Today, Shelby and Scott are discussing Swamp Thing 18, originally released March 6th, 2013. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage.
Shelby: I’m going to be honest with you all: I’m at a loss, here. I’m not sure where to begin. Swamp Thing has been one of my favorite titles since I picked it up around issue 6. Scott Snyder’s Alec Holland is a conflicted man, trying to find his place in the world, but ultimately following his heart. Yanick Paquette’s art is horrifyingly beautiful, so beautiful I was inspired to permanently ink it into my skin. Add a couple star-crossed lovers, disgusting zombie creatures, and the destruction of the DC universe, and you’ve got something pretty special on your hands. This issue marks the end of Rotworld, the end of Snyder and Paquette’s work on the title, and the fates of Abby and Alec; it’s no wonder I’m feeling a little bittersweet about this write-up.
After jumping into the Rot, Alec is deposited at Anton’s castle with just enough time to prevent Abby’s de-spineification, which he does with alacrity.
Abby and Alec know that even being torn in half isn’t enough to stop Anton. The only way to take him out for good is by revoking his avatar card, which the Parliament of Rot can only do if Abby takes his place, which she can only do if she is dead. So, Alec takes her in his arms one more time, and kills her. Anton bursts in and proceeds to beat the shit out of Alec. As his human form begins to die and his Swamp Thing form begins to receed, Abby reappears as the Avatar of the Rot, and truly destroys Anton.
Alec wakes up back in the swamp with his Parliament; he is now truly Swamp Thing, with no nugat-y human center. Abby comes to say good-bye, and she brings the saddest gift in the world: her and Alec’s bodies. Swamp Thing grows a beautiful bed of flowers over Alec and Abby, and embraces his love one last time.
Even though technically he can put down roots and be a member of the Parliament now, Swamp Thing decides it would be dumb to waste this second chance at life he’s been given, and is ready to take on whatever the world can throw at him.
What a beautiful conclusion to Alec’s part of Rotworld. Even though my heart is broken, I can’t deny the power of the closure Snyder has given to Alec and Abby. Think about it: there has really only been one arc in Swamp Thing, this is the end of a story that has been about a year and a half in the making. The heroes sacrifice themselves in order to save the world. The ill-fated lovers can never be together. The villain is vanquished, our heroes redeemed. It’s all pretty simple stuff, but Snyder has used these basic ideas very elegantly to conclude the story of Alec and Abby.
As gorgeous as Snyder’s writing is, though, it’s not what has got me in tears as I write this. In the comments of Swamp Thing 17, Mr. Paquette mentioned that he wasn’t on art duty because he was focusing on the art for this issue, and it shows. If I could show you every page of this issue I would, and I would have something to say about every panel, but I think the image to best portray Paquette’s stunning work is Abby’s death at Alec’s hand.
How can something like that not break your heart? Look at the anguish on Alec’s face, the beauty of the branches piercing Abby’s body! Paquette also is calling on a lot of visual themes from earlier issues throughout this book; the shape of the border around the panel, for instance, mirrors the trippy cover to Swamp Thing 7, while the color scheme preps us for Abby’s new appearance. Her new look is a less monsterish version of her as the Rot Queen in Swamp Thing 9. But the cherry on top of the sundae of this image is the handful of Abby’s orchids, growing on the end of the branches on which she is impaled. The flowers look forward to her rebirth as the Avatar of the Rot, while looking back to her origin as the Rot-wielding badass she is. It’s smart, poignant, and gorgeous in a bittersweet sort of way. As badly as I am going to miss Snyder on this title, Paquette is the one I’m really sad about.
Last month Patrick expressed some concern over the implications of the time travel reset. He was worried that Rotworld would turn from a “this is what happened” to a “what if?” scenario. That is definitely not the case; I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that Alec’s main reason for going back was to save Abby, not to save the world. Well, he went back, and she had to die anyway, and not only did she still die, but Alec died, too. Rotworld has had a lasting effect on these characters and this universe, despite the fact that technically it never actually happened. Snyder gave us the closure we needed and delivered a universe reset, all without depreciating the impressions Rotworld has left.
Mr. Snyder and Mr. Paquette, your work on this title has been phenomenal: thank you. I look forward to, in the future, picking up and becoming obsessed with anything that has either of your names on it.
Scott: Well said, Shelby. Paquette’s art truly is something to behold. It’s amazing that my immediate and lasting impression of this issue is that it looks beautiful, considering how much page space is occupied by ugly beasts impaling each other with massive claws and branches. But there’s even beauty in the bloodspatter.
The beauty of the artwork also distracts from the fact that this is an incredibly sad story. Not only does Alec have to kill Abby by his own hand, he then has to see her again as the Avatar of the Rot and confront the fact that they can never be together. Somehow, those are both the most heartbreaking thing that could have happened.
Shelby, you mentioned that Paquette took last month off to focus on this issue, and I’m grateful for that. This issue had a fairly simple story, but it was jam-packed with emotional moments that hardly had time to develop, and it relied on the art to sell the drama. Consider the conversation Alec and Abby have right before her death. Abby is trying to convince Alec to kill her — probably the most unthinkable scenario Alec could ever be presented with — yet the entire conversation, from when the subject is broached to Abby’s actual death, lasts only maybe 20 seconds of real time. That’s it. With so much else to cover in so few pages, Snyder has no time to linger on this one beat. Paquette’s heart-stopping art manages to draw out the scene, making it feel slower, weightier and more intense, like the grand emotional moment it really is. With lesser art, this sequence would have felt rushed and unsatisfying.
It’s interesting that our discussion has been so centered upon this issue being the last by Snyder and Paquette, rather than it being the last issue of RotWorld. I suppose, RotWorld or not, this was the conclusion Snyder and Paquette needed to reach before passing the baton. But it feels more like the end of a series than the end of an event. RotWorld was an adequate facilitator of events that were bound to happen, but it didn’t alter the course of the ship. Still, Swamp Thing 18 neatly tied up Snyder’s major arcs, ending with a literal rebirth of the character. Charles Soule and Kano will take over Swamp Thing, with unlimited possibilities of where to take the series. Swamp Thing 18 was a stunning farewell to a beloved creative team; whether the series gets better or worse, Snyder and Paquette will be missed.
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