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Saturday, October 24, 2009

13 Days of Halloween: The scariest comic book


Graphic novels have an equivalent to Sweeney Todd in From Hell, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s encyclopedically dense and disturbing autopsy of the Jack the Ripper murders (currently published by Top Shelf Productions). Well before the English writer penned From Hell and Watchmen, he terrorized American readers in the 1980s by taking over Swamp Thing, then an obscure DC Comics title about a plant-man in the Louisiana bayou. Moore pushed not just the character but the very medium into breathtaking territory, abetted by artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, whose intricate illustrations harked back to classic/shlocky EC Comics titles like Tales of the Crypt from the early 1950s. (Forget about the movie and TV versions with their tree-hugging "Do not bring your evil here" messages.)

Moore's second issue of Swamp Thing, titled "The Anatomy Lesson," offered a wildly diverse reinterpretation of the title characters origins while also providing a Poe-worthy revenge tale. One moment comes to mind that conveys the depths of Moore’s imagination from the Saga of the Swamp Thing Book Two collection (coming out just in time for Christmas). In one issue, Swamp Thing descends to Hell itself to rescue his lady love and happens upon the soul of his arch-enemy, Arcane, being eaten alive from the inside out.

"How many years have I been here?” Arcane asks.

"Since yesterday," Swamp Thing replies.

The scream of a villain’s realization of the scope of eternal damnation? Priceless.

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