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Recap / Swamp Thing Annual No. 2: "Down Amongst the Dead Men"

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"Now, gather to me, creature of the fen,
And we shall walk, as one, beyond those walls
'Midst shrieking maids and sobbing gentlemen.
The gates swing open! The Inferno calls!"
Etrigan

The day after Arcane's death, Swamp Thing continues to mourn Abby, wishing he could follow her into the afterlife and bring her back. Then he recalls that he's able to leave his body and the material plane, having done so when he first learned he wasn't Holland. So he relaxes and enters the Green once more.

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Resisting the temptation to stay there, he wills himself past that realm and into another, which seems oddly empty, except for a mother and son who've just died in a car accident but soon head towards a light and disappear from his view. The ghostly superhero Deadman appears and introduces himself, as on Earth the Swamp Thing's only met him through the bodies of those Deadman has possessed in the course of his duties. He tells the Swamp Thing they're in the Realm of the Just Dead, and upon learning Swamp Thing's purpose, offers to help him look for Abby there.

With no sign of Abby, Deadman suggests Swamp Thing try Heaven, even though he's not allowed to accompany him there. At that moment, The Phantom Stranger, whom the Swamp Thing knows, appears and volunteers as his guide. Although Abby isn't there either, the Swamp Thing does meet the real Alec Holland, who thanks him for burying his skeleton and thereby freeing him from the Realm of the Just Dead. The Swamp Thing declines the opportunity to meet Linda, however.

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There remains only one realm to try: Hell, where Arcane had said he'd sent Abby. As Hell lies beyond the border between order and chaos, the Stranger tells the Swamp Thing they must seek permission to proceed from its guardian, The Spectre. This entity claims, however, that if Abby's been consigned to Hell, then justly or not, she must stay there, as allowing the dead to return would render life meaningless. "Then what of Jim Corrigan?" asks the Stranger, referring to the Spectre's once-human identity. Amused, the Spectre concedes his point and lets them pass.

At the gates of Hell, the Stranger says that the Swamp Thing must enter alone, "otherwise, how could it truly be Hell?" Then Etrigan shows up and, out of gratitude for the Swamp Thing's help defeating the Monkey King, offers to be his guide anyway, asking as payment only a flower, from the edge of Heaven, that the Stranger had picked for his lapel. Once through the gates, the demon plants the flower so that its beauty will make the Inferno seem even more horrible by comparison.

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As Etrigan asks some demons whether they've seen Abby, the Swamp Thing and Sunderland unexpectedly spot each other. Although responsible for his death, Swamp Thing is horrified at his old enemy's plight. In contrast, he's grimly satisfied to see Arcane there, a mountainous pile of insect eggs hatching inside him. Arcane gloats that he's had his revenge, and claims that while Abby is up ahead, the swamp creature won't want her when he sees her. Then he asks how many years he's been there. "Since yesterday," says the Swamp Thing. Arcane screams in despair.

The Swamp Thing finds Abby, in silent pain and horror, surrounded by demons who want a piece of her, but otherwise intact. He and Etrigan briefly fight off the demons, until Etrigan urges him to pick up his friend and run while he opens a portal. The demons, joined by Arcane, give chase. The portal back to the land of the living is open, but the livid Arcane has the Swamp Thing and Abby in his tentacles. Etrigan kicks them free, then bids them farewell, assuring the Swamp Thing that Abby won't remember her time there.

Once through the portal, the Swamp Thing returns to his body, and so does Abby. She opens her eyes and wonders out loud what she's doing out in the snow. And why "Alec" is crying.


Tropes:

  • Afterlife Antechamber: The Realm of the Just Dead. Deadman explains that no one remains here long unless they're too stunned to realize they've died. Then there's Alec Holland, who became fixated on his unburied corpse and got stuck between this realm and Earth, until the Swamp Thing finally buried his skeleton, freeing Alec to enter Heaven.
  • Alien Geometries: Etrigan invokes these in a spell to open a portal from Hell to Earth:
    Thou quantum imps and cherubs by whose dance
    Is substance formed to shape the fields we know
    Your perfect waltz that conjures form from chance
    Must pause to free us from these wastes below.
    By root of minus nine and circle squared
    Set right and true against dimensions three
    Let our ill-angled passage be prepared
    Between the folds of rare geometry.
  • Alone in a Crowd: The Spectre says that there are no friends in Hell, as it's too large. Inverted with Alec Holland's statement that there are no strangers in Heaven, because it's too small.
  • Angrish: Arcane manifests this trope as he tries to stop the Swamp Thing from undoing his revenge: "IHATEYOUDIESCUMKILLYOUMURDER EATYOURBRAINS HATE TEAR YOUR HEARTKILLYOU DEADDEADDEAD"
  • Astral Projection: For the second time, but not the last, the Swamp Thing leaves his body and enters other planes of existence.
  • Back from the Dead: In the previous issue, Matt revived and repaired Abby's body. In this one, the Swamp Thing restores her soul and thereby her consciousness.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Abby's been in Hell a little longer than her uncle. But whereas he's already far more deformed than ever, she's still physically unscathed.
  • Big "NO!": The Swamp Thing reacts this way when the Spectre says Abby must remain in Hell.
  • Breath Weapon: Etrigan breathes Hellfire at a three-headed demon who accuses him of having "grown soft with mortals." He then uses this power (which another, frightened, demon calls the "exhalation infernal") to form a sigil that opens a portal to Earth.
  • Canon Welding: While Moore would continue with it all throughout Swamp Thing, this is arguably where the Vertigo Comics tradition of binding the DCU's more obscure magical characters into a single system began. It would be taken to even greater heights in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and The Books of Magic, among other publications.
  • Continuity Nod: The Swamp Thing politely turns down Alec's invitation to meet Linda. This is a subtle reference to his earlier decision, while rooted in the swamp and transitioning out of his human identity, to let go of his attachment to a woman who was never his wife after all.
  • Foreshadowing: The Spectre identifies the Swamp Thing on sight as an "Earth elemental," and the demon Rundelthratt recognizes him as "some elemental" after getting a blood-drawing punch in the nose from him. (Compare Arcane, in the previous issue, wondering whether the swamp creature's ability to hurt him means he possesses "some elemental force.") Several issues later, the Swamp Thing will begin to learn what an Earth elemental is, and what it means for him.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Entering Heaven, the Swamp Thing sees a lush, green mountain range with a river flowing through. The Stranger informs him this is just one of Heaven's aspects: "Heaven has as many semblances as there are creeds...as there are souls."
  • God's Hands Are Tied: Part of the Self-Inflicted Hell theodicy Etrigan explains:
    God is no parent or policeman grim
    Dispensing treats or punishments to all.
    Each soul climbs or descends by its own whim.
    He mourns, but he cannot prevent their fall.
  • Godly Sidestep: The Swamp Thing is surprised to hear Deadman speak of God as female and call her "Rama Kushna."note  He's surprised once again when the Stranger refers to God as male. The Stranger explains that Brand is a relatively young spirit and thus knows only one aspect of the infinite Deity. The story is silent on where, if anywhere, the DCU's Supreme Beingnote  actually falls on the gender spectrum.
  • Go into the Light: The woman Swamp Thing encounters in the Realm of the Just Dead is confused and distraught until her young son, Jerry, who was in the car with her, turns up. He, in contrast, is calm and cheerful because it hasn't been that long since he was last there. Jerry reassures his mother and leads her into the light.
  • Go to Your Room!: An instance of the common "I'm already in my room" subversion. The Stranger attempts to stop Etrigan from accompanying the Swamp Thing into Hell, as it's against the rules. The demon responds, "The rules? And if I break these rules, pray tell / Shall I be punished? Sent, perhaps, to Hell?"
  • Heroic Resolve: The Swamp Thing fights the temptation to abandon his quest and return to the blissful oblivion of the Green.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Abby, upon coming back to life, has no memory of her time in Hell. Justified, in that even a short stay there would likely be so traumatizing that she would otherwise come back insane, leading to a Face–Heel Turn, her removal from the story, a protracted recovery plotline, or some other outcome Moore preferred to avoid.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Several demons mockingly call Etrigan "Half-a-Man," referring to his bond with Jason Blood. Muttlecraunch, seeing Etrigan planting a flower, adds the gendered insult that he's now "Half a Woman."
  • Neutrality Backlash: Etrigan teasingly hints that the Phantom Stranger is a former angel who's refused to choose sides in the ongoing conflict between Heaven and Hell, which is why he walks the Earth. Although the Stranger angrily calls this a "distortion," he does tell the Swamp Thing earlier that Heaven is no longer his home. Moore would later expand on this idea for one of the Stranger's possible origin stories in Secret Origins #10.
  • Noble Demon: Etrigan helps rescue Abby, even fighting his own kind in the process, not because he cares about her, nor the injustice of her being there, but because the Swamp Thing once did him a favour and this is his way of repaying him.
  • Non-Answer: The Phantom Stranger tells Deadman he comes wherever he's required. When Deadman asks, "Required by who?", the Stranger just smiles.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Spectre behaves like this at first, stating that once in Hell, Abby must stay there whether she deserves it or not, because it's forbidden for the dead to come back. He relents when the Stranger points out that Corrigan came back as the Spectre.
  • Orphean Rescue / To Hell and Back: The Swamp Thing journeys to and from Hell in order to rescue Abby.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The Realm of the Just Dead is home to Poltergeists, which in this story resemble giant brains with tendrils that enable them to feed on strong emotions from the land of the living.
  • Put on a Bus: This is Arcane's last appearance during Moore's run, with one exception, a Filler issue (#59) by Stephen Bissette, in which the character is shown still among the damned.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: When the Spectre says that Abby must stay in Hell, the Swamp Thing flies into such a fury that the Stranger restrains him for his own good, given that the guardian is, in this setting, nearly the most powerful entity in all existence.
  • Reasoning with God: The Stranger manages to change the mind of a nearly omnipotent, and stubborn, cosmic entity by pointing out that he himself is an exception to the "no resurrection" rule he invokes.
  • Reincarnation: Souls in Heaven have the option to reincarnate if they wish. Linda Holland is eager, but Alec, given the horrific end to his previous life, is reluctant.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: The Swamp Thing, mortified at Sunderland's fate, asks Etrigan how God could permit such a place as Hell. The demon answers:
    Think you God built this place, wishing man ill
    And not lusts uncontrolled or swords unsheathed?
    Not God, my friend. The truth's more hideous still:
    These halls were carved by men while yet they breathed.
  • Shout-Out
    • Although not directly quoted, The Divine Comedy influences the plot structure. The Swamp Thing visits three regions of the afterlife, with a different guide for each. However, the Realm of the Just Dead is substituted for Purgatory.
    • The backgrounds in the Hell sequence show the influence of The Last Judgement triptych by Hieronymus Bosch.
    • The "friends...and other strangers" part of the Phantom Stranger's opening line is taken from the Bob Dylan song "Gates of Eden." Appropriate for the "Paradise" segment.
    • The Stranger says he's long since become a "stranger in paradise." This is an allusion to the song "Strangers in Paradise" from the musical adaptation of Kismet.
    • Etrigan refers to Hell as "yon dark Satanic mill," referencing the William Blake poem, "And did those feet in ancient time."
  • Suckiness Is Painful: The demon Muttlecraunch apparently thinks little of Etrigan's rhyming. Preparing to rip out his slave Sunderland's tongue (again), he says jokingly, "We can't have you offending Lord Etrigan's guest! Why, he might read us some more of his poems!"
  • Theory of Narrative Causality: Lampshaded in the introductory narration: "There are people. There are stories. The people think they shape the stories, but the reverse is often closer to the truth."
  • This Isn't Heaven: Downplayed. The Swamp Thing mistakes the Realm of the Just Dead for Heaven. Noticing how deserted it is, he doesn't have an Oh, Crap! realization, but does wonder whether there was no one good enough to deserve Heaven.
  • Together in Death: Alec has finally joined Linda in Heaven, at least for now. She exercises her reincarnation option in Issue 66; he's content to wait for her return.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Arcane has one when he learns he's only been in Hell for a day, and then another when he sees that the Swamp Thing is about to succeed in his rescue of Abby.
  • The Voiceless: While still in Hell, Abby is visibly in agony, but uncharacteristically silent until she returns to her body. Given that the other damned and tortured individuals shown, Sunderland and Arcane, do speak, it's not clear whether Hell has rendered her wholly unable to speak or even scream or merely Dumb Struck. Or whether having her speak would've slowed down the momentum as the story approached its climax.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Arcane's only been in Hell a day, but it feels to him like years have gone by. Having a mountain's worth of eggs constantly hatching inside you will do that.

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