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Off the Shelf: Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol. 2

It was more than two years ago that I read the first volume in this new hardcover series collecting the influential mid-1980s series by Alan Moore et al. and wrote about it here. I finally bought the second volume a few months back while visiting Santa Barbara and just got around to reading it now.

Pretty much everything I said about the first volume stands for the second. This collection deals largely with the relationship between Swamp Thing, his former life as Alec Holland and with Abby. It is Abby at the heart of these stories, as the meat of this book is the confrontation between Swamp Thing and Abby’s husband Matt Cable.

Moore’s handle on the craft is still improving here, leaping by bounds per issue, and he avoids the kind of obvious superhero confrontation that would have been very easy and pleasing for fans in favor of a story and a resolution that is much more thoughtful, mature and will resonate for years to come still.

There’s also some fun in here — with “Pog,” an issue in which Swamp Thing meets some aliens that are surrogates for the cast of Walt Kelly’s Pogo.  This sounds like a disaster, but Moore manages to pull this off and make it work within the series and without being so incongruous, goofy or in love with itself that it breaks the spell.

The series concludes with a stunning issue in which Swamp Thing and Abby admit their love for each other and he allows her to see the world as he does. The techniques used here foreshadow the bulk of what Moore did with Promethea, and works completely and beautifully. The excellent art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben make it completely natural to slowly turn the book in your hands until it’s sideways and then back again.

It’s amazing to look at these stories and realize how much DC and Vertigo built on the ideas and techniques Moore pioneered even in the first year and a half of his work on Saga of the Swamp Thing. It also is hard, if not impossible, to imagine that any comic produced in 2011 could have even half the impact that this series had in 1984 and 1985.

I hope I get around to reading Vol. 3 sometime before 2013.

Off the shelf: Wilson, Other Lives and Blazing Combat

Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95, 80 pages) is the most-recent release from Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame, telling the life story of a guy who is most accurately described as a misanthropic jerk in a series of one-page stories. At first, the format is a bit choppy and repetitive, but these little vignettes — each playing out like a little remembered incident you might tell at a party — start to add up and have a surprisingly emotional effect. Wilson’s story is a sad one and he’s not the first character of this type that Clowes has tackled, but the relentlessness with which Wilson is shown to constantly choose to be a jerk is compelling as it goes from annoying to self-destructive to sadly sympathetic. It’s not the easiest thing to get into, but it’s well worth it.
I’ve long been a fan of Peter Bagge’s talent for creating completely believable and weird characters, and his most-recent outing — the Vertigo original graphic novel Other Lives (DC/Vertigo, $24.99, 136 pages) — is no exceptions. Here, Bagge delves into a world where everyone is pretending at least part of the time to be something they’re not. What I like the most about Bagge’s characters is the realism that results from having them think they’re a lot smarter than they are. They never see past their own fantasies to the obvious real-life conclusion that’s bearing down on them, which makes the way Bagge resolves his plots all the more fun and weird. My biggest complaint with this book is that this is a $25 hardcover graphic novel from one of the industry’s giants and it’s in black and white. This isn’t new — Vertigo’s been doing this since the likes of The Quitter, The Alcoholic and Incognegro. Honestly, I’m already paying $25 — I would pay an extra $5 if that’s what it took to get this in color.

Saving the best for last, there’s Blazing Combat (Fantagraphics, $19.99, 208 pages), an amazing collection of the stories from the short-lived cutting-edge mid-1960s Warren Publications series. These are all short stories in the mode of Harvey Kurtzman’s Frontline Combat, but with a 1960s edge to them. They’re all written by the outstanding Archie Goodwin, with a few assists, which for most fans would be reason enough to buy this comic all by itself. But then you throw in some of the most amazing art, all of it sharply and expertly reproduced, and you’ve got some real dynamite here. This book includes prime artwork from Joe Orlando, Gene Colan, Reed Crandall, John Severin, Alex Toth, Al McWilliams, Wally Wood and Russ Heath. And there’s fantastic bonus features, including interviews with original publisher James Warren and Goodwin on the book and the troubles it faced getting distribution after being labeled an “anti-war” book in the early days of the Vietnam War, and the original color covers by none other than the late Frank Frazetta. If all that doesn’t sell you on this as a must-buy, then you may need professional help.

Off the Shelf: Jonah Hex: No Way Back

Jonah Hex: No Way Back (DC Comics, $19.99, 136 pages) is better than it needs to be, which I mean anyone who buys this book because they like the upcoming movie version will no doubt feel they got their money’s worth.

As a graphic novel, it’s a solid Western tale that is not without some pretty obvious rough edges.

The gist of the story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray is that Jonah Hex discovers from his dying mother that he has a half-brother. With her death, Hex heads to meet the brother he never knew he had and lay their mother to rest. This is far and away the best part of the story, as it highlights the tragedies of Hex’s life and provides a convincing contrast to his violent nature.

Less convincing is the nominal villain of the story, a bandit named El Papagayo who wants revenge on Hex’s family. While El Papagayo provides an excuse for some good action sequences in the book, this element feels very tacked on — as if it was added solely because the book needed an action element.

Tony Dezuniga, who was known for his work on the original 1970s Jonah Hex series, does an outstanding job on the art for this series. His storytelling and compositions are relaxed, confident and clear, while the scratchy finish — assisted by John Stanisci — is a perfect fit for the genre.

Dezuniga also deserves credit for bringing some taste and class to the art. The script calls for a number of rather gruesome scenes that Dezuniga draws with just the right mix of restraint and clarity so that it’s always clear what’s happening without being gratuitous or ostentatious.

Which brings me to the one part of this book that really annoyed me, which is the use of eye dialect in writing Hex’s dialog in particular. (Eye dialog is the practice of writing a character’s dialog phonetically to convey a heavy accent. Chris Claremont used this a lot in his Uncanny X-Men run on characters like Rogue, whose lines were written like “Ah shore do, shugah!” rather than “I sure do, sugar!”) I think this is a technique where a little goes a long way — a few lines early on to establish the accent can let readers assume it continues through the book and let the writer put the emphasis more back on what’s said than how it’s said.

And in Jonah Hex: No Way Back, I found it very distracting. Other characters had distinctive speaking patterns or used terms common to dialog in the genre without going to the extent of Hex near the end saying, “Guilt ain’t sumpthin’ Ah live with. Ah figger guilt is a disease that eats yer soul.”

Maybe it’s just me, and it won’t bother anyone else. Which is fine because despite its rough edges the positives of this book clearly outshine the negatives.

Off the Shelf: Wednesday Comics

Wednesday Comics (DC Comics, $49.99, 200 pages) is even more impressive to look at in the spiffy new oversize hardcover edition. The strips read much better (and more quickly) grouped by feature than they did one page a week.

The quality of the strips is overall pretty good, but they obviously are not equal, so here’s a strip-by-strip rundown of this very cool comic.

Batman, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, kicks things off with a slight disappointment and is not as good as I was expecting given the creators. A basic detective story whodunit in which a banking magnate dies and the suspects include his son and his trophy wife, is simply serviceable. Risso doesn’t seem to have time to find his legs in the new format and doesn’t have the freedom to cut loose with the sex and violence he draws so well.

Kamandi, by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook, is a flat-out tribute to Prince Valiant and its peers in the classic adventure strips genre. Gibbons eschews balloons and scripts the story Prince Valiant style, with blocks of text that combine both narration and dialog. And it works extremely well with the classic look of Sook’s artwork. The lush, illustrative art deviates radically from the iconic Jack Kirby version, but Sook sells it with detail and elegance.

Superman, by John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo, is a gorgeous looking comic that combines old-school illustration with terrific modern coloring. I saw some of these original art pages at San Diego last year, and Bermejo and colorist Barbara Ciardo deserve credit for the best-looking Superman comic in years. The story mixes the action with the human side of Clark Kent to mixed results, though I can’t say the fault lies with Arcudi entirely as DC has for years focused on the man at the expense of the super when it comes to the Man of Steel. Fans of today’s Superman comics will dig it; the rest of us can just look at it and drool.

Deadman, by Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck, was a lot of fun to read. As someone who’s never read a Deadman comic before (though I would like to read the classic Neal Adams run), the wise-cracking characterization of Boston Brand was unexpected. Bullock, who comes from the animation side of Warner Bros. and directed the very cool Justice League: New Frontier home-video adaptation, injects a lot of energy and fun into the kind of karmic life-after-death story that is so dreary in the wrong hands. Of all the strips, this one surprised me the most and I would read more of Bullock and Heuck on this character.

Green Lantern, by Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones, is a pretty standard GL story that stands out visually because of the retro, Space Age setting. I like the idea of Hal Jordan as a test pilot during the era of Chuck Yeager and the Mercury astronauts because that’s really the only time in American history where those men were well known and admired as heroes. I wish the storytelling had been a bit more inventive, but it works just fine as is.

Metamorpho, by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred, sounds like one of those can’t-miss team ups. And while it looks great and the story has some nice details in it, it doesn’t blow the doors off the way I was deep down hoping it would. As always, Allred’s art shines and is gorgeous to look at. He doesn’t go overboard with experimentation, but he does try some very cool tricks, primarily the “Snakes and Ladders” game board and Metamorpho and Element Girl hopping through all the elements of the periodic table in a huge two-page spread. The problem is these tricks don’t come off as an organic part of Gaiman’s story, which features a rather plain plot and some really fun wordplay in the periodic table pages especially.

Teen Titans, by Eddie Berganza and Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, is one of the harder strips to follow as both the story and the art confuse. Berganza’s tale is a pretty standard superhero story that would be well-suited to an episode of the cartoon series. Galloway is an excellent artist and a fantastic character designer whose work on such animated series as The Spectacular Spider-Man is top-notch. But the layouts used in this format are extremely confusing, muddied even further by using anime-style muted coloring. It looks better in the collected edition than it did on newsprint, but still seems like a poor choice when brighter colors and stronger contrasts could have made this really pop.

Strange Adventures, by Paul Pope, picks things up again. Pope is exactly the sort of artist whose style and design sense really play into the broadsheet comics idea. The story, which stars Adam Strange, is again a pretty standard Adam Strange story, but the joy comes from the way in which Pope draws this familiar character and his worlds in a way that completely recasts it as more Heavy Metal and less Murphy Anderson. If Paul Pope drew a dozen science fiction comic books a month, I would buy them all.

Supergirl, by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, is the must purely fun strip in this collection. The story shows Supergirl chasing after Krypto and Streaky as they chase each other and playfully cause their share of super-size damage. Conner really has a knack for the story, and for the first time I can remember Supergirl is a enjoyable and cute character without being hyper-sexualized. Paul Mounts, who colored this story, also deserves a pat on the back for giving it a bright, clean look that really pops off the page.

Metal Men, by Dan DiDio and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan, was a real pleasant surprise. I know that Garcia-Lopez is revered in comic art circles and is to many professionals the best artist in the business, but I haven’t had much chance to ever read much of his work beyond, I think, an arc or two of Legends of the Dark Knight. But his reputation is certainly supported by the outstanding artwork here. Not only is everything well drawn, but the scenes are beautifully composed and the pages laid out to take maximum advantage of both the format’s ability to display both big iconic images and pack in a lot of story. I always found the Metal Men a little too goofy to read a long run of stories about them, but this was just right.

Wonder Woman, by Ben Caldwell, is the lightning rod tale of this book. Like Galloway on Teen Titans, Caldwell uses a distinct but subtle color scheme that made deciphering the sketchy, small-panel art style almost impossible on newsprint. The collected edition is a big improvement, and I found a lot more to like in the dream-like story than before. It still is my least favorite strip in the book, however, though I applaud Caldwell and DC for being willing to experiment like this with such a high-profile character.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co., by Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert, is a real old-fashioned DC war comic story that works as entertainment even though it doesn’t break any new ground. Joe Kubert’s art is, as always, outstanding and instantly recognizable. No one can do this kind of material as well as he can. The story is solid and stands solidly within the tradition of Sgt. Rock stories, which also makes it very old-fashioned and perhaps a little stodgy given that World War II ended 65 years ago.

The Flash, by Karl Kerschl, Brenden Fletcher, Rob Leigh and Dave McCaig, is the best superhero strip in the book by a long shot. It’s also one of the best and most memorable Flash stories I’ve ever read, perhaps because the plot is willing to take its premise all the way to a conclusion that’s both logical and satisfying. There’s a lot of little things to like, such as including a separate Iris West strip in the old romance-comic style and even a Gorilla Grodd sequence that’s a nod to old Tarzan comics. This one also does some of the coolest bits with the broadsheet page, designing sequences of panels that easily lead the eye all over the page in patterns that would render most other comics unreadable. This is a very appealing take on the Flash, and I wish that the character’s new comic book series had even half the panache of this version.

The Demon and Catwoman, by Walter Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze, is a strangely bloodless exercise. Stelfreeze is a good artist, and he delivers the kind of solid drawing and polished inking that I would like to see in more superhero comic books. But there’s not as much experimentation or playing to the format here. Simonson’s story is solid, but similarly doesn’t do much to make me care about these characters or showcase the pairing in such a way that it makes me want to read more.

Lastly, there’s Hawkman, by Kyle Baker, which is expectedly hilarious. Baker just pulls out all the stops and turns the character into the ultimate macho superhero who responds to the weirdest plot twists by just hitting everything as hard as he can. The opening page, which parodies Frank Miller’s 300 comic with “We flap!” replacing “We march!,” is a riot. The art is similarly ripped, with what looks like computer models and photo referencing producing every kind of macho detail a fanboy could want. All this, and it never takes itself seriously! I love it.

This edition wraps with two single-page strips that I imagine didn’t make the cut. The first is a cartoony Plastic Man strip by Evan Dorkin and Stephan DeStefano, the second is a Creeper page by Keith Giffen and Eric Canete. I can’t say either impressed me enough to want to see more, though I would definitely try a Dorkin and DeStefano superhero comic.

The Wednesday Comics experiment falls into the success category. Even though not every strip succeeded, the experience of reading the book was a satisfying one — moreso than reading the strips in the original serialized form. A big part of that for me is the variety of the strips — no two strips were alike; no two creative teams experimented with the format in quite the same way. More than anything, Wednesday Comics is adventurous in a way that DC would do well to try spreading to the rest of its comics line.

Off the Shelf: The Great Outdoor Fight

There’s a lot to like in Chris Onstad’s webcomic turned graphic novel, most notably the absurd sense of humor and the faux history that forms the core of The Great Outdoor Fight (Dark Horse, $14.95).  This book is a collection of the webcomic Achewood, which Onstad has been working on since late 2001.

Like a lot of the better comics, the premise sounds kind of absurd on the surface: A strange tradition called The Great Outdoor Fight, in which 3,000 men gather to duke it out over three days in a three-acre pitch draws the interest of a strange guy named Raymond Quentin Smuckles. I can’t tell what he’s supposed to be — teddy bear, cat, unknown type of dog — but I do know he wears glasses and a thong worthy of one of those Marvel swimsuit specials of the 1990s. Ray’s father entered and won the 1973 fight, and Ray sets out to do the same with the help of his equally strange pals Roast Beef and Barry. 
Onstad’s invented a whole history for this fight, complete with strange traditions and rules, that’s convincing and perhaps the most fun part of the strip. The humor’s absurd, stemming from the obsessions and tortured thinking of the characters. That their plots make sense, that a lot of folks will see people they know in these characters is both hilarious and down right frightening given their single-minded inventiveness in achieving the oddest goals for the strangest of reasons. 
My first reaction to the art was somewhat offputting — its intentional amateurish quality was my least favorite part of the book. But I’ve since come around and like the fact that this weird story looks like the kind of comic the strange tough-guy kid who only listens to AC/DC in the back of your middle school class would draw to prove how much more hard cord fucking weird he is than you could ever hope to be. The reaction is much the same: this is some sick stuff, but it’s also undeniably funny.

Off the shelf: Chew, Vol. 1

One of the great things about comics is their ability to surprise you, to come up with an idea too strange for other media and make it work completely.

That’s the case with Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice (Image Comics, $9.99), which is most definitely one of the weirdest and coolest comics I’ve come across in a while. None of this will be news to the many folks who picked this up in periodical form. (It’s interesting that this series caused an old-fashioned back issue run when it came out last summer, with prices rising quickly as folks caught on to the series. There’s still some life in the old ways after all, it seems.)

This is the story of Tony Chu, a police detective with the unusual gift of cibopathy — he can obtain information on objects by eating them. This has obvious drawbacks, and Chu takes the vegetarian route to avoid constantly being exposed to the fate of most proteins.

All of which would be interesting enough, but writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory add an extra layer of strangeness by putting Chu in a world where the bird flu has made chicken illegal and made the Food and Drug Administration a major law enforcement agency akin to the FBI. Since “food crimes” are now serious, Chu’s talent comes in extra handy. And it just gets weirder and more fun from there.

While this is in some ways an old-fashioned indie comic on the insanity scale, it also is a polished book that makes it of its time. Guillory handles both art and colors and gives the book a nice, modern, slightly cartoony look that fits Layman’s skewed sensibilities quite well.

Future volumes will definitely be worth checking out, as will the back story of what happens when Chew goes to Hollywood. Cannibalism has never been a terribly popular subject for movies or TV shows — the only exceptions I can think of off the top of my head are the mid-1990s movie Alive and the “Our Town” episode from season two of The X-Files — and think this is a property where trying to make it palatable to a mainstream audience is likely going to make some studio executive’s head explode.

That alone justifies the existence of this comic. But even if we lived in a world where cannibal movies were de rigueur, this still would be a very cool read.

Off the shelf: Captain Canuck, Vol. 2

Growing up in Canada as a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I always knew about Captain Canuck. When I was in Grade 3 or 4, a friend of mine used to have a yellow T-shirt with the artwork from the first issue’s cover on it that was very cool and the envy of the rest of the boys at Grandview Heights Elementary School. Given my interest in Canadiana as well as comics, you’d think I’d be an expert on this comic.

But the truth is, I have never read a page of Captain Canuck until now. And I have to say thanks to IDW Publishing for putting this one back into print, even though I missed that they’d published it all up until now.

I’m starting with Vol. 2, which just came out, and collects the Captain Canuck Summer Special and issues 11-14. These are from, according to John Bell in Invaders from the North, “the period that saw Captain Canuck become of the finest superhero comics ever published.” And while that claim may be a bit over the top, there’s no arguing that these are some damn fine superhero comics.

The best stuff is in issues 11-13, a three-parter called “Chariots of Fire” (this came out before the 1981 Oscar winning movie of the same name). This story has a dual plot, one in which Canada has, in the 1990s, become a world superpower due to the value of its natural resources and leads the world’s efforts to repel an alien invasion. Meanwhile, Captain Canuck, who exposed the invasion and was set to lead it, stumbles back in time about a thousand years in an encounter with one of the aliens. The modern world believes the good Captain dead and simultaneously mourns him while using his death to rally the world to the impossible cause of defeating the aliens.

Perhaps my favorite part is the segment with Captain Canuck stuck in the past, where he meets up with a tribe of Micmac natives and helps them fend off their own invasion from the Vikings. This art and writing in this sequence is a tribute to the work of Halifax-born Hal Foster on the classic Prince Valiant comic strip and is extremely well done in both regards.

These stories were written by Richard Comely, who created and drew the first Captain Canuck comics in the mid-1970s, but by this point has focused on his talents as a scripter. The art is by George Freeman and Claude St. Aubin, and is really a joy to look at because, when it shines, it’s pure comic book cartooning at its finest.

And there is something Canadian about it — and the only reason I can come up with for this is the similarity in Freeman’s style to the early work of another Canadian artist of the era, John Byrne. And I’m talking about Byrne even pre-Marvel — Doomsday +1 and the other Charlton stuff he did at the time.

The production value on this book also is great. I don’t know if original films were available, but the art is very crisp and clean and the colors evoke the feel of those 1970s comics while also looking modern.

This beauty package, well worth the $24.99, and I’m definitely on the hunt for Vol. 1. All I need is this book, some jelly doughnuts from Tim Horton’s, a two-four of Labatt’s Blue and an Oilers-Flames game on TV and it’ll be like 1981 all over again.

Off the shelf: Alien: The Illustrated Story (1979)

This is one of those books that I’ve really really wanted to read ever since I first heard about it a very long time ago. I mean, how could you not want to read this? It’s got Archie Goodwin, one of the all-time great writers and the guy who wrote the best Star Wars comics ever. And then its got art by Walter Simsonson. Yes, the same Walter Simonson who did Manhunter with Goodwin, made Marvel’s Battlestar Galactica into a surprisingly good comic and then did a definitive and long run on Thor.

But for whatever reason, I never picked this up until now. Part of that is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy in any of the dozens of comics shops I”ve frequented over the years. The other part being it just never came to mind as something to get on eBay, until now.

And despite the long wait and the high expectations, this really did live up to my expectations. First, Alien is a great movie, one of the best from that heady period between Star Wars and the mid-1980s, when almost every sci-fi/superhero movie coming out had at least something to recommend it. (Consider Superman: The Movie, the first couple of Star Trek movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Tron … and that’s without getting into secondary stuff like The Last Starfighter or Krull.)

What I love the most is this book works as both an adaptation that accurately conveys the story and the experience of the movie and as a damn fine comic book with smart scripting and excellent art.

I have no idea what the reaction to this book might have been. The indicia says it came out in 1979, same year as the movie, but its in a format where the dimensions are similar to a magazine yet the quality of the paper and the ad-free interior are like a book. It’s a bit like what Marvel and DC would try a few years down the road with their original graphic novel format. The pages are larger than the average comic, which lets Goodwin and Simonson put more panels on a page without having to make them too small. The coloring is excellent and the lettering is by John Workman, so you know it’s good. I imagine this must have sold on newsstands alongside things like Heavy Metal magazine (HM published this adapation by the way — and it looks like it could have been serialized in the magazine. I don’t know.) All this for the original cover price of $3.95 — not much less than what I just paid for it recently on eBay.

The only downside is there’s now one less lost gem to cross of my list … I’ll have to start looking for another.

Off the Shelf: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, Vol. 5

I overall really like the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, who gets points from me for being a fellow expat Canadian. I am, however, a little puzzled by the extent of the fervor that surrounds the release of each new volume in this series — something I think I have to put down to a slight generational gap. If I was 17, or maybe even 24, I’m sure I would think this is much more clever, funny and, like, so true than I do at age 39.

But it is a fun book. This volume, to my surprise, comes with some kind of flashy foil cardstock cover of the like I haven’s seen since Valiant last went under. To be honest, I would rather have had some color interior pages, as was done in at least one of the previous volumes. What I like about it is it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Scott Pilgrim remains a pretty clueless slacker, but he’s a funny clueless slacker and the story — much like the real world — doesn’t really punish guys like that for their rather minor flaws. But despite not being heavy or preachy, there’s enough recognizable real life and real emotion in this book to make it charming.

I also like O’Malley’s artwork, which is in many way is a perfect match for the material, evoking equal parts manga and Life in Hell. It’s also low-fi enough to retain the feeling of reading some sort of underground, zine-like comic that only the other cool kids know about — which also fits in perfectly. I imagine some day, there will be some kind of absolute edition featuring a large page size and color, though I can’t imagine either would improve things that much.

Again, even though I really like this series, it’s not for me the second coming of Stan Lee the way it seems to be for some fans. And in some ways, I’m a bit jealous of that because it’s been quite a while since I’ve found a comic that really evokes that sense of discovery in me — again, part and parcel, I think of me no longer being 24 years old.

Off the Shelf: Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol. 1

This is the first in a series of hardcover books reprinting Alan Moore’s seminal run on the title. Amazingly, Moore also wrote Watchmen, which is coming to movie screens in just a couple weeks now! Coincidence, surely. I have to confess to never having read any of Moore’s Swamp Thing until now. And in some ways I’m glad I waited, because it’s always great to find a great comic that you’ve never read before even when it’s 25 years old. The book reprints Saga #20-27, and features a bunch of very cool bits. The coolest is the way Moore completely transforms the hero by revealing Swamp Thing to not be the transformed body of Alec Holland, but the transferred consciousness — meaning there is no chance Swamp Thing can ever become human again. This throws the series’ very premise into doubt and runs counter to the conventions that ruled comic book storytelling and character motivation for the previous, say, two decades. That opens the door for this book to go somewhere completely different, and made for a tremendously interesting read. That not much is immediately done with it is OK — we know there’s more volumes to come. But there’s also a lot of craft in this book, from Moore and artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. For one, everything is deliberate and with purpose — every caption and every panel seems to have been thought through rather well and there’s little if any fat in the story telling. The things that for me didn’t work quite as well were the introduction of various DC Universe characters. The Justice League cameo was strange and thankfully short. The appearance of The Demon, however, was more annoying and seemed more gratuitous. Maybe some of that is every horror/mature reader series DC launched in these pre-Vertigo days seemed to have The Demon show up. (Even Neil Gaiman’s Sandman had both the Justice League and The Demon show up in its early issues.) Plus, the only Demon comics I’ve ever read that I liked were the first few by Jack Kirby. Pretty much everything since has seemed contrived or just plain silly, so that part fell short. These are minor complaints, however, since the overall experience of reading the book is a very pleasurable and intimate one. It’s also a good reminder of what you can do with a comic book when you’ve got a writer with a vision and they’re left largely to their own devices — no crossovers, no mega events, no storytelling by committee. As a latecomer to these stories, I think I like them more than I would have had I read them 10 or 20 years ago. Grade: A-

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