Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Swamp Thing 15, originally released December 5th, 2012. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage.
Patrick: Naturally, I copied the our previous post about Swamp Thing to get this article started. I noticed that Capristo started the piece: “Poor Alec.” And thus I lost my opening line for this write-up. Looking back on our Swamp Thing Alternating Currents, it is remarkable how much we pity Alec. No matter what he does, he can’t be granted a minute’s peace. And while his counterpart, Animal Man, seems to be amassing allies left and right in the Rotworld, Swamp Thing’s road is a perpetually lonely one. It makes Alec’s quest for his singular companion that much more compelling. They are two against the Rotworld, and the pair’s separation lends as much uneasy tension to this issue as the undead tentacle-monster. Oh, did I not mention: there’s an undead tentacle-monster.
In the days before Rotworld, Abby went back to challenge Anton Arcane. To her horror, Abby discovered that her uncle-father was making disgusting little clones of her. No time to properly take that in, Abby rushes down to the basement to destroy the “other parliament.” Aparently, she’s too late to do such a thing, and a bunch of Rot Monsters tear her apart. Oh at least, that’s the story William Arcane spins for Alec and Dead Man when he encounters them on the high seas. Swamp Thing’s power wanes, but no so much that he can’t take out William’s first hench-monster single handedly. The problem being — of course — that the little shit has an unlimited supply of those things. Alec wracks his brain to think of a way to combat the Rot Child, but Dead Man has the answer right away: possess him. For those of you not well-versed in ecto-mathematics:
Ghost Possession X Undead Body = 0
Alone again, Swamp Thing makes his way to Gotham City and all the way down to the Batcave. There, he’s attacked by a shackled Rot Monster in a Bat costume. Another new ally to the rescue — a shape-shifting Barbara Gordon with a shot gun. What the fuck is going on here?
One of the things I’m enjoying about Rotworld are the superfluous references to the rest of the DC Universe. Now that I’m elbow deep in this stuff, simple little nods to other characters and concepts excite the hell out of me. There are obvious references that make me squeal — like Babs and Dead Man — but there’s also subtler stuff. Somewhere during the collapse of all plant and animal life, William Arcane named himself master of the seas, which means he totally would have fought and killed Aquaman. You want proof of that? He’s wielding Arthur’s trident.
And Starro, for that matter, is another fun reference. Starro is the creature that the Justice League is battling on the cover of the David Graves book “Justice League: Gods Among Us.“
Yet, for all the references to characters, monsters and tridents we know and love, Rotworld is wholely disarming. Part of that disarmament is that everything is recontextualized for this post-life world. But much of this disorientation is by design. Marco Rudy is the MVP this month, delivering on classic the Swamp Thing art style, while embracing a bunch of new border patterns, giving all of these pages (except the first and final pages) a frighteningly dizzying effect. Panels around Abby’s escape ooze with a familiar Arcane lumpiness — the pattern continues aggressively for four-and-a-half pages, concluding with Abby finally pushing past it. But the less-familiar borders belong to the Bat-family, which rule the layouts of the last couple pages. (But Rudy can’t resist teasing Batman just a little bit early in the issue.)
Also, is it just me, or does having Scott Snyder’s name on this book lend an air of authority to Swamp Thing’s adventures in ‘New Gotham’ that wouldn’t be there otherwise? When Barbara says “Oh my god, it’s you. Alec Holland. Bruce was right.” I immediately believe that “our” Bruce had foretold the coming of Swamp Thing. It might not be totally fair, but I always feel like an author has to earn the right to speak with authority when it comes to these characters. Take, for example, the reveal at the end of this week’s Animal Man (which I won’t spoil, but everyone should be reading): because Jeff Lemire doesn’t have any role in that character’s universe, I’m a little bit wary of his making assumptions about the kinds of things that would happen to that character. And someone HUGE like Batman requires an awful lot of authority to command. Snyder knows full-well that he brings that to the table. It’s one of the rare opportunities where editorial baggage works in a book’s favor. I think that’s neat.
It’s sort of a bummer that Dead Man didn’t make it through this issue. I like that character so much — largely because of how Lemire writes him over on Justice League Dark. But his “death” raises an interesting question: in the end, will this all be worth it for Alec Holland? He’s all but rejected his responsibility to the Green in the past, and even now, it seems like he’s only adventuring to save Abby. If he didn’t have the “save the girl” carrot dangling in front of him, I’m not sure Swamp Thing would march at all. The problem is that even more people are dying (hell, even ghosts are dying) in his not-all-that-heroic quest. Partnering him up with Babs makes me nervous for her (we’ve recently seen another grim depiction of her future), when I feel like we should be excited that she has this new Green resource. What do you think, Drew? Is Alec Holland going to be good for the fighting resistance of New Gotham, or will they be another casualty in his mission to get his girlfriend back?
Drew: At this point, it doesn’t seem like Alec is helpful at all. The longer he spends away from the Green’s stronghold, the longer weaker he gets. In fact, by the time Babs shows up, it’s because he needs her help, not the other way around. Rudy emphasizes this fact in the last panel, where a concerned Barbara helps Alec struggle to his feet.
The poses recall countless paintings of Mary and Jesus, an effect only enhanced by its frame, a device I was particularly taken with in Batman 14. Here, Rudy hints at the Rot creeping in, both in the image itself, where rotting bats and Batman’s hand creep into frame from both above and below, and in the frame, where dripping blood and ever-so-slightly rough edges belie the Rot’s influence.
As Patrick mentioned, those borders carry a great deal of narrative significance in this issue. In particular, I was struck by the clean, geometric lines used in William’s story (forgive me for reposting an image Patrick partially excerpted above, but here’s the whole spread).
The protracted straightness of those lines suggest that the story may be at least somewhat artificial. It’s important to note that this subjective affect is lost at the “conclusion” of Abby’s story, which features her own voiceover, and is relayed after William’s death. Exactly when she’s “telling” this story isn’t clear, but it lends ammunition to the theory that she’s still alive.
Rudy isn’t always so easily read, however. The closing image of Abby’s story is so distractingly different from the images that precede and follow it that I’m still not sure what it means.
It’s largely obscured by another panel, and is detailed with a level of crosshatch shading we don’t see anywhere else in the issue. Is this reality? Hyper-reality? Imagination? I’m sure it means something, but exactly what still eludes me. That’s a level of ambiguity I don’t often see in comics, but it’s absolutely thrilling.
Patrick, you’re absolutely right about “poor Alec.” It’s clear to me now that Snyder has a fascination with the “challenges and temptations” and “death” portions of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. We saw Bruce face a grueling gauntlet before his symbolic rebirth in the Court of Owls storyline, and we saw Alec’s much more literal rebirth in the first arc of this title. Methinks Alec needs the help too much for Babs to be in too much danger, but maybe Snyder wants to drag him through the mud a bit more before he can regain his footing. Whatever the case, I’m sure it will be a difficult, but rewarding, adventure.
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