The Anatomy Lesson addendum

I’ve never known the full story with Swamp Thing. The Moore run, for me, begins an issue late with #21. #20, Moore’s first issue, was essentially unobtainable for more than 20 years. In its long absence it became irrelevant; the decision to leave it out of the collections made it seem undesirable, juvenilia that the author disavows. And besides, The Anatomy Lesson is such a good first issue.

Long-running comics, meaning series published over time and usually through the big two publishers, often suffer uneven starts. Look at the first few issues of Preacher: the cast barely look like themselves and their voices aren’t quite there yet. Characters become themselves as a story goes on, but comics can’t go back and fix the early chapters like novelists can. Sandman, V For Vendetta, Luther Arkwright, Transmetropolitan; all stagger at the outset. Though Cerebus is the ultimate example, as it so often is.

The Anatomy Lesson doesn’t have that problem. Moore’s Swamp Thing gets more confident but it starts surefootedly. Alec’s passivity, self-doubt and fatalism, all trapped in a big green body that’s constantly being thrown into action, are there from the first word. His monstrous deed in #21 is an out-of-character moment but it’s provoked. The character we see here changes in the next 40 or so issues, changes immeasurably, but the murders that close the run show he hasn’t come that far.

Swamp Thing's first ever first issueOf course, the character existed already. Maybe that’s why equally renowned runs on shared universe characters – Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Miller’s Daredevil – don’t suffer those slow starts. If there’s material already there, even if you discard most of it, you’ve got something to cling to. It’s easier to be consistent.

As I say, I’ve never known the full story. I’ve never read any of the Wein/Wrightson issues or the Pasko issues. Which is kind of hypocritical when what I’m interested in doing here is writing about them in their historical context. With some properties in comics, though, especially long-running characters who’ve been bounced around between different creators, there’s no imperative to know the earlier work. With revisionist comics like this it can be an advantage not to.

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