Swamp Thing, Volume One – Raise ‘dem Bones
To most people out there the title Swamp Thing evokes the epitome of camp, sixties-era special effects and simple, schlocky stories; a man in a rubber suit wading through waterlogged sets and dry-ice fog for a damsel to distress. Snyder’s run on the comic however, like Moore’s long before him, offers the exact opposite experience to that: the visual effects are utterly unbridled by the limitations of budget and reality, though the titular Swamp Thing doesn’t even show up until the end of the seventh issue, and even then it is only in silhouette, while the story that Scott tells is straining (for the brain and the page), modern and masterfully scary. If you’ve not read any Swamp Thing before then it’s best to check your expectations by the door.
Scott Snyder is DC’s resident superstar writer (and deserving so, I wish other mediums had success mirror skill in such a way) and as such he has been able to get away with a lot within his few New 52 titles; the re-boots in all of his books would best be described as soft. So the way that he handles re-introducing the character in this story is similar to how Lemire did Animal Man in the title’s sister series, only a little less clean. Botanist Alec Holland was the Swamp Thing, kind of, and so everything in the canon still occurred, it’s just that now he’s human again somehow and doesn’t really remember any of that for some reason. It probably would have been best to choose an approach and stick with it because splitting the story to go both ways compromises the start of the series somewhat: no new reader is really going to get the more complicated concepts from this comic alone and, thus far, those past adventures needn’t have been canon for the character to work (though the suggested notion that he was a hero long before Supes, etc. is a strangely fitting one).
This though is an issue only for an issue or two, once the book gets going what you’re given is so good that things like continuity slip from mind completely. I’m also not sure that Swamp Thing even gets to its top speed within the pages of this trade; in many ways ‘dem Bones feels like a seven issue prelude that is simply setting all the pieces on the board before the proper game begins to get played. Personally I’m all for this slow burn approach to storytelling, especially since Snyder is one of the few writers working with the rare ability to actually remember all of his set-up and pay it off stunningly later on, I just think that it is something that you should be ready for when you start to read. It’s also something that the book itself doesn’t really prepare you for; the covers of each issue show Swamp Thing in action when actually the artists have simply superimposed the character over Alec.
Speaking of the art, this is where I started to struggle with Swamp Thing; there is nothing ‘wrong’ with the pictures, it’s just that the way they are presented is a little overwhelming. Snyder’s script for the series would stretch any artists linework to the limits (as they always do), but the page structure used here (which harkens back to the layouts employed in some of Moore’s more narcotic moments) exacerbates the complexity of the comic tenfold. I’m no longer a novice reader but at times I did struggle to know just how I was supposed to be reading each page. Here is an example of a two page spread in the second issue, and yes I’m serious:
Despite the vertigo evoked by reading the book in marathon Swamp Thing is actually quite digestible: its concepts aren’t actually all that complex (Thought perhaps having read Animal Man first helped since I was already familiar with notions like the Green, the Red and the Rot), the characters and themes aren’t overly ambiguous and nor are the individual illustrations anything but clear; it’s simply the strange way that all of them that are combined that makes the book a little messy in a way that only occasionally suits the big mossy man at its core. Snyder though creates some blood-chilling concepts which are creepily realized by Yanick Paquette and co. and these small moments of purposefully sickening insanity more than make up for the inconvenience caused by it otherwise.
This seems a strange and tenuous foundation for fiction, but i do have high hopes for what is set to come from Snyder and co. as the series moves forward. The man always has an epic mythos in mind when he sets out to write a new series and so the best is probably yet to come. This type of long form plotting is why i usually prefer to read his work in trade (American Vampire is simply too dense to allow any details to sift out of mind) , I wonder though if it wouldn’t maybe be a better experience to read this series monthly; to allow each issue a little more room to breathe. As it is the garden seems a little cramped and unruly, to many roots writhing after the same nutrients; so my suggestion and personal plan is to prune off the back issues i’ve missed since issue seven and then add the title to my pull list. Comprehension issues aside I don’t think that you’ll be dissapointed if you do the same.