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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

ONE NULL, ONE NEAR: SWAMP THING ANNUAL #5 (1989)

            

Since Neil Gaiman was never the regular writer on the SWAMP THING title, it may be that his stories for 1989’s SWAMP THING ANNUAL #5 were just fill-in works, or possibly audition-tales. Though I’ve labeled one story a “null-myth” and the other a “near myth,” both languish under the long shadow of Alan Moore’s tenure on the feature.

“Brothers” is the null-myth here: a good idea that never quite works, despite Neil Gaiman’s considerable talents. The living dummy known as Brother Power the Geek has remained out in space for roughly twenty years, only to suddenly crash to Earth. Brother Power not only survives, he has no understanding that any time has passed, and still speaks in hippie-talk. He has apparently gained a new power, though, in that he can now assemble new bodies for himself out of random junk, and expand said bodies to giant-size, so that he becomes an unwitting peril to the citizens of Tampa, Florida.

The “monster-menacing-city” structure of the story is strongly indebted to a two-part Alan Moore story in SWAMP THING #52-53, and Gaiman more or less admits the indebtedness by having two of Swamp Thing’s support-characters called in to consult on the matter of "The Flower-Child That Time Forgot." Swamp Thing himself is not present in either of the annual’s stories, due to events in the regular title. Still, Gaiman picks up on the character’s basic concept—at least as it was re-imagined by Moore, that of making the muck-monster into a plant-elemental—and declares that Brother Power was created by a process analogous to the one that created Swamp Thing. Abby Arcane, the Swamp Thing’s wife, receives an oracle that says Brother Power is “a doll god—a puppet elemental—like others before it.”



Gaiman does not choose to say more than this, however, and so the idea of what a “puppet elemental” might be is dropped. (Was Pinocchio one of the “Parliament of Puppets?”) Eventually the problem is solved when the other support-character, belated hippie Chester, gets Brother Power’s attention, talks with him a little, and then sends him on his way. Given that most of Gaiman’s observations on the generation of the Flower People are trite, it may be that the story’s main point was to bring Joe Simon’s most peculiar creation out of mothballs—though Gaiman does a decent job with his characterizations of Chester and Abby.



“Shaggy God Stories” might sound like a myth-nerd’s dream, though the tale fails to be more than the sum of its parts. The story focuses upon a character whom Moore adapted early in his run: Jason Woodrue, a super-villain so obsessed with plants that he mutated himself into a plant-human hybrid. Woodrue, more than a little crazy, wanders into the domain of the Parliament of Trees, the largely immobile plant-elementals who preceded Swamp Thing. For most of the tale, Woodrue meditates on the many ways in which trees and other plants have been intertwined with the lives of holy men and deities. He seeks out the Parliament, rambling about gods and trees, and finally reveals that, “I want to be a god too.” The representative of the Parliament gives Woodrue no satisfaction, though he gives the former super-villain a warning about a future danger. The deranged plant-man pays no attention and wanders away, and the story ends on the suggestion of a future menace, which eventually manifests in the Doug Wheeler SWAMP THING run.

Still, limited as the story’s scope is, it does toss out a few good myth-kernels, particularly at the opening, when Woodrue mediates on the “two trees” of the Bible’s Eden narrative. I find it particularly interesting that Gaiman has Woodrue harp on the existence of the “two trees” at the story’s  opening, because “two trees” also figure in the next and last major appearance (as of this writing) of Brother Power, the Geek.   

ADDENDA: On this forum a poster shared a part of a Gaiman interview from an online source that no longer seems extant. In the spirit of knowledge I share Gaiman's statement on the Annual here:

"I was going to bring [Woodrue] back as a villain. He was getting back to being Woodrue, the Rue of the Wood, and probably on a much bigger scale, a much nastier scale. It would have been fun, but again it didn't happen.
I probably would have brought back Black Orchid in there. I don't know, because as I said, it never got that far. Rick still had a few issues. I talked to Rick, we sort of co-plotted Rick's last few episodes, which never saw print."

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