Today, Shelby and Michael are discussing Swamp Thing 16, originally released January 9th, 2013. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage.
Shelby: Enough “Poor Alec.” Last month, we talked about Alec’s lonely road and his single shining star, Abby. Well, that’s all over! He’s got the resources of Batman in the hands of Barbara Gordon, one of the smartest people in the DCU. He can feel his lady love leading him on, and now that he’s got the backup he needs, he’s going to put an end to this Rot shit once and for all! It’s Swamp Thing’s rallying call! He’s gonna kick some ass in the greenest way imagined! No more pity, it’s time for action! Just as we start to get really pumped, though, Scott Snyder reminds us that it might actually be too late after all.
With the Man-Bat serum giving her enough of a connection to the Red to keep the Rot at bay, Babs leads Alec through the sewers to Gotham’s strong-hold: Arkham Asylum, fortified with a laser shield. Bats planned ahead, he also left Alec a partially complete version of his bio-restorative formula, which Alec immediately completes. Just in time, too, because an army of Rotlings led by Giganta is tearing the place down. Alec leads his own army of Gothamites, armed with bio-restorative Super Soakers and a giant Bat-Bot, to Anton Arcane’s doorstep. With Bane’s Venom rig modified to pump Alec full of bio-restorative, he’s ready to storm Arcane’s castle and rescue Abby. One problem with that plan, however. After trying to fake that she was on the Parliament of Rot’s side, Anton tells her it’s too late. Since she’s not an avatar and doesn’t have the power of the Parliament, there’s basically nothing she can do. He tells her to say her good-byes, and then…well…
Scott Snyder, man. Way to totally pull a Whedon on us with that one. More on that in a second. Snyder constructed this issue beautifully. We talked about Swamp Thing’s lonely road last month, and that is exactly what this issue opens with: Alec alone on a desolate road, arriving at a teaming sea of mostly Gothamite Rotlings. When faced with an undead Superman, Alec simply utters, “No…” and we cut to his meeting with Babs six days earlier. With that one simple flashback, Snyder sets us up for a story we think we know. It’s confirmed by the end of the flashback to Gotham; we’re left with Giganta smashing her way into the only human stronghold left before cutting back to present time. It certainly looks like Gotham is lost and Alec is carrying on because that’s all he knows to do. But then the tables are turned! The cavalry arrives, and it’s totally badass!
It’s a very straight-forward story structure, but Snyder uses it elegantly and with great effect. I never once considered this was anything more than another Swamp Thing pity party, as he mopes his way across the country. The arrival of the backup was both a satisfying bit of story-telling as well as visually exciting; Yanick Paquette is in fine form with this issue. Look at that thing, it’s huge! We’ve got Swamp Thing switching over to Battle Mode, with wings and huge sword, and a GIANT FUCKING ROBOT. This is thrilling! The battle is joined! And then, the cherry on top of that exciting sundae is Abby’s severed head and dangling spinal chord. Again, Snyder and Paquette show us what a great team they make; this seeming confirmation of Abby’s death is shocking enough, but the visceral, disgusting truth of it in Paquette’s art is a punch to the gut. That final panel made me exclaim out-loud by myself in my apartment, it’s that awesome.
I can’t talk enough about how much I love Paquette’s work on this title. It’s so gross and so beautiful, but what really gets me is his attention to details. I love noticing that Barbara Gordon’s ears are pointed now, or that Rotling Black Canary has bird claws and feathers. There was one detail I noticed, though, that I almost wished I hadn’t: a familiar face in the crowd of Rotlings attacking Arkham.
That could have been just another anonymous Rotling. It could have been any other recognizable Gothamite. But Paquette gave us Rotling Jim Gordon, and the effect is kind of devastating. Jim is like Alfred; he’s this ancillary character who has come to represent the heart of Gotham and the Batman universe. Despite all that we’ve seen, somehow this image is the one that drives home the terrible thing that has happened in this universe. As excited as this event makes me, and as awesome as this issue was, I can’t help but wonder yet again how we’re going to get out of this. I mean, if Commissioner Gordon is a horrifying undead monster, how can we ever go back?Michael: Well, I certainly welcomed this Batman-ex-machina in this series. As you mentioned, Shelby, we’ve all had enough of Poor Alec. I admire how far Snyder has let the Rot progress, killing our heroes and letting things get hopeless beyond my expectations. I thought this issue reached a nice balance: a healthy dose of hope mingled with pages of Abby’s failed attempt to sacrifice herself. Even before we know she’s been decapitated (with spine bonus), I cringed a bit as they teased us with the inevitable.
But for Alec, this is the first time he gets any real comfort and support after being constantly lied to, betrayed, let down, and demoralized by how much the Rot has taken. I feel like Snyder really pushed the boundary of how much I was willing to wallow in this world. I really like this verdant page from the asylum. I needed it.
However, Shelby, I’m worried. I feel like they’ve dug themselves too deeply into this all-consuming evil and I share your worry that they won’t be able to bring everyone back in any satisfying way. If people simply line up so the Bat-Bot (seated in a giant chair) can shoot serum into their eyes, I might be disappointed. I suppose I don’t want to conclude that the Rot just wasn’t really a big deal as long as Alec has time to dip his flower fingers into unfinished serum. And if Abby returns in a similar manner, I might be angry.
One more thought. Why do you think Superman is more susceptible to rot than Mr. Freeze?
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