Friday, 14 December 2012
GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: ROOTS OF THE SWAMP THING (DC COMICS CLASSIC LIBRARY)
This had been out for nearly a year before I even realised it existed and even then I couldn't get it from Amazon and had to pay more for a copy on Ebay. But it was worth it. This is the collection of one of the two comics which got me back into reading comics again almost exactly forty years ago -the other being Roy Thomas & Barry Smith's Conan (which I also have in hardback). That's 1972 for the numerically challenged. The book contains all 13 issues of Swamp Thing that were written by Lein Wein, the 10 illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, 3 drawn by Nestor Redondo and the precursor to the series, an 8 page story from House of Secrets which created a big stir. All in a nice solid hardback with decent paper.
The very first words on the opening page of Swamp Thing:1 are: Beginning --a NEW kind of graphic excitement-- The SAGA of the SWAMP THING! And for once, rather than being outrageous hyperbole, this was the simple, plain unadorned truth.
Well, more or less.
Muck monsters weren't anything new -back in the 40's there was The Heap- they'd just never been fashionable before. The Heap was also brought back later that decade when Eclipse Comics revived, and to great success (trans. I loved it) Airboy and his friends.
But what made Swamp Thing the great success was the art by Bernie Wrightson who came over as a cross between EC artists Berni Krigstein and Wally Wood with his eye for the grotesque, his distinctive style and very fine lines. The script by Wein was good for the period but not noticeably outstanding. His plots were better as we got: a brilliant young scientist trapped in a grotesque body which could form words only with the greatest difficulty who comes into conflict with diabolist Arcane (who later played a major villain in Alan Moore's revival) and his Un-men (who got their own Vertigo series), a Frankenstein's monster-like creature, a wolfman, witches, robots with a twist, a Lovecraftian monster, an alien, and Batman. The actual stories were better than the dialogue and suited the maturing young Wrightson to a T.
Back then, no-one had seen art like this in mainstream comics before. It was grotesque, it was scary, it was beautiful. It was, by the standards of the time, breathtaking and a world away from the clean bright conventional superheroes. Swamp Thing inhabited the places they never even thought to go.
It was the best comic of its day and forty years later it still stands up. This is a collection that no comic lover should be without.
Nestor Redondo, who replaced Wrightson, was by no means a weak substitute but a very talented Philippino comics artist. If he lacked Wrightson's eye for the grotesque, he made up for it with an attractive, clean and detailed style. He died in 1995.
Bernie Wrightson, however, is still with us and still active. He's currently working on stories about a revived Frankenstein's creature with writer Steve Niles and I'm impatient for the trade paperback edition..