Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chronic Review: Swamp Thing # 1

Swamp Thing # 1
DC Comics
Script:     Scott Snyder
Pencils:   Yanick Paquette
22 pages for $2.99

Let's open with the stock of the soup: the new Swamp Thing is more keenly interested in Alec Holland than it has been since "The Anatomy Lesson", and that's going back about 30 years.  The man and the creature are separate, at least for now.  There is a Swamp Thing, it isn't Alec Holland, (at least for now) and he claims he never was Swamp Thing.  If we're going with the Alan Moore revamp, (and we certainly appear to be) that's all correct and expected.

In the New 52 edition, Alec Holland woke up six weeks ago cold and alone in a swamp six weeks ago.  He's currently doing construction work, which is a curious choice for a botanist. These are tough times, though, and Holland appears eager to let his past go.  Sort of.  The past has a way of creeping up on you, and while Alec might prefer in some part of his brain to leave everything behind, he's got a bottle of his completed bio-restorative formula, and he's left with odd reverberations of an attraction to a white-haired woman he's never met.  Plus, his Swamp Thing connection makes him important enough to earn a meeting with Superman.  Membership to Club Weird has its perks.

Here's some things I loved about the new Swamp Thing:

Plants Are Dicks
It's the little things that count.  Snyder has Holland describe the quietly violent nature of plants.  They choke out other plants.  The invade, they take over, and they pillage just as aggressively as any animal.  They simply do it with a lot less noise, so it tends to go unnoticed. 

These are the tiny gifts that Scott Snyder offers up in all of his work, and it pays off on two levels.  Directly, as you read it, it makes the book more interesting.  Does it work to strap cabbage to an arthritic knee?  Hell if I know.  But I bet it's at least plausible, and it's the kind of thing a botanist might think of that I would not.  It's called world-building, and it's called establishing voice, and that gets me to the second benefit.

When a writer takes the time to do a little research and then applies it to the story in an organic fashion, it heightens the ability of the reader to fall in.  Ultimately, comics ask a lot of its victims.  We are required to take some astonishing leaps in order to invest in these wildly improbable situations and characters.  What we need to get over that believability hump is to have faith that there is a conductor at the wheel, a skilled driver with an objective in mind and the goods to get you there.  Neil Gaiman is the best I've ever seen at presenting the presence of a skilled conductor.  Nick Spencer has some of that in him.  Scott Snyder's even better than Spencer, though.

Plants are dicks.  We know this because Alec Holland teaches it, in his thoughts and actions, and it's seeping through the tone of the book, which is in point of fact, quite dark.

This Is A Moore-Inspired Horror Book

Swamp Thing resides in the DCU proper now, but make no mistake - this is a Vertigo horror title.  It's a horror book, and a worthy successor to what Alan Moore laid down before in terms of tone and sophistication, and style.

The comic opens with expository captions that cut to the tone of the action, not the plot.  There's a malevolent wave of foreboding tension throughout, where Swamp Thing stands as a tiny buffer/conduit plugging a massive dyke of vegetative ass whup.  Snyder even apes Moore's old technique of mirrored transitions.  A red maelstrom inexplicably picks up a mastodon skeleton as the captions read "no good".  A panel later, Alec Holland pitches a piece of timber while declaring it "no good."

  Like Animal Man, Swamp Thing knows exactly where its legend was born.  Back when Alan Moore was changing the way modern mainstream comics were written, Swamp Thing wore the crown "Sophisticated Suspense!" on its brow.  That's what Snyder is aiming for with this title. 

Yanick Paquette Makes Everything Beautiful
I generally don't comment on the art, because I don't feel qualified.  So really all I can tell you is that I found everything between these covers to be....beautiful.  Strikingly so.  Even the ugly stuff is beautiful.

Some of the facial storytelling is eerily life-like.  I don't know if Paquette is using photo reference or not, maybe his imagination is photo-reference quality.  The people in these panels feel "real", for lack of a better word, with the exception of the Superman bits in the middle of the book.  I do know that Paquette is knocking out these visuals on a Cintiq, though.  How do I know that?  Because like all self-respecting comic book aficionados, I listened to him explain his process on episode # 162 of Where Monsters Dwell.  But I digress.

Swamp Thing is smart, creepy, and lavishly illustrated.  The first issue made plants interesting, for God's sake.  I want to know why animals are dropping dead in clumps, I want to know why supernatural forces are interested in mastodon skeletons and torturing scientist at the dig.  I'm interested in the new relationship between Alec Holland, Swamp Thing, and where the heck Abby might be.  How can I ask for more than that?

- Ryan 

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