Swamp Thing 19

Alternating Current: Swamp Thing 19, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Swamp Thing 19 originally released April 3rd, 2013.

Drew: Taking over a title from a much-loved creative team must be an intimidating task — especially after an epic story arc like Rotworld. First issues necessarily inspire less awe than story conclusions, which means the most salient points of comparison can only be unflattering. Mercifully (or perhaps diabolically), Snyder and Paquette had a bit of a fire-sale with characters, effectively setting the series back to zero in terms of interpersonal relationships. Those changes hinted at a very different status quo for Swamp Thing moving forward, one that new creative team Charles Soule and Kano not only pick up on, but assert with a strong sense of purpose.

The issue finds Alec totally alone. Sure, he has all of the plants in the world to keep him company, but their interests are pretty limited. He has distracted himself from his problems by throwing himself into his work of defending the Green. Curiously, much of that defending isn’t from loggers or herbicides, but from someone called Seeder, who is making things grow where they shouldn’t. These unnatural growths are helping people, but Alec has a balance to maintain, which means he often has to chose the Green over people in need. These are hard decisions, so Alec seeks out someone who might be able to relate: Superman. Unfortunately, Alec is waylaid when he happens upon Scarecrow collecting some poisonous plants for making more fear toxin. Alec actually enjoys the opportunity to talk with another person, but Crane is simply stalling, trying an array of fear toxins until one works, knocking Alec out cold. Unfortunately, that unleashes all kinds of vegetative hell on Metropolis, which has the handy effect of getting Superman’s attention.

America, Clark. Metropolis is in America.

It’s possible that this is simply the Green’s reaction to fear toxin — a kind of fight or flight response — but the implication is that Alec is actively keeping the Green in check, and that knocking him out allows plants to run rampant. It’s an unexpected tack to take — I generally think of Swamp Thing as defending the environment from would-be polluters — but it’s a fascinating one. Snyder’s run hinted that the Green might be a little greedy or overly ambitious, but this issue finds the Green ready to take over entire cities at a moment’s notice. I love the idea that Alec’s main role might actually be holding the Green back from total domination — it makes the idea of maintaining balance much more dynamic.

Of course, the Green does need a hand every now and then, like when a colony of rats are chewing away the root system of a banyan tree at the Metropolis Botanical Garden. Alec crushes them without a second thought, which should be gross, but he kind of likes it.

Rat poppin'

Basically, Alec is admitting how easy it is to give into peer pressure from the Green. You combine that with the Green’s unbridled desire for growth — even at the expense of human life — and you have the recipe for a monster. What happens when they aren’t rats on one tree, but humans wiping out entire forests?

Soule places this question of Alec’s morality front-and-center, making for the kind of crisis of conscience that is surprisingly lacking in many superhero comics today. Like, I absolutely love the idea that Alec would reach out to Superman because he would relate to the kinds of life-and-death decisions that the Green has asked him to make, but it’s a little ironic that Superman hasn’t really struggled with that notion in the New 52. Kano does a beautiful job dramatizing the struggle for Alec’s soul, walking the line between the man and the monster. He’s also no slouch when it comes to the kind of metaphysical wonderlands that made Paquette’s work on this series such a pleasure.

neat

It’s a distinctly different take on the Green than Paquette, but it’s every bit as beautiful. I also love the touch of Alec’s face inside his own stomach. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but with so much focus on who or what Alec is, a double-face seems like an appropriate expression that he’s definitely Swamp Thing.

Patrick, you were such a fan of Snyder and Paquette’s run, I’m curious how you feel about this rather radical departure. I knew we wouldn’t be battling the Rot anymore, but Batman villains are almost on the other end of the spectrum. Are you comfortable with Swamp Thing as a crime-fighter, or would you prefer that he stick to ecological issues?

Patrick: I don’t think sticking to ecological issues should bar Swamp Thing from fighting supervillains from time to time. I mean, they’re part of the ecology, right? Scarecrow is an interesting choice for his first encounter – there are few things more objectively heroic than fighting a Gotham City bad buy who specializes in freaking people out. There’s no moral gray area here, Scarecrow’s just a bad dude. That stands in opposition to the much much stickier issue Swamp Thing is facing at the beginning of the issue, where his loyalties are split between his plant side and his human side.

Which actually brings up a bit of confusion for me. Alec Holland died. A couple times, sure, but at the end of Rotworld, his body and Abby’s body stayed lifelessly together while they become the avatars of the Green and the Rot, respectively. That means that the Swamp Thing that’s running around now has an awful lot in common with the Swamp Thing of yore – he thinks he’s Alec but he’s really just a plant. Alec clings pretty closely to “human” as part of his identity, but that’s just not true anymore. He was human, but now he’s all Swamp Thing.

I’m really digging Kano’s art in this issue. The man’s got some big shoes to fill and while Kano engages in some Paquette-esque paneling and trippy falling-through-the-green metaphysics early in the issue, he makes a strong case for some of the changes he’s making to Swamp Thing‘s visual style. One thing I notice right off the bat, is that Kano draws much more effective action. And I don’t mean that in the traditional comic book sense of the word “action” – I mean that he cleverly and clearly shows cause and effect. For all its virtues, Paquette’s art was much better at conveying emotional heft and atmosphere than it was at showing the reader what was happening. Soule takes advantage of Kano’s abilities to tell entire mini-stories within this issue without very much text. Take the Scarecrow’s break-in, for example.

Scarecrow breaks in to the Botanical Gardens Swamp Thing 19

 

Or my favorite example, which comes little earlier in the issue, when Swampy first shows up at the Botanical Gardens. Swamp Thing is musing to himself about how is duty makes him a monster, but the visuals tell almost an opposite story.

Swamp Thing sees a pretty flowerAlso, notice how Kano changes the foliage on Swamp Thing’s back depending on where he is, and (presumably) what other vegetation he’s around. When he’s tromping through the desert, he’s all thorny and covered in little cactus flowers, but when he’s at the garden, leafy branches come out of his back.

There’s a lot to like in this issue, as far as New 52 superhero comics are concerned. I feel shitty putting that little “as far as New 52 superhero comics are concerned” caveat in there, but there are a few series in the line-up that transcend the genre — like Batwoman — and I’d argue that Snyder and Paquette’s series did just that. This may not ever reach those heights, and I can see where it might be frustrating to watch this character go through some more cracker-jack adventures. It’s the same kind of criticisms leveled against Constantine 1 a few weeks ago. But there, as here, the latest versions of this characters is still vital, even if he’s repurposed for something a little less revolutionary than what he’s known for. I, for one, am excited to see where Soule’s is going to take the character.
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12 comments on “Swamp Thing 19

  1. Drew, the bloody footprints reminded me of that image of Anton Arcane in the Swamp Thing zero issue (you know, the one where he’s dragging previous avatars of the green and red behind him – it’s the one that’s all stitched together in the middle). Do you think there’s any chance Swamp Thing’s moral ambiguity will come down even more on the anti-human side? I think there’s a way to do that and keep the character essentially noble from a certain point of view. (A certain point of view?)

    • I mean, I don’t totally get why Swamp Thing has to be a big of a dick as he is here. Like, I get that it’s unnatural to have a rainforest in the middle of the desert, but doesn’t he have the power to do that kind of thing. I mean, growing vanilla plants in the middle of your girlfriend is also pretty unnatural, but he was cool with that shit. He says something vague about pulling to much at any part of the web of life, but he mostly comes off as kind of an arbitrary asshole about taking away people’s livelihoods.

  2. I didn’t see this so much as the Green seeing an opportunity to take over, and then taking it; that would imply that plant life doesn’t have any respect for Alec and is constantly looking for opportunities to undermine him. And, like he admits, he can’t be everywhere all the time, so really the Green could be devouring cities whenever it liked. I saw it more of a defense mechanism; their champion was attacked, and they were rising to his defense. Those plants fucking love him, they’re gonna get pissed if he gets taken out.

    Patrick, to your point, I do think there’s a difference between this Swamp Thing and the previous. It’s true, he’s not really Alec anymore, he is just a plant. The key difference, though, is that this Swamp Thing USED to be a man. The last one never was. Previous Swamp Thing never had any actual humanity to hold on to; while Current Swamp Thing is made out of vegetables, he still has the consciousness of a human person.

    • Yeah, I’m with Shelby on both of her points.

      Also, I was thinking about Swampy’s head in his stomach too and the only thing I could come up with was that it was a representation of him shrinking further, but I’m not really sure. Lovely page though, I’m very please with the new creative team so far.

    • Well, but wait a minute. What’s the difference? Old Swamp Thing had consciousness that had Alec Holland’s memories and personality. Both the original Swamp Thing and this one seem to have equal claim to being Alec Holland to me, and the only time Swamp Thing was REALLY Alec Holland was the Swampy that appeared in issues 8-18.

      • I do think it is hard to tell the difference, which makes me wonder why they called the issue into such focus, but overall I’m not sure its going to make a difference. I think Swampy’s decisions will be a matter of much internal conflict moving forward, but whether that conflict is called ‘holding onto humanity’ or just having a conscience seems like semantics.

      • Okay, I may be wrong, but my understanding is as follows. Moore’s Swampy only ever though he was Alec but was always just the “monster” while Lemire’s has the actual consciousness of Alec’s that used to reside in his human body. So, he is Alec, just in a new plant-based body.

        • You’ve got it right (as far as I know) but the question is why does it matter? I get it that a lot of the talking was first issue exposition and establishing the new status quo, but is that the only purpose of the discussion Soule presents?

        • Right, what’s the difference between consciousness and a an exact copy of that consciousness – functionally nothing. In fact, the much bigger deal is that he’s totally committed to being Swamp Thing now – and Alec’s ambivalence was a big part of Snyder’s characterization of him. If anything, I’m interested in how this is and/or isn’t a return to form (“form” being the Moore take on the character).

  3. Obviously Snyder and Paquette left big shoes to fill, but I will say I am pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed this issue. I liked Alec’s loneliness and desire just to have a conversation with someone, that he recognized he had enough solitude and wanted to surround himself with people, and most of all I loved the way Kano conveys what is happening. In general, I enjoy when side by side panels show parts of the same image, but progressing the action, and that is a trick used at least twice here – when fighting the army and when showing the oasis being sucked into the ground. Plus the way Swamp Thing reduces into / grows from a sapling to travel… too cool.

    • It’s also just fun to point out that both Crane and Holland are botanists. Alec didn’t just need a friend to talk to, he needed a nerd that he could geek out about plant-care with. It’s sorta cute.

  4. Pingback: Swamp Thing 26 | Retcon Punch

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