Swamp Thing 8

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Swamp Thing 8, originally released April 4th, 2012.

Drew: Swamp Thing is all about details. Plot-wise, this issue may be even lighter than the previous one — Swamp Thing brings the fight to Sethe’s doorstep, prompting Sethe to play his ace in the whole: a Rot-ified Abby Arcane — but the creative team continues to emphasize and elucidate themes in ways that are both exciting and rewarding. Both the narration and the art are packed with subtle detail that amplify, refract, and subvert the story in surprising ways.

The issue opens in Idaho, as a farmer prepares to begin harvesting his crop. As he realizes his fields have been completely destroyed, the panel borders begin to deteriorate, recalling the opening of issue 1, where Superman observes all of the pigeons in Metropolis spontaneously dropping out of the sky. Those panel boarders continue to cue us in to exactly what forces are at play throughout this issue. The opening pages depicting the Rot’s reach are saturated with that rough, ragged bordering. The border effects that accompany Swamp Thing — recalling branches and leaf veins — receive a similar introduction as Alec approaches from afar.

The introduction of those panel borders is accompanied by a demonstration of Alec’s abilities — a detail that becomes increasingly important as the issue wears on. I particularly like how that last panel has a flower bursting out of the borders altogether. I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I wonder if it’s related to Alec mentioning that he’s not holding back at all today — he’s going to unleash the full power of the Green in order to fight Sethe.

Those borders help clarify the action in the fight sequences, making it clear moment-by-moment just who’s winning. After several panels of Alec dominating, all bordered with his signature branches (and thorns!), we get this sequence:

As the minions of the Rot re-double their efforts, they land a blow to Alec’s shoulder, and the borders around that action take on the distinctive theme of the Rot. But, as Swamp Thing quickly dispatches the horrible winged fox-worm that bit him, the panels switch back to branches and thorns. This kind of dynamism creates a fight sequence that is stunningly clear — clearer than any “hero vs. an army of the undead” has any right to be.

That description reminds me of Army of Darkness, which is a parallel I mean to draw (as I suspect writer Scott Snyder intended), but I want to first point out an unrelated, but awesome, detail in the image above. Check out the lower left-hand corner of that image. That Sethe is sitting on a throne of human bodies is a pretty sickening detail, but look at how much care Yanick Paquette put into those bodies: they all have different body-types, postures, clothes, hair, even faces. This is no faceless crowd in identical tattered gray shirts. Details like that enhance the visceral reality of these images beyond horrible abstractions and directly into the realm of nightmares. Suffice it to say: the art here is awesome.

Anyway, back to Army of Darkness, which also featured a hero fighting an undead horde that had claimed his girlfriend as one of their own. This title has no interest in the slapstick elements of that movie, instead choosing to focus on the horror of the dead attempting to destroy the living. Still, the parallels are strong, and Alec looks to be well on his way to dispatching Sethe as easily as Bruce Campbell did the titular Army — that is, until Abby shows up, looking for all the world like the queen form Aliens. That image is pretty terrifying, but it’s Alec’s reaction shot that really demonstrates just how horrible the thought that this used to be Abby really is.

The quality of acting here is impeccable, and far surpasses anything I would expect from a wooden swamp-monster. Hell, the acting here is less wooden than on some other titles (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Once again, the art is awesome.

But is it also political? Check out one of my favorite images from this issue, a close-up on Sethe accompanied by Alec’s narration:

The panels on that page are pitched somewhere between Alec’s signature branching and the Rot’s ragged gashes, suggesting (along with Alec’s narration) that this is the Rot as Alec sees it. What’s interesting to me about this reading are the inked effects that swirl around and behind Sethe’s head: those are human fingerprints. It’s tough for me to tell if those are the work of section artist Marco Rudy or colorist Nathan Fairbairn (there are some red prints in there, too), but it’s a cool effect, either way. I can’t help but wonder, though, if it isn’t meant as an indictment of humanities role in the kind of wanton destruction Sethe represents.

Maybe I just can’t help reading these things into Swamp Thing, and while it’s clear that the moral of this arc is “balance,” I’m feeling the stern finger pointing drifting from the abstract idea of death incarnate to humanity as a whole. Notice, for example, even the first panel of the first page, where there is no indication of the Rot anywhere, the borders are still slightly ragged.

Is this meant to draw a connection between harvesting crops and the destruction of the world as we know it? There seems to be a similar bent in the next sequence, where a father and son are out hunting. That theme is emphasized by the father’s monologue, which highlights the adversarial nature of man’s relationship to nature.

I’m curious to know if you’re seeing any of those themes, Patrick (I’m also willing to accept if this is just me projecting), but I’m dying to know how you felt about this issue in general. I know you felt like the last issue was more of a tease than anything, and while this issue does deliver some action goods, it mostly just built to the battle yet to come. Oh, also, the issue ended with Abby impaling Alec on her fingers. How many issues are going to end with that guy getting impaled?

Patrick: It’s interesting to see the different ways The Rot is portrayed in Animal Man and Swamp Thing. The creatures of The Rot are always depicted as dead hunks of flesh and bone, reconstituted into some form to fight our heroes, but each of these series emphasize different aspects of death to highlight a struggle that the titular character is going through. Animal Man struggles between his human side, with a wife and two awesome kids, and his animal side – it’s not surprising then that the conflict that pulls him away from his family takes the form of dead animals. Swamp Thing made a similar choice between his dueling nature of plant vs. man and most of the Rot monsters he fights take the form of human corpses. Thematically, one of these characters is pushed into being more human while the other is being pushed toward being less.

I’ve been rolling your political read around in my head for a couple hours now – and hours are a rare commodity when we crank out one of these reviews over night. The reading holds water, but there are a few things in the issue that I have a hard time reconciling with it. Take for example, Sethe’s inability to speak on his own. He must utilize the vocal cords of the still-sorta-alive to deliver his message. This calls to mind the now-but-a-memory Occupy movement, with their human mega-phones. More generally, it recalls protest – many taking a stand against a single entity. That seems a little at odds with the idea that human beings are somehow the progenitors of death.

But then again, that farmer on the first page does grab a scythe, so what the hell do I know?

As demonstrated above, the art in this book is simply sublime, and you’re right to pull all those images up for specific praise. In previous issues, I’ve been able to spot the switch from Marco Rudy to Yanick Paquette, but their common styles are so electrically on display through the whole issue that I didn’t even notice the changeover. Just about every one of these write-ups we’ve done have praised the thematically appropriate borders and horrifying creature designs (that winged fox thing!), but this is the first time we really get to see Alec Holland’s Swamp Thing in action. Last month was a reveal, but it was still sorta cagey. With giant leafy wings, branch-like antlers and a built-in sword and shield, this incarnation of Swamp Thing feels like a no bullshit warrior. The design is literally awesome.

Its neat to me the way Alec wields the power of Swamp Thing. Alec’s never been a fighter in his life – he’s only ever been a scientist. Yet, the second he finishes his transformation, he takes the fight directly to The Rot with what is basically no plan. Meanwhile, Buddy Baker and his family are trying to understand exactly what it is they’re up against and how to best come out of the conflict alive. But Alec makes an impulsive decision and seems to love possessing the  angelic power of a neigh indestructible swamp monster. There are four consecutive pages of Swamp Thing kicking ass in gigantic spreads that barely bother to split the action up into panels. One of those spreads is wordless – it’s just Swamp Thing taking on the Army of Darkness as holy pillars of light squeak through the clouds.

It just so huge and satisfying. You asked if I felt a little bit slighted by the narrative here as I did last month, and I can say without hesitation that I do not. The scale of this conflict has gotten so great – we’ve seen its effects across North America — and yet the heart of this battles continues to be one man fighting for the woman who makes him feel whole. It manages to feel both grand and focused at the same time; that’s no mean feat. Scott Snyder’s writing on Batman should have clued me on his ability to make an epic narrative while never losing sight of what’s important to his characters.

God damn it, I just wish I could post every single page of this issue with the commentary: “Wow!” But that’s inarticulate and would infringe pretty blatantly on intellectual property and copyright laws.

You know, it’s sorta shocking that Abby has been transformed into this Rot monster. Transformation was an inevitability for Alec, but Abby is a regular fixture in the Swamp Thing canon. If she’s some kind of death-demon, there may be no coming back for her. Sometimes when reading these headier titles that are more driven by beautifully articulated themes, it’s easy to forget that we’re still reading superhero comics and that these kinds of developments have a big impact on where the series goes from here.

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?

9 comments on “Swamp Thing 8

  1. Well, I read all 8 issues last night, and something that really struck me (besides EVERYTHING) was the reversal of stereotypical gender associations. Speaking from an art history view point, women are generally depicted as the organic, languid, life-bringers, while men tend to be depicted as hard-edged, stiff, and militaristic. I first started thinking about the reversal of this back in an issue where Alec and Abby are sleeping on the grass, and the grass around Alec bursts into bloom while the grass around Abby whithers and dies. This depiction reversal really comes home to roost in this issue after the charaters’ transformations. Alec is now completely organic, while Abby is slick, sleek, and hard. I know that “organic” is kind of Swamp Thing’s…uh, thing, but Abby could have been drawn in an equally organic style. Rotting flesh is still organic. Instead, she appears to be more machine now than (wo)man, and I love it.

    Also, guys, I think it’s Sethe, not Seethe.

    • Oops! RIght your are, Shelby. I’ve fixed it in the post, but I’m going to leave it in your comment so everyone will know SHELBY WAS RIGHT.

    • I really like this. When we first meet Abby, she’s saving Alec from mortal danger, a kind of reversal of the ol’ “damsel in distress” trope. She’s also riding a motorcycle and brandishing a big gun while Alec is being more-or-less hysterical. That particular role-reversal has be re-reversed, such that Alec is now attempting to save Abby from the big evil castle, but Snyder has subverted that stereotype by making Abby the dragon Alec has to slay to save her. This arc would make a great subject for gender studies final paper. ARE YOU LISTENING, CURRENT COLLEGE STUDENTS?

      • There is little I like more than discussing gender role subversion in pop-culture. Thanks, liberal arts education!

  2. Pingback: Swamp Thing 0 | Retcon Punch

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