Revisiting Comic’s Horror Heyday with “Roots of the Swamp Thing”

You may purchase Roots of the Swamp Thing here.

My dear unknown friend,

The initial spark that kindled the idea for this horror comics countdown was the anticipated publication of Absolute Swamp Thing  For those who don’t know, Absolute Editions are over-sized printings, usually on high quality paper, with extra features such as artist’s sketches, writer’s scripts, interviews, etc. etc. included within the slipcased volume.  I say usually because DC has an incredible track record of shooting itself in the foot when it comes to fan relations. For a legendary release such as Batman: The Killing Joke they chose to print the subpar recolored pages of Brian Bolland on the glossy, heavy page stock one usually associates with an Absolute Edition and then print the original, vibrant coloring job performed by John Higgins after this on paper stock usually reserved for coloring books. Bear in mind The Killing Joke is a book that has always been printed on heavy, glossy paper since its inception, so if you own or buy any other version of this classic, including the $10 Deluxe Edition I linked to above, you will own a copy  with the superior coloring job on better paper stock than the supposed collector’s item.

killing joke

So with any item DC puts out recently it’s best to wait and check reviews. As most items of this nature are shrink-wrapped, not even going to a brick and mortar shop to check the item in person is a guarantee. This, of course, is if you can find a B&M in your area, much less one that will have such an item in stock. Comic shops have been disappearing at a rate of around 10% a year. While Marvel can rely upon money from their movie tie-ins for the short term, DC has no such war chest to draw upon.  This is why I have been grabbing Absolute Editions that receive positive reviews and I happen to love such as Watchmen and All Star Superman. In short, it won’t surprise me to see DC go ‘digital only’ within the next two years followed by the company shutting its doors shortly after. There are certain books I wish to nab before this happens, hence my excitement for one of my all time favorites, Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, tempered by the fact DC has already canceled this Absolute Edition once before and the knowledge they could easily pull another screw-up like the coloring blunders of Batman: The Killing Joke or the cracking spines that plagued their publication of the Absolute Sandman volumes.

superman

That said, Swamp Thing  originally came out of the gate roaring, the creation of two legends in the comics industry having a blast. The two individuals in question would be the writer Len Wein and the artist Bernie Wrightson. Len Wein wrote for every major superhero book published by Marvel and DC from the time he entered the field in the very early seventies until shortly before his death in 2017. During that time he was responsible for resurrecting the X-Men and shaping them into the cultural phenomenon we know today. This includes the co-creation of the characters Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler and Collosus with his artist and collaborator Dave Cockrum. This penchant for collaboration became a well known feature of Wein’s character as he easily assumed editorial duties on several projects including Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.

Watchmen_Vol_1_12

Bernie Wrightson hopefully needs no introduction on these pages but if so I would encourage you to stop reading this immediately and somehow find a copy of Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein (you’re going to have to hit the secondhand marketplace and stay away from Amazon’s inflated markups). The forty seven pen and ink illustrations that accompany the text are a jaw-dropping masterclass in conveying tone and value with cross hatching techniques. Here’s an interview with the man himself on the topic:

I can still vividly recall the day I checked this book out of the library on my way home from middle school. The library had rebound the book with a blank cover so I had no idea what lay within. I only knew Frankenstein was a cool monster from the movies so as I was walking the few blocks towards home I began thumbing through the book and its pages fell open to the illustration of Dr. Frankenstein in his study with the corpse laying in its coffin. I stopped dead in my tracks right there on the sidewalk, stuck to the spot. Wrightson hooked me.

frankenstein

It’s with the above caveats I’m going to recommend to you Roots of the Swamp ThingThe dream team of Wein and Wrightson lasted from Swampy’s standalone story in The House of Secrets #92 and The Saga of Swamp Thing issues 1 through 10 after which Bernie Wrightson left the book.  For the next three issues in this collection Nestor Redondo assumed the duties as artist and while he has his fans, there’s a certain element missing, akin to when Ditko left Spiderman and those characters went from Ditko’s paranoiac worldview to generic representations.  However, by ending Roots of the Swamp Thing at issue at #13 DC allows you to see Len Wein’s masterful call-back to the original short published in House of Secrets so hats off to whomever made this editorial decision.

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If you have watched the movies, the TV shows or the animated series you may think Swamp Thing spends all his time in the bayou. Nothing could be further from the truth. If it were not for the anecdotal evidence of older cats on my stoop I would assume weed in the early seventies was much more potent than it is today because by the second issue Swampy has found his way to Eastern Europe where he meets a master of the necromantic arts. This allows Wrightson free reign to display his love for the high Gothic horror of EC Comics and that love is on full display within each panel of every issue he and Wein collaborated on.

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Swampy’s adventures don’t stop there. Scotland, Vermont, Gotham, and various points between are all visited by our moss-encrusted hero as he struggles to come to grips with what he’s become and those who misunderstand him. Nothing was off limits for the team of Wein and Wrightson as they penned these tales and their imaginations ranged far and wide. Never fear, as you can tell by the panel to the left, Swampy even has a run in with the duo’s own take on cosmic horror, in this case in the form of a being called M’Nagalah.

It’s this potent mixture of classic BierceEC Comics style, body horror, and outsider status that first burned Swamp Thing into my psyche when my cousin introduced me to the book decades ago. Once this original mixture had been milked dry of its initial spark, it was the astonishment of seeing how Alan Moore was able to take this formula and reverse it that drove me to admire this brash new writer from the UK. It’s Alan Moore’s run with Stephen Bissette that’s rightfully held as the high-water mark for Swamp Thing and few in their right mind would ever argue with this stance. With that said, why deny one’s self the pure unadulterated pleasure of that awaits you within the covers of Roots of the Swamp Thing Wrightson was a master at conveying tone and value with pen and ink and rightly observed he needed solid colors or pure black and white to properly covey his artwork. For this reason Roots of the Swamp Thing, though it is a horror comic, is one of the most vibrant and colorful collections I own even though it’s printed on sturdy matte paper. Though we no longer have Saturday morning cartoons, anytime I have that yearning, I know how to satisfy it. With a solid dose of grimness on the side.

There is a Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Vol 1 paperback collection that just hit the market. Even though it collects the same material for roughly one quarter the price I can’t speak on it because I have yet to see a single review. Where Marvel’s omnibus collections are of uniformly high quality with excellent binding that lays flat and allows for easy reading, even when the text bubbles approach the gutter, DC’s quality control has been less than stellar so as I wrote at the beginning of this piece, I’d wait for a review that specifically addresses those issues.

You may purchase Roots of the Swamp Thing here.

Review written by Acep Hale.

Soundtrack for this video:

2 responses to “Revisiting Comic’s Horror Heyday with “Roots of the Swamp Thing”

  1. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: 10/7/2019 – castaliahouse.com·

  2. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: 10/7/2019 – Herman Watts·

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