The one that started it all

The one that started it all
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First Published: Sat, May 01 2010. 01 15 AM IST

Seminal: A Swamp Thing character.
Seminal: A Swamp Thing character.
Updated: Sat, May 01 2010. 04 04 PM IST
I cannot remember the morning anymore—but I know the evening well I belong to it now...” So begins a 1971 comic in DC’s House of Secrets line that gave us one of comicdoms most memorable characters.
The comic, written by Len Wein and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, told the story of a scientist who is murdered by his best friend who happens to be in love with the former’s wife. The friend dumps the near-dead scientist in a swamp, only to have him, after a few pages, resurface as a monster from the swamp, seeking vengeance.
Seminal: A Swamp Thing character.
The small comic was a surprising hit and Wein and Wrightson let themselves be convinced to recreate the story as the first of a series. And the monster became the Swamp Thing.
A decade later, Alan Moore let himself be convinced to carry on the Swamp Thing franchise, along with the talented artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. John Constantine appears as a character in one of these books, a doff of the hat by the artists to Sting (yes, he of the Police fame). Moore was among the first of a wave of British imports into comics: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison (who actually wrote some of the Swamp Thing books towards the end of the franchise’s second run; and he is Scottish), and Jamie Delano (who decided Constantine deserved a series of his own and started Hellblazer, a franchise that is still being published and has passed through the hands of several illustrious comic book artists).
Through the mid- and late-1980s and 1990s, these imports into the American comic book industry were responsible for a significant renewal of interest in the genre.
In many ways, with the Swamp Thing, on which he started work in 1983, Moore showed all that could be done with comics.
His own masterpiece, Watchmen, would follow in 1986. As would Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight. And Gaiman’s Sandman series would come much later.
So, in effect, Moore’s Swamp Thing is the rightful recipient of credit that has been bestowed on The Dark Knight or Watchmen—of being the book that reinvented a genre as claimed by jacket blurbs.
I also think Swamp Thing was responsible for honing Moore’s abilities as a writer of comic books.
The man was talented when he started writing Swamp Thing. But, in the way in which some creations make their creators complete, I have a feeling that Swamp Thing served as a finishing school for Moore.
Witness Down Amongst the Dead Men where he offers his own take of hell in a comic based loosely on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Or witness Rite of Spring where Moore describes, in verse, what fellow comic book author Neil Gaiman describes as a “hallucinogenic consummation between a seven-foot-high mound of vegetation and an expatriate Balkan.”
Maybe that can explain why an early 2000s attempt to revive the franchise with Brian K. Vaughan (of Lost and The Last Man fame) didn’t work. Nor did another a few years later, with several writers, including the talented Andy Diggle. Or maybe it is because in that intangible undefinable way, Swamp Thing was a creature of the 1970s and 1980s.
Vertigo, the adult comics imprint of DC, is reissuing the Moore comics in hard bound volumes, and DC recently released as part of its DC Comics Classics Library Line, Roots of the Swamp Thing. I’d recommend a buy.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, May 01 2010. 01 15 AM IST