Thursday, August 20, 2015
NULL-MYTHS: "LOVING THE ALIEN" (SWAMP THING #60, 1987)
I dropped a passing remark about SWAMP THING #60 in this essay, which concerns the subject of "rapey-ness" far more than does the WATCHMEN. Therefore I'll justify my remark in a little more depth here, since "Loving the Alien" also happens to involve a "clockwork rape."
In the earlier essay I dismissed "Loving" as a story which addressed rape as an Important Issue. I still believe that there's an element of preachiness in the storyline, an element that keeps it from realizing its mythic / plurisignative potential. Yet, though the project was apparently conceived by Alan Moore's frequent SWAMP THING collaborator John Totleben, the story certainly does emphasize many of Moore's favorite tropes.
In short, the issue takes place following a sequence back on Planet Earth. Swamp Thing's spirit is exiled from his native planet, and he's sent hurtling into outer space. Since Swamp Thing has the power to incarnate his spirit into any body in the vegetable kingdom, the hapless monster's first reaction is to try to stop his flight by forming a new body on the first promising planet.
Enter a planet-sized "motherworld," belonging to a species that is a combination of organic and technological elements. The entire story is told from the POV of the motherworld-- which has no name as such-- as it tells the story of how the discarnate spirit of Swamp Thing-- "a ghost that swam through clockwork"-- came to her. just when she needed a mate. She uses her technology to subdue the monster-hero and strip him of the genetic material to make new offspring-- after which she turns him loose, to continue his journey.
I can't deny that artist Totleben puts an ungodly amount of work into realizing the clockwork world's interaction with the discomfited monster-hero. Yet I'm clearly not the audience for it, being that I've never liked the use of collage in comic books.
I don't think that Moore's writing is at his best here, given that so much of the narration is forced to describe the functioning of the motherworld, Often he resorts to human metaphors simply in order to make the alien creature's meditations accessible, as when he writes, "Upon my hide, a hundred geysers were silenced and a thousand streams ran dry as I held my breath."
Still, though "Loving" is not Moore's best writing, I could live with it if I didn't feel that he was attempting to pound in a message about the evils of rape:
"I drank the wine of his intelligence, drank his body, the pattern of his cells. I ate his fear, I ate his agony, I ate his love, his love, his love-- The rest I threw away."
I don't object in any way to the role-reversal involved, in which a character with a male outlook is raped by a monstrous female. But the setup seems overly preachy, as if to echo the fatuous political point, "If rape could happen to men as often as it happens to women, then it would be a capital crime."
It's arguable that Moore does make a parallel point in WATCHMEN, through the dispiriting interaction of Walter Kovacs and his nasty mother. But whatever shortcomings the Rorschach sequences of WATCHMEN may have, preachiness is not one of them.
This is essentially a cosmological myth, given its attempt to realize an alien species of life, though it may also be deemed psychological in its attempt to project the horror rape upon a male subject.