SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Swamp Thing #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
Swamp Thing is a talking plant monster. Alec Holland used to be him, sorta, but now he's just a guy who gets regular checkups from Superman like any old regular dude. That is, until creepy things start happening...

Nick Hanover:
Shawn Hill:
Jamil Scalese:
Michael Deeley:




Nick Hanover:


Earlier this week, the AV Club, home to exactly the kind of audience DC is hoping to lure in now, published the second entry in their Crosstalk feature on the DC Relaunch. In it, Oliver Sava asked whether Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette's new Swamp Thing "will hold up to [Alan] Moore's legacy." As bold of a question as that is, there are more than a few reasons why it's relevant and perhaps even fair.

When Moore took over Swamp Thing, the character was in flux, forced back into a series as an attempt to capitalize on the Wes Craven film about the character. The series was in dire straits before Moore was given the reins, which is exactly why he was given the title. It's important to remember that at this point, Snyder is a far more established writer than Moore was then and that he has the benefit of not only Moore's work for reference but also of being at the heart of what has turned out to be a relative renaissance for horror comics.

Where Moore was attempting to revive not just a Z-list character but a fallen genre, what Snyder's up against is a little smaller in scale. As a heavily buzzed component of the relaunch, Swamp Thing is a clear appeal by DC to bring some of Vertigo's literary scope and supernatural spookiness to the main DCU with the added bonus of a superhero connection. So when one asks whether the book will hold up to Moore's legacy, that's less a question of whether Snyder will be able to achieve Moore's fantastic heights and more of whether Snyder and cohort Paquette can make Swamp Thing relevant and vital once more.

The good news is that based on this first issue, they're well on their way to achieving that. Yanick's pencils are freakishly sharp, especially as they're paired with Nathan Fairbairn's screaming colors; whatever you may have thought when you first heard about the art team on this book, the fact is that they're the perfect team to bring Snyder's inventive script to life. That's of the utmost importance here as Snyder calls for his team to work in apocalyptic scenes of worldwide animal deaths, foreboding dreams and grotesque murders, but also of Holland just hanging out with his fellow construction workers... and Superman.


The even better news is that this book is full of genuinely horrifying moments, and not in a cheap shock tactics sort of way. Between this title and Animal Man, DC may have cornered the market on the kind of suburban horror that hasn't been seen since Poltergeist. The foe that's introduced here even seems to have some kind of potential connection to the Hunters Three from Animal Man, or at the very least the concept of The Red that Lemire is playing with in that title. Swamp Thing is at its best when it's showing off this aspect of the world that Snyder and Paquette will be unveiling throughout the series and while there are no fumbles in the title, the slightly condescending exchange Superman has with Holland has the side effect of making it tempting to wish all the heroes away altogether.

But there are worse things you can do than make your readers want to spend more time with your main character. Snyder may not have an entire genre to resurrect with this title, but it's clear that just with this first issue alone, Snyder has a far better chance at reigniting interest in Holland and Swamp Thing than anyone since Moore.




When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.




Shawn Hill:
What's most intriguing about "the New 52!" is how the new timeline seems to be working to the benefit of the titular heroes. There's a genuine attempt to invest in the iconic versions of each character, focusing on what initially made them great, but without dismissing their more recent history. That's a delicate balance, and it's interesting that Alec Holland shares something with Batgirl: though he's now a hale and hearty human again, he remembers his death and his time as a swamp god. Meanwhile Batgirl, literally kicking villain butt again, remembers the Joker's attack and the paralysis she suffered for a time thereafter.

That's an interesting approach, one that resets the characters without starting completely fresh, and to judge by this entry, it's working. Alec Holland was always an interesting guy, a creative scientist whose work was in danger of being exploited, and he never really got enough time in the spotlight before being "killed."

This Alec, both traumatized and haunted by whatever happened before his return, has decided to check out to an extent, and is working in construction rather than pursuing his science. So when an ecological horror appears to threaten various sites around the country (noticed by the likes of Batman, Aquaman, and Superman), it's Clark who checks in to enlist Alec's expertise. Paquette nails it on every page of the issue, but this sequence of the clearly majestic Kal-El and the grim and gritty laborer goes a long way to define this new DC we're all learning about.

Paquette also excels in details involving vegetation and ecology (a must for this title in any of its incarnations, ever), and he's being very creative with his layouts, approaching a J.H. Williams III level of complexity at times. This is especially true of the outright horror scenes that ensue in the final pages, which are also colored for maximum luridness by Nathan Fairbairn.

So let's recap: ecology, the Justice League, swamp gods and horror (including a gruesome motif that hasn't been seen for some decades in a Swamp Thing comic, but is a classic effect in its own right... you really mustn't let those flies get in your ears), all in a compelling mix that feels urgent and exciting. If Snyder and Paquette have something new to say about the mystical aspects of the Green, then they're onto a winner.



Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.




Jamil Scalese:
"Wait, Swamp Thing is from DC comics?"


That was me, your trusted comic reviewer Jamil Scalese, about 10 years ago. See, I never knew the creepy vegetable man originated from the same place that Superman and The Flash did. I only knew Swamp Thing from the live-action movies and subsequent USA Network television show of over 20 years ago. I really had no clue Swamp Thing had origins stemming from DC. I hope you can forgive me, gentle, internet surfing, comic readers. Ten years ago I was 14.
Swamp Thing #1 begins by showing us Superman, Batman and Aquaman all dealing with a similar problem. Starting us off with these characters is a smart way of giving the most uninformed reader (like me) a firm foundation of time and place. We then enter into a lengthy introduction to Alec Holland, the typically unknown alter ego to the big swampy beast, as he explains who he is and how the other side is no longer part of him. Part of this introduction is a visit from Superman, who questions Holland on a series of strange animal deaths happening across the country.

We get some great interaction in this scene, and it does wonders for a character like the improbably renewed Alec Holland to be able to bounce his personality off of an established entity like Superman. Holland explains that he woke up a few weeks back in a sweaty swamp with memories of being Swamp Thing, but is not longer the creature. Now, finally back in the realm of being human Holland has been able to perfect his Bio-Restorative formula, the one that initially caused him to turn into a leafy monster. If all of this reeks a little like Bruce Banner then you're picking up what seems to be the new recipe for the title character. Hey, it has worked for that big green monster for nearly half a century, and it's off to an interesting start here.

When DC announced the full New 52 I did what all fans did and went up and down the list to pick out titles that appealed to me. On a suggestion from our valiant editor Danny Djeljosevic I didn't go so much with characters I liked but rather creators I trusted. Scott Snyder, who is also penning the newBatman title, has been one of the few diamonds in the dusty mine that has been DC's lame-duck lineup the past few months. With his recent efforts in Detective Comics, Gates of Gotham and Flashpoint: Project Superman Snyder has proven he is a capable and talented writer. Truthfully, Swamp Thing might be his most complete work yet as his superb script pulsates with mystery and meaning.

Snyder's collaborator in this debut issue is Yanick Paquette, and he matches the writer in effort and storytelling ability. Paquette doesn't exactly blow you away with a highly stylized approach or brilliant action panels, but he does put forth a beautiful, straightforward issue that gives the reader the same conformability that Snyder provided with the inclusion of Superman. Paquette begins to show off his talent toward the end of the issue with inspired paneling, and in particular a scene which introduces the presumed initial antagonist. This new bad guy, whatever it is, is one of the creepiest things I've seen outside of a horror comic in some time and I love how grossed out I am by it.


Weirdly, that is where this comic falters in the slightest – what genre are we exactly reading here? Horror? Sci-fi? A slanted superhero comic? What role does this new Swamp Thing play in the rebooted universe? So much is time is invested in the much-needed reintroduction of Alec Holland that Swamp Thing doesn't show up until the last possible moment. Though, I must to say, that moment is very, very cool.

This is an extremely well-crafted comic that eased new readers into the story at a lax but riveting pace but also respected long time fans with a nod to continuity and the inclusion of some clever Easter eggs. Snyder and Paquette join up to usher us into a new era of a classic character and I'll endorse this comic by saying this -- 10 years ago I didn't even know Swamp Thing was a comic character, today I wonder if any of the other new #1s will be able to top this one.




Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation.



Michael Deeley:

Alec Holland has quit his job at the laboratory and lives the simple life as a construction worker. When large numbers of animals suddenly drop dead, Superman comes to ask him to act as Swamp Thing, champion of the Earth. Alec says he hasn't changed into the Thing for weeks and wants to keep it that way. Later, Alec tries to throw away his plant-growing formula -- only to be stopped by Swamp Thing! Meanwhile, a hideous monster makes a new body for itself from the bones of a mammoth. It possesses three men, makes them break their own necks, and marches their dead bodies forward.

This issue kept reminding me of Alan Moore's epic run on Swamp Thing. The men with twisted heads were like the Invanuche, a monster from Moore's run. Men being possessed by flies also happened in Moore's comics. The panel arrangement in that sequence is identical to ones used by John Totleben, Moore's artist on the series. (Totleben's name also appears in the book.) The cumulative effect reminds me of the most famous and defining work with the character. It made me want to read those old stories instead of the next issue.



But it's not all Moore homages. The majority of the comic is given over to talking. Alec talking to a co-worker about the healing power of cabbage. (No, really.) Alec talking to Superman about his fuzzy memories and why he doesn't want to be Swamp Thing again. Alec talking to himself about his father cutting flowers and why wood rots. Talk talk talk! This is a comic book! Where's the action? We get people dying and some kind of monster, but it needs explanation. Alec's dialogues and monologues don't even advance the plot; it's all about Alec as a person. He's telling us who he is and why he's doing it.

Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's important to establish the character's motivations and personality early in the series. And the dialogue is good. Superman's advice about doing good and rebuilding your life is exactly what he'd say based on his life and personality. Alec's reasons for retirement are valid too. They set up an ongoing personal struggle to find himself and come to terms with his second life.

On the other hand, this is still a Swamp Thing comic where Swamp Thing doesn't show up until the last page. That's a major misstep for a first issue.



With the story moving slowly, I took a closer look at the art. Yanick Paquette's work reminded me of Gene Ha's figures and Mike Allred's inking. It's solid enough to be realistic with a touch of the cartoony to add to the fantasy. And the sequences with the monsters conveyed the horror and violence of the scenes. Paquette is perfect for this series.

This was enjoyable, but it only felt like half a comic. Scott Snyder is still setting up the premise, defining the hero, and creating a threat. If he needs two issues to accomplish all that, then the second issue better be amazing.



Michael Deeley is proudly serving in the US Air Force while inoculating his fellow airmen with his liberal views. He’s currently struggling to balance a life that includes family, career advancement, video games, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 in addition to comic books. He currently buys only three monthly series: Irredeemable, Incorruptible and Dark Horse Presents. The rest are minis, specials, trades and back issues.

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