Tuesday, September 1, 2009

[Cryptopopology] Swamp Thing #88: Morning of the Magician

Swamp Thing #88: Morning of the Magician
Starting with DC Comics' Swamp Thing (Vol. 2) #80 (Winter 1988), scripter Rick Veitch began his second lengthy storyline on the series, which was planned to be the finale of his tenure on the title. Following the conclusion, writers Neil Gaiman and Jamie Delano were supposed to be taking over the series, alternating every three or four issues.

In #80, a world-dominating race of extra-terrestrials landed on Earth and, fearing the power of Swamp Thing, sent him reeling backwards through time in order to be rid of the threat--apparently this was easier than killing him. So, like a soggy Sam Beckett, Swamp Thing spent several issues bouncing from year to year, meeting up with a number of other DC characters who lived in previous eras.

And then, in issue #88, Swamp Thing was intended to meet...Jesus Christ.

That's right. Jesus Christ, at the time of his crucifixion, pauses for a little one-on-one with DC's resident Swamp God.

The storyline, from what I have read, is a bit hard to follow, but surely this is more my fault, as my knowledge of both the Bible and the Swamp Thing of this era are about on par with my knowledge of Swedish politicians. Which is to say, I know they exist, but not much else. But I believe it boils down to this:

In this tale, the Three Wise Men were actually dark sorcerers who had visited Christ upon his birth only to determine if he posed a threat. Thirty-three years later, they regret the fact that they allowed him to live that night in the manger, and, during the Last Supper, they plot to overthrow his spiritual movement.

They offer up their eyes as sacrifice to the demon Bilial, and plead with him to destroy Jesus. Bilial enters the body of Marcus, a Roman guard who has just promised prostitute Mary Magdalene that he will spare the life of the gentle carpenter who has been condemned by Pontius Pilate.

It is around this time that Swamp Thing is drawn to this time period, and he watches as Christ meditates in a garden. Lead by Bilial and assisted by Judas, Marcus breaks his promise to Mary Magdalene and approaches Jesus in the garden. But Swamp Thing knows a man possessed when he sees one, and he attacks Marcus in order to save Jesus.

There is quite a bit of chaos at this point, in which Swamp Thing is absorbed into Christ's body, Christ exorcises the demon from Marcus, and Jesus is arrested and crucified despite Swamp Thing's best efforts. And with the death of Christ, Swamp Thing is dispatched to continue his quest through time.

Following #88, a few issues were to show Swamp Thing's return to the present to meet up with his wife Abby, just in time to witness the birth of their child.

In Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette, Veitch remembers as such:
"Neil [Gaiman], even then the wandering writer, visited me in Vermont while I was developing the story line and we came up with the ultimate confrontation between Swampy and [his arch-nemesis] Arcane in which the techno-sorcerer arrives at the birth of Alec and Abby's baby to take it for himself. Swampy shows up and Arcane blasts him with every ounce of evil he's dragged up from hell. But Swampy, by observing Jesus a few issues earlier, has learned to let all evil pass through him, and thus not only defeats Arcane, but cures him of his evil ways."
What a storyline, right? Too bad that DC Comics was having none of it. In the wake of Martin Scorsese's controversial Last Temptation of Christ, they refused to publish any story that might get the Religious Right into an uproar. By the time that the kibosh was put on issue #88, the script was completed and it was partially illustrated by artist Michael Zulli.

So furious was he over this censorship, Veitch immediately resigned, saying that he would return when the issue was published. Gaiman and Delano were so sympathetic to Veitch's situation, that they both opted out of the series themselves.

Veitch had this to say in 1989's Comics Journal #129:
"My initial response was I knew I would have to resign. I knew instantly, that there was no other way to defend my right of free expression and drive home my dissatisfaction, my contempt, for DC's decision... No one at DC really leveled with me about the reasons. Basically, all I was told was that people might get offended seeing a religious icon with a monster. They said things like the politics weren't right. They're talking about corporate politics. Whenever there's a merger situation like Time-Warner, everyone believes their job is at stake and the last thing they want is a crowd of protesters outside on the sidewalk because of something they printed in a comic book."
This sudden dearth of writers caused a short delay in the publication of Swamp Thing. But within two months, DC comics replaced Veitch, et al., with Doug Wheeler who completed his own issue #88 (staying through issue #109) and the life of Swampy went on as usual. These days, Veitch admits that what bothers him the most isn't the fact that "Morning of the Magician" never saw print. It's that the issues that were to follow never did.

And, sadly, they probably never will. These days, they wouldn't even fit into continuity.

Of course, this being DC, they could just have another Crisis and undo everything that's happened since September 1989.

Just think of the crossovers!

Further Reading:

1 comment:

  1. For more details on the Swamp Thing Meets Jesus story, see the Swamp Thing Annotations site:


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