Review by Frank Plowright
Having revolutionised Swamp Thing in the first volume, Alan Moore moves toward revolutionising the concept of horror in comics here, although kicks off with a touching, but lightweight, farewell to Alec Holland. Until Moore he’d always been presumed to be Swamp Thing’s guiding intelligence.
The title of ‘The Burial’ indicates an end to the Swamp Thing of old, and thereafter we’re immediately into creepy territory with an infestation of flies signalling the return of an old foe. Previously unsettling, Anton Arcane is now a primal fear, the flies in his wake indicating decay, yet for all the terror he’s able to generate he’s also merely an illustration of the power Moore’s redefined Swamp Thing is able to draw on. This is underlined by a journey to the afterlife to recover a soul, an allegorical trip guided by some of DC’s more out there characters.
Primary artist Steve Bissette pours his dark heart into the pages, from bugs crawling around the edges to the sheer craft of being able to illustrate the final chapter here. That’s a trip of another kind as Abigail Arcane partakes of a tuber Swamp Thing generates in order to more fully embrace what he’s become. Or if you’d prefer the trivial, it’s the vegetable sex chapter. Moore supplies what’s effectively a long form poem about experiences for Bissette and inker John Totleben to break down, and they deliver in stunning fashion. It’s a divisive tale, though, which could be considered inspiringly poetic or floridly over-written. Either way, no-one had attempted anything like it in comics before, and that’s remarkable enough.
The writing is tailored to the contribution of the artists. The looser cartooning of Shawn McManus is ideal for the opener, and even more suited to the whimsical ‘Pog’ a touching tribute to Walt Kelly’s Pogo, whose cast also inhabited a swamp. Ron Randall’s trip to the House of Secrets bookends a reprinted story by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson that served as forerunner to the 1970s Swamp Thing, and Rick Veitch emulates Bissette’s work for part of the Arcane story.
Moore’s influence has spread far since this was published, and the daring inevitably becomes the commonplace when acclaimed, yet thirty years after publication this material still retains the capacity to make the skin crawl. It has its explicit moments, but this is horror developed not through blood and gore, but via exploitation of primal fear. Yet it’s not only horror. The emotional resonance to many of the stories originates in a variety of moods from wacky to whacked out, and there’s a love story at the heart.
Such is the variety and the experimentation that it’s a rare mind that would cherish every story here, yet the quality is self-evident, and most would differ when asked to name what they consider the best material. The horror is more focussed in the next volume, The Curse.