Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Swamp Thing 38, originally released January 7th, 2015.
Spencer: For lack of a better word, our bodies are sacred. Everything we are is contained inside our body, and while we can do our best to make a mark on the world and be remembered for it, the truth is that once our body is gone, so are we. It’s why invasions of our personal space — whether by an oblivious close-talker or someone with more insidious motives — are so deeply unsettling, and why tattoos have come to be such a powerful form of self-expression. It’s that kind of deep, primal connection that the Machine Queen exploits by attacking Swamp Thing with his own reanimated corpse; when one has transcended humanity in the way Alec Holland has, it’s probably the only way to make him vulnerable again.
Lady Weeds — a.k.a. Machine Queen, new avatar of the Machine Kingdom — has been initiating attacks all over the world, distracting Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane long enough for her, Anton Arcane, and Miki to subdue and take control of Alec’s Saureen, Gaurav. Next, they use Alec’s reanimated corpse to attract Alec’s attention; his reaction is so strong that he loses his connection to his other fights, leaving Abby at the mercy of the machines. While Alec is distracted and distraught, Miki commands Gaurav to open a portal to the Green, which Anton enters and immediately begins corrupting with the power of the Rot!
While writer Charles Soule never draws attention to it, one of the most important aspects of Swamp Thing 38 is the fact that none of the characters featured in its story are actually human. Gaurav may be a possible exception, but even he’s rather disconnected from humanity-at-large by this point — the rest of the cast consists of avatars and former avatars, men and women composed of plants, rot and fungus. Alec alone is capable of existing and functioning in multiple bodies in multiple locations at the same time, an ability that makes my puny little human brain ache, and one that even the Machine Queen herself confesses makes Alec impossible to beat in a straight-up fight.
That’s why she needs Alec’s corpse. The connection it has to Alec, even in his current Swamp Thing form, is the only thing that cuts through his elemental abilities and speaks to the man inside; not only does Alec’s ability to concentrate on multiple fights collapse, but even his connection to the Green itself weakens as a result, implying that part of Alec’s vast power comes from his leaving his human life behind.
Of course, I can’t blame Alec for reacting so badly.
Javi Pina’s rendition of this abomination is the perfect mixture of grotesque and adorable. I wonder what bothers Alec more: the way the Machine Queen’s crew has disrespected his remains, the poor pitiable creature that they’ve created in his image, or the reminder of a lost life it serves as? No matter how Alec feels, it’s obvious that Lady Weeds has gone far beyond the measures necessary to simply incapacitate Alec; no, she and her crew want to make their attack as personal as possible.
The tagline on this issue’s cover reads “The Desecration of Alec Holland!”; I don’t know whether the line comes from Soule or one of the book’s editors, but there couldn’t be a better way to describe the Machine Queen’s plan. The word desecration implies that the Machine Queen’s plan is purposely disrespectful, contemptuous, and absolutely meant to humiliate Alec. The irony of such a personal, hateful plan coming from the avatar of the Machines isn’t lost on me, and while I understand that the Machine Kingdom chose an avatar in the first place to add some emotion and conviction to their machinations, I have to wonder if the leaders of the Machine Kingdom will eventually grow tired of Lady Weeds’ methods. Or perhaps the equally personal vendettas of Arcane or Miki will interfere with her plans? If Soule is implying that Alec’s ties to his former life weaken his connection to the Green, perhaps these villains’ obsessions with settling old scores will likewise weaken their elemental abilities?
The only thing I know for sure is that, while Swamp Thing 37 was focused on the role of technology in society, this month’s issue is much more interested in exploring the humanity (or lack of) of its characters. Pitting these two concepts against each other as the arc continues could yield some really interesting results, but in the meantime, Swamp Thing 38 still works brilliantly as a propulsive escalation of the conflicts that have driven Soule’s run on this title.
Of course, while I’ve quickly grown to love this book, I’m still fairly new to the world of Swamp Thing. I think I caught everything that was going on in this issue, but Drew, did you notice anything I missed that affected your reading? Did you enjoy this issue as much as I did? Did you manage to keep your lunch down during Lady Weeds’ weird little rot-filled psuedo-orgy?
Drew: Ugh. I honestly don’t know what’s grosser: the thought of anyone making out with Anton Arcane, or the fact that, whatever it is they did, it resulted in a giant cocoon that splllch-ed them out when they were done. Either way, the Calculus’ reaction of “TMI” is spot-on — I’ve really grown to love the Instant Message language of the Calculi, and I hope they survive the war with Alec.
As for catching anything you might have missed, I’m afraid I’m not that much more familiar with Swamp Thing lore — I only started reading this series with the relaunch. I will say, though, that some kind of anxiety about the history of this character may be essential to this issue. There’s no doubt that some high-strung fans claimed relaunching Swamp Thing at all was a desecration, and heck, I’d be willing to bet that some higher-strung fans cried desecration when Soule took over this series from Snyder — the point is, Soule most certainly has critics that see this series as a reanimated corpse, anyway. It’s a bold move, then, to have Alec’s corpse literally desecrated and reanimated — something I think we can appreciate even if this is our first issue of Swamp Thing. We may have anxieties about this run’s place in Swamp Thing history, but Soule clearly doesn’t.
But I’m also getting a lot of mileage out of your reading of the humanity/non-humanity of these characters. Not to keep bringing everything back to Soule — ultimately, our readings are our own — but I couldn’t help but think of him when you brought up the irony of the Machine Queen’s personal touch. Let me be clear: I don’t think Soule is a robot, or even particularly impersonal, but his unparalleled workload certainly gives him a reputation for efficiency. Indeed, in his post on how he manages his workload, Soule admits that certain distractions need to be cut out altogether in order to work like he does.
Try to eliminate distractions, to the extent possible — shut off your internet and phone when you’re working, write longhand first drafts, all of that. Beyond involuntary timesucks, there are the ones we choose — video games/TV/Netflix, screwing around online, getting hammered or high, just generally bumming around. “Wait,” you’re thinking, “that shit is what some would call fun.” Yup. I haven’t cut out the good times, but see (1) — I try to restrict that stuff to what I need, instead of what I want. This is where I might lose people, but it’s one of the most honest answers to the “how I do it” question. I do it by deciding that I want to do the truly important stuff well instead of spending time on stuff that, ultimately, doesn’t matter.
That’s a sacrifice few people are willing to make, which may give Soule some special insight into characters that have sacrificed their humanity in the name of a cause. Again, I don’t think giving up Netflix is quite the same as giving up your Earthly body, nor do I think Soule has quite ascended to the position of avatar of comic book writing (though he’s certainly well on his way), but I think there are some interesting parallels to be made.
Actually, in that light, Alec’s resurrected corpse might actually represent some of those distractions. I think some of our readings of the Machines as representing digital comics holds up, but maybe it’s better to think of them as technology in general, and especially the internet (hence the internet speak from the Calculi). The whole conflict here might represent the “screwing around online” that Soule mentions, in which case, Alec’s remains represent the narcissism of digging through our pasts on the internet. Alec can’t help his friend because he’s so distracted by looking at his past self.
Okay, my readings of this issue are getting increasingly heavy-handed and writer-focused, so let me end by reiterating how fantastic Pina’s art is here. He’s such a skilled storyteller, his hand becomes almost invisible — you won’t find any distractingly flashy layouts here, just clear, straightforward, beautiful art that tells the story perfectly without ever drawing attention to itself. That’s a skill we don’t praise enough (because the point is that we don’t notice it), but man, it really makes all of the abstract concepts of this issue come alive.
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?