“Another Green World”:

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Issue #23

Saga of the Swamp Thing #23: ”Another Green World”

Cover date: April 1984. Writer: Alan Moore. Artists: Steve Bissette and John Totleben. Colorist: Tatjana Wood. Letterer: John Costanza. Cover: Tom Yeates. Editor: Len Wein.

Swamp Thing is still in a virtual coma, although he is conscious. He reflects on the loss of his humanity and his acceptance of the Green. He realises that he is happy, but his joy is disturbed by something foreign in the Green; a red, tumour-like organism.

The opposition between Woodrue and Swamp Thing is underscored in this issue through the use of two colours – red and green. From the opening page of this issue, Woodrue is linked to Red (the “meat” world) despite hating humans who he describes as meat. Although he is an alien, Woodrue is originally of humanoid origin[1], and he later transformed himself into his current plant form[2]. As such, he doesn’t have a connection to the Green like Swamp Thing, and this is something that he craves deeply. His experiment to connect to the Green (begun last issue) has led him to believe that he is its agent of vengeance, who should punish humanity for the damage it has done to the natural world. Woodrue struggles against his humanity, wishing to become at one with the Green (as seen by transforming himself into his current physical state). This is in dramatic contrast to Swamp Thing, who has yearned for a humanity (the Alec Holland identity) that was never his to begin with.

The opposition of a red and green world is set up in the contrast between the opening line of the issue, “There is a red and angry world,” and the title, “Another Green World” (on page 2). On the opening page, one insect attacks another; the oppressor is red in colour, and it’s a strong visual complement to the red versus green theme in this issue. The red insect devours the worm, while Swamp Thing reflects on the idea that “the [red] world eats your wife… eats your friends… eats all the things… that makes you human.” It’s clear that Swamp Thing is becoming increasingly distant from the human world, which he craved to rejoin for so long prior to these recent issues. Swamp Thing is effectively abandoning his humanity to wander the Green. He is happy and euphoric, but he encounters “something foreign,” a red, cancer-like growth that we discover is Woodrue’s mind invading the Green. It’s an early indication that he cannot wholly leave the human world and responsibilities, despite his desire to do so.

The scene transitions in this issue are interesting, as they are underscored by the repetition of a word. The scene switch between pages 3 and 4 is linked by the repetition of “there.” This and other similar scene changes help to create cohesiveness to the issue and help to ensure a smooth link between scene and location transitions. It’s not a technique that could be used endlessly, issue after issue, without becoming forced and tiresome, but it can be used effectively, if sparingly, for impact, and it is evidence of Moore’s desire to play and experiment with the comics form.[3]

Three teenage boys are drinking in a parked car. One of them goes to investigate a strange sight – “the guy had leaves on his head or somethin.’” While he is away, Woodrue arrives at the car and, off panel, kills his companions. We he returns to discover his murdered friends, he runs, but Woodrue is able to catch and restrain him with vines.

It’s a classic scenario, and one that references the iconography of horror cinema. Teenagers versus monsters has become a key theme seen in countless films. Moore, Bissette, and Totleben are tapping into this cultural idea bank.[4] They referenced Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now in #20, and it’s interesting to note the importance of the colour red to both: the coat of the dead daughter and the menacing dwarf in Don’t Look Now is red. It’s also the colour of Woodrue’s warped mind – the red, bloodied, cancerous meat that has infected the Green.

The teenager scene plays out as one would expect, and it retains its iconic resonance. Moore doesn’t want or need to subvert the expectations of this scene, because he using it to set up the deeper divisions between the character of Woodrue and Swamp Thing. Woodrue has to be the typical horror villain so that we can see (in the next issue) how disturbed, pitiful, and tragic he has truly become.

In this scene, a careful application of comics’ grammar is seen. The effectiveness of delaying the moment of crisis by enforcing a page turn (as seen in the transition from page 5 to 6) shows how effective this simple device can be in highlighting the character’s shock following the discovery of his dead friends in the car, leading to blind panic and trying to flee the scene.

Again, the scene switch is anchored by the repeated word “there.” Swamp Thing senses Woodrue’s presence, “another mind in the Green.” He struggles to remember Woodrue and, in doing so, remembers Matt Cable, whose name he cannot recall. He does remember Abby’s name and describes her as Matt Cable’s “beautiful wife… white hair like an avalanche.” In this scene, we learn that Swamp Thing retains a vague awareness of things happening in the real world: Woodrue is shown walking a road leading to Lacroix. He also begins to remember his life – Matt Cable, Abby – and it’s “Abigail” that provides the keyword transition to the next scene.

Moore then moves the scene to Abby, who arrives alone at the swamp in her car. She recalls being called names by children when she was young, the fear her husband makes her feel, and her loss of Alec. She acknowledges a feeling that she is being constantly watched, noting it to be a symptom of paranoid schizophrenia. This is juxtaposed with a visual sequence depicting her encountering the boys who were killed by Woodrue and her being chased by the same that which killed the teenagers. She cries out “Alec!” and provides the keyword for the next scene.

Swamp Thing now begins to remember recent events – his memories of Alec Holland, being shot, the events that took place in the Sunderland building, and reading Woodrue’s notes about his true origin. We see another use of the eye motif here (as seen in #21): Swamp Thing’s eyes provide the reader with an anchor to his memory, while on the next page, Woodrue’s eyes provide a perspective on the town he is systematically destroying. And “Woodrue” is the keyword providing the scene transition here.

Woodrue has reached Lacroix and has engulfed buildings with vegetation, forcing the population of the town into the streets. He requests a video camera and tape recorder and tells a boy called William Anslinger to record what happens. Some people are told to return to their homes, which gives them a false sense of security, and Woodrue seals them in with moss and vines. He then produces pure oxygen within the buildings, causing excitement and nervousness in the people. When someone lights a cigarette in a house, it ignites the oxygenated atmosphere and causes a chain reaction of explosions. Anglinger is then allowed to leave Lacroix with the recordings, as a message from Woodrue. It’s a horrific sequence of events, and it provides us with a real indication of the power Woodrue has at his command.

Alec becomes aware of Woodrue’s malignant presence in the Green and that he is responsible for his trauma. In the same instance, Abby arrives being pursued by vines and screaming for help. Swamp Thing is roused from his coma-like state as a result. His body shudders, the earth and vines begin to shake free (page 15), and he dramatically rips himself free from the ground with insects, frogs, and vegetation spraying into the air. Followed by Abby, he walks away in silence, except for his denial that he is Alec. He seems utterly alien and detached here, notably due to the fact that he offers Abby no comfort at all. One gets the sense that a profound change has occurred within the character.

Anslinger arrives at a police station in a state of shock. Sgt. Luther Galen watches the video and alerts his superiors, who will alert the Justice League. Galen then goes home and destroys all plant life in or near his home. He humanises the predicament of the town. By showing the effect on one specific person, the readers’ sympathies are evoked more keenly and we can better imagine the personal costs being paid by other people elsewhere in the town.

Back at Lacroix, Woodrue is angered by a plea for him to stop. He refers to the destruction of nature wrought by mankind, justifying his acts as a purification decreed by nature itself. Woodrue sees himself as a green messiah driven by vengeance and wrath, “I am come to announce the green millennium!” he screams, and we see the true depth of the radical mental transformation he has recently subjected himself to.

Swamp Thing arrives, and in the first of two panels of the final page, we see what Woodrue sees: a being of simmering power, cloaked in vegetation and plant-life. In his own way, Swamp Thing provides an equally disturbing presence at this point. The calm anger of his proclamation to Woodrue – “No more” – is bolstered by the visual layout of the final panel. Swamp Thing, his back to the reader, dominates the foreground of the panel, and Woodrue seems like an almost meagre presence lurking in the background, and through this positioning, we adopt Swamp Thing’s perspective. It also suggests the climactic confrontation that will take place in the next issue, where we will learn the fate of Lacroix and encounter some very special guest stars, allowing Moore his first taste at writing American superheroes – the Justice League of America.

[1] Woodrue first appeared as the Plant Master in The Atom #1 (1962).

[2] The Flash #245 (1976).

[3] He would use increasingly complex textual and visual echoes and links across scene transitions and the wider work itself, especially in works like Watchmen.

[4] The use of a chainsaw in the next issue (#24) is another instance.

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Andrew writes about comics for Sequart, where he is currently serialising a book on the Moore-Bissette-Totleben-Veitch issues of Swamp Thing. He blogs about comics and other aspects of popular culture here. He holds a BA Hons in English, History and Media Studies, an MA in English Literary Culture (1880-1920), and postgraduate qualifications in teaching and librarianship. He currently works for Glyndwr University in Wrexham, Wales, UK, as an academic study skills tutor and sessional lecturer, where he is also undertaking PhD research into intertextuality in the work of Alan Moore.

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