Filed under: Comic Reviews, DC Comics, Features | Tags: JLA, Mark Millar, Swamp Thing
Welcome to our first SPOTLIGHT ON post – a chance for the CA-Team to focus on those Comic creators that rock our world and look at their work that we recommend you read. Here’s part one of three of our first feature.
We’ve decided to start with a local hero, Mark Millar, a Glasgow writer who has taken the industry by storm with his unique take on well know characters, as well as creating many of his own too. Millar has had a whirlwind career so far, going from 2000AD to Wildstorm, DC and Marvel, leading him to his creator owned books on Millarworld. It’s his creator owned books that have lead him to expand his profession and turn his attention to Hollywood, with several of his books picked up for movie deals and Millar himself creating his own feature Miracle Park.
We spoke with Mark last week – make sure you check out our interview with him here.
The COMICS ANONYMOUS team have gone back to take a look at their highlights of Millar’s work to date, starting with Swampy and JLA.
Swamp Thing is one of my all time favourite ongoing series, ever. Not only does the book benefit from a rich and interesting cast of characters, diverse locations and ideas and concepts that will make your brain burst, it is one of the few genuinely terrifying comic books. This is in part due to the wealth of talent that has worked on the book since its creation by comic book legends Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Nancy A. Collins, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Andy Diggle and others have all helped to craft Swampy into a complex, yet accessible comic book who’s evolving story is still finding new fans today.
As part of the Comics Anonymous ‘Spotlight on Mark Millar’ event I’m going to focus on Millar’s run on Swampy, beginning with a 4 issue arc co-written with Grant Morrison. For the purposes of this feature I am not going to dredge up ANY pre issue #140 continuity as I do not believe that it is necessary to understand or have read anything prior to this to enjoy Millar’s run. This means that new fans, brought on board thanks to Snyder’s DCnew52 Swampy need not feel daunted about wanting to take a look at the character’s rather formidable back catalogue.
Followers of the Scottish comic book scene might also be wondering if I’m going to attempt to ascertain just how much of Mark Millar’s Swampy was actually written by Mark Millar. Grant Morrison seems to want to cast some doubt around this and its no secret that the two of them are no longer pals.
“as soon as we were working together on American superhero dramas, the division of labour became lopsided.”
“When I was offered the Swamp Thing series, I took the assignment on the condition that I would cowrite the first four with Mark to establish a new direction that he would continue under my supervision. I worked out a large scale thematic structure based on a journey through the four elements and talked him through individual story arcs, even supplying dialogue and caption suggestions, which he applied diligently”
“I worked with him on the plots of the first five issues of the book and even ghostwrote one when Mark was ill and fell behind”
All of the above are from page 318, Supergods by Grant Morrison.
Wonder no more Comix Fans, I don’t know the answer and I doubt either of those two will pony up the truth. The debate doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the run and neither should it affect you, so stop caring about gossip and get down to your local comic shop for some back issue Swampy goodness! Industry mystique aside, you can envision Morrison firmly in the driving seat throughout the first 4 issues and considering this was the early stages of Millar’s career its understandable too.
Morrison & Millar’s 4 issue story ‘Bad Gumbo’ begins with issue #140 and firmly sets the tone of what the pair want to achieve. A cover typical of 90s vertigo combined with initial panels overflowing with four colour fear hark back at the horror comics heyday nicely. However, I stand by my statement that new readers will not feel daunted if they pick up #140 because here Millar & Morrison are all about establishing the scene for the next installment in the life of the Swamp Thing. Shaking up/ ripping up and ultimately completely changing forever the course of the Swamp Thing would become the order of the day for the two writers. Beginning with a novel re-imagining of the Swamp Thing/ Alec Holland relationship which should not be dissimilar to readers of Flashpoint, Snyder’s DCnew52 Swampy or viewers of Sunset Beach.
Alec Holland wakes up from his idyllic life in the swamps as the Elemental god with his wife Abby and daughter Tefe, to find that it was all just a dream he had whilst stuck in a Peruvian hospital in the midst of a fever. Tatjana Wood’s colouring here really hammers home that everything regular readers thought they knew has changed, which is great news for new readers but sadly not so for our Alec.
Holland’s botanical research and dreams of the Swamp Thing become an excellent vehicle for Morrison’s interest in discussing altered states of consciousness and how we can better understand our own world through it, as Holland attempts to make sense of his dreams through sampling the mysterious vine under the watchful eye of the shifty shaman Roberto. I am 95% certain these themes come from the mind of Morrison rather than Millar as it fits more with the recurring ideas throughout his writing career as well as his self confessed acceptance of using pharmacology to enhance understanding.
The resulting double page mescaline-likes spread charts a suffocating journey through connected fragments that anyone who has ever knocked on the doors of perception knows ,will be disconnected by the time coherency returns. Issue #140 leaves Alec Holland wondering what and who he is with no clear answer, meanwhile we are introduced to the lovely Abby in a scene of apparent blissful domesticity. Until of course, we spot the bleeding pot plant by the side of her bed. Dark, ill omens like this are sure to give you the chills and are a recurring feature of the title.
Artists Phil Hester and Kim DeMulder do an excellent job of bringing to life Millar and Morrison’s commentary on the differences between man and Swamp Thing. The very questions that seem to be plaguing Holland – ‘Am I a man? Am I Alec Holland? or am I this Swamp Thing?’ are rendered almost irrelevant as we are introduced to an inconsequential couple sitting at home getting stoned. Even the most eagle eyed of observers would have to look twice to make a definitive judgement of ‘human’ or ‘Swamp Thing’ with these two.
From the grass in the joint of the aforementioned couple springs forth our first glimpse of the ‘real’ Swamp Thing and with a colossal monster like this you wont mind waiting until the end of the issue to see it. Murder and devastation ensue, surprisingly different from the peaceful entity Holland had dreamt about. Millar and Morrison weren’t kidding when they said they would shake up the Swamp Thing title and with the benefit of this being 2011 I am able to say that I enjoyed the run. Fans at the time were perhaps not so accepting as sales dwindled and the book was cancelled by issue 171. I have heard comment made that the changes made were just to drastic, that some some preferred Alan Moore’s vision and wished for that to continue. Whatever you’re own opinion it should be accepted that books that don’t or won’t change are unlikely to experience longevity like Swampy has. Rather, it is because of writers like Moore, Millar and Morrison and their ability and lack of fear or reinvention that this title (and others) are still around and being enjoyed today.
Feedback on this piece is welcome and if you’re interested I will go more in depth and cover more of the run.
Sunset Beach – it was all a dream – all 200 odd episodes….
Tatjana Wood – Colours
JLA – PARADISE LOST
I read and loved this 3-part mini years ago and without even knowing who the hell wrote the thing or who drew it…..my naivety finally outgrown at the age of 31 (about damn time), I now know that this belongs in the Mark Millar body of work.
A spin-off from the main JLA title (#6 & 7) we see Zauriel, the guardian angel; appearing in his 1st solo story – a character created by none-other than Grant Morrison. Millar writing a Morrison character – both having worked together on previous projects….it’s a win-win situation with this one. Couple this with art by Ariel Olivetti and you need to just sit back and soak in every word and image that gets thrown at you.
It all centres around Zauriel giving up his place in heaven in order to declare his love for human Shannon Coyne. A noble cause if ever there was one and this “will they? / won’t they?” vibe carries on through until the final issue. However, on the road to that final revelation Zauriel is followed to Earth by fellow guardian angel, Asmodel.
Set on revenge, Asmodel takes the form of a human boy (the most feared battle shape in paradise, apparently) and the JLA watchtower is the 1st to face his wrath…..with The Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz) as our 1st casuality at the end of issue #1. This brings the other members of the JLA into the mix as they split their efforts between trying to bring J’onn back from the brink of death and finding either Asmodel or Zauriel to find out what’s really going on.
From here we get a mix of sub-plots as we see Asmodel and the demon Neron plotting to invade heaven and take over, we also see Zauriel, Sharon and her current boyfriend (Jerry the male nurse) head from San Francisco to Los Angeles to track down Michael….another guardian angel who renounced heaven and immortality for a place on earth.
The death of J’onn and Zauriel (although they are brought back) offers them the chance to face the invaders of heaven head-on and they do manage to save the day. The arc ends with a sort of bittersweet twist as Sharon chooses her current human boyfriend, Jerry, over Zauriel…..but the sight of her being so happy is enough for Zauriel and he ultimately accepts his mortality and his place on the JLA team.
Some deep components to a JLA comic….love, life, death, heaven and hell ALL play a part as Millar manages to develop these characters from the off. This could’ve been a word heavy arc given the subject matter but we see early indications of Millar’s skills at tapping into the pop culture that the comic reading masses know and recognize with ease.
Olivetti also seems to have been able to tap into the ability to blend the otherworldly landscapes of heaven and hell, with its rough and ready demons and angels….all the way through to the suburbs of LA and San Francisco….all the while, flipping from the human/superhuman aspects of the battles through to the intimacies of as the driving force throughout.
This is one of those stories I can read time and again and enjoy every time – I guess that’s the benefit of tapping into pop culture in this way….it never really loses its edge. Even with a story rooted in religion, it’s all just good vs evil at the end of the day and never feels like it’s preaching to the reader.
Come back soon when we’ll be taking a look at Millar’s take on Superman, Wolverine and many of his creator owned series.
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