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Swamp Thing #23 – Review

By: Charles Soule (story), Kano (art), Alvaro Lopez (inks), Matthew Wilson (colors)

The Story: There’s only way to stop crazed inebriates—throw in some narcotics!

The Review: After all the creative shakeups at DC lately, many of them disappointing and poorly explained, the optimists can still breathe a sigh of relief to know that at least one solid new writer remains on a suitable title.  After all, in terms of recognition and acclaim, Soule is about the equal of Ales Kot, and although Swamp Thing does manage better sales than Suicide Squad, we’re not talking an astronomical difference here.

If I can grasp at anything that might explain why Kot is getting axed and Soule is not, it may be how smoothly Soule developed his vision for Swamp Thing from Scott Snyder’s, in contrast to Kot’s radicalization of the Suicide Squad.  Longtime fans can appreciate the freshness Soule brings to the series, but still enjoy the essence of what they’ve been reading since day one.  You don’t get easy transitions like this all the time, that’s for sure.

The best thing Soule has done for the eponymous monster-man is populate his world.  Snyder’s Swamp Thing was largely a solo act, with only Abigail Arcane to break the title’s isolation.  It’s hard to get a well-rounded sense of a character in that kind of vacuum, so Alec always seemed a bit distant from us.  Having him interact with other strong personalities, like Scarecrow, Superman, or Constantine, lets him display a lot more range: contempt, sarcasm, uncertainty, self-deprecation, impatience, anger…basically, the qualities that make us human.

Keeping Swamp Thing’s humanity in focus becomes more crucial the as his body decreasingly resembles anything human.  Here, he goes through several forms, from a dismembered, skeletal husk, to a mere seed, to an entire moving landscape, not unlike a primeval god.  The one constant he retains is his voice, translating unnatural experiences into more accessible terms, like the use of his last wisps of power feeling as if he’s “prying my kneecap off with a spoon.”

Soule has the same comfort level with pretty much every character he works with.  There’s a logic to his storytelling choices which shows that he not only has good ideas, but the thought to back it up, too.  Good example: you wouldn’t usually see Constantine as someone who’d take needless risks or lose control of himself, but it makes total sense that he’d never pass up the chance to take a nip of some magic liquor and that it’d play on his even greater thirst for power.

The issue does fall short in several areas.  It doesn’t really challenge Alec’s ethical values as much as the story acts like it does.  It seems odd that he’d view the young Reginald Crawford is the only redeeming resident of Fetters Hill, when it’s quite obvious none of the townspeople can be blamed for their actions.  The story also has a lack of resolution, as Alec simply skips town after cleaning up Seeder’s mess, without addressing Fetters’ doomed fate.  Since Soule milked that point for all its pathos last month, it seems like a cop-out to just leave the town’s future hanging once Alec finishes the task he came for.

While Kano’s art is far from unpleasant, he’s not always consistent with how much realism he puts into his work, and there’s a distinct tinge of cartooniness to his style overall.  If this was your conventional superhero series, you’d probably not care much for the visuals, but since Swamp Thing is closer to Vertigo than to mainstream DC, Kano’s art fits right in.  In fact, the slight exaggeration of the characters’ features and expressions only add to their menace, though Wilson’s flickering lighting may have something to do with that as well.

Conclusion: A well-crafted issue and storyline, though it doesn’t quite live up to its ambitions.  It’s clear, however, that in terms of both story and art, Swamp Thing still has a very bright future ahead as one of DC’s smarter titles.

Grade: B+

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - Can I just say how much I love Swamp Thing fighting liquor with opiates?  Brilliant.

- I never thought of Swamp Thing having a secret identity, but it’s true that very few people know his former life as Alec Holland.  Which makes Seeder’s direct address to him as “Professor” all the more unnerving.  Could Seeder have some connection to Alec’s human past?

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