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Classics Revisited
By Wayne Hotu

CRISIS OF THE AFTERWORLD


SWAMP THING # 50

Writer: Alan Moore
Artists: Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch & John Totleben
Colourist: Tatjana Wood
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Karen Berger

In SWAMP THING #50, we have the conclusion of the much-hailed "American Gothic" story line (I must admit, I am being rather audacious in reviewing this issue as I have not read the entire "American Gothic" story). In this issue, Alan Moore sets the scene that affects the entire mystical realm for the post-Crisis DC-universe. This story is opened and closed by Cain and Abel engaging in another of their continuing spats, and setting-up the situation of the fight between the "Ultimate Good" and the "Ultimate Dark". With guest-stars galore, an unstoppable villain, casualties consisting of some of the best-known of DC characters, and a battle, at the time, on the scale not seen since CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, all contribute to make this one of the best single-issue stories I have ever read. Moore successfully weaves a tight and exciting tale that packs as much as 38 pages can hold without becoming too convoluted

Here, we find Swamp Thing and various other DC-mystics in a two-frontal assault to quell an uprising of the "soul of darkness" as Cain so dramatically puts it, which has previously been dormant and is marching towards Heaven. The Earth elemental joins the front-line in the Afterworld with an army of demons and accompanied by Deadman . The demonic army is composed of rebels wishing to maintain the status quo of Hell that threatens to be disrupted by the "Dark Thing" with whom the majority of the demons side. Swamp Thing and Deadman are joined by Etrigan (everyone's favorite doggerel-spouting demon), Dr. Fate (the classic version) and the Phantom Stranger.

The second assault consists of the well-known Homo-magi (sorcerers) of the DCU gathered at the house of Baron Winter, of NIGHT FORCE fame, and lead by John Constantine. We learn that this gathering and Swamp Thing's presence in the Afterworld is all part of a gamble by Constantine, and truly, I don't believe he's ever had the stakes so high. Alan Moore's John Constantine kind of reminds me of Grant Morrison's Batman in JLA. Always a few steps ahead of everyone else, and with his own agenda to achieve, even if his goals are the same as those of his teammates. The rest of the mystics invited into Baron Winter's home consist of Sargon the Sorcerer, Dr. Occult, Zatara and his lovely daughter Zatanna, and lastly, Steve Dayton AKA Mento. I know what you're thinking: "Mento? What's he doing there?" There is a reason. It is through his "Mento Helmet" that Steve Dayton is able to observe and relate the events unfolding in the Afterworld. The mystics link their hands around in a circle as if attending a seance, to join their forces in the Afterworld, if need be. The usual rules apply, don't break the circle or you'll break the link. Break the link and you're in trouble.

The narrative of the story now starts to jump between the Afterworld and Baron Winter's home when Dayton observes Etrigan preparing himself by putting on his body armor made of various insects that remain alive while being impaled on the armor. Dayton then observes the arrival of Dr. Fate, who (I'll have to confess, though I'll probably get banned from ever contributing to FANZING again) I've never found as cool as the Spectre or the Phantom Stranger. Indeed, it is the Stranger who next makes his appearance accompanied by a number of orbs that the Stranger identifies as former acquaintances and angels. The Demon is next, riding in like Clint Eastwood… or Eli Wallach, if you prefer.

The "Dark Thing" now starts to move, emerging from the chaos beyond Hell, resembling some impossibly large mass of black putty. Through Dayton's terrified commentary, we learn that the "Dark Thing" is big. Bigger than you. Bigger than me. Bigger than the both of us.
Etrigan is the first to ride into the breach by charging the "Dark Thing", submerging in it, confronting the "voice of darkness" and failing, followed by Dr. Fate, and the angels. Now, the first of Constantine's gambles arrives, namely in the form of the Spectre. And if you know your DC lore, you know that the Spectre is serious business. So when the Spectre fails after a spectacular fight that puts me in mind of Jack versus the Beanstalk, we can totally sympathize with Steve Dayton's despair.

Then, it is up to the Swamp Thing, the last obstacle before the "Dark Thing" reaches Heaven, and an ending that will change the status of Heaven and Hell forever.
Alan Moore sure doesn't think small, I'll tell you that. As for the rest: read it. You'll thank me for it.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1998 by .

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