“The Summoning”:

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing #49

Swamp Thing #49 “The Summoning”

Cover date: June 1986. Writer: Alan Moore. Artists: Stan Woch and Alfredo Alcala. Editor: Karen Berger. Colorist: Tatjana Wood. Letterer: John Costanza

This issue opens with a recap of the final events in the cave in the previous issue. Constantine recollects how Swamp Thing saved him but let the crow escape. Swamp Thing then deals with the Invunche far more easily than we perhaps expect, and we see the intense levels of power he has at his command, and the confidence that he has developed in his own abilities:

Fools. You are in a cave… beneath the clean earth…in the centre… of a rainforest… You… do not even… have a chance.

Swamp Thing floods the cave with mud and soil, before joining Constantine and hearing his contingency plan, one he agrees to be a part of. This issue serves to outline this plan and gives an account of the forces and players being marshalled together in anticipation of the great battle in #50. In doing so, the creative team once again take the opportunity to bring together a range of more supernaturally oriented characters and further define how they see these more mystical elements of the DC universe interacting.

Constantine has recounted the events noted above to Baron Winter in Winter’s home in Georgetown, Washington DC. Winter is a character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon, and is primarily known for being the leader of Night Force, a group comprised of various members selected by Winter for the threat at hand. While Winter is bound within the confines of his house, there are numerous portals to the past that he can use. Winter and Night Force first appeared in an insert in New Teen Titans #21 (July 1982) to promote Night Force #1 (August 1982): incidentally, the latter shares the same story title as this issue – ‘The Summoning’.

The discussion between Winter and Constantine displays Constantine’s manipulative genius and Moore’s adept characterisation at work. Winter is initially aloof, dismissive of Constantine’s request for the use of his house and patronises him. Constantine’s sharp rebuttal, that Winter is effectively housebound, and the lie that ‘Sargon volunteered like a shot’ (he hasn’t, and Constantine plats the same manipulative trick Sargon later in this issue) are calculated and effective: Constantine secures Winter’s home as the base from which to launch their campaign. He then adds Sargon the Sorcerer[i], Zatara[ii] and Zatanna[iii] to his ranks. Sargon agrees to help and it is clear that he is not fazed by the threat that looms, commenting that he is used to danger. Zatanna has obviously had a close personal relationship with Constantine in the past, being of the same generation, while Zatara is suspicious of Constantine, but still joins him in recognition of the threat that looms.

Page 7 contains an effective juxtaposition of six panels: three depict the continuing, ominous journey of the crow in an almost symbolic manner: a deep blue silhouettes move away into a jet back sky. These are juxtaposed with three panels depicting characters that will soon become part of the narrative. The first is Kent Nelson, who appears only as an outstretched hand reaching for the helmet of Doctor Fate[iv], while his wife Inza lies asleep in bed in the background. The character was created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman.

The second is Dr Occult, a supernatural detective who is a very early DC character, predating even Superman (he first appeared in New Fun Comics #6 in October 1935), with whom he shared Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster as creators. Indeed, Moore describes him as “one of the night’s oldest legends”, and he sits and ponders “fragmented dreams of hands clasped around a table, crows and death” – obvious references to events happening in the story at hand.

Thirdly, we see the return of Cain and Abel, of House of Mystery and House of Secrets respectively. More recently, they had appeared in Swamp Thing #33. Here, Cain is choking Abel with a necktie, prompted by an argument over the species of the bird flying overhead, specifically the crow with the pearl.

Swamp Thing’s mission in this issue, like Constantine, is to marshal forces together for the imminent battle. He returns to the ‘region of the just dead’ where he meets up again with Deadman (with whom he partnered with in Swamp Thing Annual #2), and both are soon joined by the Phantom Stranger (last seen in Swamp Thing #46). Finally, the Spectre (also last seen in Swamp Thing Annual #2) joins this team to prepare for their final battle.

The forces are joined and the scene is set for the cataclysmic battle in issue #50. The crow releases the black pearl into the ocean, and a massive tidal wave, counterpointed with lightening, fills the final panel of the issue. All that remains is the next issue blurb, ‘The End’, which is particularly meaningful, referring both to the end of the ‘American Gothic’ storyline and final issue to be graced with the wonderful art of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben.

[i] Sargon the Sorcerer, created by John B. Wentworth and Howard Purcell, first appeared in All American Comics #26 (May 1941).

[ii] Zatara, created by Fred Guardineer, first appeared in Action Comics #1 (June 1938).

[iii] Zatanna, created by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson, first appeared in Hawkman #4 (November 1964).

[iv] Dr. Fate, created by created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman, first appeared in More Fun Comics #55 (May 1940).

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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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