“By Demons Driven!”:

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Issue #27

Saga of the Swamp Thing #27 “By Demons Driven!”

Cover date: August 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.

Etrigan makes a dramatic entrance in this issue or, to be more specific, on the cover of this issue: he crashes through a skylight (as shown briefly in the previous issue), but we see the full effect of this intrusion here. The cover acts as the opening panel of the story, and we see a similar technique used to a more rigorous degree in Watchmen, where each cover acted as a close up on a detail in the opening panel of each issue in the series. 

Etrigan’s entrance, bold and outrageous, complemented by his poetic narration in the caption boxes (iambic pentameter again) creates a Shakespearean tone once more. Etrigan feels like the tragic hero in the style of Macbeth or Richard III, characters whose morals are questionable and suspect at the very least. We’ll soon see how Etrigan’s moral code differs from Abby and Swamp Thing’s.

Abby, seeing how monstrous Etrigan and Kamara are, implores Swamp Thing to flee with her and Paul. She sees Swamp Thing as a friend and forgets that he, too, is a monster. Swamp Thing reminds Abby of this fact, acknowledging his own monstrous status, and stays to fight.

Etrigan follows Paul and Abby as he attempts to get rid of Kamara by eating Paul, so severing Kamara’s anchor to the Earth. This is a sacrifice that Swamp Thing would never make, and we see that the difference between monsters such as Etrigan and Swamp Thing lie in the presence of compassion for humanity in their character. Swamp Thing smashes Etrigan with an uprooted tree to save Paul, and Etrigan responds by ripping off Swamp Thing’s arm: we see him reattach it very quickly, and punch Etrigan. This is almost a standard super-hero fight, the traditional means whereby hero and villain confront each other, but this confrontation will not be dealt with in such a conventional manner.

Abby and Paul flee once more, but Kamara soon catches them up. He appears to Abby as her greatest fear – Matt telling her that he loves her. It’s a stunning confirmation of the depth of their growing separation. It’s followed by Paul gaining courage and asserting power over his own fear by confronting Kamara directly. Even when it assumes the form of his mother, Paul tells it that his mother is dead, calls it a liar and says he is not frightened of him. Kamara’s reaction is to shrink, becoming an ineffectual tiny creature. Here Moore is saying something wider about comics – that problems cannot always be solved by super-heroes or monsters exchanging punches, like Etrigan and Swamp Thing. Sometimes it takes something as simple and pure as a child’s bravery to conquer fear.

Etrigan swallows the shrunken Kamara whole, and before he leaves, he hints that the cause of these events are linked to Abby. She follows him, but finds him transformed back to Jason Blood, who has no knowledge of what Etrigan has hinted at. He simply acknowledges that Etrigan’s power is growing and that his own influence is waning.

Meanwhile, Matt Cable has remained conscious in the car during this issue, but he is severely injured and will soon die. He is joined by a talking fly who offers him a deal to survive the crash, the terms of which are only revealed in a later issue in the series. One aspect of Moore’s work that is sometimes overlooked is the humor that is evident in his work, and such a tone is evident in these scenes. The fly could have seemed overly comedic, but Moore pulls of this darkly humorous and surreal concept expertly:

I can see that I have alarmed you. Please… feel free to scream if you want to. There is no-one to hear, and I shall still be here when you have finished (page 7).

But of course I’m an hallucination. So there’s nothing to worry about, is there? (page 13).

Moore plays the scene for laughs as well as chills. It’s also truly terrifying to consider that an unharmed Matt picks up Abby at the end of the issue in an undamaged car. One almost doubts what has happened, as a reader, until one realizes that Matt has accepted the fly’s deal. Moore teases the reader by holding back the price Matt has to pay until later issues.

The issue is the climax to Moore’s meditation on the nature of fear that began in #25. Swamp Thing’s fear is revealed at the end of this issue when Paul asks him what he saw when he looked at Kamara. His reference to a man who once died by fire is obviously Holland, and despite the fact that no link now exists between them, Swamp Thing is still haunted by the memories of Holland’s death that he inherited. Jason Blood’s fear is also revealed at the end of the issue: that he is slowly becoming more like Etrigan, and that he is losing the balance between humanity and demonhood. Abby’s fear of Matt’s abusiveness will be of central focus in later issues. The only person to conquer their fear is Paul: by standing up to Kamara and facing up to him (a metaphor for dealing with your fear through mental strength) Paul sets an example that Swamp Thing and Abby will have to follow in later issues if they are to deal with their own fears effectively. Moore is ultimately saying that fear and problems cannot always be gotten rid of by physical fighting: sometimes mental strength and courage are far more effective.

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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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