Continued from last week.
After abortion as a vehicle for laddish jokes and abortion as a means for evoking terror, Millar turned to abortion as a symbol of crass irresponsibility. (ST: 147/152/157) In Sink Or Swim, he finally revealed something of Anna’s own backstory beyond the suicide that played out in River Run. (ST:157/1) The victim of a sustained campaign of persecution by the Parliament Of Waves, she suffers the dismantling of her life in what appears to be a run of unfeasibly poor luck. As she tells her sister, she’s arrived at a time in which she’s no “job, no house, a baby on the way and no boyfriend.” Most of this ill-fortune has been beyond her control, although the flooding of her home by what appears to be the nearby Mississippi reveals the folly of it not being insured. But at this point, Millar decides to turn Anna from a largely blameless victim of cosmic forces into a despair-driven architect of her own misfortune. Herded to the point of suicide, Anna falls gratefully back upon her sister’s willing support. Wearily reassured that her immediate needs will be seen to, Anna asks “What about the baby?”, and her sister’s response is as off-hand as it’s emotionally disengaged;
“Aw, c’mon, girl… Why d’you think God created abortion clinics?”
There seems little doubt that Millar will have enjoyed engineering that collision of the godly and the purportedly blasphemous.
It’s a solution to Anna’s most immediate problems that will do for her sister, who’ll be killed by a passing car while helping Anna with the consequences of the termination. In terms of Anna herself, the abortion will be one more sign that she’s too weak to take responsibility for her own affairs. With Hester’s art showing the sister’s unconcerned face as she casually searches for an abortionist’s phone number, the implication is an exclusively negative one. These are not, it seems, responsible, caring adults when it comes to anyone but themselves, and abortion is the litmus test of who is and who isn’t an admirable human being. After all, Millar ensured that neither of them ever once discusses the morality of the decision, let alone the practicalities of supporting the child if it were to be allowed to be born.
Both sisters, the story suggests, will have brought on their own downfalls through their lack of concern for Anna’s unborn baby. If the Parliament Of Waves has created the momentum and scale of adversity, then the two of them have ultimately conspired in their own dooms. The sin of abortion is compounded by the sin of suicide on Anna’s part, and the character who had initially seemed so intriguing and substantial is revealed to be just one more weak female character who stumbles and falls without a heroic male to defend her. (Her soul’s ultimate rescue will be everything to do with Swamp Thing’s bravery and decency and nothing to do with her own choices.) If Millar’s script most certainly shows pity for Anna, it also once again presents a leading female character as little more than a sinner and victim, as a plot-convenience that drives Swamp Thing forward in his gallant progress. As Anna describes herself in The Parliament Of Waves, she had spent her “whole life avoiding any kind of responsibility….”. (ST: 158) In that context, her abortion is nothing less than a marker of a woman who’s unacceptably failed to persevere with her duties towards her gestating child. Not enough then, that Anna should have had her “successful life washed … away” by the Parliament Of Waves. Millar also had to present her deterioration in terms of the Catholic sins, of the personal failings, that have so consistently and extensively informed his work.
As before, Millar was uninterested in discussing the issue of abortion with reference to anything beyond his own values and his own melodrama. For the third time in ten months worth of issues, Millar’s Swamp Thing had presented abortion in a wholly negative context. In Sink Or Swim, the script presents an almost laughably anachronistic and reactionary picture of the termination and its consequences. In this, Hester’s artwork is entirely complicit. What the script suggests is a hospital or clinic is depicted as a rundown, nondescript tenement, with no sign of even exterior lighting, let alone any of the markers of a modern-era medical establishment. With what appears to be an elevated subway track in the foreground, the geographical context is of the seamier, less salubrious side of town. Next to the supposed clinic is – with a hammerblow’s worth of symbolism – a similarly nondescript and darkened church, which emphasises how Anna has trusted to the wrong institution. Nor does the disapproving force of Millar and Hester’s representation of this abortion end there. The operation itself has caused Anna what appears to be serious discomfort if not even severe pain, and her sister has to help her down a flight of outside steps. (*1) It’s as if the tale was set in the 1930s and the procedure had been undertaken by a whiskey-soaked, line-’em-up back-street abortionist who’d then turned them straight out.
Not does Millar let up there. This is, it seems, not even Anna’s first termination, as Millar has her declare that she’s just undergone “the second worst abortion” she’s ever had. Her sister collaborates in this mix of drollery and self-damnation;
Sister: “So what did you call this little brat? Anything exotic?”
Anna: “Yeah, I called him pain in the ass, sis …“
The immediate impression may be of a woman in pain and another who’s truly concerned about her. But the overwhelming sense is of two heartlessly self-obsessed human beings who’ve utterly forgotten to care about the “little brat” that’s just been aborted.
To be continued.
*1:- Anna is then shown almost collapsing in pain before the Parliament of Waves — for some unexplained reason — turns her hand to water. It might be argued that it’s the Parliament that has caused Anna’s pain, but given the context of the issue and the series, it seems unlikely. After all, who’d be so careless as to present such a sequence and not expect the abortion itself to be viewed as at least a major cause of Anna’s suffering?