What I thought of Saga of the Swamp Thing #20

There’s nothing on Comixology that remotely catches my eye today, so I’ve decided to take advantage of their sale of classic DC Comics titles to help promote DC’s Convergence event  to do a little review of a comic that helped changed the industry in the US, but is barely spoken about mainly because of the issue that followed it. That’s issue 20 of Saga of the Swamp Thing.

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This is Alan Moore’s first issue after taking over the comic from previous writer Martin Pasko, and I’ll be honest here, although I was buying Swamp Thing at the time that was more to do with the lovely art from Tom Yeates than Pasko’s clunking storylines and I was on the verge of dropping it til I saw the first Bissette and Totleben issue (#19) and read that Alan Moore was taking over.

Moore by this point was probably the best writer in British comics thanks to his work in Warrior, 2000AD, Dr. Who Weekly, and Marvel UK. After seeing his work in Warrior, editor Len Wein gave Moore a chance on what was one of DC’s lowest selling titles, which is saying something as in 1984 there were a lot of low selling DC titles. This issue though is about Moore setting up his run so even though this is his first American comic book script it’s amazingly accomplished from the off and even back then it was clear that this was head and shoulders above anything else DC or indeed, Marvel, were doing from the opening couple of pages.

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It not only looks different, but reads differently to everything we were used to. Yes, there are similarities to Don McGregor’s brilliant Black Panther story Panther’s Rage, and to the work of Steve Gerber, but there was something enormously different about Moore’s writing that made you sit up right away.

The plot isn’t that important as it’s about the mysterious General Sunderland planning to kill the Swamp Thing but it’s the little character details that Moore throws in that show that a writer of serious skill is on show here, but what’s surprising about looking at this issue for the first time in at least two decades is Moore’s use of thought balloons.

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It looks odd but at this time Moore may have been light years ahead of an average writer like Pasko, but he was still using old tricks to tell his story. It wasn’t until David Lloyd convinced him to drop thought balloons for V For Vendetta that Moore really started developing the narrative monologue that’s still the norm today.

There’s a fight scene of sorts  where Swamp Thing is killed and the next issue titled The Anatomy Lesson is the issue that changes everything for the character, the title, DC Comics and starts Alan Moore’s reputation in American comics.It is literally that important an issue in the entire history of comics.

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But this issue is an oddity, It’s an issue where the writer is still finding his feet but showing astonishing confidence, and the artists are also hitting top form. As an issue it’s not the best thing Moore has ever written, but it’s an essential one to understand his development which is why its odd that over the years this issue has been missed out of various collected editions. It is a small bit of comics history.

I will say that if you’ve not read Moore’s Swamp Thing run then do so. I’ve not spoiled a single thing about it here as the next issue is a totally fresh start, but this prelude is a taster for the brilliant issue that follows it. For 69p from that Comixology sale you’ll read one of the best single issues of a comic ever produced and that isn’t hyperbole.

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