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Swamp Thing #18 – Review

SWAMP THING #18

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

The Story: Abby and Alec find the fuzzy areas between dead or alive.

The Review: When DC first announced Swamp Thing as one of the ongoing titles included in its New 52 initiative, I think I fell into the category of people who thought it was an interesting idea, but also had some doubts as to the execution.  Snyder and Paquette blew those doubts away from the first issue, so forcefully that it took several months of underwhelming issues to break down my faith at last.  It’s a shame that our creators depart with less favor than they started with.

I’ve already covered my dissatisfaction with the Rotworld arc in my review of #17, so I won’t beat that dead horse now.  Instead, I’ll just say that Snyder seems as eager as we are to put that mess behind us and simply end on as high a note as possible.  Remarkably enough, he does so, delivering an issue that goes through several major twists which result in a steep, enduring cost to our heroes.

All this time, Alec has pushed himself against impossible odds all for one goal: to save Abby.  The tragedy of it all is that he succeeds—for one shining moment it looks like the skeleton girl and boy of leaves have made it at last and together they can defeat the crazy flesh-eating sadist.  But had that alone been the ending, it would’ve been a rather disappointing conclusion indeed.  No way could we have gone through all that angst, tension, horror, and pain just for the villain to be neatly disposed of and for our heroes to be left completely intact.

So Alec does save Abby from her uncle, but—spoiler alert—he winds up having to take her life himself.  That’s a pretty bold move for a mainstream comic, even alongside the fact that she doesn’t quite die as much as transition into another state of being.  Though she survives as a proper Avatar of the Rot, that position means she and Alec can never be together again.  And since this is Snyder, I do believe he means it.  I doubt this means Abby won’t pop up from time to time, but I don’t believe we’ll find a loophole to this enforced separation anytime soon.

After a few more beats of horror (it stands to reason that Anton would devour himself in the end) and grimness (the second—or is it third?—death of Alec Holland), Snyder manages to give us a fairly peaceful, if sad resolution.  Seeing Abby and Alec in their Avatar forms looking upon their former bodies, referring to them as a “them,” has an undeniable pathos, but the fact that each continues to live on despite the loss of their humanity, that each remains certain of each other’s presence and love despite their doomed relationship—it’s moving.

With that, Snyder conscientiously wipes the slate fairly clean for upcoming writer Charles Soule to break new ground for Swamp Thing (Alec states, “I stand here before you now…ready for whatever comes next), but also leaves a few seeds of his own ideas for later sprouting.  The Parliament of Trees tells Alec that his renewed life is a result of “forces above even us,” and that “[t]here is another who could take your place…but she is not ready, not yet.”  I do hope that at some point down the life, Soule will explore these plotlines Snyder has lain down.

Ah, Paquette.  While I don’t think he could have cured Rotworld’s defects, I think the sheer stupendousness of his art would have left this title on more secure footing than it is now.  I would challenge anyone to find a visual flaw in this issue.  Front to back, it is all the same lush, richly textured, stunning art, emotionally devastating and physically charged as needed, gorgeously colored by Fairbairn.  Whether it’s Anton’s deformed head as he swallows himself whole, the misty claws of the Parliament of Decay gently taking Abby’s body, Alec’s howl of grief as he embraces a dead Abby with his own orchid-strewn branches impaled through her, or Abby’s beautiful undead form, it looks exactly right each time.

Conclusion: While the issue doesn’t deliver the scope of conclusion you expected from Rotworld, it’s nonetheless appropriate and effective, beautifully drawn.

Grade: B+

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - It’s telling, no, that the Parliament of Decay bears the most human faces of all?

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4 Responses

  1. I shared your sentiments regarding issue #17, and I agree this issue was a much needed improvement. My biggest gripe with this book, was that after Alec accepted the role of Swamp Thing he completely abandoned his intellectual being. I thought warrior Swampy was cool and all, but since it was pointed out that Alec was technically still inside, I thought some of his scientific rationale would come into play. Instead he just went full superhero, which was in my opinion the most boring and rote way to go about it. Swamp Thing doesn’t have to be a superhero, we have enough of those.

    I thought Snyder missed the opportunity to use Alec’s knowledge of plant life and biology as a weapon. For example, he could have used the cyclical nature of death and decay against Arcane. After all, decay is the first step towards new life; like a compost pile, or a forest fire, the broken down material is necessary for new life forms to grow. I think it would have been an effective and more philosophical way for Swampy to beat Arcane, by proving to Anton that green will always conquer rot in the end. It would have been a more affective victory as well, he could have just sped up the recovery process, and turned Arcane’s rotworld into a flourishing rainforest or something; which would crush his spirit as well. Instead we got a routine victory of overpowering strength that we could see in any other super-powered book.

    I did think the execution and outcome of Abby and Alec’s sacrifice was well done, and overall I enjoyed Snyder and Paquette’s run on the title, i just thought there could have been a slightly better use of the character’s strengths.

    • I think, perhaps, I would have preferred a more complex end to Anton Arcane as well, but we can only accept what we’ve been given. Simple as Snyder’s resolution to this arc is, I think it effectively made the point about how life and death are not enemies, but more like doomed lovers: always side-by-side, but unable to coexist. But yeah, there is a lingering regret of what might have been in this issue.

  2. So, in both Animal Man and Swamp Thing the day is saved by convenient time-travelling and the heroes have to pay some sort of price for that. I think, in comparison Swamp Thing had the better wrap-up of the two despite the fact that this issue was a rushed finale, the resolution of it and an epilogue.
    In the end, though, I think Snyder’s Swamp Thing run was pretty weak considering how it started and where it ended up. I mean, I understand why Alec is so tired and beaten down after all that happened but since what happened was so underwhelming story-wise it’s hard to empathize with Alec. Also, Alec’s character-arc up to this point wasn’t that interesting either, it was basically just “Don’t want to be Swamp Thing… guess I have to be Swamp Thing after all… Man, being Swamp Thing is a bummer”. The romantic arc of Alec and Abby was good but also very basic, in the end it’s just the good ol’ doomed love formula.

    • I have to agree that Alec’s character has been kind of one-dimensional and centered on either his love for Abby or his conflict with the responsibilities of Swamp Thing. Perhaps Soule will explore these aspects more during his run.

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