Welcome to the second installment of Graphic Content‘s “Just Swamp Things.” Why is Swamp Thing fighting mutants atop a gothic castle? Who is the strange crone-like figure in red? Those questions are answered in an uneven second issue of the saga of the Swamp Thing!
Swamp Thing #2 (January 1973)
We continue nearly immediately after the events of Swamp Thing #1 with issue #2, titled “The Man Who Wanted Forever.” You can read our first installment of “Just Swamp Things” right here.
Len Wein returns to pen the tale while “Berni” Wrightson lends his considerable illustrative abilities. You can, of course, find this issue in the collection Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis. Please order it through your local comic shop!
What is great about the second issue of the comic is the immediate one-two punch of the first page. A splash panel with a combination of gothic narration and the composition and pose of a renaissance painting. Swamp Thing is posed behind a compositionally convenient outcropping, observing nearby action, Mutt (Linda’s dog) held in his oversized hand. Though it is the day, Swamp Thing is obscured by dramatic shadow. The narration is dripping with a dramatic flair, for the memories burn.
It’s a brilliant panel that immediately establishes the sort of through-line of the series following the first issue: Swamp Thing, ever apart from the world he once lived, observing from a distance as his inner feelings are made aware through narration or monologue.
One of the things I appreciate about comics that were released before I was born is that they were often broad in a very endearing way. It’s not just that Swamp Thing is haunted and observing the world he once lived from the shadows, it’s that he is doing it from behind rocks that obscure him in a way that almost becomes a barrier built for him. His body is not crouched, nor does he make an attempt to hide. It is more he is reposed like a figure in a 17th-century painting, the world morphs about him to suit his mood. He is not just feeling anxiety from his memories, but they instead burn. “Lord, how they burn!”
But how about the rest of the issue? We open with a perfunctory recap of the events of the first issue, Alec’s apparent death and transformation into the Swamp Thing, and the death of Linda at the hand of Ferret and his goons. The vengeance is sworn upon Swamp Thing by Matt Cable. Everything a reader needs to pick up from Swamp Thing #2.
Then this happens:
Swamp Thing’s sudden abduction by odd Un-Men is incredibly jarring and, admittedly, rather forced. It an awkward inciting incident that is overly sudden and only really has any sort of setup if one reads the first issue. It’s a far cry from the brilliance of the first page of the issue. This unevenness in tone will persist throughout the early run of the comic. At its height, Swamp Thing becomes a striking and magic-tinged gothic “man or monster” pulp. At its lowest points, Swamp Thing becomes a stock monster book that positions the hero into jarring, stock situations akin to the more mediocre Weird Tales. I do not oppose the idea of Swamp Thing being taken to the castle of a necromancer-cum-scientist… I just wish it wasn’t so jarring.
It’s all just so odd. Swamp Thing is strapped to a plane and carried across the Atlantic and into the Balkans. It’s pretty ridiculous, but that comes with the territory of comics. Mostly it makes me wonder about the weird Un-Men flying over, to begin with. Regardless, it serves the job of moving Swamp Thing from the American gothic of the Louisana Swamps to a mountaintop castle. Okay, whatever it takes, Wein.
No matter how odd the story veers off, Wrightson is game when it comes to art. Panels depicting the bound Swamp Thing among caves and mountainous paths are fantastic. The castle is suitably monolithic as well. This all leads up to an incredibly fateful introduction, where Swamp Thing encounters a persistent and lasting foe, Anton Arcane. The almost biblical panel depicting Arcane reaching out to Swamp Thing, under the guise of aid, is fantastic.
Arcane proposes a deal, he will restore Alec’s human form. In exchange for what, he is not exactly forthcoming. Regardless, Arcane engages in a series of tests that reveal aspects of what Swamp Thing actually is. It’s an interesting little sequence that reveals just how far removed from humanity Alec has become. Then, the foreboding line from Arcane: “Yes, Doctor Holland – I would say your body is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” Uh-oh. The two utilize a ritual with a soul jar. Alec Holland is restored, and Arcane now occupies the body of the Swamp Thing. Inevitably, Alec discovers he has been betrayed by Arcane who seeks the use the powers of the Swamp Thing’s body for petty, one-dimensional vengeance upon the village that shunned him. Alec destroys the soul jar, reversing the enchantment, and chasing Arcane to his apparent death, falling from a castle tower. Arcane’s Un-Men follow suit, and Swamp Thing wanders through the castle, observed by a mysterious Un-Man, different from the rest.
As for the rest of the issue, Matt Cable is still obsessed with finding the creature he believed to kill Alec and Linda. As he gets details on the strange plane disappearing over the Atlantic ocean, we see that Mutt’s radio, still hidden, relays information to Mr. E of the Conclave. It’s just a brief reminder of the spinning plates that come with comic plotting but these moments generally work but feel perfunctory.
It is not the best issue of the original run, and there are some plotting shortcuts that result in a second issue that is a far cry from the first. Regardless, it is an important introduction to a figure who will haunt the series in unusual ways. It also is the first of many false leads to a return to the form of Alec Holland, something which will never last.
As for where this series fits in with the lore of Swamp Thing, here is a very brief list.
- As I said during the Swamp Seeds of the first issue, there are many Incredible Hulk parallels. Many Hulk stories revolved around scientists attempting to capture and harness the body of the Hulk. We see similar plots with Swamp Thing, but generally, the apparatus ends up being magic.
- Well, kind of. Arcane is a fusion of a wizard and a scientist. It’s all very muddy.
- Obviously, this is not the death of Anton Arcane.
- The mysterious figure that observes Swamp Thing on the final page of the issue is Gregori Arcane, the Patchwork Man, a victim of the machinations of Anton.
- You should get used to seeing the Un-Men. If you thought they were weird now, wait until you see what happens to them later.
- Speaking of the Un-Men, these beings would have their own narratives in the DC Universe, most notably with the Vertigo series American Freak. This title followed a second-generation descendent of Arcane’s original Un-Men.
Next week, Graphic Content returns to the standard reviews, which will then be followed by a new “Just Swamp Things” the week after. As for this week, what were your thoughts on Swamp Thing #2, or the review? Let me know in the comments.
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5
Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…
Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)
“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.
The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.
Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…
Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”
Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)
This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…
Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!“
Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!
And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.
Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 4
Wow, I can’t believe you’ve stayed the course through four whole strange story posts of these creepy comics collages. But this is the final frontier, the last segment, the standing ovation as it were. So here goes…
Creepy Comics Story 7: The Grave (shallow enough for ya?)
“It should take longer, it seems to all of them. Such holy flesh should not give before a blade so easily.” “His brow is growing so cold.” “Yes it would be. He’s dying.”
“My god… I’m not dead.” Put the shovel down. “Life is a no-win situation. Besides… You’re already dead!”
“I’m not dead. I’m not dead!… Oh, Oh my god… I can’t move… What’s happened to me?” Buried alive. Or maybe not.
“Dead?” Perhaps I am actually dead. I was expecting something… I dunno… different.
“I’m not hungry, I’m dead. I’m not sure what I’m doing here, in fact.” At least I’m not a zombie. That seems a small consolation right now though. “My organs are shutting down. It is a relief.”
“Three days have already passed.” We’re just sitting here, rotting. Like Norman Bates’ Mother. At least someone was kind enough to supply a rocking chair. “Oh, one last thing before I go… You’re doing my fucking head in.”
Creepy Comics Story 8: Adrift Afterlife (why you save the best gold coins for the ferryman)
How’d we get here? “I do not stand alone. I am sat in a boat.” “.. to be millions of miles away from any care in the world.” Was that the Ferryman? “Only liberty I know.”
“He does not remember arriving here, or if he has been here before. It is not the island he grew up on, though it feels so very familiar… He has been waiting for the night tides to come in, for they will bring starfish. He has always liked watching them cling to the beach before the current pulls them back into fathoms.”
“And the ocean brings him starfish… Perhaps his father had nothing to do with this place at all.” The ferryman stands on the far shore. It makes no difference now.
“Beneath the ocean, razor-sharp coral grows and plunges towards the surface, sent by a green place that would not like to burn.” “The sand is soft between his toes and he is not ashamed of anything.” The ghosts are here, contentedly it seems.
Thank you for joining us for these creepy comics collage art stories. But here’s where we have to leave it off. Trust me, it’s best that way. Besides I’m out of creepy comics to collage with.
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 3
We’re ba-ack… Are you ready for the next creepy comics collages graphic story overload? After the last time and the intermission I wasn’t sure I’d see you again, but here we are, together again. You’d almost think we put something in the water – wink.
Now where were we? Oh yeah, the world was going to hell… or was it?
Creepy Comics Story 5: Alien Invasion (A Fist Full of Physics!!!)
“Elsewhere… months… earlier…” “It begins as a flicker pin-point of light getting closer ever closer until it takes form.” The sky is falling, damn you Chicken Little.
“…unconfirmed rumors of extraterrestrials have surfaced this evening following reported sightings in upstate New York earlier today.” There’s the news for you. Always blowing things up to increase viewership ratings.
“Then I would suggest a test immediately.” ‘K Doc, we get it; maybe there’s cause for concern. Guessing these aren’t friendlies based on intel, or that the government pissed them off. “Where’s William Shatner when you really need him?”
“Next morning… City Hall…” “A Fist Full of Physics” Blamm-o! “As if that’s some kind of homage.” It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I was feeling fine but now I’m not so sure. “All of this is on your head.” You can thank the world governments with their shoot first, ask questions later policies for that.
“The act was deplorable. It’s ramifications were permanent.” Doc looks unamused. “And the doctor drones on in his cold monotone… ‘Then we all die.’”
Creepy Comics Story 6: Werewolves (Londoners, eat your hearts out)
“Fables Werewolves… no one can hear you howl.” So now we’re elbow-deep in lycanthropy? This story just keeps getting weirder and weirder…
“… I feel so… disoriented… is this vertigo?” No, you wouldn’t be so lucky. Once bitten, twice shy. It’s The Change. Prepare yourself for the transformation.
“What now?” Enough with the damned interruptions already, can’t you see I’m at work?!
“Shall we start a war?”
“No! No! Leave me alone! Leave me alone! No!“
“I know one thing.” “Never will you suffer the indignity of this animal’s touch again.” The wolf seems somewhat offended by that statement. No really. And probably rightly so.
“Maybe it’s just an excuse, a fucking cop-out for when we inevitably fuck-up our lives and hurt people… We’re not cursed, we’re rotten, or mad or…”
“I don’t deserve this!” he howls. Stop blaming the werewolves for your own human indecencies. Teacups get broken and the London werewolves get angry.
Thank you for going all in with us over this series, there’s… one… more… final… huzzah… In the meantime, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.