“Still Waters”:

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing Issue #38

Swamp Thing #38 “Still Waters”

Cover date: July 1985. Author: Alan Moore. Artists: Stan Woch and John Totleben. Editor: Karen Berger. Colorist: Tatjana Wood. Letterer: John Costanza.

This issue opens with Abby’s and Swamp Thing’s awkward farewell. Swamp Thing feels obligated to leave, while Abby does not want him to, and both have understandable reasons for their stances. Swamp Thing wants to learn more about the nature of what he is, while Abby wants them to spend more time together (as noted on the last page of the previous issue). Neither fully trust John Constantine either, a point underscored by the fact that he leaves “a trail intending to be followed”. Like the pied piper[1], one cannot escape the sense that Constantine is enticing Swamp Thing to follow him and that danger lurks ahead.

The body language here accentuates the separation between both characters: Swamp Thing, back turned, located in the background of the panel, is physically segregated from Abby in the foreground, with her head hanging, indicating both despair and sadness. Later, both say goodbye, and while they hold hands Abby cannot bring herself to look at Swamp Thing directly. It’s a moment that draws its power from the absence of melodrama and conflict. A lesser writer could have used the scene to allow Abby to vent her distress and for Swamp Thing to protest and justify the need for this action, but this is a scene of resignation and Moore achieves a greater level of poignancy and grace here.

In order to cast out his consciousness to re-grow himself in Rosewood, Swamp Thing has to “lay down in a sheltered place and let his intelligence seep out into the undergrowth” (page 2, panel 5). As such, the concept of depth is an important one in this issue. The vampires have found an existence below the surface of things in Rosewood, or its flooded remains to be specific. Both Swamp Thing and the vampires are reliant on a hidden existence below the surface level of the planet.

This opening scene is intercut with alternating panels that depict a group of boys swimming. All seem happy, except for one called Nicky, who seems to be the target of bullying. He is punched on the arm by one of the other boys, and seems reluctant to enter further into the water. On page three, there is a four panel sequence that depicts Nicky’s skin fade from pink to white. When the other boys swiftly leave the water due to leeches Nicky remains because, below the surface, he is being drained by more powerful bloodsuckers: aquatic vampires that survived the flooding of Rosewood[2] and have established a community beneath the water. When a friend returns for Nicky later in the issue we see that he has been transformed into a fully-fledged vampire.

Swamp Thing’s shift from Louisiana to Rosewood is handled in an interesting way by the effective use of language. As Swamp Thing lets his consciousness slip away from his prostrate body in Louisiana he thinks about the “last coherent image [...] of her face, her white hair and her pale blue eyes melting into the green” (page two, panels 5-6). Here, we see the journey into the green beginning, as the image of Abby fades away. It is this memory that reasserts itself when Swamp Thing regains fuller consciousness and physical awareness in Rosewood, becoming aware of the “solid green melting into a memory of pale blue eyes, of white hair”. Both quotations mirror each other and form a sense of symmetry: Swamp Thing leaves Abby in Louisiana and shifts consciousness into the Green; he then moves from the Green into Rosewood, and remembers the image of Abby. Such detail in the language used by Moore is almost incidental, but it’s a subtle poetic touch that underscores the nature of this new ability to travel via re-growth that Swamp Thing is mastering.

We also learn a little more about the mysterious John Constantine in this issue. He is brave and capable of intimidation, as seem when he breaks a glass in his clenched fist. He is also not afraid of Swamp Thing: when the latter grabs him in order to force Constantine to reveal more information, Constantine remains cool and continues to use the situation to his advantage with the promise of information once the Rosewood situation has been dealt with.

Indeed, Constantine is obviously adept at sourcing information, as is shown when he explains how some of the vampires survived the flooding of Rosewood: they remained safe in airtight freezer units in a supermarket. Moore establishes that vampires do not need to breathe within the DC Universe, and this combines with Rosewood’s submersion to create a new opportunity for vampires – the means to create an organised settlement without attracting outside attention. They are also able to breed, itself a concept of horrific implications. Charlene, a bloated, monstrous vampire, lays eggs towards the end of the story, and these begin to hatch as the issue draws to a close.

[1] The importance of water in this issue is also present in the legend of the Pied Piper: he entices the rats to follow him, and they are drowned in a lake.

[2] These were survivors of the flood from Saga of the Swamp Thing #3, by Marty Pasko and Tom Yeates, (July 1982).

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


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.

See more, including free online content, on .

Leave a Reply