Swamp Thing #1
“Raise Dem Bones”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist/Cover artist: Yanick Paquette
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: John J. Hill
Editor: Matt Idelson
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
DC’s decision to “reclaim” Swamp Thing from its Vertigo imprint and restore the character to a place in its super-hero universe is an understandable one. It’s been years since the property has been much of a draw as a Vertigo title, and at its zenith of popularity under the guidance of Alan Moore, it was firmly rooted in the DC Universe. It’s apparent from this first issue that writer Scott Snyder plans to follow in Moore’s footsteps. There’s plenty of stark horror, but there are a number of super-hero elements as well. But Snyder is also able to do something different, as Alec Holland — the man, not the monster — is a major player in the new direction for the Swamp Thing drama. The problem with this new direction is how it’s chained by years of continuity. Snyder’s script isn’t accessible at all to those who are unfamiliar with the character, his history from the 1970s and ’80s and more recent developments in Brightest Day. There’s some solid writing and attractive artwork in this comic book, but as a draw for new and/or lapsed comics readers, it fails. Snyder’s script is more challenging and compelling than, say, Geoff Johns’ story from Justice League #1, but it’s far less welcoming.
Disturbing phenomena in nature — dead birds dropping from the sky, rapidly decomposing fish floating in a large area of the ocean — put the planet’s heroes on alert, and the strange events send Superman to consult an expert on the natural world and the inexplicable. Alec Holland, the man who was once the plant elemental known as Swamp Thing. Holland knows Superman is just there to check up on him, and he professes his vow to disconnect from the violent world of plant life. Elsewhere, the dry, dead bones of various animals go missing, brought together to form something else…
Paquette’s art in recent years has exhibited the strong influence and inspiration from Kevin Nowlan, and this latest project is no exception. It’s particularly apparent in Paquette’s depictions of Superman and Batman. It’s not a complaint, mind you, and Paquette’s figures don’t seem as stiff as Nowlan’s can be from time to time. I was also reminded of Butch Guice’s style during the scene in which the monstrous villain on the story is discovered, and the climactic scene leading up to the revelation and cliffhanger also put me in mind of Sean Phillips’ work. Paquette employs a tidy and well-defined approach to the linework here, and it’s a bit unusual as compared to the dark and/or surreal styles that have provided the most memorable interpretations of the title character.
Paquette also employs some unconventional page and panel layouts throughout this issue that reminded me of the sort of thing one might find in a J.H. Williams III comic book. Those sometimes jagged, diagonal layouts flow well, though, and held to add a slightly skewed, unnatural look that works with the subject matter. I was surprised at how brightly “lit” this issue was. Other than the supernatural threat’s emergence, most of the issue boasts brighter colors. Most impressive is Paquette’s meticulous depictions of plant life, which helps to accentuate a strong, vital point Snyder makes in the dialogue, one that’s likely meant to be the overriding theme of the series.
My favorite aspect of the book was Snyder’s use of actual science and nature to establish the horror and violence of Swamp Thing’s world. Holland points out little horrors, little injustices that occur in the soil all around us, not in exotic locales by the weirdest, most alien flora on the planet, but in our own backyards involving the most common weeds and shrubs. The pivotal scene in which we get a glimpse of the scope and power of the unnatural threat was a chilling but fun one (at least for mature readers who appreciate supernatural horror), and it’s reminiscent of classic Swamp Thing stories while also working in the context of a super-hero universe.
Swamp Thing #1 makes it clear that DC’s decision to reboot only some characters while maintaining much of its past continuity, albeit with a tighter timeline, was a make misstep. I get where the publisher is coming from: it’s trying to hold onto the momentum and popularity of its more successful franchises (Batman, Green Lantern) while sparking interest in its other properties with a fresh start. But the whole point of the New 52, as I understood it, was to expand the comics-reading audience by offering new, accessible takes on familiar (and not-so-familiar) characters. But Snyder’s script on Swamp Thing #1 is far from accessible. It references stories from decades ago, and it even offers a nod to “The Death of Superman.” The weight of those past stories makes forward movement an arduous task. Alec Holland’s blossoming new life is choked by rotten, pervading vines of the past. This first issue is an entertaining read for the initiated, but new readers might not be so enticed. 7/10
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