Saga of the Swamp Thing
Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Author: Alan Moore
Pencils: Stephen Bissette
Inks: John Tottleben
Publisher: DC/Vertigo, 2012
Comic Shop Locator: https://www.comicshoplocator.com/
Review by Daniel Oheb, Editor-in-Chief
What makes a person a person? Is it their body? Is it their soul? Is it the bodies or souls they surround themselves with? Comics legend Alan Moore’s book “Saga of the Swamp Thing” , a rendition of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, poses these questions, yet leaves them for you to answer.
In Moore’s book, the main character, Alec Holland was a happily married young scientist with great promise. He and his wife, Linda, were working together to develop a bio-restorative formula with endless benefits for mankind. Following an explosion in his lab, Holland is covered in the formula as he burns to death, running to the swamp near his lab. Holland is dead, yet his memories and consciousness, that which we might call a “soul,” are preserved in the swamp’s fauna. As Holland falls, the Swamp Thing rises, unaware of who he truly is.
Moore’s run on the series picks up just as the Swamp Thing enters his identity crisis. He still believes he is Alec Holland, but is starting to find evidence to the contrary. He doesn’t sound like Holland anymore, and he certainly doesn’t look like him either. As the first volume of Moore’s six volume series progresses, the Swamp Thing slowly comes to terms with the fact that Alec Holland is no more, coming to grips with the fact that he is something new, a plant elemental connected to the very earth he stands on. Meanwhile, we also see how Holland’s death and rebirth impact those around him, including Abby Cable, a friend turned lover.
Moore’s beautiful prose takes the reader through the Swamp Thing’s journey to discover who he has become, what he can do, and what place there is for him on this earth. Simultaneously, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben’s gruesome yet gorgeous illustrations depict the surreal thoughts one has in a time of crisis in an effort to make sense of our current state. Together, they create a story with strong parallels to a patient trying to reclaim their own story in a time of crisis.
Our health is a part of our identity. It shapes the way we act on a day to day basis. It affects the plans we make for the future. It affects our relationships. When our health is impacted, it changes our abilities, and our story. These changes compel us to consider what truly makes us, “us.” It’s during times like this that our resilience is tested, and we are forced to adjust to our circumstance. We look to our friends, family, and healers to remind us of our value. That resilience allows us to see that we are much more than a shell. We are a thing greater than the sum of its parts, a dynamic figure in a dynamic world.
Moore’s run on “Saga of the Swamp Thing” gives us the opportunity to visualize the drastic changes and losses in identity we all face at one point or another. In doing so, we build upon our capacity to empathize with our patients. We become more able to sit with them in what might be a dark place. Identity is a journey, and we as medical professionals must be able to accompany our patients on that journey.
“Saga of the Swamp Thing” by Moore, Bissette, and Totleben is available at your local comic shop as a six-volume trade paperback series published by DC/Vertigo.