We continue our walk through the history of comics featuring Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Preacher and the Metal Men
We are back for another round of comic history and the most influential comic books of all time! Should you need it, here’s an introductory article and you can still check out the comics previously discussed in Round 1, 2, 3 and 4. Now, let’s return to Tony Isabella’s 1,000 Comic Books You Must Read for four more issues!
Saga of Swamp Thing #21
DC Comics, 1984
There are issues of comics that simply change everything. This is one such issue. This is the moment when Alan Moore took over Swamp Thing and changed comics for all time.
Does that sound like a bold statement? I really think this issue, and those that followed, ushered in an intellectualism to comics similar to the first Dark Knight and Watchmen. It made comic books a thinking person’s game once again. Personally, I owe a lot of my continued love of sequential art to this run on Swamp Thing which is both visually stunning and narratively creative beyond words. For me, this really did change everything.
In the issue Moore jumps right into the mix altering the basic idea of Swamp Thing. Originally, scientist Alec Holland fell into a swamp where he was doused in chemicals and emerged a swamp monster. Moore took this idea and shifted it allowing Holland to actually die in the swamp. The bog would grow it’s own entity that thought of itself as a man. We would later learn that Swamp Thing was so much more and a mythology that has become a cornerstone of the DC Universe was born. Not just deserving of the 1,000 I would put this one in the top 10 of all time.
DC Comics, 1962
I’ve heard the Metal Men described as a quirky kind of DC superhero group. Not quite on the Doom Patrol level of strange, but just a little odd. This issue of Showcase represents the team’s first appearance. Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru they’ve been a fan favorite over the years as they represent very basic emotional arch-types and, in the end, often prove quite innocent and lovable. Personally, they remind me of the heroes sometimes shoe horned into grade school educational programming and I kind of loved that about them. Each member of the team (Gold, Iron, Lead, Mercury, Tin and Platinum) bring their own elemental properties and powers to bear in solving mysteries.
The team was featured in Showcase to see if they could generate a fan base. At the end of the story, the creators even invite readers to write in letting the company know if they want to see more from these characters. Fans did and the team has even played host to its own series a few times over the years.
In this first tale, the team is introduced to the readers and quickly pitted against a giant, flying, radioactive monster just released from ice where it had been trapped since the days of the dinosaurs. It’s a fun read in three parts that stresses team work and a bit of education. Interceding vignettes focused on metals and, of all things, international free trade broke up the the main story which dominates the issue.
Sometimes tales from this age feel dated by the societal norms of the time. It really stands out here as Platinum, the female robot of the group, is constantly being held back because she is (or looks like) a woman. She also has a tendency to flirt playfully with the team’s creator, Dr. Will Magnus (who also debuted in this issue). It comes up a lot and the tease of a relationship between these two is based in humor but hints at playfully creepy undertones.
In discussing this one, Tony adds an nice aside explaining that rumor has it the team was created “over a weekend when another Showcase feature failed to get off the drawing board”. I’m glad they did and I consider this issue a worthy addition to the 1,000.
DC Comics, 1989
I remembered loving this initial Sandman story when I first read it back 1989 from DC Comics. Upon this re-read, I was a bit surprised just how much it channeled the feel and story beat of the more classic EC Comics of the 40s and 50s. There was a very moralistic and horror focused angle here that, if executed in homage to what came before, is only more impressive all these years later.
In the issue, Gaiman introduces us to a pale, quiet man who is captured and locked away by an occult group trying to live forever by capturing Death. They miss and accidentally nab the incarnation of dreams, Morpheus, and the story that follows centers on his time in captivity. We see an entire lifetime pass within this issue. The impact of capturing him plays out on the family who hold him and the wider world as we see a mix of lives changed by his absence. It’s a wonderful story with a beautiful finale filled with revenge, emotion and regret on many levels.
Digging in to learn more about the origins of the character, it was interesting how much Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing (discussed above) influenced Gaiman’s love of comics. The two build a friendship and you can feel the shared influence they had on each other within this series. I would love to have been there for those early conversations between these two. Talk about influencing the works that followed.
Neil Gaiman has become a much loved and celebrated author of both books and comics. He found his start writing things like Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion and Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett) while pursuing a journalism career. That said, it could be argued that The Sandman series really cemented his early fandom and launched his presence as a literary and comic creative force.
As you would expect from anything Gaiman puts pen to page to produce, this story is near perfectly executed. It takes an existing character and doesn’t just re-invent it, but opens up an entire mythos that is still loved and respected in the halls of DC even to this day. This is an issue that doesn’t just deserve to be in the 1,000, it had to be there. From the impact it had on series that follow to the way it almost created the concept of the Vertigo imprint, this is a hallmark of comic literacy.
DC Vertigo, 1995
It was simply perfect to have a reason to return to this series and re-read the jam packed issue #1. Wonderfully executed as an welcome to the series, we find our three main characters (Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy) sitting in a diner sharing a discussion. Here they’re trying to make sense of everything that has happened over the last few weeks and this feels like a moment where they are catching their breath. For the reader it feels instantly tenuous and narratively it allows the story to pack about half a year of action and scene setting into a single conversation between friends. It’s a perfect flashback styled intro to what I describe as one of my favorite comic series of all time.
The effect here is a bit duplicitous as there’s more going on than you notice at first glance. Comparing it to a television, this issue is a bit like the first five minutes of a new series that that tosses the viewer into the deep end of the story immediately. I feel some series do this simply to make sure you are in the right spot for what’s to come. Take The Walking Dead for example. If you weren’t ready to see Rick put down the teddy bear holding child zombie at the start of the first episode, you were not ready to watch the Walking Dead. This is the nature of what we’re presented in issue #1.
Here, the Preacher series kickoff serves up violence, humor, sexuality, spiritual issues and it’s own irreverent style in a way that can be jarring but prepares you well for what is to come. If you don’t like this issue, you will not be comfortable in the broader series that follows. That said, if you love it you are in for one of the best experiences you will have in the world of comics. Dark, challenging, violent, funny and beautifully executed, Preacher is nothing short of amazing.
Reading this issue was like a reunion with old friends. It was a complete pleasure and makes me even more excited for the upcoming 2016 television series (which I discuss in detail here). In terms of this comics series, you can collect the entire run (every single issue including all the associated one shots, action figures and other fun stuff) right here in the Preacher archive!
Until Next Time…
In two weeks, we’ll return in the new year covering Marvel Graphic Novel #32: The Death of Groo (Marvel, 1987), Spider-Man #1 (Marvel, 1990), X-Factor #1 (Marvel, 2006) and G.I. Joe #21 (Marvel, 1984). As always, feel free to read ahead and discover a new series or character you may just come to love!