DC’s Swamp Thing #17 (July 1975) was a comic book I should have been able to buy during the third week of April, 1975. However comics distribution being frequently spotty at that time, I never saw the issue at any newsstand or convenience store in Pasadena, California. Thank goodness for family vacations.
In August of 1975 we traveled to the South Pacific, and I discovered and purchased Swamp Thing #17 at a newsstand in Wellington, New Zealand–four months after its release date. By that time, Swamp Thing #18 and #19, both distributed in Pasadena, were already read and tucked into my collection. So what should have been a spring comic became not only a summer comic but a vacation comic as well. Down my own personal memory lane, that vacation comic classification makes the book just a little more special.
Swamp Thing #17 sparks terrific memories; I remember highlights of the vacation more vividly. The book itself, by writer David Michelinie, artist Nestor Redondo, and editor Joe Orlando, stands out even more. The cover, the story, the interior artwork, the colors, the lettering, and the smell of the ink–I can recall so much of the issue just thinking about it. What’s even better is when I re-read Swamp Thing #17 it’s not all memory and nostalgia, the story remains darn good.
At this time in the creature’s history, Swamp Thing was still considered to be Dr. Alec Holland who had been transformed into a “muck-encrusted mockery of a man.” Later in his history, it was revealed in the classic “Anatomy Lesson” by Alan Moore that Swamp Thing was actually a plant that had absorbed Dr. Holland’s memories and, thus, had believed he was Dr. Holland.
Anyway, in issue #17, Swamp Thing, Matt Cable, and Abigail Arcane travel to the Caribbean island of Kala Pago to rescue their friend, Bolt, from the clutches of Nathan Ellery–a nemesis of Swamp Thing who was believed dead for some time. Matt and Abby are easily captured, but Swamp Thing is a tougher catch, even confronted by various obstacles: a robot with a circular buzz saw heart that could slice him up; a War of the Worlds-type spacecraft with laser beams that could incinerate him; and a pack of robotic metal wolves that could gnaw him to pieces.
Swamp Thing triumphs over all obstacles and eventually bursts through a stone wall surrounding the mission that houses the “jungle laboratory” where Ellery and his partner, Dr. Pretorius, have constructed a devious machine that will turn the minds of all of the world’s leaders to manipulable brain-jello–thus allowing Ellery to crown himself Emperor of Earth.
Of course Swamp Thing saves the day as well as the world’s leaders–some of whom may have deserved to have their minds turned to brain-jello. Dr. Pretorius turns out to be a very weak man, and he’s left behind to ponder his worthless future–but not for long as the remaining robotic metal wolves arrive on the scene (and they’re hungry).
The helicopter on which Swamp Thing and company leave the island experiences engine trouble. Actually, it runs out of gas. In their haste to escape, no one thought to check the fuel level. It drops from the sky at the end of the issue–providing a deadly, dandy cliffhanger that would lead into next issue’s geriatric horrors in southern Florida. Of course the party would survive the crash (and the geriatric horrors; I know because I had already read Swamp Thing #18!).
I believe it was around this time (Mr. Sterling, please confirm) that Bolt disappeared from the series altogether, never to be revived by Martin Pasko, Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Diggle, or any other future Swamp Thing writer. If Final Crisis‘s Libra turns out to be the long-missing Bolt then Grant Morrison will have pulled off one of the most shocking and unexpected returns in comics history.
When a comic book from your past can trigger that kind of hopeful (and certainly fruitless) anticipation, then you know your love for the medium will never die.