You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you also can’t judge a series by its first issue. Case in point: Swamp Thing #1. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had anticipated. I was also totally distracted by Paquette’s bulky rendering of Superman’s new costume. For that matter, having Superman converse extensively with Alec Holland was unnecessary and had me thinking more about the changes to his character than Swamp Thing. Then there was the ending – Swamp Thing shows up to visit Alec! What?! How is that even possible? So, I was deliberating on whether or not to axe Swamp Thing from my pull list, since I had already decided to pick up Synder’s excellent Batman series. I’m glad I stuck around for the second issue, because it was PHENOMENAL!!!
If I had to sum up the book in one word (using a noun, not an adjective), it would be EXPLANATIONS! The swamp creature is communicating with Alec through some vines and shows him how he died as a human being. He used to be a British fighter pilot named Calbraith A. H. Rodgers when he was gunned down during World War II at the age of 22. Badly burned, he crash lands into a swamp, where the “green” starts to envelop him before he takes his last breath, turning him into a Swamp Thing. After he served his time as earth’s elemental, he choose to take a permanent rest with the Parliament of Trees (remember them?). Now, he’s uprooted himself and traveled very far to give Alec an important message.
Unfortunately, Alec doesn’t want to listen. He’s had enough of weird dreams and memories and the toll the “green” has taken on his life. The Swamp Thing is very insistent and desperate, agreeing to Alec’s terms: If Alec hasn’t changed his mind about helping the “green” after hearing what the creature has to say, then the Parliament and its members can NEVER bother him again. Alec sees the vision of what’s coming -- A terrifying being named Sethe that brings rot and decay, having caused the death of millions over the ages by devastating humanity with plagues. He’s on the move right now, enlisting agents in his gruesome army of head-twisted, blood spattered victims. Even women and children aren’t spared. It’s a horrific sight and not for the squeamish. Alec doesn’t understand why he’s being asked to help or even how he would be able to. The creature wants Alec to become Swamp Thing.
This is the brilliant part of the plot folks…we’re talking Alan Moore revolutionary “You were never Alec Holland” type brilliance. Only this time, it’s the exact opposite: “You were never Swamp Thing.” It’s such a simple idea, but it works perfectly. To become a true Swamp Thing, you need to start with an almost dead human body. “This fusion of man to green is what gives the Swamp Thing its greatest strength – Restraint.” Alec had been marked as the “chosen one” for awhile to combat the Sethe; however, the chemical explosion prevented him from becoming Swamp Thing. So, the Parliament used Alec’s consciousness to create the all-plant Swamp Thing, we all know and love. “None of us knows the Swamp Thing you might be. He has never been seen.” This totally blew my mind away and doesn’t detract a jot or tittle from all the stories that went on before. The creature risked it all to convince Alec and is now slowly wasting away. Before he expires completely, he warns Alec about the woman from his dreams – the one with white hair.
Next we get some disturbing images of Alec’s motel manager coming after him with an axe, her head sickeningly twisted around. She’s not the only one either, it seems like the whole town has been mutilated and is now after him. The extensiveness of the macabre death and destruction is the only drawback to the story (for me anyway). However, it makes the villain all the more threatening and the need for Swamp Thing paramount. Alec is rescued from the melee by a helmeted gun-totting girl on a motorcycle. When they stop and he begins to thank her, she removes her helmet, revealing her shortly cropped white hair and identifies herself as Abigail Arcane. She points a gun at him and you know she intends to shoot him dead so he’ll become Swamp Thing.
AWESOME, AWESOME, AWESOME!!! And I haven’t even talked about the art yet.
The art is BEYOND exceptional. Yanick’s storytelling is wonderfully fluid. The page layouts are fantastic (several of them being two-page spreads), consisting of widely varied shapes (like the cell structure of a plant) that lead you perfectly to the next panel. The panel borders themselves are visually interesting: thin tree limbs for most of the Swamp Thing portions and a thick red-black splattered mess for the horror scenes. There are only a handful of borders that are actually “traditional”. Paquette’s figure work is great and he handles a wide range of facial expressions too. I can’t forget to mention the fantastic coloring of Nathan Fairbairn either, ranging from pleasant greens to ghoulish reds. Just look at the cover image for an example.
I also really enjoyed the little homage details in the story. We see a Wrightson Diner with an Alan Moore-ish guy in a booth. Alec is staying at the Totleben’s Motel and Abigail is riding a Bissette motorcycle.
Like I said…phenomenal.
GRADE A+: When weeding through the crop of new fifty-two’s, Swamp Thing is already growing tall and flowering into greatness.
Boy, it sure is easier to write reviews about books you love!