Book Review: Alan Moore's Swamp Thing Volume One, Or, The Most Pleasant Surprise Ever

9:00 am

I fall in and out of love with Alan Moore on a pretty regular basis. Some of his work I love, some I just can't get into. I'm a huge fan of Watchmen and V for Vendetta which shaped my love of comics when I was a teenager, but I never managed to click with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen after a few volumes or From Hell. Fortunately Swamp Thing Volume One fell into the former camp, absolutely blowing me away with the way it deals with emotions and the complexity of what it is to be human. 

This is the first collected volume of Moore's Swamp Thing comic series, originally published in 1984 and lasting four years. There are eleven (if memory serves me well) collected volumes, all recently republished, but the edition I have is an early print. It looks like I'm going to have to hunt down the rest of this edition's run on eBay as the only ones I can find now are newer and don't have such wonderful covers.

For those of you who don't know the background on Swamp Thing, he's a humanoid/plant hybrid, created when scientist Alex Olson has his experiments tampered with and is caught in an explosion. He is mutated by the forces that lived within the swamp he was working near and thus became Swamp Thing, who basically looks like a giant green tree, post-Groot. He was a relatively popular character for Marvel in the 1970s, but this series serves as the second 'volume' of his story, starting in 1982 and being handed over to Moore two years later. The same basic backstory applies, with Alex Olson renamed as Alec Holland, but told from a different angle, that of Jason Woodrue, a Swamp Thing-obsessed man hired to study the 'dead' body of the creature. You can tell by the inverted commas that 'dead' is definitely not where we are with this, and chaos ensues. Woodrue discovers the truth behind Alec Holland/Swamp Thing, and spiralling downward becomes a part of the environment himself, the Floronic Man. 

The main theme of this volume is identity and what it means to be human. There are revelations made by both Woodrue and the Swamp Thing himself about how much of Alec Holland still exists within the creature. It's hard reading at times, with 'Alec' coming to terms with what happened to him. This was probably my favourite element of the comic as it gave a humanity to the story that might have lacked if it simply focused in the fear caused by a huge walking swamp tree. A lot of the story also deals with environmental issues as the 1980s were an era where people were first coming to terms with global warming and the human impact on the planet. How better than to approach this issue but with a comic book character?

I'll certainly be picking up the next volume of this series soon; I have no idea why I let it sit on my shelf unread for so long!

M x

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