I have an ambivalent relationship to Alan Moore. On the one hand, I admire his skill immensely. Anyone who has genuinely mastered a craft and has, further, added to it, deserves respect. Also, I sympathize with anyone whose ambition is create a work that will earn a chosen medium the respect it deserves but is often denied. I work in popular (often “folk,” a term I really don’t care for) music, and Moore in comics. I fancy myself an artist, and so does Moore. All this is great.
At the same time, having taken some Latin classes when I was a schoolboy, I recognize, to take the example, Moore’s frequent use of schoolboy Latin for the smarmy pretension that it actually is. I know that dropping Latin phrases makes a person seem well-educated, but believe me, people, if I can read it without a dictionary or Google, all it means is that Moore attended Latin class when he was a kid, and he may or may not have passed it.
I also–and at some point I want to write a piece on this–take strong issue with the elevation of Watchmen above, more or less, every comic ever written. It was at the right place at the right time, but as a coherent critique of the fascist tendency implicit in both the superhero as a literary device and United States history writ large, it misses the mark. No understanding of race at all in it: Moore’s America is a drama among white people. The real America is not so narrow and never was.
So, Moore’s Swamp Thing: everything that bothered me about Moore in Watchmen, which made Promethea unreadable for me (I tried) and which seemed toned down in the British setting of V for Vendetta, all this everything is there in Swamp Thing. Somehow, however, it’s all made tolerable by the near-total inanity of the titular character. The Swamp Thing itself, a walking, talking plant, is such an idiotic idea that the best of Moore’s brilliance–and to be sure, he’s brilliant–can shine.
I don’t know the back story of why Moore took on the series, and I’m not inclined to research it. I prefer to imagine, possibly correctly, that, balls swollen from Watchmen, he asked for the single worst character in the DC universe, the one every writer dreaded getting, so he could do something fantastic and prove how small minded the other writers on the staff were. No idea if that happened, but it would be nice.
The introduction makes a big deal about the first storyline in the book, which details how any why the Swamp Thing came into being, completely ignoring Len Wein‘s original idea, which, knowing nothing about it, apparently didn’t really make a lot of sense. I will say that Moore’s take works beautifully: it’s internally consistent, and has a veneer of scientific plausibility that makes one forget in the moment how completely unrealistic the idea of a walking, talking plant actually is. This reader forgot, while reading it, how totally stupid the actual premise of the comic was. That’s an achievement.
Ultimately, I like my comics less artsy than highbrow “graphic novels,” but more substantial than run-of-the-mill superhero stuff. A guy like Jack Kirby, however, I can admire because it’s so clear how talented he was, and how thoroughly he was in control of his medium. In general I find Moore’s position–capital “A” “Artist”–annoying at best and juvenile at worst, even if the juvenile in question would doubtless be a child prodigy. With Swamp Thing, the character itself tones everything down a bit, and we’re left with Moore’s considerable talent and intelligence. Go ye forth and read.