SWAMP THING #21

By: Charles Soule (story), Jesus Saiz (art), Matthew Wilson (colors)

The Story: It’s not every day that a monster gets a groupie.

The Review: Swamp Thing is a real oddity in the new DCU—not just for the obvious reasons, but also because of the strangeness in his continuity.  Although DC’s relaunch nearly two years ago ostensibly reset the entire publishing line, a few characters came away with quite a bit of their history intact.  Even upon his “first” introduction to us, Alec Holland already had an entire lifetime of experience attached, evidenced by a friendship with Superman no one ever saw.

This suggests that Alec’s Vertigo history (and even his pre-Vertigo history) still has weight in this universe.  This might narrow the possibilities for Swamp Thing’s future a bit, but this issue proves that there are still plenty of stories out there to explore if you have the right writer with the right ideas.  Soule, undaunted by the work of his predecessors, fearlessly introduces new figures and new concepts into his protagonist’s life in ways that even Scott Snyder never did.*

We don’t know too much about Capucine, but what we do know makes her from the outset an intriguing figure.  Her lifetime exceeds that of Alec’s many times over (she has lived “ten centuries” by her own accounting), and as a result, this complete stranger knows more about the intricacies of his role than even he does.  It’s Soule’s subtle way of reminding us that despite the fact that Alec has succeeded an ancient tradition with all the collective experience that entails (he notes that the first avatar of the Green was a trilobite), he is still essentially brand-new to this job.

Indeed, although he has powers which make him appear godlike (he emphasizes that his connection to all flora on Earth means “I’m everywhere.”), he still has a firmer grasp on the mores of human society than anything else.  It’s with irony that he relates how he “set up a 401(k) and bought like thirty books of those Forever stamps,” but you can hear the bitterness behind the rueful smile.  Alec behaves less like a demigod and more like someone who has a job that pays well, but which he hates.

It’s this kind of understanding of Alec’s character which makes Soule’s approach to Swamp Thing the most relatable.  Of course, the conflict between his human instincts and his duties to the Green is old hat, but whereas Snyder treated it like an epic tragedy and gave Alec a martyred air, Soule takes a more interesting route: a person who’s been given some unfortunate (if extraordinary) circumstances and must make the best of it.  That’s the lesson given by a former avatar, who offers him the sagest advice he’s gotten thus far: “Each of us must decide how best to serve the Green.  It takes everything from us, if we let it.  You must find your way to let it give you something in return.”

This gives Alec the freedom to reject Capucine’s request for protection under Sanctuarium Folium Viride (the “Sanctuary of the Green Leaf”), a kind of blanket asylum for those who may fall to harm merely for differences in their beliefs.  That’s not to say he may not take pity on her, as she takes his hesitance in stride and simply begs for him to save her—not from death, interestingly enough, but from someone.  “My time grows very short,” she tells Alec before adding ominously, “And…he is coming.”

What’s happened to Saiz?  After leaving a long run on Birds of Prey, he’s been bopping from one fill-in project to another, with only a short stint on a Beowulf back-up in Sword of Sorcery.  It’s yet another example of another solid DC artist not getting the ongoing project he deserves.  His work on this issue is some of his finest to date, bringing a level of detailing I’ve never seen from him before as he lovingly plays with every texture of plant life, from verdant and fleshy to dry and brambly.  His sense of design is wonderful as well, simple but eloquent.  Check out Inquisition-era Swamp Thing with his mossy hood and belt of bark, looking very much like the monster you love, but also like his own person.  Saiz rises to the challenge of delivering beautiful paneling as well, with intricate details on the borders which never detract from the story’s flow.  Wilson is a modern master of colors which are not only vibrant enough for a mainstream title, but reserved enough to give the title class.

Conclusion: Soule quickly builds his stride on this series, engaging us with new ideas that are not only full of potential, but which develop his running themes as well.  If that’s not enough, you get Saiz delivering one of the best-looking issues of his career.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * At least, I’m assuming they’re new.  It’s entirely possible that someone with an older knowledge of Swamp Thing lore will pop up and chide me for my naivety.

Grade

Conclusion