Spencer: As a very young child, I loved watching Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman with my mom every week. It wasn’t the first superhero show I fell in love with, but it was the first show I loved that got cancelled. I can still vividly remember sitting on the floor at my grandfather’s house bawling inconsolably the night the final episode aired. As an adult I’ve better come to appreciate that everything ends, but while many endings are absolutely triumphant (see: Trillium), there’s still always a feeling of melancholy that accompanies watching something I love come to an end. Charles Soule clearly can relate: Swamp Thing Annual 3 is all about the fact that all stories must come to an end, and how difficult those endings can be for those that have to experience them. In the process, Soule also explores the great power stories have in our lives, be it the power to comfort and inspire or the power to deceive and sow fear.
A millennium ago Capucine was granted 1,000 years of life by Etrigan; now her time on Earth is coming to an end, and Etrigan has come to collect his prize: Capucine’s body. Swamp Thing desperately searches for a way to save Capucine’s life, but she’s ready to die; all she wants is for Alec to give her one last opportunity to get revenge on the beast who has loomed over her entire existence. So Gaurav swaps Alec and Capucine’s souls; while Capucine does battle with Etrigan in her new Green-powered form, Etrigan pays Alec an astral visit, warning him of Capucine’s true nature. He says that she’s a killer and a liar who has deceived Alec by only telling him her good deeds, and he claims that she plans to keep Alec’s body and live forever. Alec, though, trusts in Capucine, and his trust is rewarded; after defeating Etrigan she returns and reclaims her dying mortal form. Since she now has a connection to the Green, though, Alec is able to give her the fairy tale ending she deserves by granting her eternal peace within the Green alongside Brother Jonah.
Changing artists here helps to separate this beat from the main story, adding to the feeling that this is the end of an epic tale that stretches far beyond the pages of this Annual. The choice of former series artist Yanick Paquette for this spread is perfect, not only because his past history with Swamp Thing creates a feeling of nostalgia for a time long past much like what Alec himself must be feeling, but also because his style is perfect for conveying the “fairy tale” part of a fairy tale ending. While Capucine may have received a happy ending, though, that doesn’t make her death any easier for Alec.
The first thing that popped into my head after reading this was the experience of a loved one dying after a long fight with a terrible illness, such as cancer. The survivors feel relief that their loved one is no longer suffering, but of course they still feel deep sorrow and loss. That’s exactly what Alec is feeling here. That makes me feel silly for comparing Alec’s loss to the cancellation of a TV show in the introduction, but in a way I think that might be what Soule is going for here. This entire issue compares people’s lives to stories, with Capucine even comparing her need to die to the need for movies to end instead of stretching into endless franchises (anybody have any guesses on what “third movie” Alec was so disappointed by?). In a way all of our lives are stories, and in the same vein, the loss of stories we love can be as big a blow as a death itself.
Of course, Soule highlights the power of stories in our lives in other ways too. Some are subtle and simple: Alec, for example, tells Capucine a story of his failed trip to the movies (as an adorable little corn monster) in order to ease her suffering for a few moments. Gaurav, meanwhile, nearly craps his pants when he hears Etrigan’s name because of the many terrifying tales of Etrigan’s past he’s been told throughout his life. The story of Etrigan’s life has been used to sow fear much in the same way Batman carefully crafts his persona to best strike fear into the hearts of criminals. He accuses Capucine of doing something similar, of telling selective truths about her past in order to craft a story that would win Alec over. Capucine would probably even agree that she was very careful about how she presented herself to Alec, but she actually never intended to screw him over. She respects him too much, and that shows us perhaps the most inspirational story in the entire issue.
I doubt Alec ever thought about crafting a story out of his life; he was too busy fighting to survive. Still, his struggles and triumphs served as an inspiration to Capucine and seem to have truly changed her for the better. That’s the power of stories. From children who grow up emulating Superman or Spider-Man to those of us who have found real-life examples of heroism to latch onto, everybody has a story that has inspired them, and this issue is a heartbreaking, devastatingly beautiful tribute to the power those stories hold.
In a way, this Annual really does have it all: whimsical humor, clever use of superpowers, moments of ecstatic highs and beautifully tragic ends. I admit that my eyes filled up once or twice, but I also nearly jumped out of my seat in excitement when I first saw that Paquette spread. Drew, I’ve got to hear how this issue effected you. Did you get into it as much as I did? What are your thoughts on the idea of our lives being stories? What do you think about the message of “all stories must end” coming from the seemingly neverending genre of superhero comics?
Drew: I think that message makes a bit more sense if we take it to mean “all our stories must end” — and I don’t just mean that morbidly. The fact that this series can deliver a satisfying end to Capucine’s story and continue its own story is both an accurate reflection of reality (“the world moves on”, as they say) and a revealing truth about the perpetuity of comics. Scott Snyder’s Alec Holland story has ended, but that doesn’t mean Swamp Thing has. Or, more to what I think is the point: Soule’s run will eventually end, too, but that doesn’t portend the end of Swamp Thing.
It’s easy to interpret that conclusion as reactions to the apparent end of Soule’s run on She-Hulk, or even his impending departure from all DC titles, and while I think those readings certainly work, I see this issue as a much broader comment on how we deal with stories ending. Spencer mentioned Capucine’s comment about stories needing to end, but her life makes a much more compelling case. Her life, her story, was unnaturally extended, robbing her of her ending, and forcing her struggle on indefinitely. That never-ending struggle against her greatest foe should be a familiar story to any comic book fan, as it’s apparently what our heroes will do forever.
Again, I don’t think Soule is suggesting that those stories couldn’t or shouldn’t go on forever — unlike with Capucine, there’s no moral imperative to allow Batman to find peace — just that endings are important, satisfying parts of stories. I mean, even Soule can’t bring himself to end Capucine’s story altogether, instead coming up with a clever way for her to find eternal peace and still be reachable if Alec ever wanted to call on her. That’s a bit of a “have your cake and eat it, too” moment, but that’s actually about as satisfying an ending as we could ever really hope to get in the world of ongoing series about franchised characters.
Of course, endings of runs (which I still think has the best parallels here) allow for more, different interpretations of the characters, and I think this issue does a great job of illustrating the value of that. Spencer highlighted the sequence from Paquette and colorist Nathan Fairbairn, and the significance of their return, but I’m most struck by the number of new artists — that is, new to Swamp Thing — this issue features. Ryan Browne, Dave Bullock, and Carmen Canero all make their Swamp Thing debuts here, and their diverse styles absolutely make the stories come to life. I love the more graphic sensibilities Bullock brings to the Etrigan story, but my favorite single panel has to belong to Ryan Browne:
First off, the Corn Thing design is adorable, but this panel in particular manages to convey both the running motion as Alec tries to escape (as you’re pulled from left to right across the panel) AND the way the body disintegrates as he wills it out of existence (as you look back, from right to left). It’s an image that more than earns its place in an issue all about storytelling.
To answer your first question, Spencer: I absolutely got into this issue. I’m always a sucker for stories about stories, and the extra dimension of different artists covering each story is a beautiful one. Heck, I’m even with you on early disappointment over stories having to end — there’s still a part of me that will never understand why Doogie Howser, M.D. was cancelled — and now I’m curious if that’s an experience everyone has had. Let’s hear those stories in the comments!
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?