To say Swamp Thing Annual #2 (1984) blew me away would be an extreme understatement.
Taking the American comic book scene by storm in the early 80's, British writer Alan Moore almost single-handedly ushered in a more sophisticated brand of storytelling that, in many respects, continues to this day. After hearing the buzz surrounding Moore's successful reimagining of DC's Swamp Thing, I gave it a try with issue #31...finding it every bit as good as the buzz indicated. In the story, the demonic arch-enemy of Swamp Thing, Anton Arcane, sends the soul of his niece Abigail to Hell...leaving it up to Swamp Thing to save the woman he loves.
The story continues in Swamp Thing Annual #2 with the masterpiece "Down Amongst the Dead Men". Making his first of many journeys into the supernatural realms, Swamp Thing essentially "wills" himself into the Great Beyond, meeting a number of familiar characters along the way. However, to give the impression the story is merely a routine "flyover" of DC's supernatural characters does it a disservice...because Moore's beautiful, poetic gift with words make the journey a fascinating, mysterious, occasionally disturbing, awe-inspiring, and utterly unforgettable experience.
Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, the Swamp Thing is escorted by three major figures of DC's supernatural set. The first was the jocular Deadman, the third a newly-frightening Demon...and between them both, the Phantom Stranger...who informs the Swamp Thing that before he enters the kingdom of Hell, he'll first need to obtain permission of the highest order (click on the panels for a larger view)...
Wow. I still get chills when I see this scene. For those of you unfamiliar with the huge, white-faced guy...that's The Spectre. He was about as close to God as you could get in the DC Universe back then...yet he'd never before been portrayed quite like this. This was unprecedented...and a perfect example of the grandeur Alan Moore helped restore to comics (after Jack Kirby's light grew dim).
Of course, it would be criminal for me to overlook the amazing artwork of Steve Bissette and John Totleben, who created a rich, terrifying look that seemed like a cross-pollination of trippy Peter Max posters and the eerie gothic engravings of the 19th century.
What comes after this scene is just as amazing, as the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre engage in a fascinating exchange...ending with an unforgettably chilling line.
If you've never read this story, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy. If you have read it...what did you think?