Thursday, January 24, 2008

Swamp Thing's Burst Bubble

Relevent conversations: Bubble World Theory & Myth-Building, The Amazon Bubble.

By virtue of its horror genre or its Vertigo or proto-Vertigo status, Swamp Thing was probably one of the DC Universe's first Bubble Worlds. Yes, he still interacted with the rest of the DCU, but existed in his own realm, with its own rules, and indeed, added to the sum of the DCU by creating a new and interesting corner of that universe. Swamp Thing's Bubble has always been leaky: The DC Universe isn't so much a soft drink full of tiny rising bubbles as it is a lava lamp with bubbles flowing into each other.

On the one hand, Swamp Thing started the ball rolling for Vertigo's cloistering. Alan Moore introduced John Constantine in those pages, and John has welcomed a number of titles (Sandman, Books of Magic) into the Vertigoized DCU, thematically leading to more. But Swamp Thing's leaked into the so-called normal DCU as well. When Moore changed Swamp Thing's paradigm to make him an earth elemental, a guardian answerable to the Parliament of Trees, he created the need for other elemental guardians. Soon, Firestorm was named fire elemental, Red Tornado air elemental, and a creature called Naiad became water elemental. Aquaman would eventually take over that mantle, and there was even talk of Captain Atom as a quantum elemental. Swamp Thing's "rules" had become DC's "rules".

But there's another important concept that was part of Swamp Thing's bubble, and that's the Green. The Green can be described as a dimension that connects all plant life - part teleporting matter stream, part collective consciousness (manifested as the Parliament), part dreamtime. It might have stopped there, but it got a mythological boost when the Green went to war against the Gray, which represents all fungal life, and in a sense the decay of plant life. All of a sudden, the DCU is overlaid with more than one nature-based continuum. Jamie Delano's take on Animal Man, for example, made him draw his powers directly from the Red, representing all animal life.

In the final months of the series, pre-WTF Mark Millar, possibly working from Grant Morrison's notes, took all this to its logical extreme by having Swamp Thing meet and become the champion of other Parliaments: Stones, Waves, Vapours and Flames. The Parliament of Stones, for example, exists in the Melt, and so on.
When he is of all elements, he essentially becomes Gaia herself.
But wait, it doesn't stop there.
The Parliament of Worlds. Or enlightened Worlds, actually, which seems to mean planets where life has evolved. Perhaps our own consciousness is a product of our world's own evolving consciousness. Represented in the Parliament is Earth, Mars and Oa (the others are not named). And unfortunately, that's the last issue of the series, offering a development that creates a fine permanent ending for the character, but sadly abandonned when he invariably made a return. The bubble has burst.

But why? Swamp Thing became too powerful? I could easily imagine a Swamp Thing book built like Vertigo's other star, Sandman, with the various natural continua as the Dreaming. Alec still tries to live a "normal life" with Abby, but is embroiled in fantastic stories as Earth/Gaia is undermined by evil forces. There's political maneuvering among the various Parliaments (think of Swamp Thing as President, the Parliaments as States and the Worlds as the UN). It opens up a ton of stories on the macro scale too as, say, the Worlds get together once a century to honor their fallen comrade Krypton.

In the end, perhaps Swamp Thing's Bubble World became to ambitious to be allowed to leak out into the DCU.


Jeff R. said...

The 'DCU-ish vertigo' bubble was fragile enough to start with, with extreme difficulty reconciling the version of Hell in Swamp Thing and Sandman with the one in Hellblazer...

Siskoid said...

Well, I see it more as a partition than a bubble (bubbles expand a character's world within the shared universe, partitions cut them off from it), but how are the versions of Hell any different than the multiple Earths?

Other dimensions, many of them "hellish", all of them possibly existing as "THE" Hell. I don't have a problem with it, and Season in the Mists (in Sandman) had Lucifer make a point about each person getting the Hell they create for themselves, which is as good a justification for the multiple Hells as any.

Jeff R. said...

I was speaking more about the politics than the landscape, in which Gaiman and the various Hellblazer writers continually attempted to claim that the guy in their book was really in charge. (Hellblazer followed Moore's lead with the triumverate originally, then Sandman elevated Lucifer's position and power well above the others and made it an indulgence of his to pretend to share rule, then Hellblazer brought in an independent 'Satan' who's position relative to the others was never clear or consistent. And of course, all of them almost always studiously ignored the Original Darkness in the corner...

Batiduende said...

I don't want to split hairs but... Okay, I do want to split hairs. I don't think Swamp Thing is the first DCU bubble world. Something I always loved about the DCU was its abundance of bubble worlds, but I never had a good name for the concepts until I read this blog. I think Batman and Superman have bubble worlds of their own. Sure, they hang around each other and the rest of DCU more than anybody else, but let's take Batman for example. Batman has his own well defined city where he can have adventures without any other bubble world bursting in. We can even read stories about Batman's bubble that don't have Batman in them, like Gotham Central, or all the Bat-satellite books like Robin and the like. You can completely separate Batman and his bubble from the rest of the DCU and tell a lot of stories.

Siskoid said...

Actually, I agree. DC heroes (as opposed to Marvel's new model) all lived in their own bubble. And that conglomeration of bubbles was or became the DC Universe.

I remember thinking of putting the words "modern age" in there somewhere, because the Silver Age was plenty bubbly.

However, in the first article, I differentiated the outward/backward "bubble" with the dynastic model and contextualizing city concepts already described by Scipio at The Absorbascon. Batman and Superman have large worlds of their own, but their are achieved moreso through supporting cast and contextualizing city than outward/backward "bubbling". Except they've done that too on occasion (the League of Batmen, The Kents mini-series, etc.).

Let's just say I'm still defining my thought on all of this.

Scipio said...

"The DC Universe isn't so much a soft drink full of tiny rising bubbles as it is a lava lamp with bubbles flowing into each other."

And that's the Metaphor of Week!

Siskoid said...

Or of the 4th week of January, but thanks ;)