Panels From Beyond the Grave #13

I realize that I haven't written a comic book review in awhile, but hopefully, I'll knock one out early next year. Until then, please enjoy another issue of Panels From Beyond the Grave sent in by part-time RR Inc. contributor Bob Ignizio (visit his movie blog HERE).

SWAMP THING (#4, February 2012)

I've been meaning to return to the horror titles in DC's New 52 since I covered Batwoman #1 a few months back, but got sidetracked. I'm getting back on this time around with one of my favorite titles to come out of the DC relaunch so far: Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing. In an odd editorial decision (considering that the New 52 was supposed to make jumping into the DC comics universe easy for new readers), the company decided to bring Swampy back into the fold a few months before the New 52 launched.

To make matters worse, they did it in a really cheesy and convoluted way, first having the character act as a deus ex machina in the conclusion of their "Brightest Day" maxi-series, and then following it up with the amazingly bland "Search for Swamp Thing" mini-series. Frankly, it didn't bode well for the character. But leave it to Scott Snyder, one of the best writers currently working in the biz, to take those lemons and make exceptionally tasty lemonade.

The main thing readers need to know about the new Swamp Thing is that, for now at least, he's a flesh-and-blood human being. Specifically, he's Alec Holland, a botanist who - in the original series - died in a lab explosion only to have his memories and personality serve as a template for a big, shambling Earth elemental. Now that Holland is back among the living, he finds that he possesses the memories of the previous Swamp Thing. It's a twist that turns Alan Moore's classic run on the series upside down.

Instead of a walking vegetable that remembers being a man, we have a man who remembers being a walking vegetable. Despite these unwanted memories, Holland is just trying to lead a normal life. However, The Green, the elemental force that created the previous Swamp Thing as well as others throughout history, wants Holland to become its new champion. Apparently, he was meant to do so originally, but since he died, The Green was forced to replicate him the best they could, resulting in the Swamp Thing whose adventures fans followed in DC/Vertigo comics for many years.

As the fourth issue begins, Alec Holland has met up with the previous Swamp Thing's girlfriend, Abigail Arcane. Both Abby and her younger brother, William, are tied to another elemental force known as The Rot, which seeks to bring death to the world. Abby is fighting her destiny, but William has embraced his. Just as Earth elementals like Swamp Thing have the ability to control plant life, servants of The Rot have the power to control dead matter. And not just completely dead either. Even something as minor as a bit of dead skin or a dead tooth can be manipulated in living beings. We see this illustrated in spectacularly gruesome fashion in the first few pages of this issue. As with the best past issues of Swamp Thing, the horror here is genuinely creepy and chilling on a visceral, yet intellectual level.

Swamp Thing #4 then spends a good bit of time on exposition, explaining the ages-old battle between The Rot, The Green and another elemental force representing animal life called The Red (The Red factors heavily in fellow DC title Animal Man). This kind of stuff can easily bring a story to a screeching halt, but Snyder is too good a writer to let it get boring. It also helps that artist Marco Rudy, filling in for regular penciler Yanick Paquette, does a great job with the visuals.

Even though there is an awful lot of verbiage here, the art has a power and sense of movement to it. Surprisingly, given the degree to which continuity is important on this series, I think a new reader could start here and have a pretty good idea of what was going on. Snyder does a good job inserting the most pertinent past details into the present story in a natural way that gets readers up to speed while still smoothly moving forward.

I know that some long-time fans of Swamp Thing (of which I am one) were concerned at seeing the character returned to the mainstream DC universe, complete with superheroes and all. Well, those folks can rest easy. This is a full-on horror book, and although it may not carry a “mature readers” label, this is every bit as edgy and sophisticated as Moore's work. And remember, Moore had The Spectre, Deadman, The Phantom Stranger and The Demon guest-star several times during his tenure on Swamp Thing, and even had a notable guest appearance by Superman in one issue.

Swamp Thing is also one of the few titles in the New 52 that has kept all of its previous history, so you don't have to worry about your favorite stories from the past not mattering any more. At the same time, the character is starting off fresh in many ways, and knowledge of previous stories is in no way essential to enjoy what's going on now. I wish something could be done to change the cheesy explanation for Alec Holland's resurrection, but aside from that one annoying detail, this is a first-rate horror comic.

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