Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Mighty Mighty Swamp Things

Swamp Thing: The Root of All Evil (1994-95/Collected 2015): written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar; illustrated by Phil Hester and Kim DeMulder: After a lengthy run by writer Nancy Collins, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar were tapped by DC to give Swamp Thing a jolt. And that they do, in the 'Everything You Know Is Wrong' tradition of beloved Swamp Thing writer Alan Moore.

Everything we know really does seem to be wrong in the opening pages of Morrison and Millar's collaboration (Morrison would leave Swampy in Millar's solo hands after six issues). Alec Holland and Swamp Thing now seem to exist separate from each other. Indeed, Holland's 22 years of Swampitude now seem to have been an elaborate hallucination. Meanwhile, Swamp Thing homicidally tears up the Louisiana swamps and bayous.

Of course, not everything is what it seems when not everything is what it seems. Nonetheless, like Alan Moore before them, Morrison and Millar dynamite an awful lot of Swamp Thing mythology, kill off a lot of long-term supporting characters, and introduce weird new quests, situations, and characters to the ongoing saga of our favourite muck-encrusted mockery of a man. Along the way, they also resurrect at least one supporting character who seemed to be irretrievably dead since Moore's days.

Phil Hester and Kim DeMulder do fine work throughout the volume. Hester's rough, sketchy linework works especially well in the swamps and dark corners of the Swamp Thing universe. This volume collects the first third of what would ultimately be the longest sustained story in Swamp Thing's career up until 1994, a 30-issue, 700-page quest with only a couple of standalone issues. Given Millar and Morrison's popularity, it's hard to understand how it took 20 years for DC Comics to collect this run in trade paperbacks. Oh, well -- it's here now. Recommended.

Swamp Thing: Darker Genesis (1995/Collected 2015): written by Mark Millar; illustrated by Phil Hester, Kim DeMulder, Phil Jiminez, Chris Weston, Jill Thompson, Brian Bolland, Tom Taggart, and John Totleben: Once upon a time, Swamp Thing was the mind and nearly-destroyed body of scientist Alec Holland, transmuted into a seven-foot-tall muck monster by an explosion, his own 'bio-restorative' formula, and the alchemical processes of the Louisiana swamp in which Holland's lab was located. 

Then Alan Moore revealed that Swamp Thing was really Earth's Plant Elemental, that Alec Holland had really been dead all those years, and that Swamp Thing was simply one in a long line of Plant Elementals with consciousnesses built on the framework of a human who died as part of their births. Over the Plant Kingdom reigned the Parliament of Trees, a South American grove containing all the plant elementals that ever were.

Now, Swamp Thing has been coerced into running a gantlet of four trials to gain the powers of the other Parliaments. In the previous volume, Root of All Evil, he reconciled the long-standing rift between the two Earth Elemental factions, Plant and Stone, thus gaining control over all aspects of rock on Earth. Here, Swamp Thing faces the Trial of the Parliament of Waves and then begins the Trial of the Parliament of Air.

Writer Mark Millar, regular artist Phil Hester, and guest artists Chris Weston and Jill Thompson seem to have a lot of fun in this volume taking Swamp Thing on a tour of alternate universes where he has different appearances and powers (including being trapped in the body of a Golem on an Earth where the Nazis won WWII). Classic characters that include perennial Swamp Thing nemesis Anton Arcane and forgotten 1970's sword-and-sorcery hero Nightmaster are resurrected in strange new ways and forms. A standalone visit to England brings us Swamp Dog and a story that seems more like an issue of John Constantine Hellblazer than Swamp Thing

All that and a recurring James Joyce reference. It all holds together for the most part, and towards the end of the issues here John Totleben, co-artist extraordinaire during the Alan Moore years, returns to Swamp Thing to draw the (splendid) covers. So there's that. Recommended.

Swamp Thing: Trial by Fire (1995-96/Collected 2016): written by Mark Millar; illustrated by Phil Hester, Kim DeMulder, Curt Swan, and John Totleben: Mark Millar and Phil Hester's run on Swamp Thing draws to an end after 30 issues, as does the book itself, cancelled with the final issue here so that it could be resurrected scant months later. 

One could view this as the finale to all the Swamp Things from his first appearance in 1972 to 1996. Certainly Millar writes that way, and subsequent revivals avoid the ramifications of the conclusion of Millar's run because they would make writing Swamp Thing nigh-impossible. In essence, they lived happily ever after. Sort of.

Swamp Thing tries to avoid completing the Trial of the Elemental Air for fear that his increasing power will cause him to lose his moral core of humanity and go on a world-wide killing spree. Alas,, if he doesn't face the Trial of Air, Earth will die screaming. So off he goes. And after that the Trial of Fire. And after that, the two magical factions struggling for world domination believe, the End of the World. Well, unless the one faction successfully summons The Word, a uber-powerful stand-in for uber-powerful 'hero' The Spectre. The Word is here because God is pissed off at Swamp Thing. Or maybe not. Maybe The Word is just a dick. 

In any case, if you're red-green colour-blind, The Word and The Spectre will look exactly alike!

In any case, this is an enjoyable end to this incarnation of Swamp Thing. Well, unless you were a fan of Tefe, Swamp Thing's part-human, part-elemental, part-demonic daughter conceived during Rick Veitch's first issue (#65) as both writer and artist and born during Doug Wheeler's brief stint as post-Veitch writer (#90). Her storyline just gets overwritten again. All this and Magic Wish Matches, complete with a Secret Origin. Hoo-ha! The conclusion of the Trial by Air section does suggest that Millar holds devoted readers of fantasy novels in contempt, so make of that what you will. Recommended.

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