Sunday, October 31, 2010

Obligatory Halloween Horror Comic Review: Swamp Thing #54

So, it's Halloween, which I suppose means I'm expected to write about a horror comic. 
Not feeling especially contrarian today, that is exactly what I'm planning to do, even though, to be frank, I'm not a huge fan of the genre.
My favorite horror comic is Swamp Thing #54, an issue that the title character doesn't even appear in, so maybe I am being somewhat  of a contrarian after all. Swampy was at the time presumed dead after some fracas with the Batman in Gotham City. Honestly, I'm not exactly sure of the details.  While I was making an effort to pick up this book regularly at the time, I had managed to miss the previous issue.  As I've stated previously, I didn't have access to a comics shop at the time and newsstand availability of this book was somewhat erratic. However, all that doesn't really matter.  In fact, "The Flowers of Romance" could probably be read and enjoyed by someone who'd never read an issue of the series before with only a minimum of confusion.  
The story reintroduces Lizabeth Tremayne and Dennis Barclay, who were major supporting players during writer Martin Pasko's tenure on the title.  In the time since the final showdown between Swamp Thing and the General Sunderland, Dennis has turned into an abusive bastard who lies to Liz about the continued threat from Sunderland in order to keep her weak, fearful and under his control.  Left alone by Dennis for extended period, though its never stated exactly why, Liz sees news reports of Swamp Thing's death which feature interviews with his lover Abby Cable, who Dennis has told her is dead.   Overcoming her Dennis instilled fear of just about everything, Liz sets out to visit her former friend. 
Needless to say, Dennis is none to happy to arrive home and find his prisoner of love has dared to leave.  Deducing where Liz has gone, he grabs a gun and follows.  When he arrives at Abby's home, she grabs Liz and heads toward the swamp with Dennis in pursuit. Abby is forced to overcome her grief over the loss of Swamp Thing in order to save both their lives.  Using the knowledge of the swamp she gained from her time spent with Swamp Thing, she manages to lead their pursuer into a trap that results in his gruesome death.  Apparently the whole macabre episode restores her will to live, as the last page shows her making arrangements for planning a memorial service for Swamp Thing and starting to move on to the next phase of her life.
The story is, of course, a hell of a lot better than my description of it.  After all the writer was Alan Moore, and I am not.
Despite Moore's sophisticated and literate story telling and the revelations of Swamp Thing's true nature in issue #21's story "The Anatomy Lesson", Swamp Thing was still at its core a horror comic about a good monster who fights bad monsters.  In "The Flowers of Romance," though, Moore shows that he is just as adept at portraying more down to Earth horror such as domestic abuse and human monsters like Dennis Barclay as he is at tales of supernatural terror. 


  1. If you're looking for a fuller understanding of what was going on in the Swamp Thing title at that time, pick up a copy of the paperback reprint Swamp Thing: Earth to Earth. It's the fifth and penultimate volume reprinting Moore's well-loved run on the title. It includes issues 51-56 and has plenty of special moments besides those found in issue 54. Number 53 was a double sized comic, wherein Swampy uses his powers to hold all of Gotham City city prisoner for locking up his squeeze Abby (while also beating the tar out of a certain Dark Knight Detective). In the end, only one man is able to halt the rampage of this seemingly invulnerable plant monster: Lex Luthor!

    Sorry to ramble on like this, but the whole volume is a terrific read; I can't recommend it highly enough. The book also closes with one of my favorite Moore-penned issues of Swampy, "My Blue Heaven" in number 56.

  2. What makes that story even more scary is that Moore knew someone who had been in an abusive relationship like that.
    To really appreciate all the intricacies and references in Moore's Swamp Thing, read the Annotations at

  3. Thanks Greg. I'd never heard that before.
    I'll definitely keep that in mind next time I read the issue.