Swamp Thing #34 “Rite of Spring”
Cover date: March 1985. Writer: Alan Moore. Artists: Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. Editor: Karen Berger. Colorist: Tatjana Wood. Letterer: John Costanza.
Abby returns to the world of consciousness, following her dream experience in the previous issue. The opening line, “Spring came, and everything in the world woke up…” reflects Abby’s awakening, and serves to underscore the gulf that now exists between her and a comatose Matt. This serves as a contrast with the deepening relationship between her and the Swamp Thing in recent issues.
Abby’s sanctuary during the traumatic events in recent issues has been the swamp, with Swamp Thing. Their closeness has been evident throughout this time, in direct contrast to the estrangement between her and Matt, but Abby’s revelation that she is in love with someone else is still something of a surprise. This is voiced overtly in this issue for the first time and, much to his surprise, the Swamp Thing discovers he is the object of her feelings. This develops further when he reveals that the feelings are mutual.
As readers, we may be surprised by these revelations as they are not explicitly foreshadowed in recent issues. However, they are entirely in-keeping with the development of their characters. Recent events have drawn the characters closer together and love has blossomed. Indeed, the consummation of this love is the central event depicted in this comic, and remains a milestone issue in the series and a tour-de-force of visual storytelling.
The closeness between the two was seen in issue 25, when both relax in the swamp, playing ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’, which itself has romantic overtones: it seems to be the type of game lovers would play, rather than friends. A disruption of this calm closeness occurs in the drama events of the issues that follow, culminating with Abby’s death, ultimately leads Swamp Thing to journey to Hell to save her. This underscores the suggestion that more than mere friendship is at stake as it alludes to the myth of Orpheus journeying to the underworld to save Eurydice, his wife. In hindsight, we can see this as building towards the revelation that both have fallen in love with each other.
Subtle indications of burgeoning love can be detected in the visuals on the opening pages, as pairs of animals are depicted: birds, frogs, dragonflies and butterflies underscore the love and relationship theme that is central to this issue. Abby’s love, which is reciprocated by the Swamp Thing, takes this series in a startling new direction, heralding a meditation on the nature of interspecies love and the problems that both will face.
The physical aspect of this new love between them is considered. Swamp Thing acknowledges the potential problems that kissing may create. His worries prove unfounded, as Abby says his kiss taste like lime. Sex is impossible due to the vast biological differences between them, so Swamp Thing thinks of an alternative. He grows a tuber and gives it to Abby to eat, and this act shows how far their relationship has come since Moore began scripting the series: Abby’s enjoyment at eating the tuber here is in direct contrast to her reaction to Woodrue’s suggestion that such tubers could be edible: she was physically sick (#22).
Abby eats the tuber and she is subjected to a psychedelic experience in which she sees the world as Swamp Thing is able to see it. The allusion to Orpheus and Eurydice is complemented by an echo of the story of Adam and Eve: both stories contain ‘fruit’ which offer knowledge. Here, the metaphysical nature of Abby’s and Swamp Thing’s relationship is confirmed. In addition, a strong allusion to a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ archetypal relationship is established, which will play out fully in future issues.
This psychedelic experience strains against the confines of the comic page. The readers’ conscious apprehension of the page is different, as we have to turn the book from a portrait to landscape position, signalling to us through this shift in the medium reflects a similar shift in the content: this is a psychedelic communion. This sense of experimentation extends to the cover, a fully painted depiction of Swamp Thing holding Abby. It’s a stunning piece of work, one which was stolen, along with some interior art, from the DC offices shortly after publication. It was never recovered.
It’s also clear that Abby’s initial anxiety over Swamp Thing’s body in earlier issues (#22) has now developed into a fascination – “the way you look… I think I like you best in spring” (p.3). This initial anxiety, shown when she could see insects crawling around in Swamp Thing’s body, has become a fascination which fuels her psychedelic experience: such insects become transformed into “little jewels of light” (p.14).
Abby learns through this experience that “everything’s alive… and it’s all made of the same stuff!” (p.14). It is a form of awakening for Abby that echoes the coming of spring, and Moore repeats the opening line to underscore this revelatory experience for Abby:
Spring came, and everything in the world woke up.
Abby has woken up to the fact that her love for Swamp Thing is mutual, and that nature is more connected than she ever thought possible. Their relationship is confirmed with another kiss. However, hard times are lurking in future issues and, like Adam and Eve, and Orpheus and Eurydice, both will face challenges of immense difficulty. This is also reflected in the title: the Rite of Spring, a ballet scored by Stravinsky, depicts the offering up of a girl as a sacrifice to the God of Spring: Abby will go through such an ordeal over her relationship with Swamp Thing in upcoming issues. The score of the ballet itself led to riots on its first performance, which perhaps reflects the reaction that Abby and Swamp Thing’s relationship will have once the wider world discovers it.
 This premiere took place on 29 May 1913 at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. It is also depicted by Moore and Melinda Gebbie in Lost Girls.