I actually envy people who have never read “Saga of the Swamp Thing” #21 before this promotional, one-dollar re-release. Alan Moore had come on board the low-sales title the previous issue, wrapping up exiting writer Martin Pasko’s storyline with ruthless efficiency — climaxing with the apparent death of the title character, his body being carted off by the corporate entity that had been chasing him and his friends for so long. And then, as the saying goes, things really started happening.
With an original cover date of February 1984, one might make the mistake that “Saga of the Swamp Thing” #21 would feel dated or out of touch with today’s comics. But I think it’s all the more impressive that it still feels fresh and smart and not quite like anything else out there. Moore’s script is perfectly paced, opening with the C-grade villain the Floronic Man being brought in to examine Swamp Thing’s body even as the readership is surely scratching its head. Death hadn’t become the revolving door in comics that it is these days, so there was still the puzzling question of just how Moore was going to get out of the apparent corner he’d written himself into with Swamp Thing dead.
And then, of course, Alan Moore plays the infamous card that everyone has been trying for over 25 years to replicate the impact of in their own stories. You know, it’s the one labeled, “Everything you know is wrong.” Moore takes the basic idea of the character-scientist Alec Holland transformed into a swamp monster thanks to an explosion of experimental chemicals-and turns it nicely on its head, starting to reveal what really happened on that night. And, a quarter of a century later, it’s still sharp and smart. It makes sense, it’s revealed at just the right moment, and the fall-out at the end of the issue from this information is pretty much perfect. I can’t even imagine how exciting it must have been back in 1984 to read this comic and then have to wait for the next installment to arrive.
Having already joined the title a little earlier were penciller Stephen Bissette and inker John Totleben, and there are remarkably few artists who have come since then whose art has looked anything close to what their collaborations created. It’s a beautiful web of fine lines and texture; it almost hurts one’s eyes to look at the exquisite detail that the two of them put into these pages. Everything here is meticulously drawn, from the Floronic Man’s real hand being revealed, with all of its knots and wrinkles, to the psychedelic waves serving as a background pattern that emanate from General Sunderland. It’s a beautiful book, there’s absolutely no doubt about it.
Between the “Watchmen” movie now in theaters, and a new hardcover collection of the first eight issues by Moore, Bissette, and Totleben, I think it’s great that DC has just released a low-cost edition of this seminal issue. Hopefully a whole new audience is about to discover just how amazing their run on “Saga of the Swamp Thing” was. If you haven’t read it, here’s a hint: it just keeps getting better.