Lifetime reader of comics and fan of Planet of the Apes. When the two combine I can barely contain myself. Image, Boom and Titan comics fight for shelf space with Doctor Who DVDs.
Due to a cut back in new comic book reading, our contributor Darryll Robson has taken to re-reading chunks of his collection. In this Revisited series he looks back at a selected run of a particular comic to see if they are still worth reading and, for newbies, if they are worth seeking out.
Swamp Thing Revisited
If you saw my last post regarding Animal Man then you can probably guess which Swamp Thing comics I’m looking at here. There are some outstanding examples of Swamp Thing from the past and Alan Moore’s run contains one of my favourite single issue comics of all time.
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However, it’s more New 52 offered up for you now, and after Animal Man you may already know how this is going to end.
Crawling from the mire
One of DCs aims with the New 52 relaunch was to introduce their fringe characters into the main DC Universe. This could prove to be something of a problem. For characters like John Constantine the very adult nature of his adventures was at odds with the more family feel of the superhero comics. This is also true of Swamp Thing because at heart, it’s a horror comic. Some thought that DC would tame their characters but as issue 1 proves, DC were willing to embrace rather than dissolve the horror.
Scott Snyder does something Jeff Lemire didn’t do with Animal Man, he introduces the central character in reference to more established, recognisable faces. Clark Kent, Batman and Aquaman are all seen before Alec Holland and it is Superman’s role to place Holland for the readers in his New 52 situation. However, the recent past is best summed up by Holland himself in issue 4:
“Here’s the last month of my life. I wake up naked in a swamp, back from the dead. I learn that while I was gone a vegetable copy of me was running around, battling monsters for years. And today I’m here with you, trying to save the world from a little boy who’s supposed to be the second coming of Hell on Earth.”
It all sounds very exciting. Unfortunately, it’s not. Yes, the Rot joins the action very quickly and finds a leader in William Arcane, a disturbed psychopathic child with a taste for destruction but his story is by far more interesting than Alec’s. The first 6 issues see Alec deny and refuse his link to the Green while joining Abigail on a mission to rescue her brother. He sits around complaining that he wants nothing to do with the force that took everything from him while a string of characters all explain stuff at him. And that’s what it feels like for a large proportion of these early issues; people telling Alec what the Green means and why he should be a part of it. Next issue someone else will do it again. And again.
When I first read Swamp Thing, when it came out in 2011, I don’t remember having this feeling but maybe that’s because I read it each month, as it came out. By reading it on mass, issue after issue, this monotonous repetition becomes glaringly obvious. The saving grace is the art work. First by the extremely talented Yanick Paquette and then taken up by Marco Rudy. The character portrayals are full of life and expression which makes some of the body horror sequences that much more uncomfortable. The panel design and layouts are some of the most interesting from this time. The regular style boarders are distorted and mutilated to create a more chaotic page representing the uncontrollable horror. Further down the line, flora and fauna make up the gutters to illustrate the nature of the Green. This design work gives these issues something worth spending time on and makes the arrival of Swamp Thing himself that much more exciting.
Now, with wings.
Spruced up and coated in a new bark based armour, Swamp Thing finally arrives on the scene and he’s busting to get into a fight. The Rot have Abigail and Alec wants her back. To start with Scott Snyder uses the new look Swampy very well, he’s an efficient fighter who can use his surroundings and his powers to the best of his ability. And Paquette’s layouts are superb. The Queen of Rot, the creature that Abigail has become, is too comical to be really scary and would look more at home in a Clive Baker novel however, the infiltration and rescue is satisfying.
And then, issue 10. I’m afraid to say that issue 10 nearly stopped me reading. This issue has a lot of content. It has Abigail’s origin, it contains the sneaky rewrite for the Parliament of Trees demise (they hadn’t been destroyed after all, Swampy had saved them when no-one was looking) and it has an awful commentary by Anton Arcane. The big bad is introduced into the series, reborn and as evil as ever. None of this is particularly bad except so much of it doesn’t make sense or is nothing more than easy narrative. The worst part is the narration which doesn’t fit with the story that is ultimately told. It isn’t like the Animal Man 0 issue where something written a year later doesn’t tie up, this doesn’t tie up in the actual issue. The reader is expected to thing that Anton is standing over Swamp Thing, waiting for Abigail to return and then he explains “She’s so close I can feel her in my flesh. In my Teeth. In my fingernails. In fact….I have to be going. My Abigail is here.” Unfortunately to anyone that can read, the flashback story goes on to show Anton is waiting at the location in the Swamp where he confronts Swamp Thing. He waits for Abigail to leave then goes to kill Swampy. It may seem like a little thing but this contradiction is a problem throughout the series. Little bits here and there don’t add up and reading it in bulk highlights the bumpy narrative.
But not to worry, a quick fight with Anton and Animal Man’s family turn up to herald in the Rotworld crossover.
The Rotworld Cossover.
I covered this in Animal Man Revisited. Rot World sucks. Although, if truth be told, Rot World is slightly better in Swamp Thing than it is in Animal Man which is a bit of a surprise. Maybe it’s because the standard in Swamp Thing has been lower from the beginning, I’m not sure, but the narrative is easier to read in these pages.
Following Alec around the decimated, rotten world in an attempt to find out what happened isn’t the chore that Buddies journey was. There are some satisfying moments and Swamp Thing feels more at home in the cheesy post-apocalyptic world the writers have created.
But Rot World is a perfect example of why I eventually stopped reading Scott Snyder’s work. The build-up feels very well planned out, each issue has a purpose leading the characters onto the next issue. However, Snyder seems to have a real problem writing satisfying endings. Great build-up followed by great build-up then a damp squid as an ending. The finale of Rot World is obvious from the beginning and it is an unsatisfying read, especially as the build up here isn’t that good. But if you look at Snyders other work at the time, on Batman and American Vampire you will find the same disappointing endings.
Issue 18 of Swamp Thing could have redeemed a little bit of the story but unlike Animal Man, I was left cold by the eventual finale. It was an easy decision to cancel New 52 Swamp Thing and I have only reread it now because of rereading Animal Man. There are some good elements within the run and the Art is worth looking over as it makes the comic stand out against the usual DC fare. But other than that, there are much better Swamp Thing stories still in print.
Did you read the New 52 Swamp Thing? Are you a fan of Snyder and think I’ve got the wrong end of the stick? Let us know in the comments below.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he might use his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson