Today, Scott and Shelby are discussing Swamp Thing 32, originally released June 4th, 2014.
Scott: We all want to feel like we’re in control. It’s a big part of growing up. We move out, get our own place, buy a car, pay bills, decide what we eat and when we sleep. But we can only control things to a certain extent. As resolute as we may want to be, we still can’t really know what to do the first time we carve a turkey, or get in a car accident, or find out we’re pregnant. In our rush to take control of our lives, we fail to realize just how much we don’t know, and in doing so we become a huge liability to ourselves. Fortunately, life is pretty forgiving, allowing us to acquire wisdom through a system of trial and error. Like the rest of us, Alec Holland has a lot to learn, in his case about being the Avatar of the Green. Swamp Thing 32 finds him fighting for control against an obstacle he brought on himself but never saw coming.
Swampy and Aquaman are in the Philippines’ Apo Reef, where a mass of algae is killing anything that comes near it, yet Alec is unable to connect to it through the Green. After meeting with the former Avatars, Alec learns they’re dealing with a Kreuzblütler — an offshoot of the Green that Alec can’t control. Aquaman, thinking Alec is his enemy, destroys Alec’s body, but his attack on the algae fails. Alec enters the bizarro-Green of the Kreuzblütler and defeats its makeshift Avatar. Just as Aquaman is prepared to blast the reef to oblivion, Alec emerges and tells him all is well, while making it clear that the sea belongs to the plants and Alec is letting Aquaman live in it.
Jesus Saiz brings his A-game to this unusually aquatic edition of Swamp Thing. I especially like his approach to the giant algal bloom, which is about as hard-to-peg a villain as you’ll ever see. It’s a borderline-sentient composite of algae that knows only that it wants to kill everything that isn’t a plant. It’s generally shown in the background at some distance, so as to never give an exact sense of it’s scale. Rather, it’s an imposing force, always looming behind the characters. And it’s no mistake that the algae bears a striking resemblance to Alec; it’s Alec’s unfamiliarity with the various threats to the Green that has once again steered him into danger. By eliminating from the Green all those who might be able to protect him, Alec’s biggest threat might well be himself. Never is this more clearly illustrated than when Alec defeats the Kreuzblütler and momentarily becomes it.
Charles Soule and Aquaman writer Jeff Parker have worked this crossover into their titles without disrupting the flow of either book. The reason the two heroes are butting heads calls back to a Swamp Thing event from several issues back; Alec tipped the balance of the oceans’ algae while defeating Seeder, a display of strength that Aquaman mistakenly took as a threat from Alec. It makes perfect sense — Alec’s powers in the wrong hands would certainly be reason for Aquaman to worry. The way the writers have constructed it, this encounter feels like a natural consequence of that action, not a random story awkwardly shoehorned into a series, like crossovers often do.
I like how the consequences of Alec’s decision to destroy the Parliament of Trees are rearing their ugly heads. I have no doubt that Alec is the best choice to champion the Green, but ever since he rid himself of most of the former Avatars, he’s been faced with obstacles highlighting just how little he understands his role. Near the end of the issue, Alec demands that the former Avatars tell him about any other threats he might come up against, but he can’t honestly expect to learn anything that way. Alec made the decision to take complete control of the Green, and he’s slowly discovering how much harder it is to be responsible for the entire kingdom without any guidance. He has to learn things the hard way, through trial and error, even if that means he occasionally gets eaten by some hungry dugongs.
There’s really no way to make that seem scary. It’s adorable. Anyway, I’m really into what Soule and Saiz are doing, though I’ve had enough of Alec’s naiveté. One minute he’s laying down the law with Aquaman and it looks like he’s finally taking control, then he’s getting stabbed through the neck by a former Avatar he never should have trusted in the first place. It’s time for him to wisen up. What do you think, Shelby, has Alec bitten off more than he can chew?
I feel torn about this issue. On the one hand, you are exactly right about the natural feel of this little crossover. Not only did neither story feel interrupted or overly-burdened by the inclusion of another character, the confrontation between these two makes complete sense. No matter how brief it was, Alec had the audacity to hold the world’s oceans hostage. He was bluffing, and that bluff didn’t get called luckily enough, but it doesn’t change the fact he appeared to be on the verge of destroying everything. I can’t help but think of Superman and Lex Luthor; one of Lex’s historical beefs with Superman is that he is too strong to be trusted, that if he were to turn on humanity we would be unable to stop him. It doesn’t matter that Superman hasn’t given any indication that he would ever do that (ok, I’m sure there have been stories where he has, but you know what I mean); in Lex’s mind, Superman is just too strong to be assumed as anything but a threat. Here, we have the same sort of relationship, except that Swamp Thing has “turned” on the oceans; Aquaman has every right to want to feed him to as many plant-eating sea cows as he can find.
On the other hand, though, I am pretty tired of the “punch first, ask questions later” approach to character conflict. It seems no two heroes with their own titles can meet in ComicBookWorldLand without spending an issue hit each other. Aquaman especially isn’t fucking around about it; he had Swamp Thing’s body destroyed a couple of times, he straight-up murdered him. And considering we’re coming up on three years of the New 52, I have a heard time believing heroes are still unfamiliar with each other. Even though Aquaman’s actions are pretty justified, and even though Swamp Thing spent enough time in Rotworld as to be fairly unfamiliar to the rest of the hero community, it’s a theme that is used so often I’m pretty tired of it.
While the story has me feeling undecided, there’s no question about how much I love Saiz’s art. The gently wafting plant life in the underwater scenes is amazing, but it’s Alec’s vision in the Kreuzblütler that had me giggling out loud. The baby green seems to have knowledge of the avatars before Alec, but it manifests itself as things it has interacted with, which means we get this delightful little garden party.
It’s not that the baby green has created a planty Aquaman and dugong to explain things to Alec; it’s that they’re sitting in lawn chairs having goddamn cocktails. I am struck both by how adorable that is, and how badly I wish that were real. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer evening than enjoying a drink with a plant manatee.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?