“Better late than never,” my Mum often says. Perhaps no one understands this better than comic book fans in Australia. While our peers in America are enjoying this week’s comics and writing new reviews, we’re waiting for our comics to arrive (fingers crossed for tomorrow). And, since I don’t have anything better to do while I wait for said comics, I figured I’d review the one New 52 comic from last week that hasn’t been fully reviewed on read/rant as yet.
“Last but not least,” is another Mum-ism … and that’s also a very apt description of Swamp Thing #1, which was comfortably one of the three best debut issues from the first two weeks of DCnU.
As always, there may be spoilers ahead.
As with Animal Man, my prior knowledge of Swamp Thing is pretty thin. I know, I know. For some, that admission will brand me as a tasteless hack of a comic fan in some people’s books. I’m fully aware that Swamp Thing has a rich and much-loved history, but for whatever reason my only real exposure to the character has been the 1982 film and the end of Brightest Day.
Speaking of which, I didn’t know how to feel about the idea of Vertigo stalwarts Swamp Thing – and John Constantine – making the leap to the mainstream DCU. Sure, it will be interesting to see them interact with other well-known characters, but will it potentially dilute their indy cred?
If this issue is anything to go by, then I don’t think I have too much to worry about. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette (the whole issue looks great and the art conveys the tone of this story very well, with lots of contrasting images and colouring) have done an admirable job of guiding Swamp Thing’s debut in the DCnU.
Opening the issue with images of Clark Kent and his Daily Planet colleagues was a strange choice, and we stop by the Batcave and Aquaman’s underwater realm before finally catching glimpse of Swamp Thing’s alter ego (I know that’s a terrible way to describe the relationship) Alec Holland working on a building site in Louisana. But what those scenes, coupled with Alec’s narration, do is establish very clearly that Swamp Thing is in mainstream DC continuity and he MATTERS. In fact, Alec is important enough that Superman knows who his is – is there any better indication than that?
Shortly into the story, we learn that Alec is in tune with plant life and nature in general. In addition to being able to literally hear plants scream, he’s also a botanist. Also, he’s currently on something of a professional sabbatical, which is why he’s working on a building site in the first place. It seems Alec is trying to run away from something – or a Swamp Thing – in his past.
More exposition is delivered through Alec’s narration, including the revelation that he was working on a bio-restorative formula when a lab explosion killed him. Usually death is the ending, but in Swamp Thing #1 it was merely the beginning … actually, more accurately, before the beginning. He says he “woke up six weeks ago in a swamp”, although it’s unclear what amount of time, if any, elapsed between his death and reawakening.
This is very interesting from a continuity perspective, since it makes me wonder about the events in Brightest Day. I didn’t read the BD follow-up story that focused on Swamp Thing, but the above leads me to wonder if that storyline hasn’t already been at least partly written out of his backstory since he didn’t wake up in a swamp but rather in the Star City forest and he was in the form of Swamp Thing and had to fight a corrupted Swamp Thing (wow, it really was confusing when I think back on it). Anyway, I guess we’ll have to wait for subsequent issues to get answers to these continuity questions.
Back to Swamp Thing #1, earlier in the issue we get a glimpse of trouble brewing – literally – in the form a fairly sinister twister. And later, we see some museum guys are upset about the twister and suspect sabotage of their archeology site by a research assistant. Before they can investigate too much further they stumble upon a monstrosity that’s only really hinted at (but, boy, does it look ugly … and very dead). But what comes next is really, really, really, really freaking creepy. A sinister, little fly insinuates itself into one of the men’s ears, causes his head to twist around 180 degrees, and then seemingly takes control of him, sending him after his colleagues armed with a knife. I watch a lot of horror movies and am close to jaded as any such person can be, but those images are scary.
The issue closes with Alec having a nightmare about his lab accident and transformation into Swamp Thing. He wakes up surrounded by plant life and reacts by grabbing the restorative formula and threatening to destroy it … only to be confronted by Swamp Thing. So is Alec actually Swamp Thing? How does the relationship work? What does Swamp Thing want? And what toll is that going to take on Alec – a man who seemingly would rather just have his old life back? It’s a compelling ending that leaves you asking all the right kinds of questions and definitely wanting more.
There’s not too much more to say, except that if you’re looking for something a bit different then I recommend you add some vegetable matter to your comic book diet.