“The Sleep of Reason”:

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Issue #25

Saga of the Swamp Thing #25: “The Sleep of Reason”

Cover date: June 1984 Writer: Alan Moore. Penciller: Steve Bissette. Inker: John Totleben. Letterer: John Costanza. Colorist: Tatjana Wood. Cover: Steve Bissette and John Totleben. Editor: Karen Berger.

Alan Moore’s second story arc will show the team beginning to explore the more supernatural realms of the DC Universe. We open with a man who has knowledge of the future. Even though he remains nameless until the end of the issue, his white streak of hair and visit to the occult shop would identify him in the minds of long time DC Comics’ readers as Jason Blood. He spends the issue making predictions, all of which come true at the end of the issue. This casual use of such an awesome power makes the reader truly aware of the power he commands.

Blood’s alter ego is Etrigan the Demon, and both were created by Jack Kirby. To list Kirby’s achievements and assess his influence on comics as a whole would take a whole series of books in itself, but it’s fair and accurate to state that he co-created, created or worked on most of the significant characters in mainstream comics until his death in 1994. Bissette and Totleben were huge fans of Kirby and had requested that Moore include the Demon in a story. Moore also acknowledged Kirby as a major formative influence and saw potential in creating a story in which Etrigan and Blood would feature prominently. He returned to Kirby’s run on The Demon and focused specifically on issue #4 (December 1972). This issue, entitled ‘The Creature from the Beyond’, introduced Kamara the fear monster to the DC Universe – a creature who had adopted the shape of a sinister looking small white monkey. Moore began to construct a three-part story steeped in that fundamental theme of horror fiction: fear.

In Swamp Thing and Abby’s first scene, Moore shows his adeptness at balancing narrative tension and foreshadowing themes. Swamp Thing, submerged beneath water, grabs Abby by the leg, and for an instant we think that he is attacking her. This is an interpretation which is supported by the cover[1] to this issue which shows a close up of this event. But they are only playing a game which they have called “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The creative team show the influence of cinematic horror once again in this issue as this is a reference to the title of the 1954 movie directed by Jack Arnold in which an expedition to the Amazon leads to the discovery of an amphibious monster. It’s interesting to note that a vague similarity in appearance can be detected between the creature and Swamp Thing.

It’s a short, but highly effective, little scene: by pretending to be afraid at this point in the story, Abby’s genuine fear will seem all the more powerful and real later. The scene also helps to lull the reader into a familiar and secure context that Moore has established – Swamp Thing and Abby being safe, relaxing at home, before the tension mounts as the dramatic events unfold. This is in direct contrast to the later scene in this issue where Matt and Abby’s relationship has disintegrated even further. Abby leaves Matt who animates her discarded clothes for the purposes of his own warped vengeance, with a hint of warped, disturbed eroticism thrown in to darken the atmosphere even further.

Abby also notices here that Swamp Thing no longer needs to breathe. This subtle remark emphasises how much the character has changed. He no longer retains any kind of personal physical link with humanity. Despite this, he still dreams and is haunted by the fear Holland felt during the explosion that killed him and led to Swamp Thing’s creation. Even though he now realises he is physically unrelated to Holland, Swamp Thing is still very much haunted by the human identity of Holland that he absorbed.

Abby has a new job at the Elysium Lawns Center for Autistic Children. Here she meets Paul, a disturbed young man whose parents have been killed. He is also obsessed with words being spelled correctly. Paul’s parents had used a Ouija board, and his mother believed it had spelled out a misspelled version of Camera. But they had inadvertently summoned Kamara, the white monkey, and Paul’s obsession with spelling stems from this misconception. After Kamara has killed his parents, he snuggles up to petrified Paul, allowing him to feast on his fear. Kamara is now free within the children’s home, which serves as a veritable banquet of fear, and in the next issue we see the full effect of this creature’s presence on the children.

The use of another guest appearance in this issue is interesting, as Etrigan himself doesn’t even appear until the end of the next issue. This shows that Moore is using the character for more dramatic than merely promotional purposes. His appearance is not a gimmick to increase sales: it is both an initial exploratory step and the first stage in grounding the series more firmly into the wider supernatural realms of the DC Universe. Moore would delve much more deeply into these realms during his run than any other previous writer on the book. He enables Swamp Thing to interact with a number of supernatural characters during his tenure, and this allows him to create a more cohesive structure for the magical realms of the DC Universe.

[1] The cover to the issue is the first to be created by Bissette and Totleben.

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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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  1. Hannah Means-Shannon’s Facebook comment on this column led to a great exchange with none other than Stephen Bissette himself! Feel free to read it here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/menzies3/posts/133808173431071

  2. Ryan C. says:

    This was a truly impressive story — it captured the spirit of Kiby’s original “Demon” work while reinterpreting it into a darker, more contemporary context. It’s a story that holds up extremely well and both Jason Blood and Etrigan have never been handled better. Bisette’s visual flair was really beginning to fire on all cylinders at this point and the entire story feels like exactly what it is — an updating of a classic, but generally to that point neglected, character based on love for that character and its creator that doesn’t care about being overly clever or overly revisionist, just about building on a foundation that had been expertly laid down and that Moore, Bisette, and Totleben knew was strong enough to accomodate an admittedly radically different interpretation, as long as that new interpretation understood the creative magic at the core of the original.

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