Sunday, November 6, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Swamp Thing #1-3

Swamp Thing #1-3
Written by Scott Snyder
Finished Art by Yanick Paquette

Cover Price: $2.99 each

In a nutshell:
DC brings Swamp Thing full circle.

Swamp Thing was first created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson in 1972 as scientist Alec Holland who mutated into a plant like creature. The Swamp Thing was part of the DC Universe and at times interacted with characters like Batman as he did heroic deeds while trying to regain his humanity. When Alan Moore took over the character in the 1980s, he retconned the origin by having Swamp Thing discover that the real Alex Holland was actually killed in the event that created him and that the Swamp Thing was a completely new entity that had absorbed Holland's memories. This completely changed the focus and motivation of the character and it gave the character new life. It was also a landmark story in deconstructionism which inspired many of the trends that followed including the creation of the Vertigo imprint which Swamp Thing was a part of that were horror or crime stories set in their own context outside of the DC Universe. Swamp Thing, along with Sandman and other Vertigo titles that followed were the hip books to read in the late 80s and early 90s.

But over two decades have passed now and what was once new and and exciting is now overlooked as the more mainstream superhero comics have adopted many of the sensibilities (for better or worse) that were inspired by Vertigo. Not so much as reinventing the character so much as recontructing him, the Swamp Thing story has once again been folded into the DC Universe as the story is retconned once again as we learn that Alex Holland did not die at the Swamp Thing's creation after all and he has now been bonded with "The Green" and now has all of the Swamp Thing's memories. In these first three parts of this new series, Holland is the focus character who is trying to figure out who he is a world that has changed a lot since he went missing, and his internal struggle with these memories he has from the Swamp Thing.

Why did I pick it up?
With all the new titles and a limited budget I was on the fence but decided to pass the week the book came out. Having listened to some feedback from other readers I decided to pick up the second issue along with the reprint of the first issue. The covers by Yanick Paquette which basically displays the iconic Swamp Thing the way he's supposed to look certainly didn't hurt and knowing that the interiors were done by the same artist was the deciding factor for me.

The Good:
Apparently this Scott Snyder guy has been making a bit of a name for himself on a title called American Vampire which I'm yet to read, but the story drew me in. I find Alec Holland an easy enough character to latch onto and I'm really curious to see how things have developed since I last read Swamp Thing. You don't need to have read Swamp Thing to enjoy this book. It gives you everything you need to know what's going on here. And the Art by Yanick Paquette, unbelievably good! The idea to reconstruct Swamp Thing by bringing back Alec Holland is probably is a story that most writers and fans have imagined at some point, and the execution of it here is totally on the money. I'm looking forward to discovering where these characters have been.

The Bad:
I'm not sure that bringing the character back into the DC Universe is doing anything for it so far. We got an appearance by Superman in the first issue, who looked just dreadful in that awful Jim Lee designed costume (I will never stop bitching about it, it is just so wrong for this decade...) and the appearance really didn't serve the story except to make it clear to readers that he is in the DC Universe again.

There are a few grotesque scenes in the book and that's not unexpected in a horror comic but I'm not a big fan of gore for the sake of gore and I personally could do without that horror involving psychopathic children and then the grotesque murders of children. This kind of shock doesn't impress me as much as it puts me off. I might have enjoyed this more if I was still in my early 20s, but then again back then there wasn't so much of that in my face. These days these passe´ attempts to shock me just turn me off and bore me.

The idea that the Swamp Thing's origin was destiny rather than accident and that Swamp Thing is an agent of the greater good fighting against the ultimate supernatural evil (as opposed to human "evil" which is a culmination of choices) takes some of the humanity out of the story for me. This isn't a new concept to the Swamp Thing story but it is a heavy focus in the third issue. My feeling is that the best stories have to be a reflection of something real to the human condition (which can be pretty broad). It doesn't always have to be obvious, but the story has to mean something that is a reflection of something in us. The idea of supernatural evil is only interesting to me as a story device that might provide opportunity for context so my hope is that the supernatural good versus evil theme isn't the true meat of the story.

Is it worth it?
Yes. If you're put off by horror, then it's not the book for you. But it's smart. It's intriguing. The art is fantastic. And despite my reservations, which you have to bare in mind that I will nitpick things I like more than things I don't care about, it's a really good comic.

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