For the last few months, DC Comics’ Swamp Thing has been one of the most interesting-looking books on comic stands. That trend continues with issue four of the series, which impressively weathers a change in the regular art team and still manages to live up to the usual high standards set by Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn every month.
Filling in for our regular team this month is penciller Marco Rudy and colorist David Baron. Rudy I know best from his fill-in issues on Jeff Lemire’s recent Superboy run, issues which I much preferred to the work of regular series artist Pier Gallo. Rudy’s skills are on fine display here; he captures all the horrific detail Paquette’s been working with for the past three months and keeps characters looking consistent and interesting — not necessarily an easy task in this book given that so much of the action involves regular, non-fantastical people. I actually think Paquette draws the best “normal people” in mainstream comics, but Rudy steps into his shoes admirably.
The real joy of this book artistically, though, is in the way the panels are put together. This comic almost always eschews a rigid grid structure for more amorphous, free-flowing frames with nondescript borders. Though occasionally pages require a second or third look to make sure you’ve got the right reading order, it ends up producing a comic that, for lack of a better description, feels as organic and fluid as its title character. I wonder how much writer Scott Snyder handles the layout, because in that department this issue looks exactly the same as the three that came before it — either Snyder directs the visuals himself or Rudy’s an incredible study (or, hey, maybe both are true). Either way, these layouts are superb; I love, for instance, the feeling of claustrophobia instilled by circular panels in the book’s opening sequence, where our new villain, William Arcane, slaughters a diner full of people by growing the areas of rot and death inside of them (it’s really cool). That segment culminates in a swipe of a classic Norman Rockwell painting given a much more disturbing context; it seems Snyder and his art team are presenting a visual version of an “American Gothic” Swamp Thing story.
More great art abounds in an extended quasi-dream sequence that takes up the center of this issue. Here, Alec Holland’s consciousness drifts down to South America to converse with the Parliament of Trees, the ancient group that watches over the Green, who make their first full appearance in this new volume. Rudy does a great job conveying their otherworldliness and also at making each one distinct despite obviously similar characteristics. The very middle of this book, a two-page spread showing agents of the Green fighting soldiers of the Rot throughout time, is one of my favorite pieces of art in the series so far, giving us all kinds of visual Easter eggs, from dinosaur Swamp Things to cro-magnon Rot fighters who look an awful lot like classic Swamp Thing villain Anton Arcane.
Scott Snyder’s script complements the art excellently. Seemingly not a fan of status quo (who needs it?!), Snyder finds new complications to pile onto his scenario every issue. Here, a warning from the Parliament of Trees casts new light on Alec’s relationship with Abby Arcane. Is she, too, an agent of the Rot? We can’t really be sure who to trust, which puts us in Alec Holland’s shoes. We’re learning about his world as he does, which is a fascinating, cool place for readers to be.
On another note — and I may have said this before — I love how Snyder has taken a major mainstream DCU story (Brightest Day) and used it as a springboard for an intense and personal psychological drama. Whether or not you read all 26 issues of that series, Alec’s identity crisis (a man with the memories of a monster) is probably compelling, but I think it’s an especially nice treat for people who did follow that book. It retroactively gives more weight to the whole thing.
Finally, I want to give praise to editor Matt Idelson. I’m not entirely sure how the process of assigning fill-in talents to monthly comic books goes, but I imagine that decision rests at least in part with the editor, and he couldn’t have picked a better art team for this issue. Obviously I love Paquette and Fairbairn, but had I not looked at this issue’s credits I wouldn’t have even noticed Rudy and Baron stepping in. I don’t mean that as an insult, either; I think in a book with a tone as specific as Swamp Thing, “house style” should probably trump personal quirks, at least within the same story arc. I loved this issue; it may have been my favorite of Swamp Thing yet, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more