Oops, I’ve been getting a bit behind on reviewing Swamp Thing, haven’t I? The last issue I reviewed was #3, but I’ve still been reading and the comic has still been excellent in those intervening months. That’s part of the problem, isn’t it? When you’ve said a comic is amazing, 10/10, one of the best on the shelves right now, writing is great, art is great… what else do you say?
Let’s start by dealing with the elephant in the room. No, Yanick Paquette did not draw this issue, though he did provide the cover, one of the most beautiful to grace this series yet. In his place is Marco Rudy. We’ll get it out of the way: no, Marco Rudy’s art is not as stunning as Yanick Paquette. But Rudy is a very gifted artist in his own right, and makes a game attempt at crafting some adventurous, intricate panel layouts reminiscent of what has quickly become a Paquette trademark. And he gets some great stuff to work with. Bodies being sucked into tumorous flesh pits and transformed into Gigeresque monstrosities, warped mutant vultures, towers built from corpses, and young William Arcane apparently rotting gradually from the inside.
But while it looks good, it still feels different, which is a shame, as Swamp Thing has very quickly established a distinct aesthetic. Part of the problem could be that Marco Rudy’s admirable efforts to channel the spirit of Paquette in his work are somewhat undermined by the loss of colorist Nathan Fairbairn. Fairbairn’s rich, textured colors masterfully made the transition between Paquette and fill-in artist Victor Ibanez all but seamless in Swamp Thing #3. But the sharper colors of Val Staples and Lee Loughridge make the change more jarring on this occasion.
Thankfully, one thing that remains utterly consistent is the writing of Scott Snyder. In fact, this could be one of the strongest-written issues of the series thus far. It’s impressive that, in a title called Swamp Thing, Snyder has now held off on actually giving us Swamp Thing for six months. Back in my review of issue #3, I talked about getting a little antsy, wondering how long they could keep this up. As it turns out, it was the right decision. By putting the time into firmly establishing Alec Holland, Snyder has ensured I have connected with the character of Alec as a human being, which I’m sure will be an invaluable tether once he turns into that familiar big, green plant-monster and starts smashing stuff up. His arc takes a really interesting direction this issue. Before, I talked about Alec Holland coming across as a Jonah figure, shirking his duties. Here, we get a particularly powerful moment, with Alec wading into the swamp, begging to be made into Swamp Thing again, finally accepting his destiny… only now its too late.
Particularly strong is the depiction of the relationship between Alec and Abby Arcane. Alan Moore’s overarching saga was ultimately a love story, arguably one of the greatest love stories in comic history. And I’m glad that remains at the core of the book now, with an added “star-crossed” element to it that makes it all the more poignant and bittersweet. It should be fascinating to see what twists their journey takes in the issues to come, with Abby possibly being reinvented as a dangerous threat, as vital to the Rot as Alec is to the Green.
On this note, the foreshadowing of this idea was handled brilliantly in the monologue by William Arcane. I was a bit dubious about a little kid being able to deliver so eloquent an evil speech, but he’s a demon child, so I’ll roll with it. This sequence once again worked in Snyder’s talent for being able to approach obscure trivia at a terrifying angle. And the imagery juxtaposed with it was suitably grim. Swamp Thing started out with a strong horror vibe, but as the narrative has carried on, we’ve just been dragged deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. As it stands, the situation looks impossibly bleak for our protagonist. And that’s before that last page…
DC has ensured that the first Wednesday of the month is always a treat for me, with the one-two punch of Swamp Thing and Animal Man ensuring quality reading. I felt a little premature heaping hyperbole on Swamp Thing in its first couple of issues, but we’ve now accumulated nearly a trade’s worth of material – I believe next month’s Swamp Thing #7 will be the last chapter of the first collected edition – so I can now say with confidence that Snyder and his artistic collaborators are giving us the best Swamp Thing story since the Moore era, and a tale that can stand respectably alongside Moore’s masterpiece.