Thursday, April 25, 2024

Spinner Rack Flashback: Saga of the Swamp Thing #14-15

Saga of the Swamp Thing #14-15

Cover Date: June-July 1983
On Sale Date: March 10 and April 14 1983
Editor Len Wein
Cover Artists Thomas Yeates

Story Title:  "Crystal Visions, Shattered Dreams"; "Empires Made of Sand"
Plotter/Penciller: Bo Hampton
Scripter: Dan Mishkin
Inker: Scott Hampton
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tatjana Wood

Trey: Swamp Thing was created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for House of Secrets, but somewhat retooled, starred in his own series from 1972-1976. In 1982, with a movie by Wes Craven on the way, the series was revived. This series, and perhaps the character in general, is best known for the run by Alan Moore, mostly with Steve Bissette, but there were 20 issues of the title before that creative team came together. Most of them were scripted by Martin Pasko, but there was this two-parter where another writer stepped in, Dan Mishkin, joined by the Hampton Brothers, Bo and Scott, on art. These issues happen to be my first exposure to Swamp Thing comics as a kid.

One interesting thing about this issue is the origin of the villain here parallels the Swamp Thing’s origin—and this being the Bronze Age, they don’t fail to clue you into that fact even if you have no prior knowledge of the character!

Jason: As a kid growing up in a one-spinner rack town, the editorial practice of endlessly recapping prior issues and origins in ongoing stories actually served its purpose, as I often didn't have the opportunity to get consecutive issues of comics. Early 80s pocket money being what it was, I sometimes had to settle for a single issue of the Micronauts after squandering my quarters on the most fleeting of video game thrills (damn you Centipede!).  

As in this issue, the origin recap also gives the current art team a crack at presenting the story in their style. The Hampton brothers, both of whom were in their early 20s at the time of publication, provide as seamless a transition from Thomas Yeates as readers were likely to get, as they both embody a classic comic strip and illustration style. The EC Comics influence, especially Al Williamson (and Frazetta), is strong and appreciated by me!  

Trey: One thing I appreciate now but I didn't appreciate at the time was how much this is a Phantom Stranger story. He's obviously a guess star, sure, but the structure of the story is very much like the Phantom Stranger backups by Barr and others that had been running in earlier issues of Swamp Thing: the Stranger introduces the situation as narrator. He then intervenes at points, trying to get characters to do the right thing. This playing with the conventions of DC horror anthology titles in a more different sort of narrative is something that Alan Moore would do in his run. In many ways this story is in line with his approach.

Jason: While it will still be a sea-change when Moore takes over, the book is already moving in a more adult oriented direction as evidenced here. Not quite there, but still better than I expected. 

Trey: What I also didn't recall is how poorly fleshed out the bad guy's plan is! I mean, sure he's made of living crystal, but other than them both containing the element silicon, how exactly will that enable him to control computers and rule the world?

Jason: Well, we see it all happen right there! I mean, silicon. Computers. You know! Seriously, that's the trouble with comics struggling through these growing pains. Swamp Thing is still a weirdo-of-the-month Frankenstein vs. Dracula book and you're asking it to make sense?

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