Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Swamp Thing: A Murder of Crows (or how I learned to stop worrying and start loving crossover events again).

Trying to come up with anything new to say about these Swamp Thing Collections is not the easiest task I’ve ever set for myself. What can I say that is possibly new after all these years of this series sitting on shelves being well known, well read and well respected?

I suppose I can recap how this is a book of two halves – the horror story tropes that make up the first few chapters (the serial killer episode is particularly well done, I’m a sucker for superhero fare where the hero is a background player) and the second half that is Alan Moore involving Swamp Thing into the Crisis of Infinite Earths. It’s kind of weird to be reading something involved in the first major publisher-wide cross-over event when it seems that each time the seasons change we’re given a new one. Each summer we have a corporate cross-over and each winter we’re given a title-wide crossover that might affect other titles if the thing does well or “gets legs.”

The more I read Swamp Thing, the more I kind of want this book to be a primer for anyone thinking of writing mature superheroics. It’s sort of the bible for mature superhero writing – it’s the template that everyone follows but there is a heck of a lot of misinterpretation. It’s not the mature themes that make this a mature book but the construction of the narratives. The crossover chapters don’t simply bring in forgotten characters willy-nilly they bring them in because the characters are relevant to the narrative. Heck, there are characters that are dramatically killed off, but in a manner that actually has relevance to the story other than being merely sensational or as a tableau for some gory artwork. Imagine having everything and everyone there to actually move forward the plot/narrative in your current summer crossover? It’s been done, I’ve read the proof.

I guess what I’m enjoying underneath all the other greatness of the series is that these are stories where the creative team was simply trusted to create good stories, even when they were dragged into larger events. I don’t think I get the feeling from today’s large events, although there are always a few exceptions (heck I have a few that I really liked). This doesn’t mean I dislike today’s event comics; I just like the type of thing on offer here a lot more. This is good writing and art done within the bounds of editorially mandated crossover.

There is a real innocence here as well. Sure, Swamp Thing as a series maintains a connection to the horror comic tropes it was founded upon but it is also thrust directly into the DCU proper. Yes, the wider DCU characters tend to be the ones inhabiting the fringes but it’s kind of fun to see how this is all happening in the same world where Batman can show up and scowl at John Constantine for a bit. I can understand why the Vertigo books are now in their own silo, but there’s just something inherently fun about having the DCU underwear perverts show up in all these early Vertigo books (heck Animal Man was basically mature DCU too). It’s nice to be reminded that even silly superheroes can be done well and with a bit of meaning.

On a completely different note, I’m always shocked at Alan Moore’s knowledge of obscure stuff. I think I’m just too easily amazed at how people knew stuff before Google. I just found out about the Winchester House through the Cracked website. One of the ghost stories in this collection is based on this place. I thought it was a brilliant idea and now I’m a bit more creeped out that it’s based on a real place.

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