Today, Scott and Mikyzptlk are discussing Swamp Thing Annual 2, originally released October 30th, 2013.
Scott: One of my favorite pop culture cliches is the hero preparing for the ‘big fight”. You’ve seen the Rocky-inspired montages, with the running up the stairs and the drinking raw eggs and “Eye of the Tiger” blaring. It works every time. In Swamp Thing Annual 2, we get Charles Soule’s version of the pre-fight montage. It fits right into the ongoing storyline, which I love. It’s basically just the next two issues in one, which should come as great news to anyone who was dreading the thought of waiting another month to find out what’s going on with Alec’s impending duel with Seeder. Soule doesn’t exactly have Alec donning a headband and heading to a meat locker, instead focusing on Alec’s mental preparation. With the help of a few wise advisors- one of whom you might be shocked to see- Alec’s pre-fight journey may not have you pumping your fists, but it’s still pretty darn uplifting.
This annual picks up just after the events of Swamp Thing 24, with Alec preparing for his winner-take-Avatar fight with Seeder. Alec has a patron within the Green, a former Avatar known as The Wolf, who explains that the members of the Parliament of Trees have their differences, and some have favored Seeder all along. In preparation for the fight, The Wolf has set some appointments for Alec. First, Alec meets The Lady Weeds, a particularly terrifying former Avatar who expresses to Alec the importance of thinking outside his body. His first attempt as creating a duplicate body reveals that he might just might see himself as more human than he really is.
Lady Weeds’ lesson is basically that Alec needs to stop thinking of himself as a human if he wants to realize his full potential as the Avatar. Alec half-embraces this idea. He comes to understand how he doesn’t need to limit himself to just his body, that his powers allow him to exist anywhere and everywhere in the Green at once. Alec has taken advantage of these powers in the past, though without completely understanding what he was doing. It happened during the Whiskey Tree fiasco, where Alec grew far larger and more powerful than he realized he could. During that same episode, there was a second voice inside Alec’s head- a voice that told him to kill everyone. It might have been the Parliament of Trees speaking to him (The Wolf tells Alec that the Parliament has a way of controlling the Avatars, while letting them believe they are calling the shots), or it might have been a new side of Alec making itself known.
It’s this voice that Lady Weeds wants Alec to start listening to more. She tells him he needs to abandon his human body, but also, if he truly wants to impress the Parliament, he needs to abandon his humanity. She explains how, to win the Parliaments favor, she once proved her superiority over an Irish rival by CAUSING THE FREAKIN’ POTATO FAMINE! Alec is completely disgusted by this, and obviously unwilling to go that far, but it does bring up an interesting point: if the Parliament is looking for a champion with the least humanity, why would they choose Seeder over Swampy? Alec’s goal has always been maintaining a balance, never using more power than necessary to promote the Green. Seeder, on the other hand, has actively tried to aid humans, at the expense of the Green. He seems like the opposite of what the Green is looking for in an Avatar.
This is a rare issue of Swamp Thing, in that it takes place almost entirely within the Green. It’s a setting that allows for some insanely cool and creative art from Javier Pina. His versions of old Avatars, including a dinosaur and a samurai, are standouts. But the entire Lady Weeds section is incredible. She is terrifying, never more so than when she rises from the ocean to squash her Irish nemesis.
If the Lady Weeds section weren’t satisfying enough, The Wolf has one more meeting scheduled for Alec, and it comes as quite a surprise. As Alec wanders into a blue version of his hometown, he encounters a blue version of himself. It’s the faux-Alec that served as Avatar before him, made from plant matter and imparted with Alec’s memories after Alec died in the swamp. More specifically, it’s Alan Moore’s version of Swamp Thing. How flippin’ cool is that? The blue version of Houma- rendered by Swamp Thing verteran artist Kano- is a reference to Moore’s famous “My Blue Heaven” issue. But Alec resents his predecessor for not having done a better job as the Avatar, and he certainly doesn’t want him living in an idealized version of his childhood home.
I never expected to see these two Swamp Things face to face, but the presence of the faux-Alec actually makes perfect sense. The Wolf introduces him as the most revered former Avatar of all and, in keeping with Lady Weeds’ advice to Alec, he is certainly the least human. The advice he passes to Alec makes perfect sense as well, and it lets Alec see things much more clearly than he did after his meeting with Lady Weeds. The faux-Alec tells him never to compromise the person he believes himself to be, even if he’s asked to. The Wolf may want Alec to do what one of these former Avatars would have done, but he knows his best chance to defeat Seeder is by forging his own path.
Mikyzptlk, I was pretty blown away by the characters Soule introduces (or reintroduces, as the case may be) in this issue. I’m no Swamp Thing historian, but I still thought seeing an old Swamp Thing interacting with our current Swamp Thing was pretty mind blowing. Did you see that coming?
Mikyzptlk: I certainly did not see that coming either. I’m no Swamp Thing historian myself, but I was still blown away in my realization of who this Swamp Thing was. I may not have read many issues of Moore’s Swamp Thing, but one of the strengths of this series comes from the fact that it still considers Moore’s stories to be canonical. I can’t imagine what this scene must have been like for long time fans of Swampy, but I definitely envy them. Not only that, but it makes me want to get my hands on Moore’s work. Which, ultimately, will be good for DC’s pocketbook somewhere down the line. Ah, if only other DC books (besides Swamp Thing and Animal Man) were able to consider Pre-52 stories as canon. Some people call me a dreamer.
Anyway…I dug this issue too Scott. Annuals are always a bit of a crapshoot in the sense that we can never be quite sure what the issue will be about. A lot of times, they end up being used as vehicles for untested writers or as vehicles for random, one-off stories. These types of Annuals aren’t necessarily bad, but I tend to prefer the Annual that uses its additional page count in order to advance the plot of the main series.
Scott, you mentioned that this Annual was essentially the next two issues of Swamp Thing, and Soule certainly uses this to his advantage. Not only do long-time readers of this series get a continuation of the Seeder storyline, but new readers are given the chance to play a bit of catch-up. The first few pages of this issue served up a summary of the Green, explaining the role that it plays on Earth and in the lives of its avatars. We also get caught up on where the current story is now, as the summary concludes with the perfect setup for the upcoming Swampy vs. Seeder arc.
Soule really uses this Annual to cement the idea that an avatar constantly has to fight for the job. No matter how secure he or she might think they are in the position, the annual certainly makes it clear that the Green is always looking for a better replacement. The biggest takeaway I had with this issue is that the Parliament isn’t as all-knowing as they seem and that being an avatar doesn’t make an individual as special as we (readers and avatars alike) might have once thought.
In a sense, this gives Alec Holland more power than he’s ever had before as a character. All of the victories he’s had so far as Swamp Thing aren’t because of some grand destiny or the fact that he was “meant” to become Swamp Thing, it’s because Alec Holland is a badass. This issue ends with Alec realizing that he has to do things his own way in order to win. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing some other crazily inventive ex-avatars giving Alec advice in the issues to come, I can’t wait to see Alec take matters into his own hands to win the day.
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 and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?