Swamp Thing 0

Alternating Currents: Swamp Thing 0, Drew and PeterToday, Drew and Peter are discussing Swamp Thing 0, originally released September 5, 2012. Swamp Thing 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Drew: One of the most interesting things to me about this zero month experiment is the diversity of types of stories we might get to see. Some titles have large, overshadowing histories that have only been teased. Others have managed to make revealing the origin of their hero a key element in the narrative at large. But what do you do if your title has followed the hero since before he was a hero? Scott Snyder has made clear through his previous work on Swamp Thing that he’s not afraid of telling an Alec Holland story (as opposed to a Swamp Thing story), but is that really necessary at this point in the narrative? Snyder manages to answer both questions in surprising ways, turning the focus to Anton Arcane’s history, and how it shockingly ties into Alec’s own past.

The issue begins with a prologue to 1897 Manitoba, the time of the Swamp Thing from the Animal Man Annual. That Swamp Thing nurses a wayfaring stranger back to health, only to discover that it’s actually Arcane in disguise. He kills that Swamp Thing, and explains that this was neither the first not the last avatar of either the Green or the Red that he has slain, leading us to Alec Holland. Six years ago, just as Alec was finishing developing his biorestorative formula, Arcane had infiltrated his research group, wearing the skin of one of his partners, Men in Black style. When he goes to kill Alec in his home, he is assaulted by Alec’s wife, Linda, whose skin he then takes. Arcane-as-Linda visits Alec in his lab, but rather than killing him outright, opts to burn him as a final “fuck you” to the Parliament of Trees. Apparently, the fire kept the Parliament from swampifying Alec, but one of the old trees has a plan (which carries us back to what we already know).

I have almost no experience with Swamp Thing before the relaunch, so I don’t know how much of this is already part of the known Swamp Thing lore, but I loved every moment of it. The focus on Arcane was a brilliant choice; we’ve spent so much time focusing on effective avatars of the Red and Green, it’s interesting to see the work of a skilled avatar of the Rot, even if the things he’s doing are horrific. And boy are they horrific. We see Arcane smothering a baby in the nursery ward of a hospital (with the help of an Un-man), but I was particularly struck by this image.

I’m not always a fan of this kind of split image, but the effect really works here to establish Arcane’s history of murder. The images themselves are horrible, and the fact that Arcane elides them only enhances that horror, emphasizing that he lives (lives?) for these moments. What really gets me is that these images are sutured together with A HUGE FUCKING CENTIPEDE CRAWLING OUT OF IT. I mean, first, GROSS! but, more importantly, that stitching together of those images further emphasizes the sense that those are the only moments Arcane ever thinks about.

Kano does a brilliant job in this issue, filling some very big shoes left (temporarily!) by Yanick Paquette. He nails those page dividers we always make such a big deal about, but more importantly, his acting sells the hell out of the horror moments. Linda’s terror and tears in her last moments are truly heartbreaking, but the most gut-wrenching moments come as Alec unwittingly cuddles with the monster that just murdered his wife.

It goes without saying how icky that sequence is, and it’s shocking to think that Alec still has no knowledge of Arcane’s involvement. Does this jive with previous Swamp Thing canon? Does it nestle in shockingly plausibly a la Snyder’s big reveal in Batman? I love it either way, but I wonder if I would be even more impressed if I knew what kinds of backflips Snyder was doing to make this work.

What really works for me is that, while we’ve certainly been given the vibe that he’s a bad dude, this is the first we’ve seen of just how horrible he is. We first see him gaining a Swamp Thing’s trust by posing as an adolescent girl, then mercilessly crushing him in his jaws. He follows that up with murdering a baby. Then we see him murder a man’s wife just to fuck with him before he ultimately killed him as well. We also learn that he killed a lot of people in the meantime. I always knew he was a bad dude, but now I know he’s a bad dude.

A Snyder title probably isn’t the most accurate barometer for zero month, but it’s certainly gotten me excited for the prospect at more of these. It’s certainly a high bar to set so early, but it’s also worked to get me on the side of this whole zero issue idea. What about you, Peter? Did this issue work for you? Would you rather have just gotten more RotWorld this week?

Peter: I wasn’t really chomping at the bit for more RotWorld at this point, because it’s still in such an infant stage. We don’t really know what’s that all about than the Alec and Buddy teaming up to take on Anton, but that’s the obvious plot. It hasn’t really intrigued me to the point of unfetted desire. I actually really liked this issue. It was nice to see Snyder’s take on early Swamp Thing lore. However, knowing Snyder, I knew he wasn’t just going to spew out an origin story and call it a day. In fact, I almost prefer the Arcane storyline, since, while it doesn’t focus on Alec, it goes over the important parts while still keeping Anton the main character.

Anton Arcane is a seriously bad dude. This issue really gives that scope. I mean, he’s taken on the Red and the Green for such a long time, plus, HE IS WEARING LIN’S SKIN! This all gives real depth to the conflict between Alec and Anton. In fact, I’m surprised Alec isn’t super vengeful over this. Maybe he feels justified since he’s now shacking up with Abby?

Despite Kano subbing in, he did a really good job. He’s clearly trying to break the world record for most grotesque images in a single comic book. This issue is such a Dark book, probably moreso than many of the others. A BRAIN WITH A HAND SMOTHERS A BABY!

As mentioned, the Swamp Thing part of the story isn’t really the focus. However, I would like to remind everyone of one thing. Pre-New 52, Alec Holland was never actually Swamp Thing. The Thing was still an extension of the Green, with a bit of Holland’s conscience thrown in, but they weren’t the same person. This has obviously changed now, and it does play into the recent history, especially when you consider the Parliament of Trees’ long wait for Alec to become the greatest Swamp Thing ever.

Anything else I say right now will be a repeat of how awesome this book is. Seriously.

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?

11 comments on “Swamp Thing 0

  1. I thought the way Snyder handled the Swamp Thing origin was really smart. Pre-relaunch, this is approximately how it happened; there was a fire at his lab, Alec stumbled into the swamp, and became Swamp Thing. Geoff Johns had to do a little story-juggling to get monstery Swamp Thing to fit into his Brightest Day scheme, which is reflected in Synder’s retelling of the origin we saw back in issue 1. This zero issue maintains that balance between old origin and new origin, PLUS gives us more horrifying insight into Anton Arcane’s role in the universe. Stellar work, if you ask me.

    • I think you’ve hit upon one of the things that makes Snyder one of my new favorites. He is clearly telling his own story with his own version of Swamp Thing but he also respects where the character comes from and in doing so the many fans of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing. I think that goes a long way in the acceptance of this new version of Swampy. I feel the same way with Lemire and his Animal Man run. Grant Morrison’s run is one of my all time favorites and Lemire does a masterful job of telling us his own Animal Man story, giving him new powers, villains, even adding to his origin all while showing us just enough to know that this Buddy is the same one from Grant Morrison’s run.

      I’ll say this before and I’ll say it again, Snyder and Lemire are the best things to happen to DC Comics in a long time.

      • Agreed, that is a perfect way to say it. They can respect the characters’ roots (pun intended!) while giving us something new. Next week I’m reviewing Animal Man with no less than The Freakin’ Animal Man, so I look forward to seeing what he has to say!

        • I have not, but I want to. I also want to go back and read Moore’s Swamp Thing. I JUST WANT TO READ EVERYTHING.

        • I KNOW THE FEELING! I’ve been going back and trying to find the “must read” runs of pretty much everything DCU and it’s just crazy how much there is. Not to mention everything else that’s out there outside of the big two. It’s overwhelming but I’ll get there one day!

  2. This might have been the first time I was horrified by Snyder’s writing. The art usually does 98% of stomach-turning, but Drew, that page you posted…

    “To hear the crack of the bone. The gasp from each. Then the scream. The wonderful scream – when they’d remember what pain is, how it feels.”

    JESUS CHRIST. Anton Arcane is a monster beyond compare.

  3. This was the best comic of the New 52. Not of the zero issues, not of Swamp Thing, but of the New 52. It made my skin crawl, it made me want to get revenge, and it makes me mad I have to wait to see how they defeat Arcane. At times I’ve been bothered by the slow pace of this story, but holy crap did this deliver.

    This is as good as it gets. This is the 10/10. The art was spectacular (the split image full page dragging the red/green corpses (somehow the bloody stitching is what got me in the end)), the story was gruesome and engaged me at a level that only occurs rarely and left me exhausted, yet I was dismayed that it was over and I couldn’t have more.

    I’m going to go read it again. Now.

    • Oh dude, I think the slow — but still excellent — burn of Swamp Thing makes issues like this all the more satisfying. Arcane has been this kind of UNSPEAKABLE TERROR since the end of issue nine. The fact that they’re just pulling back the curtain and revealing the depth of his monstrosity know IS incredible. It also feels like the absolute perfect time to be getting this back story (I love it when the zero feels natural). Thanks for reading with us!

  4. Pingback: Animal Man 0 | Retcon Punch

  5. Pingback: Villain Month Guide: Part 4 – Everyone Else | Retcon Punch

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