Swamp Thing Annual 3

swamp thing annual 3Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Swamp Thing Annual 3, originally released October 29th, 2014.

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.

PaquetteChanging 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.

I love you and I miss youThe 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.

Alec 1I 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:

Corn HuskersFirst 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?

12 comments on “Swamp Thing Annual 3

  1. That’s a great question Drew (and, by extension, Spencer): I don’t know that I did / do have that longing for stories to continue. As much as I like taking in fiction, it’s always a battle between my overactive imagination and my attention span. Even when a story is over, if it’s effectively told, the narrative keeps playing in my head, filling in details or corners of the world we didn’t see. I know that runs counter to the philosophy of Retcon Punch, but I have a damn hard time shutting off my internal fan-fic machine when I’m enjoying the media I’m taking in.

    The saddest I think I’ve ever been at a TV show ending was LOST – but I attribute that sadness to the loss of that culture. I didn’t mind that the story stopped, but it bothered me to think of a world where I couldn’t just talk about LOST all the time. That’s different, right?

    • I think that is different, though I suppose the feelings are basically the same. I’m curious about your imperviousness to mourning stories, though, because I feel like I’ve felt it a lot over the years. Harry Potter, Twin Peaks, Y: The Last Man, Burnahm’s Batman Epic, and now Azzarello’s Wonder Woman are all things that I’d gladly see more of. It’s not that I’m necessarily dissatisfied with their endings, just that I enjoyed them so much that I’d love to spend just a little longer in their worlds. It’s definitely greedy in cases where the story was concluded satisfactorily, but in cases where a beloved TV show gets cancelled unceremoniously, I think lamenting that there isn’t more is totally justifiable.

      Actually, come to think of it Firefly and Serenity are kind of an interesting case study (which I’m cherry-picking because I know you’ve seen both). Do you feel like Serenity wasn’t necessary? Would you be just as happy without it? What is it that compels you to read (or view) on if you’d be just as happy stopping? (I’m not asking because I think you’re wrong, I’m genuinely curious. I’m not even sure I have answers to these questions.)

      • I’d hesitate to make a judgement on what is or is not “necessary” in art (especially when we get into the more heavily commercialized art forms), but I will admit that my appetite for stories that I like is just about bottomless. That means that I’ll seek out as much content as there is — almost obsessively — but there’s something about knowing that a narrative is done that lets me relax on that. Like, I think I’m more worried about missing out on a thing that I like that exists than missing out on material that doesn’t.

        Here’s maybe an example that illustrates my feelings on endings — even arguably pre-mature endings — Party Down. I love Party Down, the cast is great, I love the way it treats the central relationship, I love how it simultaneously offers despair and hope for creative people. Great show, cancelled after two seasons, and without totally resolving many of the conflicts in the series (the Henry / Casey relationship being chief among them). While I’d love to see more episodes of the show, I’m not sad that they don’t exist. The show served its purpose, and the cast and crew have that on their resume the next time they want to make another awesome thing that I might just love (Adam Scott on Parks and Rec, Ken Marino on Marry Me, etc.). Plus, I have this pocket of 10 hours in that world – what’s there to mourn?

        • Ooh, I think “mourning” is maybe the lynchpin here. Like, I get what you’re saying and appreciate that it’s the healthier attitude, but mourning isn’t necessarily logical, right? Even if a loved one passes away after a long, full life, you’re going to miss them some, and maybe even wish you could see them again. I realize media is different in that you CAN see it/read it/hear it again, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more.

          But actually, given that you want more if it exists, the only difference is that I sometimes find myself wanting more even if it doesn’t exist. Like, you would totally watch more Party Down if it existed, which to me means you want something that you’re not getting. Again, I realize this is kind of illogical, but it’s really an emotional response we’re talking about here.

          Before I paint myself into a corner, I should clarify that I by no means think more is always better. I was super reluctant to read Before Watchmen, I know I would be happier without the Star Wars prequels, and I fucking hate that we’ve cannibalized John Lennon’s old demos in order to make “new” songs. I’m not really sure what makes any of these things different from others — I can see the same motives at play for these as the ones I think are okay — which maybe speaks to how illogical this all is.

        • I suppose there’s also the idea that, once a story is done, it can’t be fucked up. I tend to be very nervous watching new episodes or TV shows that I like (or going to new movies in a franchise I enjoy), because I’m afraid it’s going to be bad, and then I have to decide how to be a fan of a thing that has parts I don’t like. It’s a little easier with movies — I have no problem saying “but those Hobbit movies, terrible!” — but quality can vary so wildly from week to week on a TV show that I can really get worked up about a potentially bad episode of my favorite shows. I know what Party Down and Watchmen are, and I can just relax in my understanding that I like those things in their entirety. You can’t say that about a story still unfolding.

        • I think I feel that way when something is going to be impossible to live up to (which is why I was so wary of Before Watchmen), but for more hit-and-miss things I like (like Community, for example), I’ll gladly roll the dice.

        • Interesting. I know this is a total tangent, but now I’m curious: are there any TV shows/comic series/movie franchises that you like so much you’d accept diminishing returns just to have more of it? I’m guessing you’d say know. I would have thought I’d say “yes”, but honestly, I keep thinking of the Star Wars prequels and realizing how wrong that is. If they can make me hate a Star Wars movie, I suppose there’s no guarantees that I’ll like anything.

        • Sure – there are a bunch. I liked having more Futurama when it came back to Comedy Central, even though the quality was a lot less consistent. Mind you, I was still stressed out watching them for the first time (and the hurts of some of those bad eps cut deep on first viewing), but I am a sucker for those characters. If I know they’re out there, having other adventures, I want to see them.

          Man, Star Wars is such a fascinating example in this whole conversation because there’s obviously a shit-ton of Star Wars neither of us took in before seeing those prequels. Games, books, comics, etc. — a lot of it even reportedly very good. It almost begs the question of what a franchise is, and how anyone could possibly be a fan of a whole franchise, and by extension of a whole series of things.

          Also “If they can make he hate a Star Wars movie, I suppose there’s no guarantee that I’ll like anything” is one of the more profound things you’ve ever said.

        • I’m not certain how I quit following Spider-Man now that I’m back in it. Slott has to stop some time and someone will come up with something not good.

          And I’ll take it.

          However, KNOWING it’s not going to be good, and NEVER good again? I think I’d just go back and reread. I think you need the hope of a good story at least.

  2. NEW THREAD!

    I’m really just chasing whatever stray thoughts here interest me now, but does the capability to make more matter at all? I’m excited for more Avengers movies, but a big part of that is that I know they can make more Avengers movies. Like, if they had the whole cast on contract, but just never got their shit together, that would somehow be more frustrating. I think I could be happy with just the one, otherwise.

    • Speaking of The Avengers movie. I’m officially the comic guy at work. EVERYONE has come up and talked to me about the preview. Seriously, middle of class, slope-intercept form, someone comes in my room to say, “Mr. Scott, sorry to interrupt, but did you see the Avengers preview? Holy cow that looks good!” and leaves to me trying to get 28 math students back to slop-intercept form and how to find the equation of a line instead of talking about Ultron.

      Which is hard. More for me than them, because after Age of Ultron, I’m ready for a good Ultron story.

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