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Swamp Thing #2, Bernie Wrightson

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Dark Genesis!

Dark Genesis!

Yesterday I wrote about the first four issues of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, and I take an even deeper dive into the muck with this month’s Dollar Box column over at StashMyComics.com., which is all about Swampy’s origin tale from Swamp Thing #1!

Swamp Thing #1

This is one of the finest comics origin tales of all time, and it is well worth reading and remembering even forty years after it was originally published! Head on over to StashMyComics.com for more!

Thanks to StashMyComics.com for hosting The Dollar Box!

Swamp Thing

Longbox Graveyard #81

I’ve already afforded Swamp Thing a place of honor in my Top Ten DC Characters list, and today in my Dollar Box column at StashMyComic.com I go on at length about Swamp Thing #1, but the full Bernie Wrightson/Len Wein run on this book merits a column of its own. It seems like Swamp Thing has been with us forever … and he’s going on four decades of funny book adventures … but that such a seemingly shallow and exploitative character is still a vital part of the comic book landscape speaks to the inherent quality and intrigue of the creation. Swamp Thing wasn’t comicdom’s first significant swamp monster (that would be The Heap), and he didn’t even beat Marvel’s Man-Thing into print, but Swamp Thing is unquestionably the best of the muck monsters, and I think one of the more significant and underrated characters in comics.

Swamp Thing #2, Bernie Wrightson

Much of Swamp Thing’s present appeal owes to his many reinventions, first by Alan Moore in the 1980s, in what is arguably the finest run of comics of all time, but more recently from creators like Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughn, and even Scott Snyder in Swamp Thing’s current book (which I offered backhanded praise in my recent “Few 52″ podcast). But at the root of all these reinventions are the original issues of Swamp Thing, by co-creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. These worthy tales provide a foundation for a character still vital nearly half-a-century later, and they remain greatly entertaining comics in their own right. Not bad for a shambling mockery of a man in mud monster form!

I enthuse at length about Swamp Thing’s origin issue in my Dollar Box column, so I won’t repeat myself here, aside from noting that Swamp Thing #1 is a top origin issue, creepy and entertaining as a stand-alone story while still delivering all the meat-and-potatoes expected of an origin tale. Swamp Thing’s genesis is iconic and likely familiar to all readers by now — the story of scientist Doctor Alec Holland, set afire by a bomb while working on his “bio-restorative” formula in a remote swampland laboratory, the poor devil plunging into the swamp to put out the flames only to rise later as the monstrous Swamp Thing.

Swamp Thing #1, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

Later creators would re-spin the tale, with Alan Moore most famously turning the whole thing inside-out in “Anatomy Lesson,” but when Swamp Thing debuted in his own book in 1972, the origin was on-the-nose — yep, that was poor Doctor Holland trapped in that muck-encrusted body, a character purpose-built to be a misunderstood monster, with a human soul yearning to reverse its hideous physical transformation.

Swamp Thing #2, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

well before Alan Moore, Wein & Wrightson did an “anatomy lesson” of their own

That straight-ahead story style continues in the following three issues of Swamp Thing I review here, but this isn’t intended as a criticism. Rather I see it as a case of clear and deliberate storytelling, standing apart from other, more embroidered Silver Age tales in that it is so bare bones. These stories are simple and they recycle monster movie tropes but they do it so well that everything old seems new again.

Swamp Thing #4, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

I’ve seen this tale many times before, but with Wein & Wrightson I’m happy to see it again

Much of this is down to Bernie Wrightson’s tremendous artwork, but before I spin off in rhapsodic praise for the pencils I want to offer a few words for Len Wein’s scripting. Wein is easy to marginalize in any team that includes Bernie Wrightson but the exhaustive ten or fifteen minutes I spent on Wikipedia doing background for this piece indicates Swamp Thing emerged from a close collaboration between Wein and Wrightson. While it is difficult to extract at this late date who did what, exactly, we can look at Wrightson’s post-Swamp Thing work and see that he definitely benefited from his partnership with Wein. For the most part, Wein’s scripts are content to set the scene and establish tone and then let Bernie do what he does best, but in this it is possible to laud an writer for restraint, and also to recognize a case where a comics author contributes so perfectly to a piece of visual storytelling. I’m not the kind of comics fan who thinks pages must be swarming with clever word balloons to feel a comics writer has done his job; quite the opposite, in fact, and Wein’s work on Swamp Thing is this better sort of comics scripting, hand-in-glove with Wrightson’s art, fully a part of the piece and better for leaving unsaid what those Wrightson images so clearly communicate.

Swamp Thing #4, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

Ah, and those images! Wrightson’s art is as startling today as it was all those years ago, a beautiful blend of horrific character designs, expressive faces, perfectly-composed set pieces, and rock-solid storytelling. Greatly benefiting from silky Joe Orlando inks, Wrightson’s pencils transport us to all the gothic locales you’d expect of a 1970s horror book — murky swamps, creepy European castles, fog-bound Scottish moors — they’re all here, they’re all exactly what you’d expect, and they’re all jaw-droppingly wonderful.

Swamp Thing #4, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

For the most part, Wrightson breaks little new ground here, though I was was taken with the weird designs of Arcane’s Un-Men, particularly that talking hand mastermind …

Swamp Thing #2, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

… but it isn’t invention but reinvention that’s the point. I loved seeing Swamp Thing face off against Frankenstein’s monster, and the Werewolf too, and it didn’t matter to me that they were monsters by some-other-name. Copyrights be damned — Swamp Thing is a kick-ass monster and I want to see him fight other kick-ass monsters! Frankenstein vs. The Wolf Man can never compare with Bride of Frankenstein, but in his heart of hearts you know which one a twelve-year-old prefers.

Swamp Thing #3, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

It’s not all central casting monsters, either. Wein wrings some pathos out of the reveal of which brain resides in that Frankenstein form (and how he got there, too), and there’s even a bit of emotion in the Werewolf’s inevitable demise, a doomed child more than ready to move on but held on this mortal plane by parents all too unwilling to let go of their little boy, however murderous he has become. Wein’s around-the-gothic-world in eighty pages plotting does require some leaps of logic — the pontoon plane at the center of Swamp Thing’s transports does not withstand close consideration, unless we want to believe that hand-for-a-head Un-Man was somehow at the controls — but these are forgivable sins in service of a fast-moving and delightful plot, no more jarring than Indiana Jones hanging on the periscope of that Nazi sub for a thousand nautical miles. In a world filled with swamp monsters and a body-hopping arch nemesis such things can’t rightly be called ridiculous.

Swamp Thing #4, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

And by keeping the tale moving along and refusing to apologize for or dwell on its inconsistencies, we have that much more room for the main events, the monster versus monster fighting, the pathos of the twisted human souls stuck in those monstrous forms, and the minimal but emerging subplot of the human characters who misunderstand Swamp Thing, and are doomed to hound him to the earth’s end (among whom is Abigail Arcane, introduced in the second issue as a not-quite-damsel in distress, who will loom large as one of the most complete female characters in comics under Alan Moore’s eventual tutelage).

Swamp Thing #4, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

Abigail Arcane, white hair and fetching black go-go boots

There was an era when superhero books weren’t afraid to be superhero books, with big-shouldered muscleheads striking wide stances and smashing each other through the sides of skyscrapers — and this is a monster book in the same vein, full of crazy kanted angles and reaching shadows, and contriving to hang Swamp Thing on a cross in a cart because, well, it’s just looks so damn cool.

Swamp Thing #2, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

This whole run is like that … you can ignore the words and appreciate the art, or you can delve into the narrative and enjoy the whole package even more. Plus there are some places where words-and-pictures come together in ways that the comic form does best, as when Swamp Thing surrenders his recovered humanity to thwart the evil designs of Arcane …

Swamp Thing #2, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

… or when our hero tumbles down into the roots of Arcane’s castle.

Swamp Thing #3, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

However you slice it, this is a superior comics run, and I’m affording it a top grade, dented only slightly by a very minimal lack of originality, and that tiny bit of storytelling slight-of-hand that catapults Swamp Thing back and forth across continents on the wing of a pontoon plane, in service of a location-driven plot. Even then, I am picking nits — this is a series to be cherished and enjoyed.

So why am I restricting my review to four issues? That’s all the reprints I have! I am now on the lookout for the remaining six issues of Wein and Wrightson’s run, but perhaps a more seasoned hand can tell me if I should bother. Like the Silver Surfer, does this original Swamp Thing series peak in its forth issue, going into a painful decline, or do the remaining issues build on this very strong start? Let me know your opinion, in the comments section below!

Either way, I remain tremendously impressed with Wein & Wrightson’s Swamp Thing. Long may he shamble!

  • Title: Swamp Thing
  • Published By: DC Comics, 1972-1976
  • Issues Reviewed: #1-4, November 1972-May 1973
  • LBG Letter Grade For This Issue: A-minus
  • Own The Reprints: DC Special Series

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #82 Reader Appreciation Award!

Top Single Issue Stories

Longbox Graveyard #18

One of the pleasures of publishing Longbox Graveyard has been meeting other fans in the online comics community. One of the first to comment on this blog was the enigmatic Mars Will Send No More, who has proven a kindred soul with his love of Marvel’s “Cosmics” and his admiration of classic Bronze Age comics runs, such as Walt Simonson’s Thor. Mars further endeared himself by giving me good-natured grief over my Top Ten DC Comics Characters list (and responded with a wobbly list of his own), so when he threw down the gauntlet on Twitter about doing a Top Single Issues list, I was eager to pick it up.

Mars has already led off with a thoughtful Top Issues list at his own blog, with a far-ranging collection of deeply personal choices well outside the mainstream focusing on dinosaurs, dragonflies, and monoliths, and with little reliance on “dorks in tights punching each other.” Lacking Mars’ eclectic tastes, my list is almost entirely about costumes in Fist City, but that’s a good thing — it means we can provide lists with minimal overlap, and together recommend a full twenty single issue stories worth reading. (Well, fifteen, actually, but more about that later).

Like my Marvel and DC Top Characters lists, this list of Top Single Issues isn’t comprehensive. These aren’t the best stories ever told, or the best-selling, or the best-known, or the most significant. They’re just my favorites, to the degree that I can remember them after reading comics for better than thirty years. My list is idiosyncratic and deliberately so, and presented in no particular order. They’re just superior stories I feel are worthy of note.

my blog, my rules … any objections?

A staple of the Golden Age, the single issue story is a dying form. Even in the Bronze Age which is the focus of Longbox Graveyard, the emphasis was generally on two-part stories, with the single-issue form usually reserved for the dreaded fill-in story. In recent years the single-issue story has all but vanished from DC and Marvel books, as storytelling has “decompressed” into six or twelve issue arcs intended for republication as trade paperbacks.

It’s a shame the form is going away, because the single-issue format forces creators to focus on a small and polished slice of action, with only minimal reference to greater events. Single-issue stories strip away many of the things I most dislike about comics — languid storytelling, dense continuity, and long and confusing fight scenes — in favor of economical storytelling. A single-issue story is harder to write than a multi-part arc, but when done well, a single-issue book is about as good as comics get.

For this list I tried to pick stories that genuinely stand alone, without directly extending into the previous or following issues. I looked for stories with minimal dependence on continuity (though some continuity is impossible to avoid in comics), and I wasn’t especially concerned about page-count — if the tale was published as a single story, then it was eligible for the list, whether it was a 48-page original graphic novel or a Will Eisner seven-page masterpiece.

Speaking of which …

Ten Minutes

While I appreciate and respect Golden Age comics, I don’t much like reading them, preferring the reinvented sensibility and sophistication of Silver Age and later stories, but for Will Eisner’s Spirit, I make an exception. Partly this is down to Eisner’s work being so modern — or at least seeming modern, given than Eisner practically invented modern comics storytelling whenever he put pencil to paper. Eisner is a comfortable destination for modern comics fans wishing to sample books from a distant era — I guarantee you will flip to the copyright page and shake your head in wonder that these stories were published decades before the 1961 birth of the Fantastic Four.

My knowledge of Eisner is far from comprehensive, and that I have so much of his work still to discover is a happy problem to have. I am working my way through the hardback Spirit Archives, which collect the Spirit in publication order, but I also jumped the line and picked up The Best of The Spirit, spotlighting twenty-two Spirit tales from the 1940s and 1950s. Any of those stories would be worthy members of this list (and Eisner could take every slot on my top ten!), but for today I’m restricting myself to a single story — “Ten Minutes,” originally published in September of 1949.

You don’t need to know a lot about the Spirit to enjoy this slice-of-life story — the Spirit is basically a guest star in this particular strip, which tells the tale of the last ten minutes of the life of Freddy, a neighborhood nobody who crosses the line to capital crime and pays the price in this short-but-sweet seven page story. Delivering a complete story in just seven pages is difficult, but Eisner embraces the time limit of the story, telling us in the first caption that the story will take ten minutes to read, then counts down the time by putting a stopwatch in the first panel of every page that follows.

What would seem a gimmick for any other creator is just another day at the office for Eisner — in those seven pages he tells possibly the first “real time” story in comics history; introduces us to luckless Freddy; shows us how his shiftless frustration boils over into a heartbreaking murder; follows Freddy to his own foredoomed end; and shows how a heedless world goes on ticking, oblivious to Freddy’s little rise and fall. Like all of Eisner’s work, it’s a tight, soulful story told with masterfully illustrated emotion, humor, action, and pathos.

You can read “Ten Minutes” (in just ten minutes!) and other classic Eisner tales in The Best of The Spirit.

Winter Soldier: Winter Kills

This book almost doesn’t make the list, because it’s deeply enmeshed in Marvel continuity, drawing on the Civil War cross-over event, and two years’ worth of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America (to say nothing of the seventy-five years history of Cap himself). But the book is so sharply-written that I cannot leave it off my list, and Brubaker, as always, uses continuity with restraint, deepening the entertainment for readers who understand the references, while at the same time imposing few barriers to new readers.

The story is simpler than it sounds — a lonely Christmas Eve in New York for the Winter Soldier (Captain America’s resurrected World War II sidekick, Bucky Barnes), the first such holiday “back in the world” for Barnes, who was thought lost during the war, and is trying to shake off the effects of being a brainwashed Soviet sleeper agent for the last half-century. Christmas Eve isn’t silent night, of course, as Barnes gets pulled into a raid on a Hydra base, and the book does have a nice bit of action, but where the story shines is in it’s characterization. Barnes, Nick Fury, and the Sub-Mariner all have richly nuanced dialogue in this tale, and Captain America, appearing entirely in flashback, tells the only joke of his life when he reminiscences about punching Hitler.

The story concludes with a poignant graveyard scene that I referenced in my Top Marvel Characters list two weeks ago, which again displays the right way to use continuity, as Barnes struggles with guilt from his murderous past, and receives friendship and emotional support from the least likely source — the remote and imperious Sub-Mariner. A beautifully-written and pitch-perfect story.

You can read this story (along with the best Captain America stories ever written) in the highly-recommended Captain America Omnibus Vol. 1.

The Song of Red Sonja

In my review of the Barry Windsor-Smith era of Conan the Barbarian I remarked that Conan stories follow a certain formula — but it’s a good formula. The formula is front-and-center in issue #24 of Conan the Barbarian, which marked the second time we’d meet Red Sonja, and the last time Windsor-Smith would pencil the book.

The plot is something you’ve seen a hundred times before — Conan and Sonja are off to steal some treasure, and along the way there’s a tavern brawl, a tower to climb, and a giant snake to kill. By-the-numbers stuff, for all that it is brilliantly drawn by Windsor-Smith, who’s insane attention to detail could not be appreciated in the original printings, but which is marvelously on display in the Dark Horse Conan reprints.

What makes this issue stand out from others of its era is Roy Thomas’ script. The plot may be off-the-shelf, but Thomas provides sharp dialogue that shows Conan at his headstrong and lusty best. Conan knows that Sonja is taking advantage of him, but he figures it’s worth it for a chance at some treasure and (even more promising) the hope of getting inside Sonja’s pants. For her part, Sonja seems unusually tempted by Conan, musing that breaking her vow of celibacy for Conan wouldn’t be such a terrible thing, and seeming at least slightly guilty when she steals the treasure, hops a horse, and tramples over Conan at the end. This is one of the very few Conan stories where the Barbarian doesn’t get the girl … and the story is better for it.

John Buscema would take over the book with issue #25, and overnight Conan would seem to age about ten years. The youthful, narrow-waisted Windsor-Smith barbarian would be replaced with Buscema’s powerful, thick-shouldered brute. That pending change makes the scene where Conan and Sonja frolic in the pond unexpectedly sweet and innocent. Conan’s youthful joy in that scene — and his childish punching of a wall out of frustration on the final page of the story — would feel inauthentic with Buscema’s version of the Cimmerian, but Windsor-Smith’s more subtle pencils unintentionally capture the end of Conan’s adolescence.

The Song of Red Sonja is reprinted in Dark Horse’s The Chronicles of Conan, Volume 4.

The Anatomy Lesson

Swamp Thing #21 is not just a great comic — it might be the single most important book published by DC Comics in the 1980s. This is where Alan Moore made his mark in American comic books, proving that he could magnificently re-invent one of DC’s most cliched characters — in one stroke changing the way we looked at superheroes, and opening the door for Watchmen, which DC would publish two years later.

The Anatomy Lesson is vintage Moore, coloring inside the lines of Swamp Thing’s past history while simultaneously turning the book inside-out. The Anatomy Lesson tells the tale of Swamp Thing’s autopsy, conducted by the sinister Jason Woodrue, who makes the startling discovery that Swamp Thing isn’t what we thought he was at all. Rather than a man who because a swamp monster, he’s a swamp monster who dreams of being a man — the ghostly aftershock of a dead scientist, who created a body for itself (including non-functioning internal vegetable organs) in imitation of the human form it once wore.

Not content to tell us one of the most unexpected and brilliant origin stories of all time, The Anatomy Lesson also winds in a horror story where narrator Woodrue hatches an elaborate revenge scheme using Swamp Thing’s not-so-dead-after-all corpse, told with creepy mood, atmosphere, and blood.

(Swamp Thing scans courtesy of the ubiquitous Mars Will Send No More)

The Anatomy Lesson kicks off one of the all-time great runs in comics, but it also stands alone as a superior single-issue story. Not that it matters — read this tale and you’ll be hooked for the duration.

You can read The Anatomy Lesson in Saga of the Swamp Thing Volume 1, or check it out online over at Mars Will Send No More!

In Dreams

Sometimes the best way to write about icons like Batman and Superman is to not write about them at all. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is inhabited by iconic heroes who are clearly supposed to be those more famous characters, but possessing their own names and costumes, Busiek has the freedom to approach these well-known heroes in new ways, without regard for the continuity or publishing agendas that encumber the “real” characters.

In the very first issue of Astro City, Busiek tells one of the finest Superman stories of all time — except it isn’t about Superman! Our hero is Samaritan, strange visitor from another world, who is faster than a speeding bullet, and in his alter ego is a mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper.

OK, it’s Superman. But don’t call him that, OK? We don’t want DC’s lawyers showing up and ruining the fun over in Astro City.

In Dreams tells the story of a day in the life up Super– eh, Samaritan, from the morning when he dreams of flying free through the skies without a care in the world; to his commute to work where he stops a tsunami before arriving at his newspaper office; then sneaks away to knock out a giant robot and contain an exo-biological outbreak. And that’s just before lunch! On his break, Samaritan meets with the not-Justice League, and through the rest of his long day gets on with the full-time business of being (call it what it is!) a superman, fighting bad guys, accepting awards, and rescuing a cat from a tree. Samaritan even pauses to lament there is no time in his life to have a relationship, before streaking into orbit to dispatch a monstrous supervillain, then flying home to sleep, and dream (again) of soaring through the clouds without the weight of the world on his shoulders.

It’s a great story, and that’s exactly what a day in the life of Superman must be like … but it’s not the kind of story you could tell in Superman, demanding as it does a new story every month that can’t be more of the same-old same-old superpowered routine. But the anthology format of Astro City allows Busiek to tell just this kind of story without regard for topping himself the month after, and the result is a fun, breezy, and insightful romp that ranks among the finest Superman stories you will ever read. (Except that it’s not Supermanwink wink).

In Dreams is reprinted in Astro City, Volume 1.

And that brings me to the end of this week’s list.

But wait! That’s only five issues! A proper Top List must have ten entries!

You’re right … but I’ve blithered on long enough for a single blog, and if I’ve learned nothing else from writing a weekly column it’s to never do in one blog what you can divide into two! So I’m going to cut this list off at five, and return in a couple weeks* with a second column to complete my list. That will give you time to sample some of these stories, and (more importantly) it will give me time to unearth five more worthy single-issue tales from my vast Accumulation. Thanks for reading!

*Editor’s note: Rather than publish another Top Single Issues list here at Longbox Graveyard, the feature morphed into my Dollar Box feature category, where I look at single issues and short runs of comics where the original cover price was a dollar or more. Check it out!

NEXT WEEK: #19 Tomb It May Concern

LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS

Top Ten DC Comics Characters

Longbox Graveyard #12

A couple weeks ago, Brian Cronin’sComics Should Be Good” column at Comic Book Resources ran a DC/Marvel Top Ten survey. The idea was to name your top ten favorite characters for both DC and Marvel comics. (And the results are starting to appear).

While this isn’t exactly a Marvel vs. DC thing, the effect is the same: blogging red meat! It’s more meaningless than even the average comic book blog, it fills up column space, and it gets fans riled up over all the distinctions-without-a-difference in voting for the different clowns who have worn the Flash costume through the years. It’s a cheap stunt: an easy-to-write column designed to drive clicks.

I find it appalling and I disapprove.

Here are my picks.

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You Might Also Like: Top 10 Marvel Comics Characters

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DC Comics Top Ten

#10 Dr. Fate

Just for the headgear. I don’t give a damn about the character, but I love the helmet. Put Dr. Strange in that helmet and I’m all-in.

huh, looks like Dr. Fate grew boobs when I wasn’t looking

#9  Mister Miracle

Yes, he’s ridiculous — an exiled god from an dysfunctional home who wears a red-and-yellow costume and masquerades as an escape artist? But he was the favorite character of a friend I lost to childhood leukemia and I don’t care what you say, the core of the New Gods mythos would make a dynamite motion picture.

(But no Funky Flashman!)

#8  Superman

Love the character — the iconic man of tomorrow standing guard over the ideal big city metropolis. I enjoy the Superman mythos with its bottled cities, science villains, and flying dogs in capes. The character and world are inherently optimistic and utopian, and ultimately, Superman is the only superhero that really matters.

I just never want to read his comics.

is that a rocket in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?

#7  Wildcat

Yes, Wildcat. Again, because of the headgear. And also because I think the character is ripe for revival. Wildcat is a prizefighter and you have to try like hell to mess up a boxing story. Stick to the boxing movie formula and even a story about Hugh Jackman fighting with robots looks like a good idea. Mix the sweet science with a fatal disease, the mob, a dame, an orphan, and a little bit of that Barton Fink feeling and I smell a winner!

Plus, Wildcat rides a Cat-O-Cycle.

#6  Aquaman

I don’t care about the comics character — no one cares about the comics character — but the version of Aquaman who frequently appears on the Batman: Brave And The Bold cartoon series is a scream.

Fast forward to 3:50 in this video to see the true Aquaman … the poor schmuck stuck on an RV vacation road trip with his undersea family.

#5  Hawkman

Headgear fetish, part three.

note preference for Golden Age “full beak” Hawkman (these things are important)

#4  Swamp Thing

Frankly you could throw out the first six names on this list. I’ve never been a DC guy and I had to grope around to come up with my ten names. That I put Wildcat on the list and passed up a chance to show Power Girl in her white t-shirt shows how much I am slipping.

Let me correct that.

there you go … Power Girl, plus Superman and Wildcat (yes, Wildcat)

With Swamp Thing we come to the first of the DC characters that I hold in truly high esteem, and not merely because he is the most successful of a host of muck monsters reaching all the way back to The Heap. This admittedly second-tier character has twice been touched by genius, first with Bernie Wrightson’s brilliant character design …

… and then by Alan Moore’s seminal run on the book, which changed the character (and comics) forever. (Moore’s Swamp Thing will eventually get a Longbox Graveyard column all it’s own).

Wrightson’s design is worth a closer look. Swamp Thing’s powerful, hulking build gives him a strong presence on the page, but the character sports subtle touches that lend him uncommon visual depth. Exposed roots on Swamp Thing’s back and shoulders offer highlight points where artists can add visual flourishes and kinks (following artists would have his body sprout moss, roots, and flowers to dramatic effect).

Swamp Thing is just on this side of uncanny valley, with a face that is recognizably human, but sporting craggy brows and a characteristic nose-and-face design than can by turns be human and warm or a mask of skull-faced terror. A classic comic book monster design.

#3  The Flash

My favorite of the Silver Age greats, though I will confess I liked him best as a cartoon character. The sunlit and nostalgic memory of my youth casts the Flash as a safe, colorful, reassuring science hero who was both the fastest man alive and the smartest guy in the room. I particularly loved the “swishing” sound effects deployed every time Flash went for a sprint.

In filling out the ballot over at CBR I probably invalidated my submission by just listing, “The Flash,” instead of “Barry Allen Flash.” But really, is there a greater single indictment of comics than having to identify which Flash you mean when you say, “The Flash?”

C’mon.

And apropos of nothing — instead of the turgid Green Lantern-style disaster that DC is bound to bring to the screen, the Flash movie should be lightly comedic (more The Mask than The Dark Knight) and should star Neil Patrick Harris as Barry Allen.

You’re welcome.

#2  The Joker

DC in general and Batman in particular have a pile of great villains, and I probably could have filled out this list with bad guys alone (and another cheap blog idea has just occurred to me) … but the Joker is clearly DC’s finest villain, and likely would be so even without his apotheosis through the talents of Heath Ledger a couple years ago.

The brilliance of the Joker is in his versatility. He started life as a knock-off of Conrad Veidt, and has survived Jokermobiles, Cesar Romero’s mustache, and Jack Nicholson’s check-cashing to emerge as everyone’s favorite mass-murdering mental patient. The Joker’s bizarre plots resonate more deeply than your run-of-the-mill megalomaniac bent on world conquest. He’s unpredictable and always a twisted delight, seemingly just as at home whether he’s stealing a kid’s report card or putting Batgirl in a wheelchair. You can’t keep a good clown down!

#1  Bat-Mite

No, my favorite DC character is Batman, of course, but where’s the fun in admitting that?

And since I’m tumbling to the blogging cheap trick of a top ten list, I might as well go balls deep and drag this thing out for a second column … so you’ll have to come back in a couple weeks to see my Top Ten Marvel Comics characters!

In the meantime, I’d be delighted to see a nerd skirmish break out in the comments section about YOUR favorite DC heroes along with excoriating indictments of why I was a Philistine to leave (insert character here) off my list!

UPDATE: Mars Will Send No More has posted a rebuttal over at his epononymous blog! Check it out!

NEXT WEEK: #13 The Stuff of Legends — Thor!

LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS

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