Swamp Thing 6

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Swamp Thing 6, originally released February 1st, 2012.
Drew: Patrick and I try to avoid talking about comics outside of these write-ups in order to keep the conversation on the blog and open to everyone, but when he was catching up on Swamp Thing for our initial, epic write-up on it, he sent me a message betraying how good he thought Scott Snyder’s writing was. This break of form is entirely justifiable, given that Snyder’s awesomeness on Batman and Swamp Thing aren’t so much opinions as hard fact, but it also reveals just how flashy Snyder’s writing is. It isn’t just good: it’s remarkably  good.

Now sure, our stated goal is to scrutinize DC comics, but the writing here is so pyrotechnic that I can’t imagine it would go unnoticed to even the most casual reader. It’s clever, well-paced, and riddled with horrifying surprises. In short, it’s flashy writing that is more often than not breathtaking in its seeming effortlessness. I say “more often than not,” because it does occasionally miss it’s mark, falling short of the stars, and landing with an unceremonious thud. Snyder has enough plates spinning that these occasional issues  never bog down the whole proceedings, but it can lead to some kind of clunky dialogue.

Issue 6 begins right where issue 5 left off, with Alec, outside of the wrecked grocery store, realizing something has gone horribly wrong with the parliament of trees. Those opening few panels lay this out perfectly, showing us the motorcycle, the torn-apart un-undead cows, Abby’s bandaged arm, even the can of peaches, all behind a front-and-center Alec Holland, doubled over in pain. He starts to explain that he’s felt a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced, but William steps in to encase Abby in a writhing mass of bloody organs, informing Alec that he has failed to save the parliament of trees.

Alec refuses to listen, futilely trying to save Abby who first asks for an Aliens 3 mercy killing, then forces Alec to flee before she finally succumbs fully to the rot. Alec makes his escape on a motorcycle, using Abby’s shotgun to take down the zombie-bird-men the rot has sent for him. He makes it to a silent patch of swamp where he strips down and tells the parliament he is finally ready to become Swamp Thing. “Too late,” they tell him, “you have failed us.” As if Alec wasn’t having a bad enough day, he is then chainsawed through the back by a zombie. A zombie with a chainsaw. Have I mentioned that I love comics?

There’s a lot to love in this issue, from the images of the rot’s massing Army of Darkness, to Alec’s final, hopeless realization that he wants to be Swamp Thing after all, but I think my favorite moment this issue has to be the sacking of the parliament of trees.  Penciller Marco Rudy turned in some compelling layouts with abstract borders in issue 4, and he’s sharpened those assets to a fine point here, expanding his panel borders until it’s no longer clear what’s bordering what. Check out this image from the end of the sacking sequence:

The images of Professor Robert and the burning forest are so intertwined, it’s impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. In the end, it’s not important; the trees are burning, he’s there, the fire is evil, he is evil — everything we need to know is there.

In spite of all the awesomeness, there was one sequence that didn’t really work for me: William’s extended chess metaphor. It’s classic Snyder; a seemingly inane memory takes on a load of subtext in its telling, but it felt a little forced here. The accompanying images are compelling enough to make up the difference, and the chess queen made of human bodies is sufficiently horrifying, but the metaphor felt neither natural nor appropriate. I know what he’s going for…I just don’t think he landed it. I suppose I’m only disappointed because I know what Snyder is capable of. That would be an unfair standard for anyone else, but given how good I know he can be, it’s a bit of a let down when he fails to live up to himself.

That said, there’s still a lot of solid writing this issue, especially in terms of master plotting. Snyder made it clear that Alec would have to nearly die before he would become Swamp Thing, so I kind of saw that coming, but I never anticipated Abby’s role as expanding into the avatar of death. The mention of love on this issue’s cover feels a little unearned, but it’s understandable why Alec feels so connected to her. She understands what it’s like to have these strange abilities, and they do share a lot of history, even if it wasn’t really Alec under all that moss. Oh, and she saved his life, so he kind of owes her one. It’s understandable that Alec would want to go back to save her, and why he would linger so long before he finally flees. That she will be the very embodiment of the evil he is fighting is an interesting twist, though it’s clear that there’s still some Abby underneath all of that ugly.

This is a funny issue, as it feels largely insubstantial compared to the cliffhangers that border it, but I think it’s setting up an absolutely insane conclusion. Next month may be simply detail the rebirths of the key soldiers in the war, but these are rebirths that have been a long time building. I couldn’t be more excited to see the arrival of Alec Holland’s Swamp Thing, but who am I kidding? I’d be happy just to see some more chainsaw zombie.

Patrick: Hey, did you notice that we had a new artist for this issue? NEITHER DID I. It wasn’t until I flipped to the cover to get the spelling on Yanick Paquette’s right (so I could pile some additional praise on him) that I realized he didn’t have anything to do with this month’s outing. Flipping back through the pages, I suppose I can see the difference between Paquette’s characters and the slightly smoother drawings that Marco Rudy provides. Honestly, the layouts look so good and so in the character of the series we’ve been reading all along that it’s hard to spot the difference. The “burning of the parliament” scene you reference in particular seems like the culmination of all the clever boarder-work in the five previous issues. Rudy also adds his own spin and does something I never would have expected to see in Paquette’s issues.  Check out the crazy sun-burst style graphic behind Alec’s death scene:

I absolutely love that we’re 6 issues in and we still have yet to see the Alec Holland Swamp Thing. That’s half a year without seeing the lead don the cape. And it’s not as though the title has been light on adventuring, but it certainly has been light on the heroism. The reluctant hero is an old archetype, but it’s not one that we’re seeing all that much in the relaunch. Alec has that totally bizarre and interesting history that means he’s simultaneous always been and never been a hero before. I think it’s paying off really well, even if (as you mentioned) the resultant love story is a little unearned. Strike that – the story as presented is totally earned, it’s the log line on the cover that maybe goes too far.

I’m not familiar with Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. I know, I know. Put that in the stack of comics I’ll read someday. But I wonder whether Abby traditionally has this relationship with the Rot — or whatever they would have called in back in those days. I really like the idea that she’s meeting her destiny and becoming DEATH THING. The whole elemental struggle between Black and Green keeps Swamp Thing from becoming a less-gay Captain Planet. Which would still be fine — I like the idea of an environmental crusader who is made of his environment.

I want to talk about William a little bit. I really liked his characterization in previous issues and the direction this issue is headed in continues some of that nuanced character work. That story about the chess set does well enough to explore his loneliness at the hospital, but it sorta toes the line between revealing-personal-information and Bond-villain-gloating. There are a lot of sentient forces at play that have no way to express themselves, so the series often introduces characters to serve as mouthpieces for those forces. Perhaps because the mythology is so rich and interesting, I haven’t really been bothered by it so far. I’m not saying that I was bothered here, but I did notice it.

If Abby is becoming the avatar of death, what the hell is happening to William? Whatever he’s turning into, I love it. Throughout this issue, his face darkens and distorts until he becomes this totally twisted sister-licking monster. There are a lot of upsetting images in this issue, but this transformation takes the cake for me.

Hey and what’s the deal with Dr Rob… er, Professor Robert? While just about everything The Rot is up to is mysterious, I don’t know what that dude is about. Do you suspect that Swamp Thing will travel down to Brazil or that Professor Robert will head to the badlands of the American west?  Whichever ends up being the case, I’m really hoping that we see some more kick-ass plant imagery. I like the death and gore imagery, but nothing beats a trippy dream sequence guided by a council of magical trees.

Now we’ve reached the point in the write-up where I nitpick your movie references. While Ripley does ask one of her fellow inmates on Fury-161 to murder her to prevent her from birthing a Queen in Alien 3, the more iconic “kill… me…” is uttered in Aliens. Maybe it’s hard to remember because some no-name colonist spits it out seconds after her introduction and seconds before her death.

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?

3 comments on “Swamp Thing 6

  1. Hahaha. You’re right about Aliens 3, in that I was wrong about it, but I was actually thinking of that mutant Ripley from Alien: Resurrection. I suppose the rando snotted to the wall in Aliens does resemble Abby a bit more here, but I was way thinking of Alien: Resurrection. I knew it was a terrible sequence, so I knew it wasn’t from Alien or Aliens, but I should have done a little more homework (or just thought about it, really — why would a prison planet of XYY men have a lab full of mutant Ripley/Queen clones?).

    Anyway, I had some tiny nerd quibbles that I wanted to mention that didn’t seem worth putting in the actual post, the foremost of which being: how does a zombie with a chainsaw sneak up on someone? Zombies can occasionally be quite good at sneaking up on people, but nothing, least of all the undead, can sneak up on someone while brandishing a running chainsaw. You’d think after narrowly escaping a flying zombie horde, Alec would be a little more on edge about loud noises directly behind him.

    Also, Superman thought it was worth flying down to Louisiana when a couple of birds died, but nobody needs a nature consultation now that entire towns near the Texas badlands are walking around with broken necks? I suppose that’s a credit to how much the rest of the DC heroes think of Swamp Thing (dead birds go to Swamp Thing, but you shouldn’t even bother asking when it’s something as serious as an undead army), but it just seems weird that the opening issue firmly ensconced us in the DC Universe, while the global scope of the subsequent issues kind of ignores that there are other heroes out there.

    In general, Swamp Thing (and Animal Man, to a lesser extent) hasn’t shown how the world at large is reacting to the events unfolding in Texas. This is mostly because we’re sticking so closely with Alec, which I think is a good choice, but given how many people this has already affected, and how slowly things are unfolding, surely the media at large must be aware that at least something is up. Sure, this isn’t downtown Metropolis, but it’s also not a quick fist-fight; an entire army is amassing, and apparently hundreds of people have died. I’m not sure there’s room to pull the camera out, but I am kind of curious what is going on outside of what we’re seeing. I might not even enjoy reading about it, but it’s fun to think about.

  2. I think we’re probably intended to forget that Superman stopped by to check on Alec in issue one. As much as the arrival of the AVATAR OF DEATH could be a publisher-wide cross over (and was a year and a half ago), I like that this in contained in the Swamp Thing and Animal Man series. I just picked up Animal Man 5 and 6 last night and I’m really looking forward to spending more time reading about the war against The Rot.

    Whenever we get locked in a specific conflict in one of these things, I wonder how long it’s going to last. Obviously Batman is going to be struggling against the Court of Owls for a long time, so we can count on that antagonist for the foreseeable future. And Batgirl and Aquaman (to name a few) have already wrapped up their encounters with their initial baddies. But I have zero concept of how long-lasting the Rot’s influence will be on either of these titles.

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