Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Review: Swamp Thing #50

Last week I reviewed Dark Crisis:The Deadly Green, a one shot tied to Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths and a definite homage to the classic Swamp Thing #50 from 1986. During the review I wondered if folks not familiar with the source material might not appreciate the issue as much as someone like me, someone who knows this book by heart. 

I love this issue. It came out at just the right time for me, in the middle of my teen years when comics were suddenly akin to literature and not juvenile nonsense. It seems almost silly to sing the praises of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing or the art stylings of Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch. But if you haven't read that run, you should. It is brilliant and stands up today.

With the homage fresh in my mind, I figured why not review Swamp Thing #50 here. It is one of my favorite issues of all time and why not shed some light on why I liked Deadly Green so much.

Sit back and prepare to be amazed. Everything about this book sings. It is hard to believe but the character of John Constantine was just a year old at this point. Some of the character aftermath of this issue stuck for years, even today. The art is utterly lush. 

On to the book.

Let's start out by stating the obvious. Alan Moore is a genius story-teller. 

He gives this issue, the culmination of the American Gothic arc, a framing sequence with Cain and Abel. Moore had inserted them into the DCU proper in an earlier issue, making them the actual Cain and Abel from the Bible.

In the opening sequence, the act as a bit of a 'previously in' page, letting us know that the Brujeria had summoned the complete absence of Divine Light, the Soul of Darkness. 

This is much more interesting than a recap page.

On the fields of Heaven and Hell, two armies are forming. There are those demons eagerly awaiting the Darkness to come. And there are some in Hell who like the status quo and side with Heaven. We get plenty of familiar faces here. Swamp Thing obviously. But also Deadman, Dr. Fate, Etrigan, and the Phantom Stranger.

Moore gives us just a little more backstory, realizing that an 'anniversary issue' like this might be the first issue someone buys. So we hear about this new right bastard John Constantine who has led Swamp Thing on a tour of horrors in an attempt to stop this Darkness from coming. 

I'll also state the obvious here. The art in this issue is just gorgeous. Beautiful. Swamp Thing always looks lush.

Constantine has set up a mystic seance to try and muster up mystical energy on the Earthly plane to bolster those on the battlefield.

What a crew too. Sargon, Zatara, Zatanna, Baron Winter, Dr. Occult, and ... Mento??

Remember, in Deadly Green, it is a seance that is the catalyst. 

Finally, the Darkness shows itself, a massive ebony column rising from the chaos, too massive to even contemplate.

Remember, a massive ebony column is the key to the Deadly Green.

But I love how Moore lets you get a sense of how unbelievably gigantic this thing is. The armies running before it might be its allies or just scared. The Earth mystics can't even fathom it. And the Heavenly troops are like ants before it.

Etrigan decides to charge into it.

We see the first of 4 conversations about the nature of evil between the Darkness and a character. View these and remember that Constantine talks to the Darkness about corruption in Deadly Green, each time speaking to some other incarnation of evil which the Darkness manifests.

Of course, a demonic mind like Etrigan would think of Evil in such stark terms, of an endless fight. 

With little use for Etrigan's understanding of evil, the Darkness casts him out.

When the mystics on Earth lend their energy to Etrigan, the Darkness notices them. Mento says the Darkness is annoyed by them, trying to shrug them off like a fly.

The first to get swatted? Sargon the Sorceror. Of course, Sargon had a time as a villain so no surprise he falls first. He bursts into flames.

We saw a similar concern for magical fire in Deadly Green.

This book has some great scenes I am not sharing so I hope everyone tracks it down. Dr. Fate shows why he is one of the most respected and powerful sorcerers in the DCU in this issue. He incinerates one of the Abnagazer, Rath, and Ghast (I can never remember which is which).

And then when he is swallowed up by the Darkness, he compares evil to camel dung. Unhappy with being treated with contempt, Fate is spat out battered and unconscious. 

I told you this book had serious and long-lasting ramifications. 

The Darkness backlash again builds up at the seance. Initially it looks like Zatanna will burst into flames. But Zatara casts a spell so it takes him instead.

Zatara stayed dead. Zatanna's implied crush on John and then her anger at him here both stuck around.

Finally, the big gun the Heavenly host have been waiting for shows up. It's the Spectre. And yes, this was a time when the Spectre was nearly omnipotent. In fact, he could have stopped all this from happening an issue before by stopping the messenger crow who summoned this thing. But the Spectre was looking for this fight. Alas, he gets it.

The column is massive. Even at an enormous size, the Spectre can only hug it and try to slow it down.

But then, four other columns rise up out of the miasma and engulf him. 

Can you see what the column is now?

This was mind-blowing for young Anj. Mind blown!

I had to include the whole page of the Spectre's encounter.

In each of these encounters, the characters have spoken in very black and white terms. Here the Spectre, always an instrument of extreme justice, speaks of vengeance. 

The Spectre is summarily dispatched.

The Spectre!

Mind blown. 

But I have to say that these philosophical discussion about evil were pretty heady back then. Interesting to play these out against the more recent ones in Deadly Green.

Constantine demands to know what Swamp Thing is doing given that he 'trained' the elemental for this moment.

Go back to the recap page above and you hear Swamp Thing talk about how what he has seen over this arc has made him question what he knows of evil. He has done things that could be looked at as evil.

In his discussion with the Darkness, he relays a metaphor told to him by the Parliament of Trees (another concept introduced in this arc which has stood the test of time). The cycle of nature shows that perhaps evil is necessary. Out of evil, the greatest good can blossom. 

Given a lot to mull over, the Darkness allows Swamp Thing to walk out. 

The column of Darkness the heroes were fighting? It was just the thumb of the Darkness.

Understanding now that perhaps there is a 'tao' of evil, how a yin/yang is needed within the universe, the celestial hand of Light grasps the anti-light, the Darkness.

I still get goose bumps at this page.

And then, it's over.

On Earth, Mento has gone catatonic. His madness for seeing all this carries forward in the DCU.

And in the afterlife, the armies simply disperse.

The Phantom Stranger gives us a coda, perhaps unneeded as we have been shown the story Moore wanted to tell us. 

Here we are told. 

Good and evil can only exist because of each other. A flower can bloom in Hell. An adder can coil in heaven.

This is one of my all time favorite issues ever. Heck, in high school, I wrote a paper on it. And even now, nearly 40 years later, I still love it. 

So no surprise that, given this issue's tangential tie to Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was riffed on so directly in Deadly Green. It was so much fun reading that issue and remembering this issue. And it has been so rewarding for me to revisit it in depth here.

No surprise on the grade.

Overall grade: A+++


Steve said...

I'm not a horror fan but I hadn't stopped reading Swamp Thing yet at this point. I'm also not a big fan of most of Moore's hero comics but I liked his Swamp Thing better. Not a fan of his twisting others' creations to match his aesthetic but Swamp Thing was first so that part of his schtick was still fresh. I think it helped that there were no other deconstructed existing characters going forward.

H said...

Please don't judge me too harshly but, I don't like this. I like the Cain and Abel bookends but that's it. Alan Moore's Swamp Thing does nothing for me. I know that puts me in the minority but it's just not my thing.

There are Alan Moore stories I like (mostly shorter or more humorous pieces) but this is one of those series that marked the beginning of comic books going from 'something for everybody' to 'only for a select group'. To me, this is comics being ashamed of their past and trying to rewrite it. I think 'DC Comics aren't just for kids' showed up around the same time and when you're trying to push kids away from comics, you know something's very wrong. I'd even add the sort of decisions made during and right after Crisis to the ramifications of this series.

I apologize if what I've said or implied is harsh, but this is how I feel.

Martin Gray said...

Thanks for a terrific look at a significant comic, it’s fascinating to see just gone closely the Deadly Green hews towards it. I remember not being greatly into the philosophical discussions here - I preferred the earlier chapters of American Gothic, the visits to small towns - but I did enjoy seeing so many of DC’s mystical characters together. The finger business was pretty creepy.

Poor old Giovanni, though.

Oh, that art!

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments!

Always interested in reading different opinions H. I can remember that the letter columns were split about Moore's revelations about Swamp Thing (and his killing General Sunderland). And I can remember that the letter column about this very issue was pretty split. I read comics now and think they are embarrassed about their past. So I can see you thinking that here.

This book hit just when I was turning the corner into late teens so I was looking for something meatier.

Yes, the finger business was bananas!

Kinofreak said...

Didn't read it - how was it related to COIE?

Anj said...

It's tangential, but they make a point in the arc to say that the cosmic upheaval of the Crisis is what makes the afterlife and mystic realms more susceptible to catastrophes like this anti-light being released.

The Crisis even gets a good showing in Swamp Thing #46 - briefly looked at here -

Kinofreak said...

Thank you! I remember reading #46 in the Crisis Companion Omnibus, but didn't read more of Swamp Thing...