Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: SWAMP THING!
The Concept and Characters: In 1984, Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben crafted one of the most perfect single issue comic books of all time: The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, “The Anatomy Lesson.” In many ways, that issue was the paragon of the Modern Age of superhero comics, with its florid, but poetic, narrative captions, its dark themes, and its deconstructive intent. If Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns have been held up as the twin pillars of superhero modernism (as they should be), then “The Anatomy Lesson” is the banner waving from the top of the castle of contemporary comics. Its approach has been mimicked (often poorly) more frequently than almost any other single issue in history.
It’s the quintessential comic in which we learn an undiscovered truth about the past of the protagonist, and that new perspective changes everything. I can’t imagine that there are people in the world who have not read “The Anatomy Lesson,” but if you haven’t, you should seek it out. DC reprinted it as a special $1.00 edition a couple of years back, and its also easily found in the Swamp Thing collected editions. Reading it now, it’s easy to underestimate just how powerful it was at the time, since its form and function has been replicated so often in the years since, but if Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 came out as a brand new issue this year, it would still blow everything else away. It’s just an amazingly powerful comic, written and drawn by young men who were soon to rank among the best ever working in the industry.
Swamp Thing existed before that, of course. As a one-shot tale in House of Secrets in 1971, and then updated and recast for monthly comics in 1972. Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson made their mark on that original Swamp Thing series, and even at its creakiest, it’s an excellent monster comic, full of gothic horror, deep shadows, and vicious tragedy. But as good as those early Swamp Thing comics are, they’re still just well-crafted monster stories, and Alan Moore did something fresh and wonderful and strange and exciting when he came to a floundering volume of the series in the mid-1980s. His run, through issue #64 in 1987, has been impossible to top, and writers like Rick Veitch, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Diggle, and Josh Dysart have tried and failed. Not that they didn’t do interesting work—they all did, and most of the perceived “failure” was nothing to do with them—but none of the attempts even came close to what Alan Moore did with his 40-plus issues in which he revised the character and recast monthly American comics in a new mold.
So here comes Scott Snyder, DC’s strongest writer who isn’t named “Grant Morrison,” and he’s going to try to do what so many other have been unable to accomplish. He’s going to make a Swamp Thing series worth reading again. Swamp Thing has left the house of Vertigo, where it has lingered for a decade and a half, and is now back in the DCU proper. He came back at the end this year’s Brightest Day mini-event, and Jonathan Vankin just finished a three-issue bridge series setting up the new status quo for the Scott Snyder relaunch, but all of that is skippable. Snyder is giving us a clean start, though its one that will be informed by what came before. The only question is: will it live up to expectations?
The Creative Team: The team on this comic packs one of the strongest one-two punches of all the September relaunch books. With top-writer Scott Snyder providing scripts and the often-astonishing Yannick Paquette proving the artwork, this series is going to have a distinctive level of intelligence and beauty on every page. It’s a muck monster who’s involved in supernatural forces, so it may not look traditionally beautiful (though with Paquette drawing it, I can’t imagine it looking the least bit ugly), but it will no doubt be a sumptuous visual feast.
Snyder’s work on Detective Comics and American Vampire have shown what he’s capable of, and he seems perfectly in tune with what Swamp Thing needs to compete with all the other books on the stands this fall. It will be a mix of superhero action and gothic horror, with smart callbacks to previous stories but a fresh new direction based on character exploration.
Originally Francesco Francavilla was announced as another artist on the series, rotating with Paquette, but that no longer seems to be the case, at least not on a regular basis. We can only hope that his as-yet-unannounced replacement is half as good as he is.
Recommendation: Buy it, definitely. I strongly recommend this comic. When it comes time for me to rank the DC 52 new series, this one will be right near the top, definitely in my Top 5 of the fall. With Snyder and Paquette, you can’t go wrong, and it’s great to see that it looks like we’ll finally get another superior Swamp Thing series. It’s been a long time coming.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.