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