The 3-D Universe is a Hologrammatic Side-Effect (The Last War in Albion Part 71: Swamp Thing in Space)

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This is the twenty-first of twenty-two parts of Chapter Eight of The Last War in Albion, focusing on Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing. An omnibus of all twenty-two parts can be purchased at Smashwords. If you purchased serialization via the Kickstarter, check your Kickstarter messages for a free download code.

The stories discussed in this chapter are currently available in six volumes. This entry covers stories from the sixth volume. This volume is available in the US here and the UK here, as well as being obtainable at your local bookstore or comic shop. Finding the other volumes are left as an exercise for the reader.

Previously in The Last War in AlbionFollowing his story of Swamp Thing laying ecological siege to Gotham City, Alan Moore killed him. Again. 

"I love the way science SOUNDS. I love the ideas for their art. There’s a crazy beauty about a theory of dimensional structure that assembles itself into a snowflake, or the idea that reality is a two-dimensional plane of information and the 3-D universe is a hologrammatic side-effect. And that’s how I write science fiction. I use the sound of the ideas and then make it all up. And then it all comes true anyway." - Warren Ellis

Figure 535: The steady pan out from
Gotham towards the planet on which
Swamp Thing has landed. (Written by
Alan Moore, art by Rich Veitch, Alfredo
Alcala, and John Totleben, from Swamp
Thing
 #55, 1986)
This is confirmed in the next issue, which focuses primarily on Abby’s attendance of a memorial service for Swamp Thing, and in which she comes to terms with her loss. At the end of the service a man comes up to her introducing himself as Boston Brand and explaining that he’s “checked out all the places he might have ended up,” and saying that as far as he can tell, Swamp Thing isn’t in any afterlife. The issue ends four pages of page-tall narrow panels zooming out from Abby leaving a rose upon Swamp Thing’s memorial, out to the city streets, and then the planet, and finally across the cosmos. As the captions narrate Abby’s final acceptance of her lover’s death, in which she misunderstands the words Deadman said to her. “Maybe a wino’s delusion is the best thing I have to cling to right now,” she thinks. “Perhaps when we die, there’s another world somewhere. Perhaps there’s a heaven so big it has room for someone like you. I hope so. I hope you’re there now. Goodbye, my love. Goodbye.” At which point the steady pan out finally arrives, galaxies away, at a crater on an alien planet. With a “sklitch! pwack scluc kwilp thap pletch,” a figure emerges, stark blue and made of alien vegetation, but nevertheless, clearly the Swamp Thing. 

This marks the beginning of Moore’s final arc on Swamp Thing - a nine issue story about Swamp Thing’s return to Earth. By this point, as Moore puts it, “I’d done nearly all my original ideas on the book, all the ones that Steve and John had contributed to, all the ones I’d subsequently come up with - I’d pretty much done everything that I’d wanted with the character.” The final arc, then, was designed as “this big space storyline” where “I’d get all of my science-fiction Swamp Thing ideas out of my system.” Moore did not even write all nine issues, with both Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch (who Moore had by this point tipped as his successor on the book) chipping in fill-in stories. Bissette’s, in Swamp Thing #59, exists mainly to heap further indignities upon Abby at the hands of Anton Arcane, while Veitch’s slots in between Moore’s final space-based story and the issue in which Swamp Thing finally returns to Earth, giving Swamp Thing an adventure with Jack Kirby’s New Gods. 

Figure 536: John Constantine, unbidden, appears to Swamp
Thing to serve as the snake in his garden. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala, from Swamp
Thing
 #56, 1986)
Moore’s ideas for sci-fi based Swamp Thing stories broadly fit into two categories: experimental stories that extended the psychedelic approach that characterized much of Moore’s Swamp Thing work, and stories that let Moore play with DC properties he’d been a fan of in his youth. The first issue of the arc, in Swamp Thing #56, fits into the former category. Entitled “My Blue Heaven,” the story features Swamp Thing on a planet teeming with plants and insect life, but with no intelligent life whatsoever. In total isolation, Swamp Thing explores the world, contemplating the vast blue landscape and the different shades: “the color of African skin… of shadow on snow… of a jay’s throat… the color of saxophones at dusk… of orbiting police lights smeared across tenement windows… of a flame’s intestines… of the faint tracery of veins beneath the ghost flesh of her forearm’s underside… of loneliness… of melancholy.” He experiments with different types of bodies, growing a body with air sacs that can float across the landscape, and growing a second body with which he can play chess (although every game ends in stalemate). Eventually he grows a doppelgänger of Abby, and an entire duplicate of Houma over which he can serve as demiurge. But within his soulless vegetable city he finds a version of John Constantine (who appears “at the corner table” of the Houma diner “alone in the concealing shadows,” a description that echoes Moore’s first encounter with Constantine in a sandwich shop), who points out to him that he is merely talking to himself. Unable now not to see the artifice of his creation, Swamp Thing flies into a rage and dismantles his world and finally flees, without knowing if there is anywhere he can possibly land, concluding that death is preferable to this isolated hell.

In many ways this echoes Moore’s third issue of Swamp Thing, “Swamped,” in which Swamp Thing nearly loses himself in the green as he reels from the revelation that he is not in fact Alec Holland. As in “Swamped,” Swamp Thing encounters a wealth of phantasms and mirrors of his past life, nearly losing his identity in the face of them. But whereas in “Swamped” Swamp Thing is ultimately happy to surrender himself to the green, finding it a place where he can at last be at peace and be happy, in “Another Blue World” his memory of and love for Abby renders the equivalent solitude unbearable, a testament to the breadth of change the character has undergone in the thirty-five issues since “Swamped.” 

Figure 537: Swamp Thing and Adam Strange realize they
share a home planet. (Written by Alan Moore, art by Rick
Veitch and Alfredo Alcala, from Swamp Thing #58, 1986)
Having completed his meditations, Swamp Thing proceeds to jump through a series of other alien worlds, which Moore uses to explore the possible intersections between Swamp Thing and science fiction as it exists in DC’s line of comics. First is a two-issue story featuring Adam Strange, a present day human created by Julius Schwartz and most associated with the 1950s/60s sci-fi anthology series Mystery in Space (from which Moore derives the title of the arc’s first issue), who occasionally traveled from Earth to the alien planet of Rann via the Rannian’s “Zeta Beam” and had space adventures in a Buck Rogers/John Carter tradition. Moore matches up Strange with another set of DC aliens, the Thanagarians, who discovered a substance called Nth metal that defies gravity, and used it to dress up in hawk costumes, which provided the Silver Age origin story for Hawkman. The story is a fairly standard bit of space opera that is pretty clearly little more than an excuse for Moore to play with yet another corner of DC’s history that he’d enjoyed as a child (Strange’s run in Mystery in Space ran from 1959-65, or from the ages of six to twelve for Moore, while Thanagar first appeared in 1961, and the Silver Age Hawkman got his own series in 1964). 

Figure 538: John Totleben's experimental
artwork for Swamp Thing #60. (Written
by Alan Moore, 1987)
After the Bissette-penned fill-in issue, Moore continued with an issue titled after a David Bowie song, “Loving the Alien,” that served as an opportunity for John Totleben to engage in a more experimental art style than he’d previously been able to, and let Moore stretch into one of the most avant garde plots he’d written. The issue is constructed entirely in splash pages, with no dialogue to speak of. Instead the story is narrated by a mysterious alien entity, part flesh, part machine, floating in space and seeking a mate. Only Totleben’s art, drawn as a series of psychedelic collages often featuring only the vaguest implication of Swamp Thing’s figure, makes it clear who the “ghost” that haunts the narrator’s insides is. Moore’s narration, meanwhile, is an extended exercise in writing from a profoundly alien perspective. “How shall I say it,” the narrator writes. “How to describe the effect this last bare fact worked in me? He was of my flesh. I was melted by the implications. Yes… yes, that is it! ‘Melted.’ Not for my body, that was not melted, save for the unchanging magma, boiling ceaselessly around my nuclear core. Not my body, but rather my mind; my psychostructure; my self. My self is what melted. All the precisely indexed data, sucked greedily from the computer systems of a thousand doomed alien vessels; all my art and science and neurosynthesis; the logarithms and sines; the very formula of what I am… melted,” in a strange and slightly disorienting account of what is, in effect, the alien creature falling in love with Swamp Thing when he attempts to incarnate out of the plant matter that is the alien. The story is in most regards an interesting experiment as opposed to an entirely successful one, but nevertheless demonstrates Moore continuing to be aggressively experimental and to push himself even as he was bringing his time on Swamp Thing to a close.

Figure 539: Swamp Thing accidentally incarnates as a
grotesque assemblage of other people's bodies. (From
Swamp Thing #61, 1987)
The final portion of the outer space arc comes in Swamp Thing #61, a story called “All Flesh is Grass.” On one level this story is another excuse for Moore to play with a personal favorite concept within DC. But on another, it is an attempt to invert the premise of Swamp Thing and find a new way to do horror stories with it. This is not insignificant. Depending on the particulars of one’s definition, it is possible to argue that the last time Moore actually wrote a horror story in Swamp Thing was “A Murder of Crows,” all the way back in Swamp Thing #48. Certainly it has not been the dominant mode for the title to work in for some time. But in “All Flesh is Grass,” Moore finds a genuinely new way to present a horror story. The premise of “All Flesh is Grass” is that Swamp Thing finally makes it to the planet suggested by Adam Strange at the end of that story, J586, where it might be possible to fix Swamp Thing’s ability to communicate with plants so that he can talk to the Earth again. Unfortunately, as he materializes on J586, he realizes too late that all of the plant life on the planet is in fact sentient, and that he has built his body and consciousness out of thousands of living people, all of whose consciousnesses collide with his own, pulling him under and driving him hopelessly mad. Veitch depicts the scene in a nightmarish double page spread in which Swamp Thing’s hands are visibly formed out of screaming and horrified alien faces, while Moore narrates the psychological distress of the people trapped within Swamp Thing’s body. “The horror swiped blindly, gestured inarticulately, nothing but amok. In each hand a polite and well-mannered family clenched into a fist of bitterness and recrimination. The horror ran, palms damp with angry tears, fingers quarrelling.” 

Rescuing J586 from Swamp Thing’s rampage is Medphyl, the sector’s representative to the Green Lantern Corps. The Green Lantern Corps extend out of the Silver Age revamp of the Green Lantern away from being based on iconography of orientalist adventure and towards an expansive concept in which Green Lantern is just one of a vast organization of what are in effect intergalactic police, each patrolling a sector of space emerging conically out of the planet Oa, at the center of the universe, where the Green Lantern Corps is headquartered. Moore had long been fond of the concept, and his Order of the Black Sun back in his aborted 4-D War storyline for Doctor Who Monthly was, by his own admission, him nicking the concept on the assumption that he would never actually get a chance to write a Green Lantern story of his own.

This was, obviously, an incorrect assumption. Indeed, “All Flesh is Grass” is not even the only opportunity Moore had to write Green Lantern stories. During his time at DC, he had the opportunity to write a trio of short stories featuring the characters. These stories in many ways resemble DC Universe versions of his Future Shocks for 2000 AD - all are short stories featuring twist endings. 

Figure 540: Mogo revealed. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by Dave Gibbons, from Green Lantern #188, 1985)
The first, “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize,” pairs Moore with Dave Gibbons for a story about a Green Lantern named Mogo and why he doesn’t attend meetings of the Green Lantern Corps. It feature Bolphunga the Unrelenting, who is said to have “possessed the strength of a Denebian Dozerbull, the endurance of a Lalotian Lava-Limpet, and the intelligence of a bed of kelp.” Bolphunga decides that he will destroy the feared and powerful Green Lantern known as Mogo, landing upon the planet on which Mogo is known to arrive. Over the course of three pages Bolphunga searches for Mogo, but finds nothing save for a series of vast and carefully cut clearings. Eventually, mapping the planet, he realizes the awful truth: that the clearings form the insignia of the Green Lanterns, and that Mogo is not in fact a being upon the planet but is in fact a sentient planet, which in turn explains why Mogo never shows up at meetings: “his gravity field, you see. It would pull Oa apart.” 

Figure 541: Rot Lop Fan joins the F-Sharp Bell Corps.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by Bill Willingham and Terry
Austin, from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #3,
1987)
A similar sense of wit pervades Moore’s third Green Lantern story, “In Blackest Night.” In this story, a Green Lantern named Katma Tui must explain to the Guardians how she was unable to find a Green Lantern to serve “in the black and lightless void known as the Obsidian Deeps.” The problem, Katma explains is that the being she found, Rot Lop Fan, was unable to understand the idea of a Green Lantern, since, residing in the Obsidian Deeps, he has no ability to comprehend the concepts of color or light. And so Katma Tui is forced to translate the concept, replacing the idea of a lantern with a bell, and the color green with the tone F-Sharp, which Rot Lop Fan finds particularly “soothing and restful.” And so instead of the Green Lanterns’ traditional oath, Rot Lop Fan proclaims that “In loudest din or hush profound / my ears catch evil’s slightest sound / let those who toll out evil’s knell / beware my power: The F-Sharp Bell!” And so, she explains to the Guardians, “I did appoint a worthy protector to the Obsidian Deeps… however I’m not sure if he qualifies as a member of the Green Lantern Corps, for in truth he’s never even heard of us!” 

But it is in most regards the second of his three Green Lantern stories that is most interesting. One of two collaborations he did with Kevin O’Neill while at DC, the story, entitled “Tygers,” tells of the death of Abin Sur, the predecessor to Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern for Earth’s sector of space. The story is notable for several reasons. For one, it is the story that Moore was referring to in later interviews where he accused DC of “going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of night.” [continued]

Comments

jane 2 years, 10 months ago

Second, it's obviously in reference to the late 18th Century mystic and poet, William Blake...

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Daibhid C 2 years, 10 months ago

A bit of continuity nitpickery: I think by matching Strange with Thanagar, Moore's playing off a 1978 Showcase storyline which established a tense relationship between the two worlds (and was a loose inspiration for the more recent miniseries Rann-Thanagar War).

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Thomas Lawrence 2 years, 10 months ago

Once again, we return..

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Heath 2 years, 10 months ago

I thought for a moment you were skipping over the second GL story, and then you give it to us as a cliff-hanger! Oooh. You've studied your comics well, sir.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 10 months ago

the planet on which Mogo is known to arrive

I think you meant a different verb -- perhaps "reside"?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 10 months ago

the planet on which Mogo is known to arrive

I think you meant a different verb -- perhaps "reside"?

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Ombund 2 years, 10 months ago

I'm surprised Loving the Alien only got 1 paragraph. It's one of my favourite issues of comics ever.

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Ice 2 years, 10 months ago

Also, it's another important place to look at the Moore's bibliography's elephant in the room: rape.

In this issue, Swamp Thing is raped. I'm not sure it comes up in any of the (many) discussions I've read regarding rape in Moore's work.

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Daru 2 years, 7 months ago

Along with Rite of Spring and Windfall, Loving the Alien is absolutely one of favourites of Moore's run. An astonishing experiment which for me works - ok I'm coming at it from my perspective as a visual artist, but I really found it very immersive and meditative.

All Flesh is Grass is wonderful too and features some great artwork from Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alacala who I think work superbly together as they create very living, writhing textures.

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StephenM 2 years, 1 month ago

". For one, it is the story that Moore was referring to in later interviews where he accused DC of “going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of night.” "

Not to mention Mogo is now a semi-regular Green Lantern character.

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