|Figure 542: The concepts Alan Moore and|
Kevin O’Neill created for “Tygers” would
eventually become a central part of the DC
Universe in the form of the Red Lantern Corps.
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.” The story responsible for provoking that comment was a 2009 Green Lantern-based crossover written by Geoff Johns, which actually owes relatively little to “Tygers” save for featuring further characters from the alien planet on which it is set, although it is true that an extended prophecy given within “Tygers” has been extensively mined by both Johns and other writers for story concepts.
|Figure 543: The horrific Qull of the|
Five Inversions. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Kevin O’Neill, from
“Tygers,” in Tales of the Green Lantern
Corps Annual #2, 1986)
For another, as its title suggests, the story owes a considerable debt to William Blake. The bulk of this debt is subtle – no actual Blakean concepts or images appear within the story, and although Kevin O’Neill draws a number of memorably grotesque and bizarre horrors in the story, his style in “Tygers” is far from a straightforward imitation of Blake, nor even an homage. O’Neill’s art is nevertheless striking, and in many ways he comes closer to Blake by doing his own strange and visionary style instead of an imitation. The shambling creature Qull of the Five Inversions, whose prophecies ultimately lure Abin Sur to his demise, is an astonishingly gruesome and monstrous figure who, though he has no obvious counterpart in Blake’s art or mythology, bristles with an unsettling power that few other artists can match.
|Figure 544: Donald Ault’s name is|
invoked. (Written by Alan Moore,
lettering by John Costanza, from
“Tygers,” in Tales of the Green
Lantern Corps Annual #2, 1986)
In a happily generative coincidence, the name of planet upon which Abin Sur is so fatally tempted, Ysmault, is, upon its first mention, split across two lines by letterer John Costanza, causing it to become hyphenated as “Ysm-Ault,” a spacing which reveals the hidden word “Ault,” which is the surname of Donald Ault, a prominent American scholar specializing both in William Blake and in the comics of Scrooge McDuck creator Carl Barks. Ault’s most famous work at the time was his 1974 text Visionary Physics, which argues that Newton is not just a convenient bogeyman that Blake famously rails against when he rejects “single vision & Newtons sleep,” and that it is more proper to consider Blake’s work as an elaborate response to Newton, whose system Blake views as “providing a usurpation of and substitution for the very vision he himself is trying to communicate.”
|Figure 545: Newton was a frequently invoked nemesis|
in the work of William Blake. (Newton, 1804-05)
Ault traces the evolution of Blake’s engagement with Newton, from its earliest form in The Book of Urizen, in which the demonic figure of reason, Urizen, is described via what Ault describes as “several obviously Newtonian concepts: the ‘void,’ “all-repelling,’ ‘this abominable void,’ ‘this soul-shudd’dring vacuum,’ ‘measurement,’ ‘dark revolving,’ ‘globes of attraction,’” as well as “several more obscure allusions, such as ‘the rolling of wheels / As of swelling seas,’ referring to Newton’s reduction of the motions of the tides to the motions of revolving planets,” to a later model in which Newton and Urizen are equated with Satan, who “has tricked fallen man” into subscribing to their system, which Blake recognizes as having a sinister but potent appeal to the Imagination. Blake’s response rejects the very idea of systems, instead dividing experience into “symbolic ‘States’ which preserve the integrity of the individual identity yet which ‘abolish’ systems.” These states bear more than a passing resemblance to the momentary assemblages described by Deleuze and Guattari – states of being that are, in Blake, defined by the passage among the various realms of his cosmology (Beulah, Golgonooza, Ulro, the Vegetable Earth, et cetera), all existing within the larger sense of Eternity, in which all these contrary states exist simultaneously and, perhaps, rhizomatically.
This evolution of Blake’s response is also visible in his treatment of the possibility of a decisive overthrowing of Urizen, from Los’s failed attempt to bind him in The Book of Urizen to Blake’s ultimate rejection of Orc and the charismatic revolution he augurs in America a Prophecy. Both, ultimately, merely offer new systems that purport to replace the Newtonian one, but that ultimately only reiterate the flawed fixity of Newtons sleep. Instead Blake embrace an altogether more variable and strange system. A similar move takes place in Moore’s final two issues of Swamp Thing, in which he returns to the questions of eschatology and revolution that he explored in the issues between Swamp Thing’s second and third deaths.
|Figure 546: Swamp Thing returns to|
Abby. (Written by Alan Moore, art by
Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala, from
Swamp Thing #63, 1987)
These final two issues return to the dualistic structure that has recurred in Moore’s Swamp Thing since “Windfall.” The first, titled, in Moore’s typical elliptical fashion, “Loose Ends (Reprise),” alternates between a tour of several of the secondary characters from throughout Moore’s run, checking in on Matt Cable and Wallace Monroe, as well as looking at Abby, Chester, and Liz, and on Swamp Thing’s vengeful return as he hunts down and takes grotesque vengeance on those responsible for his most recent death. The issue ends with Swamp Thing finally returning to Abby, leading into Moore’s final issue, “Return of the Good Gumbo.”
Where “Loose Ends (Reprise)” focuses on Swamp Thing as an essentially wrathful figure, with the character almost entirely absent from the issue, appearing only in his chakra-based spirit form in a two-page spread early on in the issue prior to his final page reunion with Abby, “Return of the Good Gumbo” offers an entirely more merciful figure. The issue is framed by a description of Gene LaBostrie, a man in Louisiana village who punts across the swamp, musing on how “it is as if the spirit has departed from this land. The children cry and give no explanation. Prematurely aged by spanish moss the trees stand sulking, waiting for a word of reconciliation no one can pronounce. Each day’s sun seems less willing to begin its labored, struggling ascent towards the shadeless pinacles of noon, less eager to drive back the ebb-tide night across the swamps and turn their mirror-ribboned streams to chrome.” This monologue’s call for some lost spirit is tacitly answered by the next page, a literal splash page of a bird landing in the water in front of Abby and Swamp Thing reclining beneath a tree and besides the story’s title.
|Figure 547: The reunion of Swamp Thing and Abby is|
portrayed in a sort of bayou-pastoral style. (Written by
Alan Moore, from Swamp Thing #64, 1987)
Throughout the issue, Swamp Thing muses on the question left broadly unanswered by the Gotham City triptych. “Am I not a god,” he asks. “I could touch all the world with gorgeous wilderness as I touched Gotham. Could transform this planet to a sphere of colors, perfumes, and full bellies. Anything.” Abby, meanwhile, talks of her time working with Chester in an ecological activist group, but bemoans the slow progress. “There was talk about dumping waste here, but we kicked up, so they abandoned the idea. Uh, well, that is, they dumped it someplace else,” she admits. “Sometimes,” she muses, “I think for us to really help the environment, we’d need a different world.” The observation causes an awkward silence, broken when Swamp Thing grows a tuber for her to eat and they make love for the first time since his return.
|Figure 548: Moore gets one last round of|
psychedelic vegetable sex in. (Written by
Alan Moore, from Swamp Thing #64, 1987)
This lovemaking is depicted in a return to the iconography of “Rite of Spring,” which flows into a sequence in which Swamp Thing sits awake next to her and continues musing over the question of whether to save the world by overthrowing it. He thinks over the death of Alec Holland that gave him birth, and thinks about the Parliment of Trees, “a dynasty spanning the eons, reaching back to times before mankind, whose only record now is etched on sheets of coal, far underground. A dynasty of gods.” Pages recount the epochs of life on Earth, as Swamp Thing wonders why his predecessors did not simply keep the precambrian eden clean of animals, or why in the silurian age they “never made this world a cool piscean paradise, nor when the fish with legs boiled up from the devonian mud did they impose reptilian utopia.” And each eon is shown to have its plant elemental, a vegetable creature befitting the fauna of the age, from fish to dinosaur, until at last there is a panel of Swamp Thing standing and watching the sun rise.
|Figure 549: Swamp Thing decides against|
divinity. (Written by Alan Moore, from
Swamp Thing #64, 1987)
“Is this,” he asks, “what it means to be a God? To know, and never do? To watch the world wind by, and in its windings find content? If I should feed the world, heal all the wounds man’s smoldering industries have made, what would he do? Would he renounce the wealth his sawmills bring, step gently on the flowers instead, and pluck each apple with respect for this abundant world in all its providence? No. He would pump more poisons, build more mines, safe in the knowledge that I stood on hand to mend the biosphere, endlessly covering the scars he could now endlessly inflict.” And so he yields, averting wrath and revolution. Instead he goes deep into the swamp and builds from trees and flowers a home for him and Abby to retire to. Declaring her his princess, he summons a lily pad to serve as a raft, and they sail out to their new home together, arms entwined. They say there farewells to Liz and Chester, who are ecstatic for their friends. Swamp Thing embraces Liz, seeing her for the first time in many issues, and gently reassures her as she continues her healing from the traumas inflicted upon her. And with that they walk out into the swamp, together, as Chester and Liz hold hands and face the future.
|Figure 550: Alan More waves goodbye to Swamp Thing and the reader.|
(From Swamp Thing #64, 1987)
From there the scene cuts to the sleazebag photographer whose images of Abby and Swamp Thing led to so much trouble, as he tries to get Gene LaBostrie to tell him where the Swamp Thing can be found. LeBostrie feigns to not speak English, “spreads his hands in mined apology, then shoves his craft out” to guide him home. “Do they think money’s everything,” LaBostrie muses. “The only yardstick that life’s quality is measured by? Yes, yes they do, and that is why they are so very poor.” And as he thinks this, he catches sight of Swamp Thing, a shadow in the grass, waving at him, and LaBostrie, drawn to look like Alan Moore himself, waves a final farewell to the character upon which he made his reputation in America, and upon five years of comics that would prove to change the world forever.
And that is it. No fiery retribution, for all Moore’s obvious rage. Whatever darkness sits within the heart of this new world, Moore opts to let it remain there, perhaps in the hope that it will, as Swamp Thing suggested, breed some greater virtue. There is no fury of Orc – no red flames melting the heavens nor plagues creeping upon burning winds. Whatever apocalypse Moore might have envisioned and considered, in Swamp Thing at least, he in the end declines to bring it down upon America, even symbolically. Instead there is what Moore describes as “a kind of ‘happy ever after’ ending” where “Swamp Thing and Abigail just go and grow themselves a fairy-tale household in the swamp and, as far as I’m concerned, they live happily ever after.” And so on the final page of Moore’s run Gene LaBostrie, and in turn Moore, returns home, “walks down his village street and lets the laughing children tease him, grabbing at his trailing coat. In every garden cabbages and onions grow so big and succulent a man might cry. The cooking smells and fiddle strains are tangled in the summer air, both equally as sweet. Good god is in his heaven. Good gumbo’s in the pot. LaBostrie moves his black-fringed lips in something very like a prayer: ‘Laissez les bontemps rouler.’ Please. For us. For all of us… Laissez les bontemps rouler.”
And with that, Moore brought his longest engagement with American comics to a polite and benedictive end: a prayer for peace.
There is no sense in which this prayer was answered.
Moore’s final issue Swamp Thing came out in June of 1987, one month before the famously delayed Watchmen #12. One month later, Grant Morrison, who had spent the preceding two years steadily building a comics career by almost perfectly duplicating the steps of an early-career Alan Moore, took on his first ongoing assignment for 2000 AD, a conscious response to Moore’s work and an overt effort to rewrite the territory that Moore had just established; less than a year after that he would make his own leap to America as part of a brazen attempt on DC’s part to copy the success they’d enjoyed with Moore on Swamp Thing. Moore, on the other hand, would do two further projects with DC before acrimoniously parting ways with them: a Batman story with Brian Bolland, and the concluding third of V for Vendetta, a project rescued from the wreckage that was Warrior. This comic, a bracing adventure story about the violent overthrow of the government by an anarchist terrorist, is exactly the unsparing howl of rage against the systems of the world that Swamp Thing ultimately declines to be. [continued]