By: Charles Soule (story), Kano (pencils), Alvaro Lopez (inks), Matthew Wilson (colors)
The Story: Superman’s good at a lot of things, but he clearly doesn’t have a green thumb.
The Review: Guest spots in a comic happen so often these days that they’ve gotten pretty cheap. Because these kinds of gimmicks tend to result in forgettable, filler-type issues, it’s easy to forget that even when the writer uses the character in a featured capacity, he’s still adding something to that character’s continuity that may stand for all time. Consequently, the more exposed the character, the more limited his use as a guest.
It gets even dicier when the character is of Superman-caliber in both iconography and power level, because then you have the risk of him usurping the story away from the actual protagonist entirely. Soule manages to strike the right balance: although Swamp Thing remains the focus throughout, Superman still gets his own conflict within the plot, making this issue a fairly significant story for him as well.
Soule takes advantage of the newness of superheroes in this DCU, immediately latching onto a problem that other writers would rather ignore. As one beleaguered Metropolis firefighter says to Superman, “…I don’t want you to think we’re not grateful. We are. I’m not sure we could have handled that. But there are a lot of other people in danger tonight, and this stuff just. Keeps. Happening. This job’s gotten a hell of a lot harder ever since you people showed up.”
It’s a very convincing statement of frustration and helplessness, and it perhaps prompts Superman to give Alec a somewhat bleak pronouncement of what he should do if he’s sincere about using his powers for good: “[J]ust…stay away.” It sounds harsh at first, but Superman implies the self-imposed exile should only last as long as Alec’s still new to his powers and not fully in control of them, and it shouldn’t stop him from always trying to connect to his humanity. In a moment of genuine empathy that feels very Superman-like, the Man of Steel puts himself on Swamp Thing’s level and declares, “It’s our choice, Alec. We’re not monsters. We can be as human as we want to be.”
With that, I hope that Soule keeps Swampy’s angst about his monster status to a minimum from now on. Obviously, it’s an internal conflict he’ll have to struggle with forever, but fixate on it and it becomes, sad to say, trite and boring. Alec’s fear-visions while under Scarecrow’s toxin address his fears almost too directly, besides which they seem too self-accusatory. After all, it overstates things to say that Alec somehow “wanted” or “chose” to become who he is.
Placing what has essentially become a Vertigo character within the confines of the mainstream DCU is a tricky thing for artists, especially the more often they interact with the capes-and-costumes. Somehow the art has to have enough grit and edge to feel grounded, instantly tense, but it also to accommodate the bold, bright flavors of a superhero. You can see the friction between the two styles in this issue, with Kano clearly adding extra etching and detail to the Swamp Thing scenes, while Superman’s scenes look more smooth and polished (thanks, too, to Lopez’s heavier inks). Wilson also takes care to punch up the vividness where Superman is concerned, while the colors around Swamp Thing look more subdued. It’s a hard balancing act, but they manage to do it.
Conclusion: Soule proves that the integration of mainstream superhero and indie monster can be a good thing, each having a little bit of wisdom to exchange with the other.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – While Kano generally draws things well, I got creeped out when Alec’s “daughter” did nearly a complete 180-degree turn with her head. That actually scared me more than the part where she burst into plant life.
– Wouldn’t you like to know what Superman does with Scarecrow afterward? I know I would.