- If you are... asked to do something that ...will change you... in a way you do not wish... to be changed... That will compromise... the person you believe... yourself to be... say no.
- -- Swamp Thing
Appearing in "Lessons Learned"
- Parliament of Trees (Flashback and main story)
Synopsis for "Lessons Learned"
Long ago, the only form of life on earth had been plants, using only sunlight and carbon dioxide for sustenance. Eventually, though, a new kind of life developed in connection with The Red. In order to defend themselves from these new creatures that fed on them, the plants chose one of their own to protect them; to prevent the Red's creatures from growing too strong. This protector was the Avatar of The Green. Over the eons, there were many such avatars, and when each finished its work - by choice or otherwise - they were allowed to sink back into the Green to live out eternity.
The greatest threat to the Green's dominance on earth was only a recent development: intelligence. While the Green sent its avatars to prevent the spread of intelligence, a few avatars against an entire race of beings were ineffectual. So, the Green turned to its own well of intelligence - the collective memories of past avatars. From that intelligence, the Green created the first Parliament of Trees, comprised of avatars brought back from their final repose, meant to instruct each new champion. Their role was also to find avatars, as no one avatar could remain one forever. A replacement would always be needed, and so replacements were always being prepared for the role.
Having sought guidance in the Green, Alec Holland, the current avatar, learns that there are two secrets of the Parliament of trees. Firstly, they decide when it is time to replace an avatar. They have only ever made it seem as though the avatar decided for itself. Secondly, the parliament is not one omniscient body. It is a Parliament in more than name, with dissenting voices within. The Parliament makes its avatars feel as though their creation was a matter of destiny, preordained for all time.
Alec's informer was once an avatar himself, called the Wolf. He explains that within the Parliament, there are many who appreciate the ruthlessness of Jason Woodrue, believing him to be the best choice for avatar. Alec, though, can't imagine why the Parliament would want to choose someone who uses the Green to benefit humanity, rather than plant-life. Wolf assures him that if Woodrue were chosen, the voice of the Green would speak to him, and it would be hard to disobey that voice. Alec understands that, as he too has heard the voice of the Green, demanding that he take actions that are morally questionable, and he has had to resist it in the past. Fortunately, Wolf is firmly on Alec's side - but he believes Alec needs more instruction. Talent and instinct alone will not get him as far as he needs to go. Though Alec is skeptical, Wolf reminds that the worst that could happen is that he meets some interesting individuals.
Though he himself is fearful, Wolf sends Alec on his way to face the Lady Weeds on his own. Floating down a long river, Alec eventually comes to a stop in great cavern. Calling out to the Lady Weeds, he receives insults in response. The voice comments that he is the avatar that likes to almost die. She explains that his getting into situations that nearly result in his death is unnecessary - so clearly he must be doing it on purpose. Angrily, Alec responds that he won't be spoken to like that, and warns her to come out and show him whatever lesson she has to tell - or face the consequences. Taunting him, she appears as a small flower, and dares him to rip her up. He hesitates, and she takes the opportunity to leap through his chest, and suddenly expand into a mass of sharp roots and tendrils, tearing him to pieces.
Angrily, Alec reconstitutes himself, warning that she has put herself on his enemies list. She is unconcerned, reminding that she has all the same powers that he has - and the knowledge of how best to use them, to boot. She explains that the precious body he prizes is not him. his body is the entire earth. The form with which he chooses to walk the earth is merely the expression of his own idea of himself. He is no longer a human being. He is every blade of grass. Lady Weeds instructs him to create a construct for her of grass, if only to demonstrate that he understands how much he can be. Alec responds that not thinking of himself as a person would be turning his back on all that he has left of himself. Cruelly, she warns that the Seeder will be taking the opposite approach.
Annoyed, Alec attempts to be in two places at once, slowly creating another body for himself. What he creates, though, is the form of a man. Tutting, Lady Weeds reminds that he needs to get out of his own head, because he is neglecting his true potential. He is not merely powerful; he is all powerful. The Parliament only believes the Seeder has a chance of succeeding Alec because Alec is weak. If Alec could understand how strong he truly was, Jason Woodrue would not be a threat at all.
By way of explanation, Lady Weeds tells a story. The Parliament's setting Avatars to compete against one another for the title is not a new development. Years ago, she had her own ribal, and though he was quite powerful, he was only a man inside. He did not understand what it really meant to be an avatar. She destroyed him. Even so, she knew that the Parliament would continue to send rivals if she could not show the Green that there could be no stronger champion than she. Though she had defeated the rival, she made a symbolic gesture, returning to his home-country of Ireland, and altering its primary crop so that it would be slightly more susceptible to a certain type of fungus. The Green understood the message she sending, and did not send another challenger. In the process, she had caused the Great Potato Famine, killing nearly one million humans.
With that, she warns that until he learns this lesson, Alec will not be allowed to leave her domain, and grumpily, he sits down, and tries to concentrate. After a time, he announces that he is ready. Skeptically, Lady Weeds wonders if he thinks he is prepared to fight his way out. He responds that he has finally learned that he doesn't need to get out, conjuring a great fist of vegetable matter to crush her. He is already out. Satisfied, Lady Weeds wishes Alec Luck at his next appointment, which promises to be even more trying.
Alec floats out, and rendezvous with Wolf again. Despite his success, Alec warns that he won't do all that Lady Weeds told him he should. Killing millions of humans for the sake of sending a message is not something he would ever agree to. Wolf responds that if Alec will not, the Seeder certainly will, gesturing across the river to another boat, where Jason Woodrue is being guided by his own patrons into Lady Weeds' cave as well. It seems unfair to Alec that Woodrue should receive the same instruction, but Wolf warns that where they go next Woodrue cannot go.
Wolf leads Alec to a structure created entirely of blue vegetation, and explains that he will not enter this place out of respect. Alec wanders into the blue world and finds that it is all very familiar. In fact, it appears to be an exact replica of his home town of Houma, Louisiana - made of this blue vegetation. There, he is greeted by a blue an avatar of this blue vegetation, whom Alec realizes is his predecessor, the Swamp Thing, whose memories he gained when he was brought back to life. Angrily, Alec lashes out at him, complaining that if the plant that thought it was a man had been good enough, he wouldn't have been needed. Allowing his anger to get the better of him, Alec tears the replica of Houma apart, claiming that it should be his. Seeing what he has done, Alec suddenly drops to his knees, apologizing. The Swamp Thing had been a perfect tool of the Green because he lacked humanity, even so, he had resisted, and now the Parliament reveres him for it. Swamp Thing explains that his method was no great secret. If he is ever asked to do something that would change him in a way that he would not wish to be changed; something that will compromise the person he believes himself to be, he can say no.
Alec emerges from the blue world to find Wolf waiting for him, and the older avatar explains that all Alec has to do is emulate the Swamp Thing, and he can win. Smiling, Alec tells himself, "No."
- The blue vegetation that the original Swamp Thing has built a life from is the same vegetation that he encountered while trapped in space, as seen in Swamp Thing Vol 2 #56.
- No trivia.
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