The Saga of the Swamp Thing 22 (1986)
As the cover indicates, the book has it all. It features many of Swamp Thing’s old adversaries. It also exemplifies the amazing turn that the title takes with Moore, Totleben and Bissette at the helm. This is a book with a lot to see and digest. It’s a story that feels much larger than a single issue. Bissette and Totleben put on a clinic with their beautifully crafted panels while Moore constructs two worlds -psychological and physical, both depicting the depths of despair- tightly woven together. The book gives us a heaping helping of Alan Moore’s rambling descriptions that sometimes may not enhance the story but are greatly appreciated.
This era of Swamp Thing tends to warrant a closer look. As I previously mentioned, the book has it all.
Refresher: last we saw Swamp Thing in issue 21, he learned that he is no longer human but merely a sentient vegetable. Upon learning the news, he kills General Sunderland and escapes Sunderland Corp HQ with the help of Dr Woodrue. Swamp Thing hightails it from Virginia down to Houma, Louisiana where this whole mess started. Swamp Thing returns home to try and put the pieces together. Abby and Matt Cable have been looking for Swamp Thing ever since he went missing after the shooting.
In an interview with Amazing Heroes 39 (1984) Moore says, “…we’re taking him a lot, lot further. We have him stay in the same place for probably a month, he doesn’t even move”. Moore builds an extremely compelling story even though the lead character is incapacitated.
Swamp Thing has returned to Houma, severed ties with humanity and resides in a rooted, sedentary state; painfully deep in reflection.
Dr Jason Woodrue has been monitoring Swamp Thing’s movements since leaving Sunderland HQ and has been closely observing his vitals since his return to the swamp. We also learn of Woodrue’s progress. As Swamp Thing has descended into his subconscious, Jason Woodrue has gone bat $#!+ crazy. Although it can easily be said that almost everyone in this issue is on the cusp of sanity. Woodrue encounters Abigail and Matt at the site of Swamp Thing’s resting place.
Woodrue gets everyone caught up to speed…
Abigail learns that she is tuber intolerant!
no… but, news of Alec growing bulbous tubers while being completely disconnected from humanity makes her feel ill.
Woodrue is in the throws madness. His obsession with Swamp Thing and his hope to join the plant world -body and mind- consumes him.
He mentions meat a lot.
Woodrue cooks up some of Swamp Thing’s tubers. Our first glimpse of the powers that Swampy’s sweet potatoes hold. Woodrue so badly wants the knowledge of the plant realm and to be one with it but is startled to find that his human faculties can not handle such a vast knowledge and power.
While Woodrue obsesses over acheiving plant God status, Swamp Thing struggles; still processing his mortality, humanity, where he stands within the universe, his lot in life… and death.
In his dormant state, Swamp Thing is plagued by nightmares and delusions; what he was and what he has become.
it’s not quite clear who his assailants are but Batman appears be restrained in the background of Swamp Thing’s nightmare. Are Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson depicted holding back Bats?
Numerous images and characters referencing past Swamp Thing stories can be seen in the backgrounds. The high priestess of the people of Sepp from issue 16 (series 1) makes her way into the panel above. Linda and Alec’s secret laboratory barn, deep in the Louisiana swamps can be seen in the back of the first panel below while the train from Saga issue 3 (series2) is in the background on the right
When Abigail hits the town on a Friday night, she’s always on the lookout for “capillary action”.
“Alec isn’t in there.”
Moore does a great job stringing together Swamp Thing’s nightmares, taking us through his torment and grief.
All the while, fitting in some fun dark moments. The planarian worms have a full course meal with Dr Holland on the menu.
The body is prepared. Hollandaise sauce on hand.
The worms make short work of Holland’s body.
“I’m takin my bones n’ goin home…”
This panel has always made me chuckle. Capturing the moment you realize your vegetable widower prefers his human bones over you. Ouch!
Joking aside, it is a very touching scene. Swampy acknowledges what went wrong can not be made right. He is no longer of the human world.
Moving forward, He can only be burdened by one.
Simultaneously, everyone is experiencing their personal hell. Abigail, Alec, Woodrue, Cable; They are all being put through the ringer, physically and mentally. This isn’t just a story of Swamp Thing suffering but the suffering of all of those who have been effected by and connected to the lab explosion from issue 1 (series 1).
With Swamp Thing away and surrounded by the devastation that Matt Cable seems to bring about, Abigail struggles to cope. Like Alec, her nightmares become reality.
Matt Cable’s drinking still out of control, he loses his grip on reality more than ever. His world gets darker by the day. He conjures evil images, vice and partners to keep him company allowing to indulge in his misery.
It’s a toxic scenario for all involved.
The artwork and craftsmanship is spectacular. The detail in their portraits is stunning.
While Totleben and Bissette show us how it’s done, visually, Moore is never short on descriptions. And there are a few…
“clouds like bloody plugs of cotton… at the slashed wrists of the sky.”
“…the vast, soft clockwork of the wilderness.”
Patchworkman and Count Gregori Arcane make an appearance in Swampy’s psychological struggle.
He is compelled to stay with the skeletal remains of Alec Holland, the only proof he has that he was once human. The villains from his past close in.
Swamp Thing resorts to communicating with his remains; his humanity.
Swampy’s humanity resorts to an old fashioned pep talk, “hup, hup!”
Back to Woodrue who at this point is on the verge of a psychedelic tuber meltdown…
He eats the tuber. From this moment on, Dr Woodrue is changed forever.
The tuber takes hold. Woodrue is instantly tapped into the feelings and sensations of all plant material throughout the world. Overwhelmed, Woodrue dives deeper into madness not knowing how to contain such forces.
Human no longer, the Floronic Man emerges from his trip, crazier than ever.
This issue’s letter page is quite entertaining. Here are some of my favorites.