By: Scott Snyder (story), Yanick Paquette (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)

The Story: This isn’t quite like Huckleberry Finn, but it’s as close as you can get in Rotworld.

The Review: I won’t deny that I’ve been less than thrilled with the first chapters of Rotworld, which seems astonishing as we’re talking about a highly anticipated storyline from two extremely fine writers working on two very compelling characters.  It’s hard to pin down why exactly the last few months’ issues have failed to elicit the expected excitement.  Somehow, the plot just seemed way simpler, more predictable, and even duller than you anticipated.

It’s to my great relief that Snyder turns that trend around in a big way here.  Now that we’ve gotten past the obligatory briefing on the world’s status, we can now focus on taking some action.  Now surrounded by the enemy, with few options and little hope of success, Alec faces the ultimate test as the Green’s avatar.  It seems appropriate, then, that his powers just keep getting bigger and bigger, quite literally so in this case, making quick work of the Rotted Titans and their minions using one carefully placed step.

If Alec does manage to beat Anton, though, it won’t be because of his expanded abilities.  I think victory is almost assured here because of Alec’s attitude: grim and unwavering conviction.  It just goes to show how much growth he’s covered in the last year.  Gone is all that melancholy, anxious hand-wringing.  In its place is a clear eye toward what he wants, the world be damned if it tries to stop him.  And that’s why Anton’s sure to lose; you can’t beat a stubborn bastard.

Of course, Snyder forces us to sit through a rather tiresome back-and-forth argument between Alec and the Parliament, which seems a waste of energy on the Parliament’s part because, well, you know—stubborn bastard.  Ultimately, they’re unable to provide much help to our hero.  Unexpectedly, it’s Deadman who provides the most valuable info to Alec: the rumor of a weapon, “[s]omething that can kill the Rot on contact,” located in Gotham.  This transforms the plot from a mission of vengeance to a quest, and along with the motif of Alec as warrior-king, we suddenly have a modern legend on our hands.

Snyder also succeeds in returning real tension to the series, not only in the very real danger Alec walks practically alone into (a ghost who has no one to possess* hardly counts as reliable back-up in a scrap), but through the narration.  Snyder may be one of the few comics writers who can pull off literary flights like those describing Alec and Abby’s recurring nightmare.  The combination of tight rhythm, clear imagery, and steady pacing makes reading these monologues a gripping pleasure than a chore:

“The dream was always the same…the long walk through the dark…the boy waiting at the end…and then the bad thing…the bad thing on the other side of the door.  And the terrible realization that this isn’t just a nightmare.  The sudden jolt of knowing that this is real…and there’s no waking up.”

A whole issue of Paquette’s gorgeously rendered art—are we lucky or what?  Even the worst visuals in the world take on a strange beauty when Paquette puts his hand to it.  A lot of comic book artists have problems capturing scale, but when Paquette draws a giant Swamp Thing, the gargantuan size of him leaves you in a kind of awe.  More than just looking good, Paquette’s art carries great emotional weight.  That’s why instead of being horrors, a boy of leaves and a skeleton girl look vulnerable and even innocent.  And if all that isn’t enough, you have Fairbairn’s colors, which manage to be haunting despite their vibrance.

Conclusion: It would be the deepest blow to you if after a year of unbelievable success, Snyder’s most ambitious storyline failed.  Let’s be grateful he’s managed to push himself out of the mire into much more desirable territory, with help from some amazing art.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Although I’m guessing that even if possessing the Rot-infected will short-circuit Deadman, the still-living body of William Arcane is a different story.

– I dunno, Alec.  If Abby does still live in this Rot-infested world, do you really want to know what state she’s in now?