By: Charles Soule (story), Kano (art), Alvaro Lopez (inks), Matthew Wilson (colors)
The Story: Swamp Thing brings a whole new meaning to leaf-peeping.
The Review: Dialogue is crucial because it can accomplish everything that’s necessary for a story. Most writers are usually good about using dialogue for one purpose: advancing plot (Geoff Johns), revealing character (Paul Cornell), and entertaining (Bryan Q. Miller). But the writer who can do all three at the same time is a rare creature, one to be cherished because his stories will invariably feel more substantial than others. Such a writer is Soule.*
If you look at the issue’s opening three pages, you’ll see Soule’s gifts on display. Within that span, he gives us a strong sense of the setting (the friendly charm of Scottish town Fetters Hill and its despondence after its distillery shut down), the characters (residents Rory and Agnes, and their love for Fetters Hill, despite its failures), and the scenario (Seeder comes to turn all their fortunes around—but to what end?). Soule does all this through dialogue so natural, it doesn’t feel like a slog of exposition. It feels conversational, but to a purpose.
Even when the conversation gets a tad long, Soule constantly adds in new bits of information to make it worthwhile. Constantine’s discussion with Swamp Thing doesn’t simply regurgitate the same points made in the opening (i.e., about Fetters Hill’s slow decline); it fleshes them out, making them even more poignant: “The ones who had somewhere to go are long gone, and this lot here are what’s left, just a bunch of people living on the dole while they wait to die.”* Soule even makes some efforts to connect the plight of this little town to the larger DCU: “[The distillery] closed about five years ago, right when everything went to Hell the world over.”
All along, however, John doesn’t bring all this up because he’s a naturally compassionate man, and Alec knows it. Eventually, John reveals his stake in the plot, though it’s not the one you might expect. In the process, he also reveals the overarching threat the Seeder poses. It’s not just the harm to the Green, though that does form the basis of Alec’s concern; there are dangers posed by the Seeder’s works to humans also.
Seeder thus represents the ideal kind of villain for Swamp Thing, someone who appeals to Alec’s desire to help his formerly fellow man while at the same time justifying the involvement of the Green. Besides that, Seeder has motives suitably complex enough for this title. While the effects of his work are undeniably problematic, you’d be hard-pressed to take objection to his sentiments: “When the world has so much to give, the idea that there are places that are left wanting…I find it offensive.” The question you have is why does he advantage some places over others, particularly if Britain alone is “full of little pockmark towns” like Fetters Hill.
All this is very interesting in the abstract, but Soule gives us some intriguing bits of action as well, though not so much in terms of guns and punches, but instead more of the unsettling, supernatural kind. Swamp Thing’s increasingly nuanced use of his abilities is definitely fun to see, but Constantine’s own, even more subtle powers are in some ways even more fascinating. Unlike the uncharacteristically flashy displays of magic seen in Justice League Dark or even Constantine, leaving little to the imagination, there’s a question mark attached to everything John does in the issue, be it commands irresistible to even Green avatars or vials of blood which can sap Swamp Thing of his strength.
Kano’s work is perfectly suitable for a title like this, but after the sheer beauty of Jesus Saiz’s art on the last issue, you do sort of feel a little regret for what this series could look like on a monthly basis. But beauty isn’t everything. There’s a raw quality to Kano’s work that brings out the disturbing aspects of the story in a way that Saiz probably can’t. The sequence where Rory’s expression goes from mirthful to malevolent, culminating in a merciless, bloody assault while his neighbors watch, grinning, is incredibly difficult to watch. Notice, too, how Wilson’s warm, amber colors of early celebration for Fetters Hill eventually give way to more arresting, sinister scarlets as the issue progresses.
Conclusion: There’s a lot of talk in the issue, but nearly all of it is useful and engaging, well-punctuated with bursts of activity.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Other such writers include Brian K. Vaughan and Mark Waid. I’m sure there are others.
* The dole, for those of you wondering, is the United Kingdom’s Jobseekers’ Allowance, their version of the U.S. SSI and unemployment payments.