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WHttDCnU? – Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones

WHTTDCU-Titles-SwampThing

It took a while for the duo of FROGMANN and the Vigil to track him down, but Alec Holland is finally in their grasp and under scrutiny! Hey, the dude is a slippery one.

To the average person on the street, if I were to ask them what they thought of Swamp Thing, the most common answer I’d get would likely be “What thing?” To explain further that I am talking about a character from a comic book of the same name, then most would likely assume I’m referring to some 1960’s horror style comic about a monster out to kill lovebirds and unfortunate police officers. They would be almost right, as he started out as a one time plant monster for a one time horror story. He went on to be a tree elemental that existed to defend his domain and fight for plant life and the environment, and possibly stand to be on equal grounds effective as the Planeteers.

It’s funny that for such an obscure character, the Swamp Thing has been both popular and successful with a large following and a recurring multimedia presence, from comics to films to TV shows of both a live action and animated variety.

So in the new universe of DC, where does the Swamp Thing take root? Found out now, on:

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE DC NEW UNIVERSE?

– QueenQeeko

WHTTDCNU-synopsis

frogmann-rIn Metropolis, the pigeons are falling from the sky. In Gotham the bats are dying in their roosts. In and around Atlantis, the sea is full of carcasses of sea life. Something is wrong in the world, and Superman’s first port of call is Dr Alec Holland, a man that everyone believes was once the Swamp Thing. Superman talks to Holland about the difficulties adjusting to normal life, and adjusting to being alive again after a sudden resurrection. As it happens, during the events of Brightest Day. Alec Holland was awakened in the swamp where it was believed his transformation into the Swamp Thing occurred, but as Alec himself points out, that was never him. Alec explains to Superman that the plant world is the most violent world of them all, but because their vicious atrocities are so slow, we barely notice it, being connected to the Green as he is, and having the memories of the Swamp Thing, Alec is determined to never allow the Green to get a hand on him again. Uh, for the first time… it’s complicated.

Somewhere in North West Arizona, a foul wind blows over a dig site, pulling up bones and rotting carcasses alike. Assembling them into something evil. Along with this wind comes a swarm of flies, that attack and kill any animals by flying into their ear, and causing their necks to whip all the way around 180, adding their bodies to the legion of the rot.

That night Alec awakens to find himself covered in flowers and jungle plants. Realising that The Green are upping their game, Alec takes the last batch of his bio-restorative formula and is about to pour it into the swamp, behind his motel, when he is stopped by none other than the Thing that he fears. This is a previous Swamp Thing once named Calbraith A.H. Rodgers, and he tells Alec of his life, his death and his transformation, and how in his time he served the Green. Rodgers starts by showing Alec the activity of the Rot, and it’s herald a creature of Anti-life called Sethe. He then explains that Alec was also supposed to become the Swamp Thing to combat this creature, but when the time came for the transformation, his body was too badly damaged, he was already dead and gone. The Parliament of Trees were afraid, because they believed that Alec would become their Warrior King, a messiah of the Green, so they made a decision to do something they had never done before, and use the remains of Alec to make their next Swamp Thing. However, this Swamp Thing had human instinct, and intelligence, but did not have human conscience, and over time it became little more than a monster, but with Alec at the helm, the Swamp Thing will be the ultimate force of good from the Green. Alec refuses the Green once more, and Calbraith dies, explaining that once a Swamp thing uproots from the Parliament, they will die for good, but his last warning is for Alec to stay away from Abigail Arcane.

Alec returns to the motel but Sethe is already on to his location, and the flies have already infested a number of people from the area, their new most distinguishing features being heads that are turned all the way around. Alec makes a run for it, only to bump into, surprise surprise, Abigail Arcane. Alec rides bitch on the back of her bike, as they escape from the Rot for now. When they come to a stop, she pulls her shot gun on him, and tells him to prove he’s Alec Holland, or else she’s going to aerate his chest. As she counts down his last moments, Alec is able to tap into his connection with the Green, and cause the plants around her to grab her and pull her away. A talent he had no idea about. Abigail asks him for help to save a boy from a nearby hospital.

However the boy is far from savable; William is a boy living in a special air controlled bubble due to his acute allergic reaction to chlorophyll, and the Rot have their eye on him. As do a number of bullies. As the last act of self defense against the boys attempting to tear open his protective bubble, he submits to the Rot and it over takes him, growing the rot inside each of the sick children, before forcing the doctor to hand over his scuba gear, and killing him. By the time Alec and Abigail get there, it’s already too late. They decide to take rest that night before moving on in the morning, while they sleep the Green reaches out to Alec, to show him visions of the future. As the Kingdom of the Rot grows in Arizona, and expands to the rest of the world. The Parliament of Trees rebuke Alec for ignoring their call, but he says that he’s not ignoring them and wants to fight in his own way, and not become the Swamp Thing. They see very little difference. One thing they do demand of him though is to kill Abigail Arcane, the enemy he was warned about.

Ignoring the warnings, Alec continues to travel with Abigail into a near by town, it’s much too late for the town however, and it’s already infested with the Rot’s army, lead by William Arcane. A fight ensues, but Alec is once again able to exercise his green thumb, and trap William in a tree, and remove his scuba ventilator. But this was all a distraction. Deep in the Amazon Jungle, where the Green joins with the physical world, and where the Parliament of Trees reside, the Rot has invaded, and the Parliament of Trees are dying, set ablaze by an infiltrator. Afflicted by the pain of the death of the Green, Alec is distracted and the Rot take the opportunity to capture Abigail. As Alec attempts to free her, and encourages her to fight it, William tells Alec that she can’t, she is destined to be the great Warrior Queen of the Rot, as Alec was meant to be the Warrior King of the Green. William was never the great enemy, Abigail was.

Alec high-tails it to the nearest swamp, where he begs the Green to take him, and make him Swamp Thing, and with that a servant of the Rot shoves a rather quiet chainsaw through his back and chest. Suffering and dying, Alec slumps to the floor and is engulfed by the Green. They inform him that they are too week to transform him, but for his transgressions they can keep him alive to suffer with them. Alec tells them it’s not too late, that he still has the Bio-Restorative formula in his bag. Realising that they still have a glimmer of hope, the Green reach out with the last of their strength and break the canister, pouring the distilled power of the Green into Alec, and making him the Warrior King he was always destined to be. The Swamp Thing.

WHTTDCNU-art

vigil-lThe art in this is, fittingly enough, horrifying. It is probably the most horrifying comic I have ever read. The art is gory and twisted and it is… good. It is really good art that fits the comic very well. It is possibly the best art I have seen in all my reviews. And I am willing to testify in court to that.

First, let’s talk about the humans. The humans in this comic look… normal. While they look attractive to the human eye, they are not overly sexualized nor out of proportion. They look like normal people. The best examples is the female lead, Abigail Arcane. Abigail looks just like a normal woman. While she is a very attractive woman, she isn’t overly sexualized with an impossible figure. Her design is normal, except for the short white hair with black streaks.

Now let’s talk about the gore factor. It is everywhere and it is what gore should be: Horrifying. We see people’s joints snap. We see their bones spike up. We see a guy literally barf up a lung. We see people torn apart and explode. And unlike movies or comics that use gore as exploitation, this feels right.

I also have to give special props to the designs of the Rot Creations, especially Abigail’s mutated Rot design. It is almost Xenomorphic in its design. It is completely inhuman.

Another design I have to give props for is Swamp Thing’s new 52 design. I love the wooden stag horn mask and the angel wings made of leaves. Combined with the classic look of Swamp Thing, we have a new look that is perfect for the New 52 version of the character.

Overall, the art for Swamp Thing is perfect and really fits the vision of Scott Snyder’s series.

 

frogmann-rMy goodness the art! The art in Swamp Thing is more than competent, it’s beautiful and grotesque, it’s bright and dark, it’s orthodox and it’s chaotic. This comic expresses the dichotomy of its story through the wonder of its art, and takes two of the biggest problems I had with Batwoman and Animal Man, the confusingly stylised layout and some of the nightmarish art respectively, and brings them together under, surprisingly, multiple artists throughout the series. All who’s art is very similar to the main artist, Yanick Paquette and as such, doesn’t in any way distract the reader with sudden style changes. This group of artists and inkers, mesh and mold those two biggest flaws of the aforementioned books and makes them some of the best traits of the Swamp Thing.

To start with the form of the art in Swamp Thing is demonstrably better than that which I compared it to in Animal Man. In Animal Man, the full on nightmare fuel art, was amazing, but the rest of the book was pathetic, and the combination of the nightmare in the real world mostly looked out of place, and disconnected. Like some child scribbling out some “art” in kindergarten. Sometimes it was frightening, but other times it just looked bad. The form in Swamp Thing is spot on, there’s no exaggeration and no overly stylised features of the characters, or the world around them. They look like people, and they behave and react like people. Even in the nightmarish and chaotic segments, they still look like real people who have been corrupted, rather than caricatures and cartoons, as they do in Animal Man. The reason that these comics are important to be contrasted is because believe it or not, the villains both Animal Man who represents the Red, and Swamp Thing who represents the Green, are one and the same, The Rot. Despite this they are very different in both books, and where as for me Animal Man was a swing and a miss for the most part, Swamp Thing is absolutely perfect. The twisted sickening corruption, may not be as warped or extreme, but it’s realism makes it infinitely more terrifying!

Despite this realism though, the art and the layout is actually very stylised, not to mention the sexy thick black outlines that I’ve always been a fan of (see: Ultima Society comic below), and conveys a certain sense of a dream-like state throughout a lot of the book. Everything may look realisitc, but with it’s highly emotive and expressive choice of panelling techniques to frame the world everything looks just off enough to make it fantastical, without interfering with the flow of the book, which was the complaint with the otherwise stunning panelling from Batwoman.

An important word in comic book art is “conveyance”, and this, essentially, is whether the things that the book is trying to tell the reader, the characters’ thoughts, feelings and realisations is getting through in the art alone, without the need of an inner monologue. When it comes to conveyance, Swamp Thing is undoubtedly the fruit at the top of one of the tallest trees in the DCnU! Every step along the way the art presents the characters or their framing, in such a way that their emotions and motivations are expressed near perfectly, something that I really haven;t seen in any other book in the DCnU to this degree.

If there is anything at all to criticise about the art in Swamp Thing, it’s simply this… it gives me nothing to criticise. If you want the see dark, beautiful, vibrant drab, wonderful and hideous art, look no further. Swamp Thing wins, hands down.

WHTTDCNU-writing

vigil-lThe original story of Swamp Thing (Pre-Alan Moore) was the classic story of “Scientist creates formula. Scientist is betrayed. Scientist becomes monster thanks to formula.” Alan Moore’s version was that a plant construct took on Alec Holland’s memories and believed it was Alec. Snyder’s Swamp Thing is a man who gained a second chance at life and found that he cannot run away from destiny. A destiny that ultimately, he chooses. And why does he do it? To save the woman he loves from a fate that is almost certainly worse than death. If I had to choose which story I like better… it would be the story of a man who gave up his second chance at humanity for love. That is the ultimate core concept of Swamp Thing. It is a tragedy, which is a story where bad things ultimately form from good intentions. And that is why it is the best New 52 book I have read for these reviews.

Now I do feel that the pacing could have used some work as it takes seven issues for the title character to fully show up, but in my opinion, that would have taken away from the story. This is Alec and Abigail’s story. It wouldn’t have given us more of a reason to care about Alec’s transformation if it happened at the end of issue one or two and what it cost him.

As for the story itself? Well as I said, the story we see in issues one through eight is a tragedy. It’s about two people running from their destinies to be enemies while a monster is chasing them. And that is why it is a tragedy. We want these two people to have a happy ending, but sometimes that is not in the cards for everyone. Not everyone gets a happy ending in life… and that is a shame. However, the ending of issue seven, the end of the first arc, is ultimately a new beginning for Alec as the Avatar of the Green, while issue eight is about Abigail’s new beginning as the future Avatar of the Rot. And that is the ultimate tragedy. These two people who loved each other in another life (When Alec was first Swamp Thing) have finally found love again in a new life… only to be turned against each other. However, as usual, there is a glimmer of hope. Alec will not give up his journey to save Abigail from the Rot. Because that is what he does. He saves people.

If I haven’t made it clear… this is a great story. Tragic, but a great story nonetheless.

 

frogmann-rThe story is that of a couple of strangers (mostly) on the run together. Finding protection and some comfort within one another. That which they run from is being represented by an oppressive external force of nature, manifest as The Green and The Rot, but really what they are truly running from is the monster inside of themselves, a tragic twist, albeit an expected and forewarned one. As they are their own monsters, it’s something they can never get away from. For this reason the story is heavily character driven, as most good books are, and the story is told well through the dialogue, but also through the art, as I mentioned above.

The plot reveals the characters to you bit by bit so you can come to understand them, and their motivations as they attempt to avoid their fates, only for it to end in a loss regardless of their efforts, not something that we see in comics all that often, but I am grateful when it happens and is done well. Abigail is taken by the Rot and Alec must willingly sacrifice himself to the Green. This was always to be their destiny, and no matter how far they ran, that which they ran from was never further away than a heart beat.

WHTTDCNU-characterisation

vigil-lAs I said before, this is Alec’s story of him fleeing from his destiny as the Avatar of the Green while Abigail is fleeing from her destiny as the Avatar of the Rot. As such, thanks to the focus on the humans, we grow to care about them.

Alec’s character arc is of acceptance and sacrifice. Accepting that sometimes you can’t run away from destiny. However, Alec’s story is also one of choice. Unlike the first time he was Swamp Thing, ultimately his transformation into the Avatar of the Green is his choice. His choice to give up his humanity so he can save the woman he loves and the world. His story feels complete and is relatable. More so than if he started out as Swamp Thing.

Abigail’s story is also of running from destiny. However, unlike most love interests, she is Alec’s equal at the beginning. In fact, she protects him most of the time and that is really damn cool. Unlike Alec, however, her story is not quite over as her arc concludes in the crossover event Rotworld: The Green. For now though, I can say that I am a definite fan of Abby.

Now let’s talk about our villain for the arc: William Arcane. This kid is scary. He is the scariest thing about this comic. He can twist and pervert the human body on a whim and he can hear dead people. As a villain, he is a good adversary for Alec and Abigail. I just wish that his turn from being a scared boy in a bubble to a homicidal maniac with super powers was better done and more gradual. It happens in one issue and it feels a bit forced. However, when he does become a murdering psychopath, he is scary as Hell. And he is a great villain for that.

Overall, the three main characters in this comic are fantastic. They are very three dimensional and Scott Snyder does a damn good job at making us care for the two main leads.

 

frogmann-rFor a book called Swamp Thing, our main character Alec Holland, is not actually Swamp Thing until the very end of the seventh issue, and as such the last few pages of the first volume of the series. To some extent this could be seen as a risky move on Scott Snyder’s and DC’s part, to spend the first storyarc, with a character who is running from becoming the title character. While of course the story ramps towards Alec Holland taking up the mantle, throughout the entire book there is not just a sense of build up towards his change, but also a sense that in the last moments he could refuse The Green as he has done already for so long. In a book called Swamp Thing, to write a character so well as to make the reader believe that he may never become Swamp Thing is a bloody good trick! It says it right there on the cover, and yet there is still doubt.

Alec’s storyline is one of the few to have survived the reboot. Along with Batman and Green Lantern, from what I can tell Swamp Thing’s storyline has also remained whole in the new Universe. This works for the most part because it was separate from the general main continuity of super-heroes, with a few smaller interactions here and there. Of course his big cross over involvement came in towards the end of the DCU, in Brightest Day, and these are the events referenced, but not explicitly stated when Alec is met by Superman, one of the characters along with John Constantine, Deadman and Zatana who were searching for him in The Brightest Day Aftermath.

As it turns out, Alec Holland has never been the Swamp Thing, it was all a mistake in attempting to rebuild Alec Holland, inextricably connected to the Swamp Thing. This of course comes as a surprise to Alec, and a sense of relief that while he has the memories of the monster, it was never him that committed those acts. This freedom, a sense of virginity of the Green returned to him, he doubled down on his desire to stay that way, only for him to have to willingly give it all up and become the last best hope for The Green. And that’s not even getting into Abigail Arcane.

Abigail is a distant memory from the life of the monster, and as it turns out, is to the The Rot, what Alec is to The Green. A messiah of sorts. Despite constant warnings to Alec from the Green, he feels a close bond to her.

Abigail herself is also receiving messages from the Rot to stay away from Alec, and to join them in the Deadlands. As this story heavily focused on Alec, there was not a whole lot of exposition about Abigail and her back story. We are made aware of her importance to the Rot, and that she knows Alec’s importance to the Green. We also see in dreams and flashbacks that the two are strongly connected, and that a relationship existed between her and Swamp Thing. Despite being born of the Rot however, she like Alec does not agree with the writers of their fate, not wanting to become the harbinger of death, but unable to do anything more than hate herself over to it, when the power takes her. Despite this she too, up to the point of being captured in the Rot, Abigail fights with the ferocity of a cornered animal, and even outdoes her cohort on a number of occasions.

The TL;DR version of this is simple, she’s a total bad ass!

WHTTDCNU-conclusion

vigil-lThis comic is fantastic. The story is a great example of tragedy. The characters are very well fleshed out. And the art is great with realistic humans and really damn good gore and creature designs. In my opinion, it’s better than Scott Snyder’s work on Batman.

There I said it.

He basically recreated Swamp Thing and did what a reboot should do: Reinvent the character in new and interesting ways. And that is why Swamp Thing is probably the best rebooted comic in DC Comics.

 

 

frogmann-rSwamp Thing is easily one of the finest books in the DCnU. This isn’t because it’s a reboot, it isn’t because they changed up a character to be more diverse, it’s not because they pushed a political agenda, it’s not because they made it more flashy, or edgy or gave the character a snazzy new design. This is a good book because the people working on it were damn good writers and artists.

Swamp Thing is one of those books that really takes you with it, along its winding path, and shows you where to look for the best view. You are treated to some amazing art, and a spectacularly emotional, roller-coaster of a story. If you aren’t sure where to start with comics, or you’re maybe not all that interested in super-heroes, then start with Swamp Thing. This book is truly unmissable.

WHTTDCNU-comic

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