Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing #46

Swamp Thing #46 “Revelations”

Cover date: March 1986. Writer: Alan Moore. Artists: Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. Colorist: Tatjana Wood. Letters: John Costanza. Editor: Karen Berger.

As noted on the cover of this issue, the story within is an official cross over with the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Crisis) series, although links to the series had been established previous (see Swamp Thing #44). Crisis ultimately rationalized the DC multiverse into one single universe, but the process was a highly chaotic one and here we see a representation of a breakdown of the barriers between multiple Earths and the collapse of linear time that precedes this reformation. A quotation from the biblical Book of Revelations sets a suitably apocalyptic tone and the scene the reader is confronted with is a nightmarish one: future humans and pirates clash, while dinosaurs fight and dodos are killed by a futuristic car. This discontinuity is underscored by the cover of the issue, in which four diverse characters stand over the corpse of a dinosaur. Interestingly, one could say that these characters are somewhat representative of the wider DC universe too: the Phantom Stranger reflects the horror and mystical side; Hawkman represents the more science fiction oriented aspects; Batman represents the super-heroes; Swamp Thing exists as a kind of connection between all three aspects, as he embodies aspects of all of them, which is reflected visually in the sense that he occupies the middle ground in the cover scene.

The level of absurdity and fear is high at the start if this issue, and this is made even more so by Constantine’s assertion that ‘the real crunch is yet to come, after all these fireworks have blown over’: as readers, we cannot help but ask ourselves – what could possibly be worse than this? Constantine gives Benjamin Cox and Frank North their instructions for the next phase of the plan shortly before he and Swamp Thing dematerialize and reappear on a satellite identified by Constantine as one that once belonged to the Monitor, one of the key characters is Crisis.

Page five depicts the process of teleportation in a beautiful combination of words and pictures. In the first panel, Swamp Thing hangs, arms held aloft, silhouetted against a background of white slashed with strobing black streaks that causes our vision to judder and try to adapt to the scene. This is then juxtaposed with the barest depiction of Swamp Thing’s face, merely shown as a rudimentary pair of eyes and mouth caught within a green psychedelic whirl, resolving itself into a fuller face by the end of the page. Bissette, Totleben and Wood beautifully complement each other’s contributions here: Bissette’s design and pencils are rendered exquisitely by Totleben’s inks, and Wood’s colours add a depth and vividness to the teleportation event.

Upon their arrival on the satellite, Constantine offers a brief explanation of the cause of the events: The multiverse is ‘a whole series of parallel universes, parallel Earths’ and ‘something’s eating its way through them, like a maggot munching through a stack of maps’, which appears to be such a mundane, ordinary image to construct a simile with at first glance. However, it perfectly illustrates what is happening by creating an image of the disintegration of a fragile system of geography. In addition, the images of multiple Earths that occupy the centre space on page 7 is a visual motif that links the events of this issue more closely with Crisis.

Constantine and Swamp Thing move into another room and join a gathering of characters from the DC Universe. All are being addressed by Alex Luthor, who Swamp Thing notes is explaining to them much of what he already knows from Constantine. Swamp Thing is drawn towards the Phantom Stranger, who stands alone, apart from the crowd. The stranger confirms what Constantine has already suggested – the fact that a spiritual crisis will occur once this physical one has ended. This is further underscored when Constantine and Swamp Thing meet Alex Luthor, and we are reminded that the Brujería, a South American cult, are seeking to take advantage of disturbances on the psychic plane caused by the crisis to bring about their own desired ends.

Swamp Thing is only briefly present on the satellite and spends much of this time with the Phantom Stranger, who stands apart from the crowds. This emphasizes the marginal nature of their roles within both the Crisis and the wider superhero community: both are somewhat removed from the type of characters that form the bulk of the DC Universe, like Superman, the Justice League and so on. However, the brief talk with Alex Luthor also enables the events in recent Swamp Thing issues to remain more closely linked with Crisis while not overpowering the American Gothic storyline itself.

Swamp Thing remains confused, not understanding the links between the physical and spiritual, and Constantine suggests that he teleports back to Earth to view the results of the interconnectedness of these planes of existence. Upon his arrival, we see the continued absurdities that dot the urban areas, including: wolf men attack a woman because of her fur coat; mountain men try to reorient themselves in an unfamiliar environment; Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde fame) sits traumatized watching the end of a film about his own life. Swamp Thing is also sensitive to the ‘bedlam of a mass mind faced with extinction’ and it becomes too much for him to bear and, as such, he retreats to the hills.

Constantine is already waiting for him once he has swiftly regrown his body, and tells him more about the Brujería, a society of male witches who indulge in horrific practices, including the killing of one’s best friend, the creation of waistcoats from human skin, and the creation of an invunche by disjointing the arms, legs, hands and neck of a six month old baby. At this point, the cocksure Constantine lets his mask of bravado slip, and we glimpse an aspect normally well hidden from view: his stilted dialogue and evasion of further details underscores the fact he’s ‘not been sleeping much lately’ and that he’s ‘a bit wobbly’ reveal that he is very much affected by the threat that is looming. Swamp Thing’s experiences during the American Gothic storyline are revealed by Constantine as being ‘not a fraction of the darkness that the Brujería hope to drag us down too’. The final revelation of the issue is a stark one. Believing that Earth is the target, Constantine berates Swamp Thing:

Bloody hell, they already own the Earth. Have done for centuries […] It’s Heaven, you see? They plan to destroy Heaven.

Heaven is indeed under threat, and this can be seen in the final scene of the book, where Sister Anne Marie (a representative of Heaven in terms of her being a nun, perhaps) is attacked by an invunche on the London underground. At the end of this issue we are left with the knowledge that another part of Constantine’s battle plan is in jeopardy.

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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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