Swamp Thing 1: Futures End

futures end swamp thing 1Today, Patrick and Greg are discussing Swamp Thing 1: Futures End originally released September 3, 2014.

Patrick: Okay, so why “five years later,” huh? What’s the point of all these glances into the theoretic furutre of DC Comics? I know it shouldn’t matter that these stories may prove to be part of a future-narrative that gets wiped out of the canon, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re reading a bunch of what-if stories. Intriguingly, these glimpses into future have their eyes set on the past; evoking elements of Pre-Flashpoint continuity and reconciling that with what’s been established since September of 2011. The future is a point on a line, plotted using the past and present as reference. It’s a herculean task, but one that writer Charles Soule and artist Jesus Saiz are more than up for, aligning themselves with the intrepid Alec Holland, perhaps unsure that they would make it through to the other side unharmed.

Oh, but first, a general Futures End beef: all of these comics need to get new number 1s for this? Between the zero issue, the annuals, and this, my Comixology copy of Swamp Thing 1 is now hilariously listed fourth when I bring up that series page. I know it’s no big deal now — I read the comic when it comes out, see the “Futures End” on the cover and fill in the chronology later — but I imagine this’ll be a pain in the butt for people looking back on Swamp Thing in the future. I don’t know what the solution is, but this September, like the Zero Month, is going to be a nightmare for archivists.

And I think this is one that fans of Swamp Thing’s recent messy history are going to enjoy. We join Alec as he embarks upon a quest to recruit the avatars of Fungus, Bacteria and Metal for some at-the-time unspecified purpose. In the last five years, all of the avatars entered into an agreement by which they were sent to their own fantasy realm and were restricted from interfering with the cycle of life on Earth. Everyone seems more or less cool with this arrangement for the time being — everyone that is, except Alec, who wants to make a few tweeks to the balance of power before… whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. Delightfully, whatever Swamp Thing is preparing for is immaterial. By the end of the issue, all we know for sure is that he wanted to unseat the Rot as one of the pillars of life on Earth. If you’ve been reading this series since Scott Snyder’s issue number one, you don’t need convincing that this is a noble cause, but just in cause you’re jumping in cold, Soule and Saiz thoroughly establish how much of a rat bastard the Avatar of Rot is.

Anton and Abby ArcaneThis is a dense one-and-done story, so space is of-the-essence and it’s remarkable how much villainy is displayed so quickly. For my money, Soule’s use of the term “daughterbride” is enough to make cry for Arcane’s immediate dismemberment. Saiz’ horrifying design of this conjoined couple would almost be overkill, if it weren’t such a specifically crafted image. Their arms, frozen in a lovers hand-holding position and forever fused together with scar tissue, and Abby’s sewn-shut mouth, are really the only elements of the characters that appear grotesque at all, tastefully playing beauty against abomination. (And what is Abby Arcane, really, if not the embodiment of “beauty and abomination?”)

This issue is all about what Alec’s plans are after he overthrows the Rot. That’s why he’s enlisting the services of the other Avatars — not to help him enact his coup, but to cover Arcane’s duties in the aftermath. Now, I trust that some people might need a bit of an explanation as to what the fuck Alec’s actually doing in the end: who’s that other Swamp Thing living in Alec’s chest? And why has it worn a white ring? Oh, and by the way, what the hell is a white ring? These are all reasonable questions no one should really expect a New 52 Swamp Thing fan to have the answers to. It’s revealed during Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing that the original character wasn’t actually Alec, but a sentient force of the green that had mapped its consciousness from Holland’s rapidly failing body. That same not-Alec body died and later resurrected via a White Lantern ring in Geoff Johns’ Brightest Day storyline. Soule not only marries these two histories of the character, but seamlessly integrates modern mythology about the on-going war between the realms of the Red, the Green and the Rot (while also weaseling in a few of his own ideas in the form of the kingdoms of Bacteria and Metal).

That’s an impressive feat, but I can also see where that might be a touch off-putting to new readers. Greg, I don’t know what you’re history with Swamp Thing is like, but I do know that you’re usually pretty good at being thrown in the deep end without a life vest. Were these narrative gymnastics as exciting for you to read too? Or did could you even tell which was “real” history and which was history made up for this issue? And ultimately, does the cleverness of the story even matter when it gives Saiz an excuse to draw Swamp Thing offering a three-headed bear to land of sentient bacteria?

how woulld you like this threeheaded bear i foundGod, that is so disgusting and so beautiful at the same time. Maybe that’s the real magic behind this issue: the past, present and future of Swamp Thing will always be tied up in an aesthetic that’s mystifying and nauseating at the same time.

Greg: Patrick, as a newbie to the world of Swamp Thing, reading this issue felt like being tossed into a deep end that jolts between still and stormy waters. As you rightly point out, everything about this issue is liminal — both abominable and beautiful, past and future. Coming to this realization felt like unlocking a key to the intentionally obfuscated narrative (which, as you say, may come second in terms of enjoyment to Saiz and colorist Matthew Wilson‘s intensely crafted, horrifyingly grandiose creations that seem to exist both within and outside of nature). If this issue is all about conscious blurring of boundaries, then of course Alec would be against an agreement sending all avatars to their own, separated, structured realms, restricted from interfering with Earth and each other. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it’s almost as if the aesthetic and narrative “desires” to cross-contaminate informed and bled into the character’s “desires” — which is, in of itself, a cross-contamination between author and work.

This kind of analysis is fun, in a certain academic way, but when it comes to the simpler, perhaps purer fun of “just reading” a comic and immediately understanding it, it definitely took me until Patrick’s handy-for-newbies summation of what was going on and why to “get it”. Part of the disorientation stems from a bit of blurring overkill. As you mention, Patrick, this issue is dense and ornate. For the most part, the style of prose reflects this, feeling both “big” and “important” (the amount of quotes I’m using reminds me of one of my favorite Onion articles) in a way that feels as if it’s a major entry in the fantasy canon. In particular, our narrator’s language is flowery, implying omnipotence, and borderline medieval, as he calls Alec our Green Knight, makes reference to the “tale” itself, and uses multi-syllabic words where smaller ones would do. But then, just as I’m getting used to this manner of address, I’m jarred by the blunt and often modern discourse Alec uses (“See you later, idiot. Thanks for the bear”). Perhaps Soule is playing this for comedy, positioning Alec as the “real” foil in a world of “fantastical” presentation and content. Ultimately, I found it one notch too disorienting.

You spoke about the brutal efficiency of presenting Arcane’s evil, and I’d like to briefly unspool that as it relates to the attitude towards women in this issue. In the previous scene in the Kingdom of Fungus, women exist solely as a bartering chip for Alec and a figment of imagination and desire for the Fungus Avatar. These women are not given any character development or agency; they are instead just objects used to further male motivations. Thus, when this icky notion is taken to its logical extreme with the horrifying implication of what Arcane is doing to Abby, her response — not just to Arcane’s character-to-character actions, but to the text’s text-to-reader actions — is both thrillingly progressive yet perversely regressive.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 10.14.09 PMYep, that’s right. Abby literally revenge-penetrates Arcane. Hmm…

I’ve come to a conclusion, spurred in part by the previously linked Onion article. Swamp Thing 1: Futures End is the ultimate postmodern comic book issue. Feel free to tell me I’m both correct and incorrect in the comments section, which is both below and above (postmodernism is easy! (and hard)).

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?

24 comments on “Swamp Thing 1: Futures End

  1. I haven’t had a chance to read this (or any) of the Futures End stories yet. However, I’ll say this.

    AWESOME THREE DEE COVERS.

    Man, I love these covers. Even better than last year. My comic guy gave me a deal on them so I’ll get them all. Best was the Detective one with the Riddler on it, but they all look really nice.

    • I’ve only read a handful of these things (just this and ‘Tec) but I’ve found them to be surprisingly fun reads. I’m still mostly-annoyed by this jump to Futures End-Times, but it’s not turning out to be a total bust.

      • Grayson and Green Arrow have been my favorites so far (Green Arrow’s a really fun end to the stuff Lemire’s been doing with the title, and Grayson is beautifully structured), but ‘Tec and Action Comics were both really fun one-and-dones as well. So far the only Futures End tie-in I’ve been disappointed in is Earth-2. I’ve had a lot of fun with the last year or so of that title, but with it about to start not only tying-into Futures End full time, but also crossing over with yet another weekly title, I think it may be time for me to drop that title like a hot potato. Which makes me sad, but also angry at DC.

        That said, yeah, these lenticular covers are particularly fun. This is the first September I’ve had a full-time pull-list at my LCS, so they’re giving me all the lenticulars, and I’m really impressed.

        • Yeah – one of my biggest hang-ups about the Futures End books is the presumption that maybe I should be reading Futures End itself to understand what’s happening in these things. And if you’re a fan of Earth-2, then suddenly you’re married to reading both Futures End and Worlds End? Jesus, man. I know this is a common complaint about comics — once you start branching out, there’s no stopping it — but making fans of what was once an isolated universe double-dip on weeklies? That’s crummy.

  2. I was trying to parse out exactly what’s going on with the Fungus avatar and the female bodies that he appears to be creating out of fungal material. At first blush, it does look like a CRAZYSEXIST thing — and made all the worse by Alec slicing through them like hot mossy butter — but my suspected truth of it is much, much weirder. When we met the fungus avatar, he/she/whatever was taking a vacation from that monstrous mushroom-body by occupying the body of a young lady. Evidently, he had been doing this sort of thing for so long that gender’s not much of a hang-up for him anymore. The multi-lady depicted in this issue doesn’t totally look like the body Fungus Avatar was so proud of a few issues back, but I’m guessing that’s what he’s trying to do: re-create his favorite form and re-assume it.

    But it sure does look like Alec is getting his goat by slicing his harem in half.

  3. I’ve also read just a few of these Futures End books and so far have found them to be immensely more enjoyable than last year’s Villain issues, which turned out to be 92% bust for me.

    This issue was interesting and beautiful (and fun for someone like me who’s read Moore’s run), my only problem is this (and I might just be understanding it wrong): if the kingdoms all live in their little pocket realities with no contact with Earth or each other, what is accomplished by unseating the rot (aside from freeing Abby and getting rid of a scumbag).

    • Does there have to be anything else accomplished? The conversation with the bacteria avatar makes it seem like they don’t have much control over what happens on Earth anymore, so this might have been just about rescuing Abby.

        • That’s essentially what my question boils down to, in that, if the kingdoms are “seperated” from earth, why is it necessary to pick up the slack left by the absence of the Rot, and does the Rot actually have any influence on earth, or is destroying Arcane, like I said earlier, just to be rid of him and free Abby.

          Also, I know “daughterbride” sounds more shocking, but isn’t she Anton’s niece? Niecebride?

  4. Oh I totally forgot to mention, did you guys hear about Soule signing an exclusive with Marvel recently? He’ll be allowed to wrap up his current runs on DC series (I think Swampy goes to February or March) but then he’ll be done here. I’ll be sad to see him go, I’ve really enjoyed Swamp Thing under his tenure, for being both innovative and extremely respectful and in tune with what came before, even in pre-52 continuity.

    As far as I’m concerned, Swampy has been the most consistently enjoyable title since the relaunch, so I’m hoping we get some top shelf talent coming in to replace Soule. I don’t know if Saiz and Pina will remain on art but I hope so, their stuff is gorgeous and disgusting in all the right places.

    • That is interesting. I hadn’t heard that, but it does make me sorta sad. Not because I was loving Soule’s work on Supes/Wondy, or anything like that, but he certainly does seem like a versatile writer.

      It’s weird: for me, Swamp Thing and Thunderbolts represent Soule at his best, and I have yet to see that some genius show itself in his other books (though, I will concede that I’m some kind of monster for not loving She-Hulk).

      As far as who gets Swampy next? Let shoot for the moon here: Brian Azzarello.

      • That would indeed be pretty awesome, he’d have more mythology building awesomness coming at us for ages. Let’s cross our fingers I guess. Do we know what he’s working on post WW?

        • I don’t believe that we do know what Azz is up to post-Wondy. Again, I’m not particularly up-to-date on comic news right now, so I might have missed something. He’s one of my favorite writers in the medium — and maybe the only writer that can do super-smart without any danger of becoming super-weird — and it’s frustrating to know that he’s anchored to Futures End for the time being. I have a standing date to read everything he writes, just, y’know, not Futures End.

    • Yeah, Soule was already basically done with Supes/Wondy and was nearing the natural conclusion of Red Lanterns, but they’re giving him a lot of extra time to finish up Swamp Thing. They’re also letting Soule continue to work on Letter 44 for as long as it takes him to naturally finish the story, even if it takes years (I’m guessing he just can’t launch any other creator owned stuff in the meantime).

      What this says to me is that Marvel REALLY wanted to snag Soule all for themselves, because this is an amazing number of concessions. They must really value him. I’m gonna miss his voice at DC, but I’m excited to see if Marvel has anything interesting in store for him.

      (Soule’s been talking about all of this on his Twitter and his personal blog [which he links to on his twitter] btw)

    • That news saddened me as well. I love Soule’s run on Swamp Thing, and I love his run on Superman/Wonder Woman even more (even if the last 2 issues have been very weak).

  5. Looking back at Brightest Day #24 and Search for Swamp Thing #3 things don’t really add up. In Brightest Day it’s Alec Holland that’s being resurrected, not the original character only thinking he is Alec in Alan Moore’s run. The last thing he can remember before being reurrected is the explosion in the lab, and then he gets overtaken by the green to battle the Nekron corrupted avatar. Alec gets to continue to live, while the green recedes away from him in the end when the voice of the white ring says his work is done. The Swamp Thing creature is revealed to be a Lexcorp experiment in Search #3, Constantine considers killing the resurrected and quite human looking Alec to make him the avatar, but is convinced to let Alec decide and Alec chooses to live. That is the same status quo as in Swamp Thing new 52 #1, Alec still resurrected living a human life. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing never wore the white ring in Brightest Day. As much as I enjoy Soule’s run, I have to say he made a confusing continuity mess out of it, I wouldn’t call it a seamless integration.

    • The swamp creature killing several businessmen who engaged in deliberate, illegal polluting activities seen at the end of Brightest Day is the Lexcorp experiment. From the looks of it in Search #3, Cranius from the Un-men was involved. Too bad Soule brushed over these, and then messed up, confusing the crap out of me .

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