Swamp Thing 7

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Swamp Thing 7, originally released March 7th, 2012.

Patrick: Alec Holland dies after taking a chainsaw through the torso.  Spoiler, I guess. No, I didn’t just ruin a twist or anything – in fact, Alec suffers this wound at the end of the previous issue. As is so frequently the case for characters in superhero comics, the drama continues to play out past the point of death, into the cerebral nether-space between living and dying. It allows Alec to decide that he needs to embrace his destiny and become the Swamp Thing. It’s a regular stop for heroes nearing the end of the Heroes’ Journey (capital H, capital J), but Scott Snyder manages something subtly different, emotionally unique to this very specifically reluctant hero. 

There’s not a lot that “happens” in this issue. Alec dies and his consciousness communes with the Parliament of Trees, who are coincidentally dying in an inferno in Brazil. The Parliament seems to be doing this out of spite; they chide Alec one last time for not living up to his potential (it’s like the first couple Christmases after graduating from college – am I right?). But Alec reveals the ace up his sleeve: one last canister of his world-famous bio-restorative formula. He begs the Parliament to transform him into Swampy, and as they’re backed against a flaming wall, they oblige him. Newly alive, Swamp Thing unleashes hell on his attackers before spouting angelic wings and vowing to take the fight directly to The Rot.

It’s a hype title, for sure. If you weren’t quite ready to see an all-out brawl between the avatars of life and death, then this was your Pep Rally. I’m being a little snarky, but mostly because I was already at maximum hype for this series. I mean, check it: issue six may end with Alec being killed, but moments before, he plunges himself chest-deep in the swamp and pleads to the trees “Please. Please take me. I was wrong. Make me the Swamp Thing again.” The point of the death and rebirth is that Alec accepts his fate and takes up the mantle that’s been forced upon him since the second issue, right?

To me, Alec gave in just before he died, making his 11th-hour decision making less impacting. What I do find compelling about this issue isn’t Alec Holland’s concession, but the Parliament’s. Stubborn as shit, Alec does not agree to vegify because he’s gung-ho about battling the ancient evil, he does it because he believes it to be the only way to save Abby. He’s not motivated by goals of the Green, but by his own desire to protect the only person that means anything to him anymore. And that’s strictly against the mission statement of the Parliament of Trees.

Oh and the art is fantastic. The metaphysical nature of the subject matter may make for some wishy-washy storytelling, but it opens the door for some aggressively stylized visuals that execute the previously established rules in a fireworks-level spectacle. Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy have been using distinctive border schemes to illustrate what force is most in-power at any given point: when the Rot is in play, the panel borders are red and black tears, like scar tissue; when the Parliament is in play, the borders become bubbly, 1970’s-style black light paintings; when Swamp Thing is in play, the borders become forked branches and leafs. This issue is a damn tour-de-force, masterfully applying all three styles to emphasize the struggle between The Green and The Rot for the control of Alec’s fate.

The twig-and-leaf theme returns only in the final pages as Swamp Thing emerges triumphant, refusing to submit completely to either force. This page where he finally takes the form of swamp thing so effectively folds Rot and Green imagery, all framed by veins of a leaf. It’s triumphant and terrifying and the single most effective image I’ve seen in an already artistically astounding series.

One of the problems with waiting until Monday to post our review of Swamp Thing is that I end up accidentally seeing other sites’ reviews of this issue. I try to avoid actually reading them, but sometimes I can’t escape seeing the scores that are awarded. I don’t know if you’ve looked, but Swamp Thing 7 is getting 10/10s, 5 stars/5stars, and other superlative scores as well. Now, don’t get me wrong (I beg you, don’t get me wrong), I like this issue, but I’m so ready for some non-dream-sequence action in this title. This issue really effectively got me excited for next month, but all the previous issues have been satisfying experiences in their own right. It’s the curse of the penultimate issue/episode/installment: pieces are put in place for the final showdown. I’m glad we don’t assign number scores, because I feel like I’d have to dock this one a few points for ending with the same emotional conclusion as the previous issue (and for general lack of things happening).

But between the mind-blowing art and the modest inversion of “the hero taking up the call to arms,” this is a pretty interesting piece of the Swamp Thing puzzle. It’s an odd comparison to Animal Man, because Buddy’s connection to his family has been growing throughout the series, while Alec grows increasingly distant from all non-Abby people. Both characters are on a collision course with the other, and I’m super excited to see how they play off of eachother.

Drew: I can definitely agree that this issue is mostly hype, but good god damn is it an effective one. I can see why it’s earning superlative marks — you can almost hear the war drums when you read that last panel (and possibly some HEAVY METAL GUITARS) — but I can also get behind the thought that the lack of action in this issue keeps it from being truly great. I kind of wonder if some of the impact of “holy shit, it’s Swamp Thing” might be lost on us as newcomers (in the same way that Supes putting on the cape for the first time might not seem like a big deal to someone with no familiarity with the character). Either way, the image of Swamp Thing waking up is enough to get anyone’s blood pumping.

What’s really interesting about the reveal is that this extreme close-up is the only time we get a very good look at Swampy. We focus briefly on his hands and wings, but he spends the remainder of this issue in silhouette. The fact that we never get a good look at him only amplifies the hype effect, pumping me up not just for war, but for the simple pleasure of seeing what Swamp Thing looks like. It helps that the glimpses we do get are awesome, from the intricate detail of the closeup above to the leafy angel-wings Patrick mentioned. Paquette includes those details on every page, creating peerlessly immersive environments. It makes places like the forest feel real, and places like Rot’s growing kingdom feel too real. He crams as much nature into every frame as possible, reminding us that it’s not just the human world at stake.

There are a lot of details to like, from the poignantly hopeful flowers that frame the image of Alec flying off to war, to the alligator that appears on the first and last pages of the issue, but my absolute favorite detail has to be the way Alec is depicted throughout his conversation with the Parliament. He appears before them naked, and since this is occurring in some kind of metaphysical space, he has no wounds on his body.  However, as the Parliament grows weaker (or as the Rot-zombies break into Alec’s protective cocoon), wounds open up all over his body.

These wounds grow and multiply until Alec is covered in blood and doubled over in pain. Paquette manages to make this sequence both terrifying and pitiful, conveying Alec’s pain and helplessness brilliantly. The reality of those images plays perfectly against the trippy burnt-wood imagery of the Parliament, and all of it helps build to that image of Swamp Thing’s eye opening for the first time.

Actually, I’m no longer sure I’m all that bothered by the fact that nothing really happens this issue. Destinly fulfillment stories are always going to feel a little predictable, but I really dig the way Snyder navigates the waters here. As the issue opens, he hearkens back to Alec’s first death, mirroring images of Alec dying in the present with him dying in the past. Even his monologue expresses how familiar this feels. That monologue appears almost verbatim again towards the end, giving the issue a cyclical feel which emphasizes the inevitability of Alec’s ascension to Swamp Thing. We don’t learn anything new in this issue, but I’m willing to trade that in for the kind of emotional satisfaction I get from having these themes emphasized.

I know we haven’t spent much time with them, but I’m actually going to miss the Parliament of Trees. Eliciting an emotional reaction to the wanton destruction of old growth trees in the Amazon is a neat trick for a title with an environmental bent to pull off, but I’m more impressed by how little we learned from the Parliament before they were destroyed. In particular, the way they talk about being delivered from the Red really intrigues me. Alec calls them out for overreaching their boundaries, saying that his human restraint is precisely what would keep him from trying to eliminate both the Rot and the Red, but I kind of think that would have been a cool conflict to explore more in the future. Either way, Alec is on his own now, and it certainly feels like a brave new world he’s entering. We may have our differences about this issue, but I think we can both agree that next month is going to rock socks. Hype: achieved.

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?

4 comments on “Swamp Thing 7

  1. I don’t think I’d appreciated how insanely detailed the panel borders were until this issue. The designs for the trippy Parliament borders alone (which are often perfectly symmetrical this issue) must take hours of work. The results are gorgeous.

    Maybe I’m remembering this wrong (I’m at work, so don’t have any of the issues in front of me), but I think this is the first time we’ve seen this much symmetry in a single issue, which only appears during those Parliament scenes. That symmetry could mean a lot of things in terms of the green/red/rot balance, but I’m choosing to interpret it as the Parliament’s own view of an idealized, all-green world. I really think the idea of the Parliament being anti-animal was really compelling, and I’m sorry that we won’t get to explore it more in the future. Right now, they seem like benevolent Loraxes, but they also seem ready to take on eco-terrorist or even itinerant anti-human stances, which would have been an interesting conflict — especially for an eco-friendly title.

  2. I think you’re right about this being the first time we see so much 100% symmetry. And I also think your read on it as representative of the perfect Green world as imaged by the Parliament is dead on.

    So does this really mean that Swampy’s got no support structure? Buddy’s got a lot of agents of the Red to fall back on, but poor Alec appears to be on his own. But then, what does it mean that all of Animal Man’s support staff is like “fuck, I don’t know: find Swamp thing.”

    • It’s strange how weird it feels for Alec to no longer have that support structure, even though many comic heroes don’t (and Swampy never had before, if I’m not mistaken). Flash makes a point of mentioning that his powers didn’t come with an instruction manual, and much of that title seems devoted to him learning and understanding his limits. This title does feature an old-as-time conflict between natural forces, so I suppose some background would be helpful, but I’m okay to see him figure this stuff out on his own.

      It is funny that all of the agents of the Red are deferring to Swamp Thing — he just now became Swamp Thing. I guess he has all those memories from when he wasn’t Swamp Thing, but it’s weird that Socks is still deferring to his authority. Part of that may be that the Rot-imals are neigh unstoppable (unless you’re Swamp Thing), but that begs the question: why can’t the Rot infiltrate the Green in the same way it can the Red?

  3. Pingback: Best of 2012: Best Covers | Retcon Punch

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