So, magic is pretty much the coolest.
It wasn’t until looking back on this Swamp Thing arc that I started to ask myself why so many of the most iconic and defining stories in geek culture deal with the use of magic. Harry Potter. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Hell, the Marvel and DC Universe as a whole. It made me pause to think about what magic really is… and, in its essence, it’s really intelligent, studious people using dead languages and old books to make the impossible come true. It’s the heart of what we – as readers, as dreamers, as lovers of story – do every time we open a book or a comic or pop in a DVD. That is magic.
And, looking back, I think that’s what Swamp Thing is about.
Here’s why The Saga of the Swamp Thing is my favorite run on any comic ever. Alan Moore’s got pretty much everything you come to funny books looking for in his take on Swampy. Superheroes? Check. Broadening mythology? Check. Epic battles, good versus evil, crazy/weird/cool characters, universe-spanning scope? Check, check, check, check. So far, this is sounding like what you could (or should?) expect from any comic-book summer event series. But Alan Moore subverts the very notion of a superpowered being who can solve the world’s problems by hitting it – he gets to the core of what we, as readers, do as we delve into a story.
Alan Moore has Swamp Thing save the world with deep thought, logic, contemplation, new ideas, and, perhaps best of all… words.
Let’s rewind a bit. We’ve got DC’s Most Magic on Earth, trying and failing to stop the embodiment of evil from destroying the Universe with its hand. Swamp Thing’s buds have been absorbed by the thing… and it appears that all is lost. Until, that is, Swamp Thing willingly allows himself to be taken and begins talking to the Darkness. He points out the one truth that even this god beyond gods cannot deny. He tells the Darkness what he had learned from the Parliament of Trees, a group of dormant Earth elementals that had, in the past, played the very role Swamp Thing now plays.
He says – and this is the unabridged quote, because it would physically pain me to cut these words: “They spoke of aphids eating leaves… bugs eating aphids… themselves finally devoured by the soil… feeding the foliage. The asked… where evil dwelled… within this cycle… and told me… to look… to the soil… The black soil… is rich in foul decay… Yet glorious life… springs form it… but however dazzling… the flourishes of life… in the end… all decays… to the same black humus… Perhaps… perhaps evil… is the humus… formed by virtue’s decay… And perhaps… perhaps it is from… that dark, sinister loam… that virtue grows strongest?”
Okay, whew. Profound as he is, it does take the green fella a while to get his words out. In any case, this line of thinking, this philosophical discourse between a heartbroken plant who believed himself to be a man and the essence of evil ended up saving the world. The Darkness reached out its massive, black hand not toward the Earth but toward another massive hand, this one glowing and golden.
The hands of Good and Evil touched, essentially settling a war that had been waged since before the beginning of time. Good and evil were no longer at war – because of the magic of words and the power of thought, they realized that they need each other.
Death and evil didn’t stop after that. The wicked stayed wicked and the good stayed good, and they continued to fight because that is what they are meant to do. But something was profoundly different at the end of this book. It may not have been the nature of good and evil, and it may not have been Swamp Thing, and it may not have been the way we approach superhero comics.
But I know that I – as a reader, and a dreamer, and a lover of story – was quite different by the end of this one. Because man, oh man… it was a good one.
PAT SHAND writes for Zenescope Entertainment. He hope to one day be a guest on the Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He will settle for being an audience member.