Moore’s Swamp Thing (1983-1987)

I never liked some of Moore’s more famous creations, like Watchmen or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (though I did like the movie (I know, sacrilege)), but I had forgotten that I did actually like something by him, long ago. The Saga of the Swamp Thing. I never read it in its entirety when I first discovered it, but boy was it a great read. And coming back to it after all these years, it proved to be even better than I remembered. Moore took a second-class horror character and wrote one of the best comics runs in, well, the entire history of comics.

One impression I got after reading Watchmen was that Moore had not much love lost for superheroes, but Swamp Thing proved this wrong. Moore used one of the worst comics in history, Crisis on Infinite Earths, as a starting point to write his own big crisis moment, which was an infinitely better story and introduced John Constantine. Leading up to this moment though was a string of impressive horror stories that completely redefined the character, made him not only current but timeless.

But despite it being more horror than superheroes, Moore used the shared continuity to its best effort to tell meaningful stories within both genres without sounding ridiculous or merely doing hack-work. It always felt respectful, far more than I was expecting from him (like the later confrontation of Batman and Swamp Thing).

Moore started out with gutting the character, making him lose his identity and thus his sense of humanity, only to slowly rebuilt those aspects into a more unique character who still felt human but was also truly a thing from the swamp for the first time. Over the course of the entire series Moore’s creature held his own against various threats and even found love (which itself laid the basis for some of the heart-wrenching later stories).

After the big fight in the wake of the crisis things got uglier, with Moore exploring the reaction to a human/plant love. Reading it like that just shows how impressive Moore’s feat was, showing a romance between a human and a creature so completely outside what we would consider human. That Moore managed to make the love feel true and touching, despite Swamp Things nature, can’t be overstated enough.

And then Moore sent him to space, where he had various adventure and allowed the comic to go into a more SFnal direction, mostly leaving the horror roots behind, though the horror vibe remained part of the comic until the end. Already powerful on Earth, Swamp Thing learned how to end fame for an entire world by restarting its biosphere in a big way. This plot point actually allowed for one of the best uses of the “Reed Richards Is Useless” trope that superheroes don’t use their powers to actually change our world for the better.

Swamp Thing, by all accounts, had the power to reshape entire biospheres. He could have solved Earth’s worst bio-desasters. At yet, the rules of superhero comics would never allow a major real-world change due to such powers. More than merely acknowledging this rule and glossing over it, Moore used it to make a good point that exemplified the unique nature of the Swamp Thing. Despite his human qualities, in the end he was something different, choosing to let humans decide their own fate for good or worse and be merely an observer, like all the plant elementals before him.

Moore managed to create a character who was human enough to empathize with, but alien enough to offer a unique viewpoint on life and everything. I’m not sure I learned something in the classical moral lesson way (though there were enough ecological ones), but soaking in the strangeness of Swamp Thing’s world has been a rewarding experience.