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Swamp Thing Annual #1 – Review

By: Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft (story), Becky Cloonan (art), Andrew Belanger (pencils), Karl Kerschl (inks), Tony Avina (colors)

The Story: What’s more romantic than a historical tour of a village on a barren mountain?

The Review: If you’ve noticed nothing else about Snyder’s work in the last few years, you’ve at least realized by now that he’s had big ideas for the DCU ever since he started working on Detective Comics.  As amazing as his work has been, though, only lately has he begun to stretch his legs and take command of the material like his own.  He now sees much more comfortable taking the familiar characters and twisting them to his own vision.

You might be thinking that he’s always done this, which is true, but you have to admit he’s become quite a bit more radical in the last few months.  The early issues of this series displayed a huge amount of knowledge and respect for the Swamp Thing mythos, retaining as much of the preceding authors’ continuity as possible.  In #0, you saw Snyder muck with Alec’s origins in a pretty significant way, and here, that mucking turns into full-on historical revisionism.

Traditionalists have no reason for outrage, however.  Snyder doesn’t exactly rewrite the past so much as he adds to it.  This being Snyder, the additions have clear purpose: to some degree, it’s about building up Anton Arcane as an unbeatable foe, but by and large, it’s about driving home the bond between Abby and Alec.  Frankly, it didn’t seem all that necessary for Snyder to go as far as he does here to establish their fates are linked.  Respective dreams of a plant boy and skeleton girl were eerie and poetic enough.

So it comes across as a little redundant for Alec to confess, “God, it’s so strange, Abby.  I feel like we’ve met.  Like we’ve known each other in some past life or something.”

Lines like this would be gag-worthy if Snyder-Tuft didn’t keep the tone so wry.  In response to Alec’s cheesy observation, Abby replies, “Says the altitude.”

And thankfully, Alec realizes his own clichés: “All right, all right.”

Overall, I was relieved that the dialogue stayed evenhanded for the bulk of the issue because the melodrama in the initial pages (“You lie!!  Abigail Arcane is not dead!”) had me worried.  I also was a little unnerved by the choice to start the annual at a point after the events of the next issue, then transition into an extended flashback.  No matter how well-written the remainder of the issue, it’s hard to get over this bit of weirdness.  Another point which you’ll find difficult to reconcile is Alec’s memory loss of this rather crucial episode in his life.  Convenient, much?

At first, Cloonan’s manga-styled art looks a trifle too light and frothy for Swamp Thing.  At one point, Alec takes on bishounen twinkles around his face when asking Abby out, for crying out loud.  Still, Cloonan keeps it cute only when it’s natural to do so, and when the script calls for it, she can bring the horror in a big way.  When Ms. Minkova suddenly awakens from her old-person doze and points through the fourth wall at you in desperate, unbearable terror, the fear in her face stays with you long after you’ve closed the book.  Belanger provides art for the framing sequence of the issue, and while it looks sloppy overall, it transitions into Cloonan’s work well.

Conclusion: It’s a compliment to Snyder’s (and Tuft’s) prowess that despite all the weird structural problems in this issue, it still works.  Getting Cloonan on art doesn’t hurt either,

Grade: B+

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - Chalk this up to my inherent nerdiness, but I like Alec’s botanist geekery, especially when used to advance the story: “…despite being uprooted, specimen seems to be…thriving.  For a plant so vibrant, I’ve never seen such…extreme necrosis.  …Adding 2 cc of highly enriched chlorophyll.  …The cells fend off chlorophyll like it’s a disease.  What the hell is this plant?”

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