Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Retro Review: Swamp Thing #61 Review

Written By: Alan Moore and Steve Bissette
Art By: Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala
Price: $1.00
Pub Date: June 1987

*Spoilers ahead, score at the bottom*


Since a lot of people on the site are doing Green Lantern reviews in honor of the character’s 75th anniversary, I figured I would get on the trolley and contribute my own. Of course, I had to be a dick about it and do a story that wasn’t in a Green Lantern title at all! It’s one of my favorite stories from one of my all-time favorite runs in comics, and I think you’ll find that, despite being in a book titled Swamp Thing, this tale is all about an Emerald ring-slinger and the world he inhabits. Is this story worth reading or am I full of shit? Keep reading to find out!

Our story opens on the planet J586, a world of sentient plant beings that live in responsive Banyam trees and where wearing animal products is an artistic statement. We first meet Disma and Locliss, a couple who have hot plant sex and step out onto the crowded branches of a busy urban complex. Despite this happy, familiar scene, we quickly learn that life on J586 can be as mundane as life anywhere, a point made clear by Lady Shurlo the Flesh-Artist’s captioned ennui. I hope Shurlo got some credit for Lady Gaga’s meat dress. We then see priest Imrel addressing a congregation about their god, O, but in captions we learn that he no longer believes his own words, and contemplates his own suicide. And this world’s Green Lantern, Medphyll, is mourning the death of his mentor Jothra, and considering whether or not he is necessary on a world where lawlessness has been bred out and the threats are so few. Listlessly, he charges his power ring with a special oath that is pretty awesome, and wonders if he will even need to use it within the twenty-four hour limit. Turns out that even on a world where beings can adjust the production of their own pheromones in order to appeal more to one’s senses of scent and taste, not everything is sweet.

While we observe these vignettes, a nameless horror is careening towards the planet, about to wreak destruction. Readers of the series know this is a disembodied form of the Swamp Thing, who was separated from the Parliament of Green (from whence Swampy gets his powers) by nefarious corporate forces. This issue comes during a run where Swamp Thing is bouncing around the universe, trying to find his way back to Earth and the people he loves. On the way home, he’s about to collide with planet J586.

Of course Swamp Thing touches down in this busy district on J586, and immediately commandeers all nearby plant-based bodies, drawing them into a gigantic humanoid form of writhing, terrified creatures. The two-page title spread is really something else, though I would have liked to see it rendered a little more carefully and perhaps colored with more detail, yet printing standards of the time may have precluded such fine work. Things are suddenly thrown into chaos, as Swamp Thing reels with the simultaneous incorporation of so many minds and begins thrashing about, destroying the Banyam complex. Meanwhile, the beings drawn into creating Swamp Thing’s hulking form are also sharing their consciousness, and the characters we met at the beginning of the story are having personal crises.

On a page laid out to look like Swamp Thing’s face, we see that Disma and Locliss are learning about their hidden fears and resentments, Lady Shurlo sees how closed-off she has become from society, and Imrel is having his faithlessness challenged before the flora wonder he is experiencing. And still Swamp Thing thrashes around, destroying Banyam trees left and right, and probably causing a lot of black eyes and bruised elbows in the process.

That’s when this world’s Green Lantern, Medphyll, shows up. Though the populace rejoices to see him, Medphyll is conflicted, unsure of how to proceed. Every physical option seems like it will result in the injury or death of more of J586’s people. And here’s where we see that this is a Green Lantern story, not a Swamp Thing story, because while this is just a pit stop for ol’ Swamps while he desperately tries to get back to Earth, this is the moment of truth for Medphyll: can he solve this calamity without killing anyone, and without the aid of his mentor Jothra? I won’t keep you in suspense. He can.

Medphyll does a sort of mind meld with the giant Swampster and effectively runs interference while his power ring picks the form apart being by being. Ultimately, he is able to save everyone (noting that those comprising the feet had suffered the worst injuries), and he captures Swamp Thing’s vibrational essence or whatever in a jar. The people of J586 then go back to their lives, a bit changed for the experience. Disma and Locliss split up without a word, having learned too much about each other’s inner selves. Lady Shurlo finds that she lacks admirers in a convened society that requires less commentary than before. And priest Imrel returns to his flock, his faith restored by the crazy alien plant-thing that turned a bunch of people into a jigsaw puzzle.

Back at Medphyll’s crib, Swamp Thing apologizes from the inside of his jar, and explains that he is only trying to catch the vibrational wave home. Medphyll says he can teach the technique, but it will take time. Then he decides to have Swamp Thing inhabit the corpse of Jothra and hang out with him while teaching the ways of the space plant. Which is pretty fucking creepy when you really think about it. Eventually, Swamp Thing gets his groove back and says he is sorry for being a brother. Thanking Medphyll profusely, he abruptly departs Jothra’s body, which crumples into Medphyll’s arms. Too late for him to hear, Medphyll thanks Swampy for helping him get over the death of his great friend.

Bits and Pieces:

This is such a well-crafted and interesting story, and my paltry review did it no justice. Rick Veitch’s art is really loose and ethereal and normally works great for this series. I just wish that two-page title spread had been rendered more meticulously, but it may not have been possible given technical limitations of the time. It really does nothing to detract from the tale, however, and I would recommend this and every issue of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing besides. It’s pretty much the run that got me into reading superhero comics in the first place


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