Continuity, as it applies to comic books, has become something of a dirty word. The common refrain is that a story that references things that has gone before inevitably devolves into nerdery and disappears up its own behind, a recursive ouroboros of backstory and caption-boxes. Well, Faithful Spoilerites, this wasn’t ALWAYS the case…
Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!
Gorgeous art on both stories.
Opens the door for Vertigo…
Kind of a reprint.
SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING #33
Writer: Alan Moore/Len Wein
Artist: Ron Randall/Bernie Wrightson
Inker: Ron Randall/Bernie Wrightson
Colorist: Tatjana Wood
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $14.00
Previously in Saga Of The Swamp Thing: Alec Holland’s work on the bio-restorative formula led him to be targeted by criminal types, who wanted to keep his work under wraps. One massive explosion later, and Doctor Holland was not only a widower, but was transformed into a hulking vegetable form, The Swamp Thing. After a few years of adventuring and searching for a way to revert his transformation, Swamp Thing was horrified to discover his own body in the swamp, with the staggering revelation that he NEVER WAS Alec Holland in the first place. Slowly coming to terms with his new life, the Swamp Thing has begun building a new life for himself, with the help of his friends, notably Abigail Arcane Cable, a young woman with a few secrets of her own…
In 1985, there was no Vertigo Comics. The Doom Patrol was still a minor super-team accused of being an X-Men knockoff, Animal Man was a Forgotten Hero, and The Sandman was the guy in the gas mask. Alan Moore had taken over Swamp Thing a little more than year earlier, and had shattered the status quo with his very first issue. When this book came out, I was but a young pseudo-comic-historian (as opposed to my current status as old pseudo-comic-historian) but even I knew something special was happening when Abby bumped into a couple of familiar faces…Faithful Spoilerites, may I introduce Cain and Abel? Dating back to the late 1960s, the duo with the biblical names had been the fourth-wall breaking horror hosts of, respectively “House of Mystery” and “House of Secrets.” Though not their first appearance in the DC Universe canon (Cain had quasi-crossovers with both Superman and Batman before this, albeit unknown to both those heroes), it was kind of shocking to see them interacting with a protagonist of a mainstream DC book directly. Abby Cable wonders aloud if she’s dreaming, and the brothers tell her yes, she is, indicating that her mind has sent her into their realms in search of something. It is, however, up to Abby to decide what she wishes to hear: Mystery or Secret?
And, right there, Alan Moore sketches out the framework of what would become Vertigo’s most popular series, AS A FRAMING DEVICE FOR THE STORY HE WANTS TO TELL. What is that story, you ask? Well, thereupon hangs a tale…
Once again, we reach a moment where we, the readers, have to take a step back. When it comes to traditional comics work, especially back in the day, the biggest issue was getting the darn book done on time. As such, you can often find rough cuts and prototypes of themes, characters, and even whole-cloth concepts in previous issues. Such was the Swamp Thing’s backstory, with his first appearance (in Abel’s own ‘House Of Secrets’ comic) being so successful that the creators were given an ongoing series. However, a large portion of the premise was changed between that first appearance and the number one issue, notably the fact that, in his first appearance, the Swamp Thing stalked the swamps at the turn of the 20th century…
As Abel tells Abby the story, the readers are treated to the original tale by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, a moody little story about a scientist named Alex Olsen, who dies in the swamp and rises again, an eerie precursor to what Abby KNOWS happened to her (at this point) dear friend Alec Holland. Of course, Alex’s tale is (arguably) a bit more tragic, what with his love surviving, and his best friend having betrayed/murdered him in the first place.
Now married to the treacherous Damian, the former Mrs. Olsen has slowly become suspicious of her sinister new spouse, but finds herself distracted by the strange feeling that she is being watched. She is, of course, by the misshapen mass that used to be her Alex but, when Damian’s murderous nature surfaces again, this turns out to be a good thing. As Damian prepares to fatally inject her with a fast-acting poison, the Swamp Thing smashes through the window to protect her…
Swiftly choking the life out of his former best friend, the thing that was Alex Olsen turns to try to calm his beloved, to comfort her in her time of need…
…and the readers’ hearts collectively shatter.
Abby is shocked to discover the secret that Abel offers her: That Alec Holland not only wasn’t the FIRST Swamp Thing, but is only the latest avatar in an ancient line, an elemental who has barely scratched the surface of his legacy and power. “Sour times are returning to your world,” warns the chubby dream-dweller, imploring Abby to tell her Swamp Thing the truth about his nature, to warn him against the coming darkness. Hurrying her out of the HoS, Abel tries to get Abby back to the waking world with this knowledge intact, only to run headlong into his unforgiving brother…
Struggling in the muck, Cain finds a large stone, smashing it into his brother’s skull as Abby watches, horrified. “You murdered him!” accuses Abby. “I INVENTED MURDER!” rails Cain in response, and I’m still impressed decades later at how easily Moore’s writing took a pair of comedy characters and turned them into archetypical and terrifying creatures from the id. Cain explains to her that they’re both being eternally punished (which, for the record, is the first indication that these characters might be more than just NAMED after the famous biblical brethren), and sends her back to reality…
…and the dream fades, like dreams do, leaving the most shocking reveal of Moore’s run on the book to date unremembered by anyone. Given the number of revelations inherent in the first few issues of the story already, that’s a VERY impressive achievement. With this issue, Moore and company take a chunk of ill-shapen continuity in the form of the two divergent Swamp Thing origins, and reshape it into something game-changing, a moment that sets the stage for Swamp Thing’s origin from minor-league monster-hero to champion of the Earth itself. Even though roughly half of this issue is a representation of Len Wein’s original tale, Moore interweaves his own story into those pages, and delivers a story that is full of references to previous continuity, but nonetheless excellent and engaging. Saga Of The Swamp Thing #33 is often forgotten among the numerous fascinating and gobsmacking single issues of the run (including the one that comes right afterwards) but delivers a satisfying punch even with loads of backstory incoming, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.