No disrespect to "Watchmen," truly a landmark graphic novel, but for me, Alan Moore's finest work in comics lie with DC's muck-encrusted anti-hero Swamp Thing. The first eight issues of Moore's eventual 44-issue run are now collected in hardcover for the first time ever in "Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One."

Those who already own Moore's work in trade paperback may think an upgrade isn't necessary, yet this release boasts his very first issue, #20, which has never been reprinted before, for whatever reason. In a new introduction to this volume, Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein dubs the lost issue as "unfairly overlooked."

And that's true. As awesome as #21, "The Anatomy Lesson," is, #20's "Loose Ends" shows how Swamp Thing was killed. After all, one has to die before being reborn, as "Lesson" depicts with a genuine sense of foreboding "? a feat not often accomplished in the graphic storytelling format.

These stories redefined not only horror comics, but comics as a whole, infusing them with credibility among the literati. Moore's plotting delves deeply into the emotions of sympathetic characters, yet doesn't shy away from the scares "? witness the all-out monster attack on a home for autistic children. He also subverted expectations "? check out the Justice League of America's appearance.

With fabulous, still-influential art largely by Stephen Bissette, these tales remain enchanting ones of love, loss and outright fright, 25 years later. In short, it's a masterwork, finally presented in a package of proper respect.

"?Rod Lott

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