampy can regenerate its body through any indigenous flora.
Moore would go on to write 34 issues ending with issue 64 in 1987. During that tenure, Moore had crafted one of the most imaginative and stunning comic book runs of all time. Some highlights include: the introduction of the cantankerous paranormal investigator (who looks a lot like Sting) John Constantine who enlists Swampy on a quest to hone his powers and teaches him what it truly means to be a supernatural creature. A little white monkey that shape shifts into what you fear most, using that fear for nourishment. A submerged town that plays host to a clan of underwater vampires that feast on unsuspecting swimmers.
While these imaginative set pieces are impressive, the most astonishing aspect of Moore’s run was the invention of the Parliament of Trees. To make things less complicated, here is a cliffs notes version explaining the Parliament: All plant life on the planet is connected to “The Green” a mystical realm that contains and maintains the sub-consciousness of the flora. The Parliament of Trees is a group of “elementals”, who are formed when a being dies in a tragic accident and is absorbed and merged by the Earth. When they have completed their tasks they come to rest at the Parliament to act as guides for new elementals and protect all plant life. This whole setup alone shows the breadth of Moore’s unbound imagination and the true reverence he had with the character.
The main theme of the run is Swampy’s undying love for Abby Holland. Despite Swamp Thing not actually being Alec Holland, it still adores Abby with all its grime encrusted “heart” and will do anything to protect her (even destroying Gotham City in the process). Abbey is really Swamp Thing’s only motive for survival. In the beginning of Moore’s run Swampy is in the throes of defeat, depressed after he finds out the truth of what he really is. Refusing to come back from a peaceful self-induced coma, its love for Abby is what brings it back. In fact a whole issue is dedicated to Swampy and Abby doing the ugly thanks to a very hallucinatory fruit growing on its back. The results are one of the most transcendent and erotic moments in comic book history.
Moore’s run is hugely influential, inspiring Neil Gaiman on his “Sandman” series and Joe Hill on “Locke and Key” among others. It is hands down one of the best runs in comic history and set in motion DC’s Vertigo imprint, which is known as a hotbed of innovative creator-owned series. While Moore has left DC behind due to creative squabbles, his ability to take a d-list creature book that nobody cared about and had any hopes for and turn it into not only a best-seller, but a rumination on love, consciousness and ecology shows what a genius Moore was and how when creators are left alone to explore the full potential of their imagination, wondrous and horrifying things can happen.