When you’re thinking about magic in comics – as folks who frequent such a website may be inclined to do – Swamp Thing is probably not the first book you think of. With folks like Doc Strange, Zatanna, and… well, pretty much the entire cast of Sandman running around the comicsphere, a slow-speaking Earth elemental doesn’t tend to register on the Hogwarts scale. There was a long run, though, where The Saga of the Swamp Thing expanded from its roots in EC Comics-esque horror into an all-out mystical event, sending the eponymous monster off with a cast of DC’s magical characters, new and old, to battle a cataclysmic mystical apocalypse that threatened to eat away at the fabric of reality itself.
Yeah, Alan Moore.
Moore’s The Saga of the Swamp Thing is perhaps best known for “The Anatomy Lesson,” the issue where Moore flipped the concept of the series on its head. For the entire run prior to that, we’d believed that Alec Holland, due to a decidedly comic-booky scientific mishap, had his consciousness transferred to a mass of vegetation… and so, Swamp Thing arose. However, Moore came onto his run guns a-blazin’, changing the status quo: Swamp Thing was actually a plant who believed he was Alec Holland… and the search to regain his humanity, which defined the character in many ways, was useless – he had never been a man to begin with. This opened up the mythology of the series to the magical route Moore ended up taking it down, which truly began in his American Gothic arc.
American Gothic started awesome and stayed that way. Beginning with one-and-done stories, Moore introduced magical badass John Constantine (making his first appearance!) who led Swampy on a journey across America, waging a war against a magical group of black hats called the Brujeria. The Brujeria’s aim? Give the world a nightmarish makeover where evil triumphs, the good suffer, and monsters walk the Earth freely. Their method? Conjure up all of the nasties they can and unleash them on Earth to foster belief and fear of dark magic once again. So as dark forces were gathering and making humanity’s nightmares come to life in the form of werewolves, vampires, zombies, Moore was using each monster to symbolize a deeper issue he had with American politics, sexism, race relations and history. So hey, you get to read about a giant, pissed-off plant going through an existential crisis while beating the mess out of classic horror monsters and feel like you’re thinking about complex sociopolitical issues!
Things took a turn for the occult when the cast broadened to include DC Comics magical mainstays Deadman, the Phantom Stranger, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatanna, the Spectre, Etrigan the Demon, Dr. Fate and more. While the magical folk stayed on Earth, performing a dangerous spell to save the world on the magical plane, Swampy, Deadman, the Stranger, Dr. Fate and the Spectre took a metaphysical journey to the source of the evil… a towering black column of evil called the Darkness that ripped through the cosmos, devouring the opposition with no sign of stopping.
As Swamp Thing and his friends buckled and fell to the power of the Darkness, which consumed them one by one, tearing them apart emotionally before physically disintegrating them… they came to a startling revelation.
This horrific, unstoppable black tower?
Yeah, it’s the thing’s freakin’ finger.
NEXT TIME – AN EARTH-SHATTERING HANDSHAKE!
Pat Shand writes for the stage, comics and prose, and teaches literature at a New York university. He’s available for parties and bar mitzvahs.