This is the first of a currently unknown number of parts of Chapter Eight of The Last War in Albion, focusing on Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing.
The stories discussed in this chapter are currently available in six volumes. The first volume is available in the US here, and the UK here. Finding volume 2-6 are, for now, left as an exercise for the reader, although I will update these links as the narrative gets to those issues.
“My multi-dimensional enfolded realities concept had no name until I scrawled a weird geometric figure and explained it to Mark Waid.” – Grant Morrison
Not two years ago, in his very first interview, he’d seemingly summoned the Marvelman job out of thin air, expressing interest in the character at the exact moment that an opportunity to write it came up. So if he did intend to hook a fish out of the aether with his impish suggestion that what American comic books could really use was a creative genius to completely upend everything, he did a good job with it – the very next month he received a phone call offering him the opportunity to do just that. Specifically, Len Wein called him to offer him a job writing Saga of the Swamp Thing.
|Figure 377: Brian Bolland’s art for Camelot|
3000 was the first step of the so-called British
Invasion of comics that eventually led to
Len Wein hiring Alan Moore.
Several accounts exist of how Len Wein came to decide that of the many English language comics writers of the world Alan Moore was the correct person to offer a failing book about a plant monster living in the Louisiana bayou. Perhaps ironically, Moore’s work on Captain Britain, a character Wein in fact worked on during its first gradual downward spiral in the late 1970s, is the one thing that nobody has ever suggested had the slightest impact in him getting the Swamp Thing job. Three other suggestions are regularly made. The first of these is Moore’s 2000 AD work. Certainly this was a respected publication, and Wein was familiar with it, having already poached Brian Bolland to illustrate Mike Barr’s Camelot3000 and having worked with Dave Gibbons, who had already been in the early stages of some pitches with Moore to work on some then-disused properties, none of which had been formally submitted by the time Len Wein made his call to Alan Moore in May of 1983. But Moore’s contributions to 2000 AD at this point were a bunch of Future Shocks and part of Skizz, the latter of which was listed among Moore’s past credits when he was announced as the comic’s next writer. Although certainly good, this is not a body of work upon which Moore built his reputation in the UK, and it is in some ways difficult to imagine it impressing a US editor quite enough to make the leap that Len Wein did.
This reputation amounts to the second reason given for Moore’s hiring is his winning of multiple Eagle Awards, a claim that mostly exists in the form of an oft-told joke on Moore’s part in which he suggests that “the American tend to think that every award is an Oscar and didn’t realize that the comic industry awards are all voted for by thirty people in anoraks with dreadful social lives.” While it is true that several covers of Swamp Thing trumpeted his Eagle Awards, the ceremony in which he nearly swept them was in October of 1983, five months after Wein’s call. (Several sources suggest that he won Favorite Writer in 1982. There is, however, no account of the awards from that year published by the current maintainers of the Eagle Awards, and there is some reason to think that this is a confusion owing to the fact that the 1983 awards were awarded for work written in 1982. [A similar problem exists in many bibliographies regarding Moore’s work for the 1982 BJ and the Bear Annual, which is often listed as being for the nonexistent 1983 annual.] Certainly a win in 1982 seems unlikely, as the awards were for material published in 1981, a year in which Moore’s oeuvre consisted of some of his early Future Shocks, including two Abelard Snazz stories, and some of his Doctor Who work, although it is possible he could have, as claimed, won the Favorite Writer award on the back of voters that tacitly took his 1982 work into account.)
Those Eagle Awards were mainly for his work in Warrior, which forms the third oft-cited reason for Wein’s decision. This, in many ways, seems the most plausible explanation. For all its many logistical problems, Warrior had relatively good distribution in the United States: Moore’s work on it was at least passingly familiar to Steve Bissette, the penciler for Swamp Thing. And Moore’s work on Marvelman in that comic showed exactly the skills that someone looking to revamp a flagging property with a seemingly unpromising premise. And, of course, Warrior was where he was making his biggest impact with comics fandom, which would include Bolland and Gibbons, the latter of whom is where Wein actually got Moore’s phone number. As Moore tells the story, he initially assumed the call was a prank call from his other Warrior collaborator David Lloyd, but eventually Wein convinced him of his authenticity and invited him to pitch for Saga of the Swamp Thing.
|Figure 378: Deleuze and Guattari’s|
Mille Plateaux, known in English as
A Thousand Plateaus.
Before even delving into the murky and teemingly fertile depths of Moore’s five-year run on Swamp Thing, which constitutes the longest single sustained work of Moore’s career, it is worth looking at its reputation. Warren Ellis, for instance, has described the start of Moore’s run as “one of those stories that left nothing in its medium the same” and as “commercial comics’ first real introduction to the postmodern sensibility.” This latter phrase – postmodern sensibility – is perhaps best explained via the work of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, whose seminal work A Thousand Plateaus in effect bookends this first phase of Alan Moore’s career. First published in French in 1980, as Moore began publishing his first stories in Doctor Who Weekly and 2000 AD, and finally translated into English in 1987, as Moore was finishing his run on Swamp Thing, A Thousand Plateaus is on the one hand a screamingly political piece – it is the second part of Deleuze and Guattari’s mammoth Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which posits a willful act of madness as the only reasonable way to break free of capitalism’s oppressive fetters – and on the other a sweeping and mammoth exploration of the nature of knowledge and thought. Its most famous section is its first chapter, an essay entitled “Rhizome.”
By reputation, it is difficult to suggest with any seriousness that “Rhizome” is a more important essay than, to pick but one example, Aleister Crowley’s similar-length meditation on Lady Freida Harris’s execution of “The Fool” in her Thoth Tarot. Whatever differences in numbers there are between the ardently niche academics who peruse Deluze and Guattari and those remaining with an ideological commitment to Thelema they are, depending on one’s preferred idiom, either academic or esoteric. Both are similarly obscure in their prose. They are barely profitable enough to make maintaining the copyright productive. It is debatable whether they even talk of different things. They are the intellectual masturbations of the middle class. And yet for all of this, there is a striking utility to the metaphor to explain the postmodernism of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing.
|Figure 379: The opening image of “Rhizome”|
“Rhizome” is at once a philosophical essay and a demonstration of its own point. It attempts to offer a new way of envisioning knowledge itself – a new understanding of what “a book” might be – by explaining this new type of book from within the form of said type of book. This requires a lot of equivocation. Deleuze and Guattari begin by noting that “the two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several,” they continue, “there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything came within range, what was closest as well as farthest away. We assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why have we kept own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it’s nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking. To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied,” they conclude, before moving on to the next paragraph, in which they proclaim, that “a book has neither object nor subject; it is made of variously for matters, and very different dates and speeds. To attribute the book subject is to overlook this working of matters, and the exteriority of their relations,: before continuing in this style for the bulk of a page and concluding this second paragraph with a satisfyingly radical declaration that is not “love is a lie! A justification for sex! Sex is all there is,” as Grant Morrison had already written that in 1979 for the pages of Near Myths, but on the whole may as well be.
The central metaphor of “Rhizome” involves comparing two types of books – the first being what Deleuze and Guattari call the “root-book,” characterized by binary thought like the branching structures of a root. But, they proclaim, “nature doesn’t work that way: in nature, roots are taproots with a more multiple, lateral, and circular system of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one. Thought lags behind nature.” Secondarily they reject the “radicle system,” which they characterize things like William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique, which, while it is clear they respect, they also feel “cannot be presented as the Total Work or Magnum Opus,” which is apparently their goal with this work. And so they present a third model of the book: the rhizome.
|Figure 380: A rhizome.|
As they explain it, “a rhizome as a subterranean stem is absolutely different from roots and radiciles. Bulbs and tubers are rhizomes. Plants with roots or radiciles may be rhizomorphic in other respects altogether: the question is whether plant life in its specificity is not entirely rhizomatic. Even some animals are, in their pack form. Rats are rhizomes. Burrows are too.” The rhizome, in their view, is a liberating vision of knowledge that allows a needed move forward. At the heart of the rhizome is an embrace of multiplicity – a move beyond the unity of the taproot or the branching of the tree. The rhizome is, as they describe it lacking in “points or positions… such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines.” This alludes to a central biological advantage of rhizomes as a root structure: the rhizome stores its nutrients throughout the plant’s root structure, so that it can grow and expand from any point in the rhizome, and such that if a rhizome is broken up and replanted each piece can conceivably grow into a new plant.
They proceed to expand this metaphor over many pages, making provocative declarations along the way, like that a rhizome is “a map and not a tracing,” or that America is a rhizome, and that this is why “American books are different from European books,” while simultaneously noting that “everything important that has happened or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome: the beatniks, the undergrounds, bands and gangs.” But through all of this, Deleuze and Guattari focus on the idea that a rhizomatic structure of knowledge must be understood in terms of “machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation,” which are but apparitions and illusions to try to assign momentary coherence to the rhizomatic structure, which exists not with beginning nor end, but in a sort of eternal middle. Everything we think we see – our identities, our selves, the things that, to quote another writer, “truly are the mass and matter of us” in truth “have no continuing existence, save in memory and mind,” where they are in effect mere sigils.
|Figure 381: The most famous version of the DC Comics logo,|
as designed by Milton Glaser.
This is an important thing to realize at this particular moment in the evolution of the War. It is at this point that a different sort of concept enters the narrative. Unlike Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, who are broadly coextensive with recognizable individuals, it is not a person. Nevertheless, it is clearly a combatant. Crucially, it is both an agent in the narrative and a defined section of Ideaspace containing certain fictional characters, locations, and stories both written and unwritten. Inasmuch as it is an agent, its first major act within the War was to create the superhero in 1938, although its first major act within the chronology of Grant Morrison’s professional comics career was Len Wein’s phone call to Alan Moore. Inasmuch as it is a territory, however, its first major act within the War will be to be thoroughly, massively, and overwhelmingly conquered by Alan Moore.
The Time Warner subsidiary known as DC Comics has its origins in the merger between National Comics, itself a merger of two companies initially formed in the mid-1930s by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, a World War I veteran turned pulp writer, and All-American Publications, which, at the time of their merger was co-owned by Jack Liebowitz, who had also come to own National Comics after forcing Wheeler-Nicholson out. [continued]