Patrick: There’s a pivotal moment near the climax of Swamp Thing and Arcane’s fight where Alec realizes what he’s up against. He stares, deadpan, at his injured enemy and puts the pieces together: “every wound… becomes a mouth.” The Rot is consumption: and nothing can quash its appetite. That’s us — you, me, the comics industry, the entertainment industry, consumers. We relentlessly chew up narratives, characters, histories… christ, DC Comics alone puts over 60 titles on the sacrificial alter on a monthly basis. They reboot the line, they run cross-over events, they revive Watchmen, they do line-wide zero issues. But it’s basically never enough, the consumers always want more. And so the war between the Green, the Red and the Rot goes on forever, a conflict insatiable.
Anton Arcane, believing that he successfully defeated Swamp Thing, drags Abbey of into the swamp. He’s searching for the newly-formed Parliament of Trees. Bad news for Anton: Swamp Thing was protected by the magic of the Parliament of Saplings. It only takes a few Swamp Punches and a shotgun blast to the head to drive Anton away. Suddenly, Abby senses a portal into the Rot. Exercising caution — for probably the first time ever — Alec suggests they stay the hell away from it. But then the Bakers (minus Cliff, plus Socks) show up and prepare to enter the Rot World as Animal Man and Swamp Thing.
While not a lot of action played out here, some big story ideas came to a head in this one. But more than that, the danger is this issue feels damn-real. Part of that immanent danger is illustrated with an abundance of those disgusting, toothy mouths I mentioned above. But artist Marco Rudy also frequently puts the camera behind the eyes of our characters in peril, making the snarling back-and-forth between Anton and Abbey all the more in-your-face and horrifying. Or how about this POV shot, as the Un-Men drag Abby toward the Rot-portal?
It’s just really scary stuff, and putting the reader in Abby’s shoes is a stroke of genius that makes me uncomfortable in all the best ways. I got a little bummed out when Abby was (at least temporarily) reduced to the damsel in distress, but the effect here is so chilling, I’m willing to forgive it. Also, Abby brings resolution to the this whole thing with a single-barrel-BLAM so I’m more than willing to let her show a little vulnerability early in the game.
Hey Drew, how did you feel about Alec’s return to the Green, meeting with the Trees and subsequent resurrection? Swamp Thing has been essentially killed and brought back so many times in these 11 issues, I think we’re approaching a point of diminishing returns. I didn’t find myself cheering as Alec found his way back to the world of the living – it’s just sort of a foregone conclusion now that Swamp Thing will be protected by the powers of the Green. And it could also be because we just saw a much more uplifting resurrection story in Animal Man 11, but I think Snyder may need to stop playing the “Swamp Thing dies” card.
Speaking of well-worn tropes: prophecy. As Abby and Alec draw near to the Portal to Rot World, Abby has a vision – a nightmare – of the future. Let’s do our due diligence and examine these visions.
Point of Prophecy #1: The Daily Planet building (and presumably much of Metropolis) in ruins. First thing I thought of was the vision presented in the Animal Man Annual, which showed the corpses of all the big heroes littered over a leveled city-scape. But it also sorta interestingly hearkens back to the very first issue of Swamp Thing, which started off showing us the spontaneous death of birds in Metropolis. In that issue, Superman visits the not-yet-Swampy Alec Holland to ask for help, but Alec blows him off. Is this section of the prophecy just a friendly reminder that Swamp Thing is not an island and his conflict with the Rot can have further reaching consequences than his own perpetual death and resurrection?
Point of Prophecy #2: I see that as Anton lording over… something. But that’s a rough guess. Hell, let’s go rougher, then: maybe that’s an evolved form of Captain Atom. The character is about to blink himself out of existence by attempting to stop himself from destroying Earth (shit’s complicated) AND his book is being cancelled with the conclusion of that arc. Is this world with all the defeated heroes a result of a timeline Cap’n helps erase? DISCLAIMER: I don’t believe this theory, but if it turns out to be right, I will claim that I “knew it all along.”
Point of Prophecy #3: Some kind of destroyed robot? Steel maybe? Whatever it is, it looks Superman-y to me. We here at Retcon Punch are woefully under-qualified to speak on Superman-family activities, so I guess we’ll leave this point to the comments section.
Point of Prophecy #4: This one, I know – that’s Poison Ivy. The Birds of Prey recently took her out to the jungles of South America so she could recharge by communing with the Parliament of Trees. But they were shot down over Colombia, and then attacked by plant monsters once they were on the ground – not exactly the warm reception they were hoping for. Ivy appears… distressed here. Maybe her powers are leaving her? Perhaps they’re taking control of her? Whatever’s happening here, it’s WAY EXCITING to me that she is (and by extension, the Birds are) going to play a bigger role in Rot War.
So really, what more can anyone ask for of an issue of Swamp Thing? Some cool action, horrifying mouths-within-mouths, trippy art, and opportunities for wild speculation about the future – sign me up.
Drew: Wild speculation is right. Prophecies like these can afford to be totally vague, which entices the audience without giving up any actual information. I actually see prophecies #2 and 3 as one-in-the-same, and I think the “robot” is our very own Cyborg. Based solely on the skeletonized mouth and recently-ripped-out human eyeball, the robot is at least partially human, and the red dot in the middle of his forehead looks quite a bit like the new Cyborg design. Sure, the robotic eye is on the wrong side of his head, but maybe prophecies are seen as reflections or something (you know, except for letters, like on the Daily Planet planet). The point is, I think this very much is the same prophecy hinted at in the Animal Man Annual, dead heroes and all. It suggests that Rotworld may have a much farther reach than we imagined, which has me very excited. The lack of any kind of marketing for such a crossover event suggests otherwise, but maybe we’ll at least get some sweet cameos.
Wild guesses about the future aside, Patrick is absolutely right; not much happens this issue plot-wise, but that is more than made up for with a moody horror tone that is genuinely terrifying. The fact that Arcane’s wounds become mouths recalls the mythical hydra, another monster whose wounds only made it more dangerous. That, coupled with the fact that a shotgun blast to the head is only a temporary setback, makes it clear that Arcane is going to be incredibly difficult to defeat — if such a thing is even possible.
Arcane is the avatar of the Rot, and now that we’ve seen the abilities of the avatars of the Red and the Green to be capable of virtual resurrection, we know that he can always escape into the abstract idea of the Rot, manifesting himself in a nearby corpse, the same way Maxine was able to do with that fox. With all that power, I can’t help but wonder just what he needs Abby for. He even points out that her powers are useless in his presence (which, of course, she doesn’t need anyway).
The Rot has already tried to take her over, but she has proven time and time again to be resistant. It just seems like a strategic mistake to count on her being controlled this time. Does Arcane really need her? I’d suggest she was bait, but he thought he had successfully killed Alec, so there’s no one to be baiting. That really only leaves Arcane’s personal vendetta as an explanation, but it’s a damn good one. Buddy (and Maxine), are as defined by their family ties as they are by their connection to the Red, and Alec’s devotion to Abby is central to his character. It only makes sense that the avatar of the Rot should have equally human connections, even if he’s utterly repulsive to the humans he has those connections with.
Still, he isn’t just checking up on Abby, or making sure that she’s safe; he’s trying to do something to her. I suppose the mystery of what and why that something might be is an important piece of what makes Arcane so scary, but damn it, I want to know what it is. It’s one of many mysteries that the coming Rotworld seems poised to answer, and I’m excited for just about all of them.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Swamp Thing write-up if we didn’t mention how gorgeous the art was. Marco Rudy turns in some incredibly work this issue, navigating between Francesco Francavilla’s moody grit and Yanick Paquette’s gorgeous detail with stunning fluidity. His seemingly straightforward layouts hide hidden treasures of meaning in the panel borders, but my favorite sequence has to be the start of the battle between Alec and Arcane.
Using Swamp Thing to divide up the page is a dynamic use of that action, but I’m especially taken by the striated border motif Rudy peppers throughout this sequence. They leave for a bit, then come back, and on closer inspection, they seem to emanate from any character that is physically interacting with Arcane. It establishes just what a powerful and otherworldly figure he is.
Top all of that off with a tease for Rotworld (with specific dates and everything), and I think I’ll honestly have trouble waiting for next month. The fact that Buddy has yet to catch up with Alec in his own title made the reveal all the more surprising (and prescient, since Cliff is MIA), which managed to get me even more excited for Animal Man 12, which I wouldn’t have thought was possible. This thing is going to be awesome.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?