Friday, January 28, 2011

Saga of the Swamp Thing #33: "Abandoned Houses"

Download Swamp Thing v2 #33

The most successful animated compost heap in comics, Swamp Thing first emerged from the bog in the summer of 1972 to make his muddy debut in DC's Swamp Thing #1. Len Wein was the writer and Berni Wrightson, a disciple of both Frank Frazetta and Graham "Ghastly" Ingels, was the artist.

The folk belief in spontaneous generation, the notion that a living organism can form from nonliving matter, is many centuries old. It became a favorite of comic books from the 1940s onward, providing such Swamp Thing precursors as the Heap and Solomon Grundy and such contemporaries as Marvel's Man-Thing.

An earlier prototype had appeared in House of Secrets in the summer of 1971. Revamped, he became Swamp Thing and got his own book a year later. Never a major hit despite two movies and a television series, he has managed to hold on in comics. Wein and Wrightson concocted sentimental horror tales about a scientist who was transformed into a muck-encrusted horror after being doused by chemicals when his bayou lab was destroyed by criminals. Swamp Thing was a caring monster, and Wein's scripts worked at being touching, even philosophical, but the real attraction of the early issues was the spidery, vaguely disturbing Wrightson artwork.

Another series devoted to the forlorn bayou monster began in 1982 as Saga of the Swamp Thing and later became simply Swamp Thing. The team of Alan Moore and Steve Bissette, who worked on the newer version, earned the title considerable attention. That second series ended in 1996, and Swamp Thing returned under the Vertigo banner for twenty issues from 2000 to 2001. Mike Kaluta provided some of the drawing.

Alan Moore/Len Wein
Pencils and inks:
Ron Randall/Berni Wrightson

  • from House of Secrets (DC, 1969 series) #92 (Pictured inset).
  • in Essential Vertigo: Swamp Thing (DC, 1996 series) #14.
  • in Saga of the Swamp Thing (DC, 2009 series) #2.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book of the Dead #2: "Man-Thing!"

Welcome to the continuing saga of the undead. BOOK OF THE DEAD stars people who by all means should be dead, but thanks to Marvel Comics are fated to shamble through our pulpy pages endlessly.

The proceding Man-Thing tale marks the muck monster's first foray into four-color fright. After premiering in the black-and-white Marvel magazine, SAVAGE TALES #1, in May 1971 (as re-presented last issue), Manny slimed his way into the regular comics with this story in FEAR #10 (October 1972), the same month DC's Swamp Thing got his own title. Artist Gray Morrow had illustrated Man-Thing's first appearance and pencilled the second episode as well, which recaps the monster's origin. Gray is no stranger to Frankenstein's Monster, either. He painted this issue's new cover and in the past has done movie posters and book covers featuring the Doctor's creation. Gray really got into this cover... literally. He posed for the cover with his daughter playing the doomed bride of the monster.

For comic fanatics, the name Howard Chaykin is a familiar one. Howie inked this Man-Thing tale when he was just starting out professionally and went on to do projects such as STAR WARS, American Flagg, The Shadow and, recently for the Epic Heavy Hitters line, MIDNIGHT MEN, all to much acclaim.

So until BOOK OF THE DEAD comes alive again next month, remember in the un-mortal words of a famous reanimated corpse... 'We belong DEAD!'

—Mort Todd, January 1994

Script: Gerry Conway
Pencils: Gray Morrow
Inks: Howard Chaykin

  • from Fear #10 (Oct 1972) (Pictured inset).
  • in Book of the Dead (Marvel, 1993 series) #2 January 1994.
  • in Essential Man-Thing (Marvel, 2006 series) #1.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book of the Dead #1: "The Origin of the Man-Thing"

The inspiration for Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, and other walking compost piles, the Heap emerged from the muck in the third issue of Air Fighters Comics (December 1942) as the antagonist in a yarn about an aviator known as Sky Wolf. After a couple more skirmishes with Sky Wolf, who wore a white wolf's head as a hat while in the air, the Heap was eventually promoted to a feature of his own. That occurred in the thirty-second issue (October 1946). By then the magazine was calling itself Airboy Comics. The Heap remained until the final issue in 1952. Sky Wolf, on the other hand, had been grounded in 1947.

Harry Stein was the scriptwriter who first invented the Heap, Mort Leav was the artist who first brought him to life visually. It seems that during World War I a German flying ace named Baron Emmelman had crashed in a lonely swamp and been seriously injured. Instead of dying, his body merged with the vegetation, and he eventually became "a fantastic HEAP that is neither animal nor man." An ambiguous fellow, when the Heap finally left the swamp he tended to be anti-Nazi. And by the time he starred in a feature of his own he'd mellowed a great deal. He wandered from place to place, becoming involved in the lives of assorted people and usually helping them out of their problems and predicaments before shambling on. A sort of vegetarian Fugitive.

Script: Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway
Pencils, inks and letters: Gray Morrow
  • from Savage Tales (Marvel, 1971 series) #1 (May 1971). (Pictured below).
  • in Monsters Unleashed (Marvel, 1973 series) #3 (November 1973).
  • in Book of the Dead (Marvel, 1993 series) #1 (December 1993).
  • in Essential Man-Thing (Marvel, 2006 series) #1.

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