Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Dan Day, and Rick Veitch, Saga of the Swamp Thing -- Book One (Vertigo, 2009)

For the first time, Moore's early work on Saga of the Swamp Thing -- the first eight issues -- has been released in hardback format. This edition includes issue 20, which has not previously been available outside the original single issue. Original creator Len Wein provides the introduction, while author Ramsey Campbell add a foreword.

The main arc of this volume -- seven issues -- centers on Swamp Thing coming to grips with his existence, his humanity, or perhaps the lack there of. In the opening issue, he is captured by an entrepreneur, who puts him in cryogenic stasis, awaiting investigation. Hired to carry out the research is former prisoner Jason Woodrue, who has his own reasons for desiring to pursue such study. When Woodrue is fired, he exacts revenge by defrosting the Swamp Thing. Thawed and once again mobile, Swamp Thing stumbles across across Woodrue's findings (left purposefully for him to find): that Swamp Thing was never the human Alec Holland, but only plant matter who came together around the memories of the man.

This realization rocks Swamp Thing to his very core. He needs a belief in his innate humanity to keep him tied to the human world, to keep him corporeal. Without that anchor . . . he drifts back to the Louisiana swamps, allowing his physical body to dissolve and his consciousness leach into the nature around him. Unknown to Swamp Thing, Woodrue has followed him, tracking the progress of his dissolution. Matt and Abby Cable, fighting some personal demons of their own, have also found him. Abby can't bear to see him disappear and pleads for him to come back.

Mirroring Swamp Thing's slow fade from humanity is Woodrue's complete transformation to bipedal plant. Unlike Swamp Thing, who clung desperately to his humanity, Woodrue carries with him a hatred for not just his own humanity, but mankind in general. Fueled by the plants' own rising anger, he begins a violent crusade against humans. His poison sinks into the swamp, and it's that darkness, and Abby's need, that pulls Swamp Thing back to the human world. He severs the plants' faith in a Woodrue, shaking his belief in his crusade and destroying him in the process.

And thus begins a short idyllic period for Swamp Thing and Abby -- though not so much for Matt. The final issue sees Abby taking a job at a home for children with psychological issues. However, this semblance of peace is broken when a demon comes to town to play. Swamp Thing and Abby come out of this largely unscathed, but the small town, and, more significantly, Matt Cable, will never be the same.

It's easy to imagine how this story could've gone wrong, become a stereotypical monster story. But in Moore's hands, this lumbering beast exudes more humanity than most of the people around him. Saga of the Swamp is a marvelous study in what it is to be human, as seen through the lens of one who is not. And as such, it's an exquisite treat to read (and to view, Swamp Thing is rendered in beautiful detail).

It would be impossible to review this volume without commenting on the publication quality, which is less than stellar, regrettably. The binding itself is decent, with a lovely detailed imprint of Swamp Thing's face on the front hard cover. Inside, however, the paper quality is poor, similar to that of a trade or single issue, rendering some of the text difficult to read. This puts a damper on the excitement of finally having a hardcover edition of Saga of the Swamp thing (especially in light of the high quality of the Absolute Sandman releases), but thankfully the superb quality of the story itself ultimately mitigates this niggling concern.

Stephen Bissette is online here.
Rick Veitch is here.
And Vertigo Comics is
here.