Unavailable as a trade until now, Swamp Thing: The Root of All Evil collects Mark Millar and Grant Morrison’s collaborated run on issues #140 to 150 from Vol. 2 of Swamp Thing (1982-1996).
Vol. 2 was the period during which Alan Moore had his legendary and groundbreaking run from 1984 to 1987. After Moore’s run a string of writers had short stints on the title until horror author Nancy A. Collins’ run from 1991 to 1993 which is when DC Comics started its Vertigo imprint and a number of DC titles, whose more mature aesthetic didn’t quite mesh well with the rest of the mainstream DC universe (like Hellblazer, Animal Man, Sandman and of course Swamp Thing), were moved over to Vertigo. It was just before the formation of Vertigo that I myself started reading Swamp Thing along with an array of other kindred titles like Sandman and Hellblazer, finding that they suited my evolving tastes in comics quite well.
Millar and Morrison came aboard the series in the spring of ’94, but this was during my first semester in college when I pretty much stopped reading comics temporarily due to being overwhelmed by my studies and a stressful part-time job. I had heard good things about Millar’s run but by the time I had come back to reading comics a few years later I was no longer keen about shelling out all that extra cash for back issues and, unfortunately, there wasn’t a trade paperback available.
But now, after all these years, Vertigo has finally published The Root of All Evil story arc in a beautiful new trade, and if you’re a fan of Mark Millar or Grant Morrison this is most certainly a volume you’re going to want to pick up. It’s especially of interesting historical note for Millar fans as it was his first major American superhero title (no, Swamp Thing isn’t a typical kind of superhero but if we’re to be practical about it he is a superhero nonetheless).
The volume begins boldly with what seems to be another reinvention of the character’s origins that effectively negates his previous origin. Alec Holland, a.k.a Swamp Thing, wakes up in bed, feverish, everything that had occurred before in previous Swamp Thing issues now seeming to be one epic hallucination. He is told that he had fallen into a coma while researching (and ingesting) native Amazonian entheogens. But rather than swear off from tripping forever, the visions in the dream compel him to seek out a legendary Amazonian vine said to be the most powerful psychedelic in the world, which is when things really start getting trippy in a classic Morrison-esque way. And complicating matters is a crazed, rampaging Swamp Thing roaming the Louisiana countryside, killing people without rhyme or reason. “But… Alec Holland is Swamp Thing,” you might say. Precisely, and therein lies the surreal mystery that drives the early part of the narrative and makes it compelling since we want to know what the heck is going on.
Morrison actually only co-wrote the first four issues of this story arc, with the then-23-year-old Mark Millar taking over as solo writer for the remaining six issues. What I like in particular about this volume is how it weaves in the horror and mystical elements of Swamp Thing and keeps it within the more mature storytelling framework of Vertigo while also making Swamp Thing feel like more of a traditional superhero by having him engage in action-packed battles with various foes. That’s not an easy task but the young Millar pulls it off quite deftly, building up to an ambitious climax.
It’s also interesting to see Millar incorporate other characters from the DC universe like Spectre and Sargon the Sorcerer at a time when Vertigo was trying to set itself and its titles apart from the mainstream DC universe. Ergo, John Constantine appears in early issues of both Sandman and Swamp Thing back when those titles were still being published directly through DC, but once the Vertigo imprint was founded things like guest appearances and crossovers became virtually nonexistent. And given that even Vertigo characters almost never appeared in other Vertigo titles, it’s quite surprising (and even thrilling, in a way) to see Millar bring in Golden Age DC characters like Spectre and Sargon into the mix – almost makes me wonder how well that went down with then-Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger.
Like Millar, artist Phil Hester was young and just getting his start on a major superhero title but his work here is terrific, balancing a classically Vertigo-esque realism and grittiness with nightmarish surrealism. These surreal sequences in particular are well aided by some eerie coloring by Tatjana Wood. And the Simon Bisley-inspired covers by John Mueller are a nice visual bonus.
Thanks to Vertigo for finally putting this arc out as a trade. If you’re a fan of Swamp Thing, Mark Millar or Grant Morrison, this is a book you’ll want to add to your collection.