Swamp Thing 20

swamp thing 20

Today, Patrick and Scott are discussing Swamp Thing 20 originally released May 1st, 2013.

Patrick: What’s your greatest fear? It’s something that could happen to you, right? Your worst fear isn’t that you’re living the life you’re living right now. But that’s the case for Alec Holland – everything he had to lose, he lost. Can you imagine what a bummer it’d be to realize your worst fear was that you’d live your life as you had? Christ, that’s depressing. It’s regret at its most primal level, and it’s exactly what we’re dealing with in Swamp Thing 20.

Under the effects of Scarecrow’s fear toxin, Swamp Thing’s powers are going nuts. Luckily, we’re in Metropolis and there’s a Superman to deal with all the problems caused by this supernaturally aggressive overgrowth. But even Supes gets a little overwhelmed and decides to cut the destruction off at the source – rousing Swampy from his terror-slumber with subtlest wake up call he can manage: burning him with heat vision! Alec is grateful, but asks one more favor of Superman – a little advice on how to live in this world as an outsider. Clark’s answer is universal: chose to connect with people and forge relationships, that’s where your humanity resides.

It’s hard to say how much Alec is able to take this advice to heart. Instead of sticking around to help clean up Metropolis, he jumps back into the Green and scuttles back to the bayous of Louisiana. It almost seems as though he’s already made his choice – or rather that his choice was already made for him. His anxieties around the decision to become Swamp Thing — and only Swamp Thing — make themselves manifest in his toxin-induced nightmare.

In his dream, Alec sees a life that could have been: a family with Abby, two kids, professional success and a house in the ‘burbs. And then Swamp Thing steps in, and rather than Alec being in his old body in the dream, he’s in the body of the Swamp Thing. For the purposes of the dream, this happy, healthy, successful Alec is a guide for our hero, and a constant reminder of everything he gave up to become the defender of the Green. So it turns out that Alec’s greatest fear has already been realized – basically everything he dreamed of losing, he’s either never had or already lost.

I’m reminded of a handful of Alan Moore stories that were collected with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow – namely “For The Man Who Has Everything” and “The Jungle Line,” a Swamp Thing / Superman team-up in DC Comics Presents #85. 

for the man who has everything - jungle line

In the former, Superman is attacked by a plant that sedates him by showing him beautiful visions of what his life could have been on Krypton. It’s considered one of the quintessential Superman stories and the similarity to what happens to Alec in this story is hard to escape. And the connection to the latter story is even more explicit – Superman and Swamp Thing occupying the same issue. In Moore’s story, Swamp Thing helps Superman overcome a fungal parasite, but in Soule’s story, Swampy is at Superman’s mercy.  Invoking the name of Alan Moore is almost a short hand for Soule to assert that he’s intent on doing something meaningful with the character.

Soule’s got a great ally in Kano. The artist uses diagonal panel-dividers to pretty dramatic effect when shit starts to hit the fan, both in Alec’s dream and on the streets of Metropolis. It’s the best when he uses the not-quite-horizontal / not-quite-vertical storytelling to cleverly depict cause and effect. My absolute favorite instance of which was Superman reflecting his laser eyes off the Planet’s globe:

Heat vision richotte shot superman vs swamp thing

Each of those panels is from a different perspective, but they have this awesome literal through-line in the form of that ray of light coming from Clark’s eyes. It’s especially cool to see this power displayed so dramatically here, as it’s ultimately how Supes is going to save the day in the end. Not that we need to have that power foreshadowed or anything — even the stubborn, Swamp-Thing-only fans must know that Superman can do that — but it’s cool to give those dumb laser eyes a little extra weight.

It’s almost alarming to see a Swamp Thing story wrap up so cleanly at the end of just a second issue. I guess after 20ish issues of hardcore serialization, the only direction to go is into more episodic adventures. Next time, I’d like to see Alec solve a problem, instead of — y’know — being the problem. But by that token, this is one of the more successful Superman stories I’ve read in the New 52. I mean, think about it: it deals with Clark making tough choices, saving the day and addressing the other-ness of his identity. That’s kinda what we want for Alec – he’s the Superman of plants. Maybe after that pep talk, he can save the day on his own.

What’d you think, Scott? Does it seem a little strange to you that Scarecrow would be upset about being so scared of Swamp Thing’s reaction to the fear gas? Should that fear give him a boner or something?

Scott: A boner, you say? What a strange response that would be to seeing a big green plant-man lose his mind and nearly destroy an entire metropolitan area. Scarecrow likes fear, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that his interest isn’t so perverse. I mean, I like chocolate cake, but it doesn’t give me a boner.

You know who else doesn’t have a boner? Alec (I’m giving this segue a shot.) He can’t, because he doesn’t have bones (ok, I know a boner doesn’t involve an actual bone, but stick with me.) I thought it was amusing that the capper to Alec’s nightmare was the reminder that he no longer has bones. For any readers hearing that he lost his chance at having a wife, kids, and a career and thinking “Hey, at least he still has bones,” this was Soule’s way of saying “Guess again, Boners!” (Now I’m trying to set a record for the most uses of “boner” in a Retcon-Punch post.)

You won't have a clavicle. You won't have a tibia...

Patrick, I love your description of Swamp Thing. He really is the Superman of plants. This issue shows just how much power he is capable of- he’s a handful for Superman even when he’s unconscious. I was a little disappointed by how inactive Alec was, as the issue felt more like a Superman comic than Swamp Thing. I was suprised, given that Alec traveled to Metropolis to speak to Superman, that the payoff was just a few quick sentences spoken by Superman as he flew off. But his lesson seems to be one that will define Soule’s Swamp Thing run. Alec, with all he’s given up to become the Avatar of the Green, may feel more disconnected from humanity than ever, but he is still a man and must forge relationships with other people in order to give his life meaning.

It’s hard to ignore Kano’s diagonal panels. I always appreciate when an artist leaves his signature in a creative, unobtrusive way. Kano’s presence is felt throughout the issue, but it never becomes a distraction. Instead, his slanted panels are helping create a new identity for this new chapter of Swamp Thing, one that respects Yanick Paquette’s designs but isn’t afraid to implement its own style. One of my favorite uses of the diagonal paneling came near the end of the issue, as Swamp Thing is leaving Metropolis. Alec travels by disappearing into the earth and sprouting up at his destination, but here Kano draws an intermediate step that calls back to the no-bones image from before (maybe it was deeper than I thought.)

What IS Superman doing with Scarecrow?

As Patrick noted, it’s a shock to see a Swamp Thing story wrap up neatly after two issues, but Soule has done a nice job setting a course for what’s to come. We’ll get to see Alec create his new life from scratch, and I’m excited about that. Very excited. One might even say I have a “boner” for Swamp Thing.

But really. I have a boner.

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?

12 comments on “Swamp Thing 20

  1. I was a little bit unsure about how much I liked Swamp Thing 19 last month, but for me Swamp Thing 20 sealed it, I’m sticking around. Patrick, you’re right to bring up Alan Moore, this issue was very evocative of his work on the title (I just recently finished reading the whole run), in fact it reminded me of my favorite parts of his run, so I think that bodes very well indeed. Also, I think this is one of my favorite uses of Scarecrow ever. I liked him a lot in Batman Begins but he never really did it for me in the comics; he’s mostly seen saying stupid shit like “you will cower… in FEEEEEAARRR” and then we see people running around trying to pull out their hair and gouge out their eyes. Here, in Alec’s dream, we see the true power of his fear toxin and to me that makes him more relevant and interesting going forward, I hope we’ll get to see more of this in future Scarecrow appearances. Lastly, does anyone know who that woman is at the end? Is she a new character or someone in the DCU I’m unfamiliar with?

    • You’ll notice that Scotty and I don’t even mention that little epilogue. I have no idea who she is, but clearly the intent is to draw me back for the next issue. I guess that is that danger of wrapping everything else up so completely: there’s “no reason” to pick it up next month. That ends up being the biggest weakness of the issue – if it had ended with Swamp disappearing into the Green, it would have been perfect.

  2. This really was a great issue of Super-I mean Swamp Thing. Man, it is depressing though, but it makes sense. Alec did kind of just die, his human life did anyway. So it’s almost like he’s mourning the death of the life he could have had while trying to figure out what to do with his new life. It’s so deliciously melancholy.


    • Totally melancholy. But I do feel like it’s nicely counter-balanced by the largely positive Superman story. Like if the whole thing had been “LOOK HOW MUCH I LOST” it’d be too much of a downer. But we also have this example of Superman, who has sorta lost similar shit, and he’s an unqualified success in this world the way he is now. There’s hope buried in this issue.

  3. Frankly, I would have come back next month even without that epilogue, I don’t feel like I NEED a cliffhanger at the end of every issue of my comics, if what I’ve read is good, why wouldn’t I want to read more, even if it’ll be a jump into the unkown.

  4. Pingback: Gang Stalking – Do they think I look like the swamp thing? | Neverending1's Blog

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