Swamp Thing is a character that’s had a strange evolution. Starting out as a generic monster-man, he was relegated to derivative horror stories until Alan Moore added some epic mythological elements. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Swamp Thing was so popular that two live action films, a live action television show and an animated cartoon series were created, but eventually the character all but disappeared from the pages of DC, instead relegated to the Vertigo imprint. Recently, spinning from the events of Brightest Day, Swamp Thing’s human host, Alec Holland, was resurrected. It was announced with the launch of the New 52 that he would be receiving his own series, taking place in the DC Universe proper.
The strange history can be a little disorienting, but if you just dive in you’ll have no problem. Snyder is especially good at giving enough information to fill in the gaps, but not enough to make you feel bogged down with exposition. If you can let yourself go with the flow of the story, you’re in for a great ride.
In the past few issues, Alec has had to deal with the impending invasion of The Rot (something that is also featured heavily in the pages of Animal Man), a kind of supernatural embodiment of death and decomposition, but not in the same way that Black Lanterns were. The Parliament of Trees, a gathering of anthropomorphic plants tasked with defending the planet from The Rot, wants Alec to become Swamp Thing again, but understandably, transforming into a walking bog man doesn’t sound like it would be very enjoyable, so he’s been reluctant. He’s had to deal with the reappearance of Alice, the niece of his former enemy, Anton Arcane, and the memories she triggers from his time as Swamp Thing. You get the sense that there’s a lot of history here, but it never feels overwhelming.
As with Animal Man and other titles like Demon Knights, superhero action is kept to an absolute minimum. Snyder said, prior to the release of the first issue, that he planned to treat the book as if it belonged to the horror genre, and it’s quite obvious that was his intention. This is not a series for the squeamish as Yanick Paquette’s art reveals just how revolting The Rot really is. People are murdered and their carcasses used as human-suits for the creatures, resulting in some very twisted images. (It’s very similar to how the Bug from Men In Black wore Vincent D’Onofrio’s body as a disguise.) The panel layout is also very innovative, working with the plot to make each page like a canvass. Paquette can make two people standing around, talking into a visual masterpiece. It shows how comics can tell stories in ways that books and film could never accomplish.
As I said in my review for Animal Man, both of these books are dealing with the same threat and a crossover between the two titles is definitely imminent. While not a requirement, reading both books should provide a more complete story. Besides, Animal Man is so good that if you’re not, you should be reading it anyway.
Do not let the convoluted back story put you off from reading this book. Even if you have no prior knowledge of the character, everything will make sense for you. Swamp Thing reminds us that there are comic book characters who aren’t superheroes and the art alone is worth the cover price.