Swamp Thing #2

Swamp Thing #2

B

It took me an embarassingly long amount of time to realize that what Scott Snyder was doing with the character of Swamp Thing was in many ways the perfect opposite of Alan Moore’s famed innovations with the character. While under Moore we knew Swamp Thing as a monster who remembered being a man, in Snyder’s book he’s a man who has the recollections of a monster. In this case, of course, Alec Holland doesn’t want to go back to being the Swamp Thing. He instead wants a perfectly normal life away from the Green and away from threats to the planet. Unfortunately for Alec, it turns out that his time as the Swamp Thing hasn’t even begun. 

Maybe you guys are getting sick of me talking about Alan Moore in these reviews, but here’s the truth: you don’t have a modern Swamp Thing comic without him. He and he alone has kept the character alive for readers over the past few years, and I imagine that working on a Swamp Thing book in his shadow is something like being the guy hired to replace Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. Of course Dio eventually made that gig his own, but not without making his way through “Paranoid” and “Iron Man” night after night. When your past holds an icon, you’ve got to embrace it before you can move forward.

How’s that for a digression? Anyway, I’m really enjoying the way that Snyder uses the same kind of plotting ideas as Moore but to totally opposite effect. Consider the chief revelation of Swamp Thing #2, which I noted in the opening paragraph: that Alec Holland was always meant to be the Swamp Thing, but that the lab accident that killed him ruined the Green’s plans. Therefore, the Parliament of Trees created a facsimile of Holland using his bio-restorative formula, but it wasn’t as good as the real deal. Now that Holland’s been brought back to life, he can truly take up the mantle of the Green’s champion, one he was always destined to have.

This idea echoes Moore in that what Snyder has done is looked at an element of Swamp Thing’s origin that didn’t totally make sense and explain it in a way that it does. That element: if the Alec Holland Swamp Thing was made up of plants soaked in bio-restorative formula, how did all the other Swamp Things come to life in the past? The formula didn’t exist before Holland, after all. Snyder’s answer is that plant elementals are typically bound to human hosts and Alec was an aberration. That makes sense, and it gives the series some nice ideas to explore.

On the other hand, I will admit that revelation fell just a little bit flat for me. How many times can we go back and revise that moment of creation? How many times can we say Alec Holland was or wasn’t or should or shouldn’t be the Swamp Thing? It feels just a little bit schizophrenic, as though it’s almost guaranteed that the next writer to reboot the character a decade or so down the line will find something else in that same moment to exploit, perhaps an alien clone or body double hiding in nearby shrubbery that took Alec’s place right before he died.

The revelation on this issue’s last page is also problematic for me. It’s supposed to signal the return of an old, important character in the Swamp Thing mythos, but this person doesn’t look anything like we know him or her to, so it kind of removes the drama. Further complicating that, it’s hard to make suspenseful reveals based on past stories pay off in the New 52, because as readers we literally don’t know the history of this universe. So while Alec’s certainly surprised to see this person, we can’t really guess at the extent of their interaction — what was or wasn’t preserved by the reboot? Is this even the same person we know? It turns what should be a moment of soap-opera suspense into a prompt to go to Wikipedia and research minutae. That’s unfortunate, because the last page really could’ve knocked us out.

As good a writer as Scott Snyder is, Yanick Paquette is definitely showing himself to be the star of this book. Creative panel layouts populate almost every page; I love the way images bleed into one another and panel borders break down to indicate chaos (there’s an especially great example of this when the main bad guy comes a-callin’ later in the issue). His linework, coupled with Nathan Fairbairn’s moody colors, sets a chilling, eerie tone for this dark book. I absolutely loved his scene of a 1940s Swamp Thing decomposing — this is powerful, frightening stuff, and it proves that Paquette is the perfect man for the job here.

But story-wise, I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed by Swamp Thing #2. It feels like we’re getting too much information, and too much of it is outlandish — not only do we have a whole new origin for Alec to process, but we also meet the ULTIMATE BAD GUY FOR ALL SWAMP THINGS EVER (which, didn’t we already take care of that in 1986?). I don’t know. It’s a good book, and maybe this issue just provides necessary exposition, but while I enjoy Snyder’s craft as a writer some of the story specifics have left me a bit empty. Hopefully things will pick up next month.

tags: scott snyder, swamp thing, yanick paquette

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