Swamp Thing has always had some of the most talented writers working on the book since its inception in 1971 (to name a few: Len Wein, Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughn, and that Alan Moore fellow). Protecting the environment from human and supernatural threats has made Swamp Thing one of the go-to characters to deliver a green message. The character was resurrected in the “Brightest Day” storyline, and then re-launched in the New 52. This hardcover collects issues #1-7 and features a resurrected Alec Holland, who was thought to be truly dead, trying to make sense of what it means to be brought back to life.
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy
Publisher: DC Comics
Alec Holland originally mutated into Swamp Thing via a freak lab accident (number 1 cause of superpowers) involving a bio-restorative formula, a bomb and a swamp. For years Alec Holland was Swamp Thing, until Alan Moore rejuvenated the character as an elemental entity that absorbed the personality and memories of Holland. This creature tried its absolute plant best to actually be Alec Holland, and didn’t even consciously realize that it wasn’t the man that fell, all burning and chemical filled, into the swamp all those years ago. Recently Alec Holland was actually resurrected with some of the Swamp Thing’s memories, but as a complete human being who just wants to be left alone. This is where the series kicks off.
This iteration of Swamp Thing might aggravate people who were looking to jump into some animated vegetable matter action right away. This is a slow burn of a storyline where the drama builds and menacing tones are revealed gradually. I applaud Scott Snyder for resisting the temptation to reveal too much too quickly. There is a definite confidence in his writing that probably stems from the critical acclaim of his work on American Vampire and Detective Comics. This means that he takes the time necessary to build the story arc he wants to see, as opposed to one that could possibly be mandated by someone else. Fans who have faith in this are rewarded on every page by the art of Yanick Paquette. Asking us to stick around while Alec Holland gradually but reluctantly accepts a transformation into Swamp Thing is a demand that I, as a reader, had no problem complying with, given the lush natural world he creates.
Furthermore, Yanick Paquette’s artwork doesn’t just detail a natural environment replete with life, it also details the incredible Rot that threatens it all. Life is somewhat meaningless without the prospect of an end to it all, and Paquette’s prospective end is terrifying. The level of detail to which he goes, not just with the characters and the settings, but even the framing of the panels in the book, is hypnotic and occasionally revolting. There is a lot of emphasis, both in the art and the writing, that the plant world is a violent one, and we are made privy to this violence for seven issues straight. It’s a plot point to convince us that the Green is no better than the Red or the Rot, just that it is different. Whether Paquette wants to show us beauty or decay, he never lets the story suffer, instead he enhances it by seemingly upping the ante every issue.
One of the most difficult tricks to pull in comics is to revitalize a character, while keeping the accumulated history of that character intact. There is no simple formula for doing this, but if there were, it would be compounded by the amount of time a character has been around and then multiplied by the exposure that character has received in different mediums. Swamp Thing came into existence over 40 years ago and since then has had 5 volumes of books to his name, two live action movies (the first of which was directed by Wes Craven), a live action cult TV series, a cartoon, video games and action figures. Swamp Thing is one of those characters that has always been a part of the DC universe, but never at a consistent rate. Nevertheless, the character maintains an important pop culture cachet, so much so that any version of the character is critically evaluated at a level not many other comics can aspire to.
Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing is a return to the character’s roots, those being the roots of his pre-Vertigo days. This peels back the grotesque nature that would have necessitated a Mature Readers label, but keeps the horror. The story centers around a sick child, which automatically tugs at the reader’s heart strings, and a reluctant hero, a theme so old that it’s instantly understandable. The book manages to be reminiscent of the best that Swamp Thing has been in the past, and gives the character a unique place in the New DC, one that is similar only to Animal Man (there have been comparisons and connections between the two since the beginning of the New 52). Because of this, there is a definite urge for readers to continue reading Swamp Thing in order to find out where it’s headed. Between the writing and the art there’s always a reason to keep reading this book every month.