Swamp Thing #5 (August 1973)
“The Last of the Ravenwind Witches” marks the fifth issue of the Wein/Wrightson run of Swamp Thing’s first volume, and it brings the muck-covered wanderer back to the United States. Only he finds himself amidst the trial of a local woman, accused of witchcraft. Monsters, witches, and Maine? Quite a classic mix here.
Like most in our run, this issue is credited to Len Wein as the author, Bernie Wrightson on the art. Joe Orlando is credited as the editor, while Gaspar Saladino handles the lettering (I did find more complete credits for the series, and it seems like I was neglecting poor Gaspar over the previous four issues – I feel terrible about it). You can, as always, find this issue in the collection Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis. Please order it through your local comic shop!
Swamp Thing #5 – Issue Impressions
Issue five opens with Swamp Thing discovered aboard a ship to the US that he has stowed away on. We get a nice recap of his travels and situation to this point, and the scene on the ship serves as an excellent way to reaffirm the mistreatment of Swamp Thing by the world. Forced to jump into the ocean, Swamp Thing finds himself washing ashore off the coast of Maine near the town of Divinity.
Swamp Thing wakes up in a cave where two Divinity locals are hiding – Rebecca and Timothy Ravenwind. The pair are being hunted by the townies as Rebecca is accused of witchcraft. Swamp Thing finds himself owing the youths a favor as it turns out the two end up getting caught. In the end, we learn this is merely the latest chapter in a centuries-old grudge between families. Again, the inhuman Swamp Thing bears witness to the inhumanity of everyday people.
The thing that throws me about a lot of the early Swamp Thing stories is how anachronistic everything feels at times. The story seems rooted (forgive the pun) in the 1970s, but Swamp Thing’s odyssey takes him to locations that feel out of time. The Europe of the previous few issues feels like something out of the 1800s, whereas we have the same feeling as what should be 1970s Maine in this issue.
That also plays into the story here, a direct example of local, antiquated superstition that can be explained through modern science. Specifically, what seems like a curse is just a case of genetics. The problem? The grudge is too strong to see that.
Another aspect of this early run that I admire is the level of hokeyness. Swamp Thing can be subtle, but it wears its lessons on its sleeves more often than not. That is not a bad thing and is perfectly fitting for when the comics were published. These days they can come off as a bit eye-rollingly on the nose, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The earnestness is charming. That is why I am so fond of the book’s usage of repeated narration. It’s a little old-fashioned and dramatic, and it fits the tragic nature of Swamp Thing’s story.
The “twist” of Swamp Thing #5 isn’t entirely shocking, especially for a modern-day reader, but it is fun. It is good that the issue went the direction it did, mainly because it sets up trickery of perception. It also plays into the final page as the twist ending was sure to get fans of the comic talking early in the run. Is that Alec and Linda Holland? Probably not… or are they? It’s a great way to generate mystery and intrigue as Swamp Thing’s European vacation comes to a close.
One aspect of the art in this issue that I love are moments of “power-poses” where Swamp Thing’s strength and presence dominate the panel. These panels are also oversized and would make cool tattoos. Honestly? Bernie Wrightson’s art in this run is an excellent source for nerdy tattoos. There are a crazy number of great Swamp Thing poses in each issue, but this one has a couple of favorites of mine. Him ripping up the tree? Iconic.
Rebecca also gets a power pose moment that is very satisfying to see. Rebecca Ravenwind’s look is a lot of fun – while relatively simple in design, she ends up being one of the prettiest of the Swamp Thing girls in the run so far. Not that the worth of a female character is dictated by their appearance, of course. Rebecca’s nature and the misdirection created by her characterization is a fun twist on the “witch trial” trope.
Wrightson is very keen on using contrast when it comes to character designs. While Swamp Thing is monstrous, he isn’t necessarily grotesque. Especially as the series has gone on, he appears less malformed, and his heroic nature shines through his pose, posture, and proportions. Meanwhile, the true villains of the story appear as gross caricatures, their faces distorted by hate. Rebecca and Timothy, meanwhile, look good – they read as good people. It is a clever bit of visual shorthand.
Here are just some general notes and observations for Swamp Thing #5. We have a few recurring things that will pop up later on in the saga of the Swamp Thing.
- I sometimes find myself looking to see what other people have written on the issues I cover, so it is fun to see a blog post circa 2013 covering this issue from “Rip Jagger’s Dojo.” I am not sure about the rest of the material they cover, but I expect I’ll compare notes with some of the other posts as we go forward.
- If the name Ravenwind seems familiar in this issue, well, that is because Timothy Ravenwind will return later on, as a much more conflicted character. He is next seen in Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #166. We won’t be catching up with Timothy again for a quite a while.
- This wont be the only time we spend in Divinity, Maine. There is a really cool story that is set up in this issue and it involves an injury Swamp Thing takes here.
- Do you like robots in your swamp monster stories? I’m just asking. You’ll see why soon enough.
- No Matt Cable, Abby Arcane, or Mutt the Dog this week.
And with that, we’ll return to the regular world of Graphic Content comic reviews next. Thanks for checking out this installment of “Just Swamp Things.” Please let me know what you think. I would love to hear from other Swamp Thing fans about my impressions of the issue.