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Recap / Swamp Thing Volume 2 - Issue 29: "Love and Death"

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"How long have I been married to...? How many times did...?"
Abby Cable

Abby, for the first time in weeks, visits the Swamp Thing. She apologizes for her continued habit of calling him "Alec," and says she'd been worried he no longer liked her as a result. He assures her it's no longer a problem, and that she can keep calling him Alec if it's easier.

Matt tells Abby he has three surprises for her, and takes her to see the first of these: their palatial, completely furnished new house. Disregarding the fleeting burnt-insect smell from the bedroom, she asks her husband how they can afford this home on just her salary.

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The answer is Matt's second surprise: his new office job at Blackriver Recorporations. He takes her there so she can meet his boss, Eric Loveday, and coworkers. The building also has a burnt-insect smell. At first glance, his four coworkers look to her like decaying zombies, only for them to assume human form a split-second later. Abby goes dizzy at what she takes to have been a hallucination, then shrugs it off and meets "the whole sick crew," including the young, beautiful secretary Sally Parks, "whose name sound[s] familiar." Afterward, she asks Matt what his third surprise is; he says he'll save it for later. They go back to their new home. Abby, taken with Matt's newfound sobriety, confidence and charm, makes love to him.

Some time later, Abby visits the local public library to do research on autism for her job. In the psychology section, she accidentally comes across a True Crime book, Deadlier Than the Male, about—Sally Parks, complete with the Blackriver secretary's photo on the front cover. She borrows the book and takes it home to read, learning that the "young" Parks was a psychopath who killed fifteen people over three months in 1962 before the police shot her dead. This prompts Abby to wonder who else from Matt's workplace might be returned from the dead. Could that include Matt himself?

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Abby ponders her husband's abrupt personality change and miraculous ability to "pull jobs and houses out of nowhere." She notes that he's been different since the night of the Monkey King attack, even since they lived in West Virginia. This in turn leads Abby to recall a certain cataclysmic death toward the end of their West Virginia stay, and with that, everything clicks. She realizes that Blackriver Recorporations and its staff are a ruse, and who's assumed control of her husband's body...and who by now has slept with her several times, thereby "contaminating" Abby herself with the burnt-insect odour.

Mad with revulsion and horror, Abby tears off her clothes and tries to burn them, then uses up all the soap in the shower, then all her perfume, and finally resorts to scouring her skin with a wire potato brush, all in a futile attempt to cleanse herself of the smell. She passes out and dreams of the last few weeks' events, including the Swamp Thing coming across a dead bird that is nonetheless moving about as though alive.

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Waking, and coming to her senses, Abby hurriedly dresses and prepares to flee...just as "Matt" comes home with his "boss" and "coworkers," all of them now sporting evil smiles. She tries to excuse herself, but they're blocking her way, so she stammers out that she knows who "Matt" really is, and asks rhetorically what he wants her to say. "Well, that's easy," he says, taking hold of her as the others revert to their true zombie forms. "Just say uncle." In the background, the reader can see an image of her uncle Anton Arcane's fly-ridden corpse and exoskeleton.

Meanwhile, the Swamp Thing picks up the dead bird and finds that the reason it appears to be alive is that it's full of writhing bugs.


Tropes:

  • Awful Truth: "Matt's" third surprise: he's actually Arcane in Matt's body. No wonder he saves that one for later.
  • Bed Trick: Arcane sleeps with his niece in the guise of her husband.
  • Creator Cameo: Moore, Bissettenote  and Totlebennote  appear in a photograph within Deadlier Than the Male, carrying away the covered body of one of Parks's victims.
  • Defying the Censors: When the Comics Code Authority rejected this issue due to its central incest / necrophilia plot point, DC simply published it, and all subsequent issuesnote  without the CCA Seal of Approval.
  • Defiled Forever: Abby, in her madness, fears this is the result of her uncle raping her. Played with, in that her fear has nothing to do with her supposed moral ruin, as in straight instances of this trope, but with the more Primal Fear of contamination by something unclean.
  • Demonic Possession: Arcane, of Matt's body.
  • Evil Uncle: The returned Arcane, now more evil than ever.
  • Flies Equals Evil: Foreshadowed in the two previous issues, and played more explicitly here with the burnt-insect stench, the flies circling the undead individuals in their true form, the insects which "animate" the dead bird, and most of all through the red-and-black flies, insects and other creepy-crawlies which pervade Abby's dreams and the panel gutters.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Abby's realization that she's been sleeping with her uncle drives her temporarily insane and makes her go to extreme lengths to eradicate her "contamination."
  • How We Got Here: The issue opens with a description of Abby's mad attempts to cleanse herself and, on the splash page, a bug-littered image of her naked, curled up in a foetal position and unconscious, just before the climax in which Arcane reveals himself. The events in between are presented, in chronological order, through Abby's dreams.
  • Meaningful Name: Blackriver Recorporations.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Downplayed. Twice, the bedroom mirror appears, tiny, in the background, revealing that "Matt's" reflection has a Skull for a Head.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The zombie Blackriver staff, presumably thanks to Arcane's new power, are able to assume the appearance they had when alive.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: When Abby runs out of soap and perfume, she attempts to remove the "contaminating" stench by scrubbing her skin raw and bloody until she passes out.
  • Plot Parallel: The dead bird, which moves because it's full of insects, corresponds to Matt, who would be dead were Arcane not animating his body.
  • Powers via Possession: Arcane possesses Matt's body in order to gain the reality-warping power of Matt's electroshock-altered brain.
  • Pun: "Say uncle" is a now-dated North American slang term, used in play-fighting, meaning "Give up" or "Submit."
  • Renamed the Same: Even though the Swamp Thing no longer thinks of himself as "Alec," now that the real Alec is laid to rest, he tells Abby she can continue calling him that if it's more comfortable for her. This suggests a deepening of their friendship. It also makes it less awkward when the two of them become lovers.
  • The Scottish Trope: The narration refers several times to the pervasive burnt-insect smell, and the greater horror it heralds, as "the bad thing."
  • Serial Killer: Sally Parks. The following issue implies that the other zombies were also this trope when alive.
  • Shout-Out: "The Whole Sick Crew," by which Eric refers to his staff, is an allusion to Benny Profane's eccentric group of friends and hangers-on in the Thomas Pynchon novel V., which deals, fittingly, with an attempt to track down an Ancient Conspiracy.
  • Wham Line: "Just say uncle."

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