The Saga of the Swamp Thing #29. October, 1984. DC Comics. “Love and Death.” Writer: Alan Moore. Artists: Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. Editor: Karen Berger.
Some time ago, I reread “Love and Death” for the first time in years on a warm, clear Saturday afternoon in mid-May. At first, I was more in tune with the sounds of nature outside my girlfriend’s bungalow window: the gentle feel of the breeze coming through the window screen, the wistful rustle of ivy leaves, the sun’s rays highlighting grass blades and wind chimes, and the serene chirps and songs of various birds. But the more I was drawn into Alan Moore’s terrifying story, the more I found myself a participant in Abby Cable’s growing anxiety. And the more Bissette and Totleben’s abhorrent (in a good way) artwork swallowed me whole, the less I could sense the beauty of nature all around me. I had become immersed in one of the truly great horror comics of all time.
This is not hyperbole, it’s understatement. “Love and Death” is the genuine article: a horror story that will chill, unnerve, and disturb you. It is visually repulsive at times, both in narration and illustration, but that’s where it’s most effective; you don’t expect a funny book story to frighten you in the way a horror movie would. You can’t help being frightened, because you’re scared for Abby. She has been viciously, maliciously misled; captivated and charmed by her husband Matt Cable’s 180° turn from weakness and despair. Yet there are hints, visions, and suggestions that all is not as well as Matt makes it seem. Throughout the book blood-red insects seem to fly and creep across the page, growing in number and size as the terror escalates. And when all is revealed on pages 21 and 22, it’s not just the confirmation of Matt Cable’s true identity that slams home the horror, it’s the morbid fascination on the reader’s part that Abby’s horrors — and ours — have a long way to go.
But those horrors will continue in the next issue. I’ll stick with the great material here. Great in that all the components — story, art, lettering, coloring — merge seamlessly, creating a unified whole that begins in the ‘now,’ in Abby’s new home, shifting from room to room panel by panel, until we reach the kitchen where Abby is passed out and naked on the floor, splotches of skin scraped off her body in a frantic self-inflicted cleansing session. She is positioned in a near fetal position, the horrific look on her face matched by a gruesome creature that appears to have invaded her body. Then we shift to flashback: it’s earlier, maybe a day or two before, and Abby is experiencing an awkward, joyous, eventually exultant episode with the Swamp Thing. Then we move to the interior of Matt Cable’s car, where he is telling Abby of the three surprises he has for her. The first is a new home, and for an instant (because the house is truly beautiful) we get the feeling that things are finally going Abby’s way (she’s always had it rough in this series). But as we are guided from room to room by Matt, Abby feels something is amiss, and that feeling culminates in the bedroom. She’s uncertain. That passes as she wonders how they will be able to afford the house on her low-paying job. Not to worry, Matt assures her, springing surprise number two, because he’s found a job. Matt takes her there. After meeting the “whole sick crew” of fellow office workers, Matt speaks in innuendo of surprise number three, but by then we know what it is: an intimacy that the couple have not shared in a long time. And it’s the most horrifying surprise of all, leading to Abby’s collapse in the kitchen.
There are so many tantalizing aspects of horror to indulge in. There is, of course, Alan Moore’s magnificent prose. There is Matt’s sinister and compelling “whole sick crew” of office colleagues, notably Sally Park. Her familiarity to Abby leads to a shocking revelation at the local library. There is Matt’s hideous reflection in the mirror after he and Abby make love in the bedroom of their new home. There is the repulsive secret behind the convulsing dead bird that the Swamp Thing tends (Swamp Thing hardly appears in this story). And then there is the dreadful realization of just how far Abby has been personally invaded and violated, both physically and mentally. If someone ever decides to set a standard by which a well-executed horror story continues to haunt the reader well after the book is put down, then “Love and Death” should be given due consideration. For one lovely afternoon, it scared the beauty of nature out of me.
Action Comics #378. July, 1969. DC Comics. “The Devil’s Partner!” Writer: Not credited. Artists: Not credited, but it looks like Curt Swan and Jack Abel. Editor: Mort Weisinger.
There was a time when the size of the Superman family was getting out of control. In the pages of Action Comics #378 Superman’s godfather was introduced! Holy Vito Corleone, Batman! The gentleman’s name was Rol-Nac, an outcast from a tyrannical world who landed on Krypton and became close friends of Jor-El and Lara. Expecting their first child, Krypton’s most famous couple selected Rol-Nac as baby Kal-El’s godfather. Shortly after Kal-El’s birth, Rol-Nac’s wanderlust caused him to leave Krypton, and he returned two years later to witness Krypton’s destruction and see Kal-El’s rocket streak into outer space. Rol-Nac pursued the ship for years and years, and when he reached Earth an obscure Superman foe called the Marauder captured Rol-Nac and brainwashed him into thinking Rol-Nac was the devil. The Marauder then sent the ‘devil’ to Earth to battle and defeat Superman, but Rol-Nac recognized the Man of Steel as the grown-up Kal-El and the brainwashing suddenly washed away. Rol-Nac announced himself as Superman’s godfather, and just like that (well, it did take a little explaining) Superman had gained a new family member!
Did Rol-Nac ever appear again? The final caption told readers that they would be “seeing more of Rol-Nac…very soon.” I don’t recall ever seeing Superman’s godfather in a comic during the 1970s or 1980s. I wondered if he was explained away before editors Julius Schwartz and Murray Boltinoff took over the Superman books after Mort Weisinger’s retirement. When I contacted fellow Superman fan Michal Jacot on this matter, he stated that Rol-Nac simply never appeared again. So this is about as obscure a twig of Superman’s family tree as we may have ever had thrust at us in the pre-Crisis DC universe.
I was saddened to read of the tragic death of Seth Fisher last week. I admired his work. There was the obvious influence of Moebius and Geof Darrow in his remarkable illustrations, but there were also traces of Hergè and Chris Ware. I think the best thing he ever did was Green Lantern: Willworld (written by J.M. DeMatteis). I found Fisher’s interpretation of my favorite superhero a little jarring at first, but it didn’t take long for me to be absolutely mesmerized (or should that be Sethmerized?) by his artwork in this wonderful book. He will be greatly missed.