“Growth Patterns”:

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing Issue #37

Swamp Thing #37 “Growth Patterns”

Cover date: June 1985. Writer: Alan Moore. Artists: Rick Veitch & John Totleben. Editor: Karen Berger. Colorist: Tatjana Wood. Letterer: John Costanza. 

When Alan Moore first took over writing duties on Swamp Thing, he wanted to establish a close working relationship with the art team on the book.  In doing this, he gave them the opportunity to offer ideas and suggestions for the series. One of these ideas was little more than a minor suggestion: both Bissette and Totleben expressed a desire to draw a character that looked like Sting, the bassist and singer in The Police. They had even smuggled an appearance into a panel in #25. Moore ran with this idea, in turn creating one of his most memorable and popular characters, John Constantine, whose full debut appears in this issue.

Constantine would go on to appear in his own title, with many acclaimed runs by writers including Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and Brian Azzarello. In turn, a feature film of questionable veracity, Constantine (2005) was produced. The blond, blue collar, working class Englishman of the comics became a dark haired American: perhaps this was for the best if Reeves’ dire British accent in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) illustrated the extent of his capabilities in this area.

Constantine has had a peculiar impact on Moore’s life since he first appeared in the comics. Interestingly, he pre-empts Moore’s decision to become a magician himself by some years, as declared on his 40th birthday (November 18th, 1993). Furthermore, Moore states that he has encountered Constantine twice: firstly, in a sandwich bar in London, where Constantine winked at him; secondly, during a magical ritual where Constantine revealed the “ultimate secret of magic” to him[1].

From the start, Constantine is the epitome of cool. His look is timeless: suit, tie and trench coat. It’s a style that shows a person takes pride in their appearance, and is very much linked to Mod fashions that goes back to the 1960s[2]. He is a connected player in the strange and weird, and it soon becomes clear that a huge event of destructive proportions is imminent. John meets a number of ‘connections’ – friends and acquaintances who offer their own interpretations of the looming threat: We meet Judith, a punk who says the problem is “a massive extragalactic energy field that got drawn inside a black hole eight billion years ago”; Benjamin, a H.P. Lovecraft fan, says it’s the Cthulu mythos come to bear on our own world; Sister Anne-Marie (a nun) says it is Satan. This sense of impending doom is ranked up when Constantine reveals that this apocalyptic disaster will be brought about by heightening the belief levels of the population through using “all the classic frighteners… werewolves, vampires, haunted houses, dreams…”. It’s an indication of where this story arc will take us, and the start of the acclaimed run known as ‘American Gothic’. The first sign of impending disaster appears in this issue: a figure appears to all of Constantine’s associates. He has a broken neck and hand stitched into his back, and it is an image very reminiscent of the more visually grotesque figures common in Clive Barker’s work, of which Moore was a fan[3].

Constantine’s meeting with Abby and Swamp Thing illustrates the unpredictable nature of the character. He is not averse to manipulating both of them with threats and promises: it’s obvious from this very early encounter that he is “a nasty piece of work”. He makes it obvious that he knows more about the nature of what Swamp Thing is, and he uses this leverage to force Swamp Thing on a ‘road journey’ of sorts, albeit one where roads are not needed: Constantine reveals that Swamp Thing can travel via regrowth, letting one body die and another grow in a different location. The issue ends with a preoccupied Swamp Thing, pondering on the location given to him by Constantine. It is Rosewood, and long-time readers of Swamp Thing may have remembered it from Saga of the Swamp Thing #3 (July, 1982), a Marty Pasko story that Moore revisits in the next issue.

[1] “I’ll tell you the ultimate secret of magic. Any cunt could do it.”

[2] Pop music in the UK reflected these eras well. The style of The Who in the 1960s is a good indicator of Mod style, which adopted a working class pride in wearing smart suits, a feature that would be readopted a generation later in the resurgence of Mod culture in the UK during the late 1970s and early 1980s, reflected in the music and style of The Jam, which was somewhat set apart from the punk aesthetic adopted by the visual style of groups like The Sex Pistols.

[3] In Swamp Thing #44 Moore has a scene in which Abby is reading Clive Barker’s Books of Blood.

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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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