Anyone who follows my reviews/talks to me for more than five minutes will know that I absolutely love Swamp Thing, and that I’d mark it out as the single best title of DC’s relaunch. Issues #1 and #2 were 10/10 comics, and the best new releases of their respective months. After issue #1 set the stage and provided a startling debut that was laced with menace, issue #2 took things to another level with a dense narrative that added a whole new layer of complexity to the Swamp Thing mythos. The standard has been set dizzyingly high, and with that my expectations. Would Swamp Thing #3 continue the escalation, and would the series somehow manage to top itself again?
The way it works out, the narrative here is a little more subdued. After the revelations came thick and fast in the previous chapter, here we don’t actually spend that much panel time with Alec Holland and Abigail Arcane, now reinvented as star-crossed lovers destined to be enemies. I’ll admit, with the cover to this issue (and the thematically loaded image of Abby blasting Swamp Thing’s heart out of his chest) I was expecting an in-depth exploration of the pair’s storied history – in my opinion one of the all-time great romances of comics – with Scott Snyder once again skewing it and presenting it in a whole new light, in turn adding more depth and scope to another aspect of the mythos. And we do get a bit of that here, but at this stage it’s mostly through allusion and foreshadowing of further revelations down the line. I do like the tougher, battle-worn Abigail we get here, though. If the Abby we knew in the earlier stories was Sarah Connor in The Terminator, this is her in her badass Terminator 2: Judgement Day phase.
Alec Holland himself has a couple of interesting beats, as he learns a couple of surprising things about himself. But while I commended Swamp Thing #2 for keeping us so enthralled that we didn’t feel antsy about getting to Alec’s inevitable return to the role of Swamp Thing, three issues in I’m starting to feel that way now. When the title character of your comic only appears on the front cover and in a one-panel flashback, the desire to get things moving starts to niggle at the back of your mind.
With the Abby/Alec relationship is placed on the backburner in this issue, what becomes the central focus of this chapter is the story of William, a boy with an extreme aversion to chlorophyll who must spend his life locked in a protective bubble. Through him, we discover that just as Alec Holland has been chosen as the champion of The Green, The Black (also known as The Rot, or The Other) is also seeking a champion, someone with the same connection to the forces of death and decay that Holland has to life and growth. The way William shifts from victim to terrifying threat is gruesome to behold, but also darkly compelling.
I love how Swamp Thing is currently complimenting Animal Man, where each title works as a story in its own, but if you’re reading both at once you get a tangible sense that this is the same war being fought on two fronts. People seem to be tired of events and crossovers, but this is an example of crossover done well, when it legitimately feels like a story too big for a single book to contain. It also helps that it’s the two best comics in DC’s lineup that are the sister titles.
A big part of the success of the first two issues was the incredible, boundary-pushing artwork of Yanick Paquette. Such was his massive contribution to the unique atmosphere of Swamp Thing that I was initially concerned upon seeing a co-artist solicited for the issue. I’ve seen enough examples of fill-in artists helping with pages leading to a comic that feels more like a patchwork than a coherent narrative to be wary. Thankfully, this is not the case with Victor Ibanez. The art style is so consistent throughout that, especially with Ibanez’s name being absent from the cover, I initially thought that Paquette had drawn the whole issue after all. Ibanez works hard to draw in a style highly reminiscent of Paquette’s figure work, and the slick colors of Nathan Fairbairn do a great job in making the transition between artists feel largely seamless.
The one area where Ibanez doesn’t quite match Paquette is in his layouts. Ibanez is a very talented artist, and if he’d been drawing Swamp Thing since issue #1, I’m sure it would still be getting praised as a very good-looking comic book. But while Paquette certainly brings good-looking work to the table, what has really set his work on Swamp Thing so apart from the crowd is the innovation on display, the mind-blowing construction of panels into immersive, envelope-pushing montages that evoke the landmark work of Steve Bissette. And as such, it’s the handful of pages Paquette does here that really stand out. Just take a look at this image:
In the context of the narrative, the image is pretty abstract, its significance not yet clear. But it’s haunting, and beautiful, and so jarring in its stillness – amidst a comic that up until this point has been dialogue-heavy and kinetic and flowing in its imagery – that it can’t help but make a powerful impression.
Paquette also excels in a double-page spread touching on the troubled history of Abigail and the Arcane family. The central focal point recalls an image that will pack particular punch with those familiar with Moore’s run, and I got a kick seeing Paquette’s take on the infamous Anton Arcane. The visual cameo of the Patchwork Man was also a real blast from the past. Speaking of references to Swamp Thing history, did anyone spot that William’s doctor was called Dr. Durock, after Dick Durock, the actor who played Swamp Thing in the films and the short-lived TV series?
If Swamp Thing #3 might has lost a step from the first two issues, it’s only a step. This is still superior comics storytelling, steadily setting the stage for an epic drama. Once again, Swamp Thing and Animal Man are the best comics of their week, and stand proudly as the crown jewels of DC’s New 52.
I got up even earlier on Saturday, setting my alarm for the scary time of 6am, and was down at the Javits Center by around 8:30am. I think that’s as much a testament to how slow I am in the mornings as it is to my earliness. Even at this time, however, the queue outside the building dwarved even the big line from the day before. I could tell that Saturday at New York Comic Con was going to be crazy.
Joe arrived early with a fresh shipment of stock, which was appreciated, as we were starting to run down. Indeed, by Friday night we’d sold all the stock of Red Ten and Scam we had, which I suppose is a good problem to have! With the increased Saturday traffic, we managed to get a lot more people at our table and looking at our stuff, but we were still having some trouble really hooking people and closing the deal. Joe and I couldn’t help but throw Glengarry Glenn Ross references at each other: “Coffee is for closers!” “A.I.D.A.!” It was also really interesting observing how master pitcher Tyler would alter and adjust his pitch for each book depending on who he was talking to. To read about his technique, and more notes from New York Comic Con, be sure to check out Tyler’s awesome ComixTribe column here.
One great moment of the day came from meeting Stephen Blaha, who I’ve known for years as Superferret on Superhero Hype. He bought copies of The Standard #1 and #2, and we chatted for a bit about forum and RPG stuff. One of the great things about travelling to comic cons in America in recent years has been being able to meet these people I’ve known for ages through message boards, but finally being able to put a face and a voice to the username.
I took a minute to do a bit of shopping. Well, I say “took a minute”, but with how insanely packed the show floor was on Saturday, a brief journey to nearby stalls that would have only taken a few minutes before all of a sudden required a commitment of quite a bit of time. From the Midtown Comics booth, I picked up a few gifts for friends back home, the first volume of the Starman Omnibus for myself, and a copy of Voodoo Heart, a collection of short stories by Scott Snyder. This was the prose novel that first brought Snyder to the attention of the comics world, and though it’s not readily available in the UK, I was keen to pick it up and check it out. Plus, I could add it to my hefty pile of signing material for Scott Snyder, as I already had samples from just about every other project he’s worked on.
Scott Snyder has quickly become one of my favorite comic writers, and he was one of the people I was most excited to meet. I had been periodically checking his Artist’s Alley table over the first couple of days of the con, but he never seemed to be there. And on Saturday, he’d left a note at his table saying he wouldn’t have time to be there much, and the best place to find him would be at his designated signings. The first one was at the DC Comics booth. Foolishly, I headed over to that one – clutching my pile of Snyder books – a mere few minutes before the signing was scheduled to start. The line was already massive. And, in a bit of a dick move, the guy about 3 people in front of me let me and a few others wait and talk amongst ourselves for several minutes before turning around, shouting “SURPRISE!” and flashing his I AM THE LAST PERSON IN THIS QUEUE sign, saying no one would be seen after him. So, that was a near miss.
I only had one panel to attend today, which was the DC Dark/Edge panel. I’m not reading many of the Edge comics, but for me, the Dark titles have been the highlight of the DC relaunch, and so I was really excited to find out more about what was coming up from them. I was lucky enough to get a seat in the front row for this one, which was an added bonus. Before the panel started, I spotted Joshua Hale Fialkov milling around, so I ran over to say hello. He kindly agreed to sign my copies of Tumor and Echoes, as well as I, Vampire #1. When you read how screwed up the protagonists in his books are, you may be surprised to learn that Mr. Fialkov is a warm, personable guy, and we chatted a little bit about the British NHS and the history of the I, Vampire franchise. I must say, getting the Fialkov books signed would be a big weight off my shoulders. No, I mean literally: I would no longer need to carry around two hardcover graphic novels in my satchel bag each day.
I spotted someone else before the panel started: Scott Snyder! Perhaps a bit rudely, I shouted, “Oy, Scott!” to get his attention. You can take the Glaswegian out of Glasgow, but you can’t take the Glasgow out of the Glaswegian, it would seem. I asked him if he had any plans to be at his Artist’s Alley table that day, as I’d just missed him at his DC signing. He said he’d be at a signing at Midtown Comics later in the day, but if I just had a few things he could sign them now. I told him I had a big pile, so it would probably be better waiting for the Midtown Comics signing. He complimented my (Swamp Thing!) shirt and asked me my name, and I was left very happy at having met Scott Snyder, who came across as just as friendly as he does online and in interviews.
The panel itself was great fun, as we got treated to glimpses of art – cover and interior – for a whole range of quality titles. Scott Snyder gave us a teaser of a villain who shows up in the next issue of Swamp Thing who sounds really great, and an ideal foe for Swamp Thing. Apparently it’s a guy with control over decay, who can find any small piece of decay in someone – even a bit of rot in a tooth – and make it grow and spread throughout that person’s whole body. Plus, he’s allergic to chlorofill, so has to wear an oxygen mask at all times. Sounded really cool. Some problems with dodgy mics up on the stage caused some delays, though, so by the time we’d gotten through everyone and their books there wasn’t much time for questions.. But still, a really fun panel.
Learning my lesson from the last attempt, I headed straight from the panel to join the queue for Scott Snyder’s Midtown Comics signing, a good 20 minutes early. The queue was still sizable, and with the way it stretched out across the con floor, we were causing a bit of a fire hazard, and we constantly had people having to break through the line to get past us. But I did get talking to people in the line, so the time went by quickly enough. However, my heart sank when I neared the front of the line, and the moderator informed us we could only get 3 items maximum signed. I looked down with sadness at my pile of 10 books, and with great difficulty, chose 3 titles – American Vampire #1, Batman #1, Swamp Thing #1 – for Scott to sign.
When I got to the table, Scott not only recognised me, but remembered my name. That amazed me, as I was hopeless at remembering the names of even the handful of repeat visitors at the ComixTribe table, so given how many fans Scott must have met, that was quite a skill. Living up to his reputation as the nicest guy in comics, Scott recalled that I’d had a big pile of comics I wanted signed, and said I could leave the rest of my stuff with him, and he’d sign it all at the end. This was a really nice gesture that was very much appreciated. I gave him copies of The Standard #1 and #2 as well, thanked him again, and made my exit with my three signed comics, happy at meeting one of my fave writers twice.
Returning to the ComixTribe booth for a little while, I was pleased to meet Cesar Feliciano, the artist of The Red Ten, who had stopped by our table to help out for the day. He also drew up a great artist edition cover of The Standard #1, which I was very pleased with!
Heading back to the Midtown Comics booth, a little after the end of the signing, I figured Scott would have left my comics behind the table for me to collect. But to my surprise, he was actually waiting on the floor for me to come back to give them to me himself! Again, the guy’s a total class act. He rummaged through his backpack, and produced my pile of books – Voodoo Heart, Severed #1, Severed #3, Swamp Thing #2, Detective Comics #871, Detective Comics #875, Detective Comics #879 and another copy of Batman #1 – all signed. In a funny moment, he almost accidentally gave me a copy of Batman #2 a week before its release, and had to take it back upon realising his mistake. To be honest, I kinda regret not really saying anything to him but “Thanks” a few times when I could have been asking all kinds of questions about what lies in store in the future for some of my favorite books – I’d had a question all prepared about his future plans for The Joker that totally slipped from my brain – but I was just too chuffed for anything to come to mind. Scott told me he’d read my comics, we said goodbye, and I left VERY happy, having met one of my fave writers thrice!
Perhaps I was energised by my shamanic encounter with Super-Snyder, but whatever the cause, when I returned to the ComixTribe booth, all of a sudden I found that I’d at last got into a proper selling rhythm. Things started to take a real upswing where, after a quiet stretch, I picked a random person passing by through the crowd, pointed at them, and shouted, “YOU!” I asked them to come over to the table, and we ended up selling them a ComixTribe package. But the real turning point was a seemingly small detail, where I found that moving from sitting behind my table to standing in front of it made a huge difference. Perhaps it was a body language thing, where I was now more closely connected to the passing trade, but for whatever reason, all of a sudden I was much more successful in grabbing people’s attention and bringing them over to the table. And we started getting a much higher ratio of people actually buying something once we’d attracted them to the table.
Something that I discovered was a real boon to my salesmanship was my Scottish accent. Tpically, I hate my voice, and I have come to accept that in America a lot of people just won’t understand a word I’m saying. But it seemed to really work a charm in getting people interested in our comics. I joked that it was because people couldn’t hear me when I said, “Hey, want to check out some cool comics?” As a result, they’d come closer and get me to repeat myself, by which point I’d reeled them in and had them in position to get a closer look at my comics. Whatever the cause, people seemed more interested because I was Scottish, and I started playing up that Scottishness more in my pitching, starting to make a bigger deal of showing people the pages of The Standard #1 featuring The Frying Scotsman – which always seemed to get a laugh. Even more shockingly, my accent seemed to get me some kind of sex appeal! Apparently my grating Glaswegian brogue sounds exotic to New Yorker ears, and it seemed like the number of women we sold books to surged on the Saturday. I was getting the flirty body language and everything – is this what it feels like to be a “playa”? At one point, I gave the whole ComixTribe pitch to one young lady, and when I was done, I asked her if she was interested in any comics, but she say, “No, I just wanted to hear you talk for a bit.” Oh my!
In a way it was a bit infuriating, business really getting going once the con was more than half over. But better late than never! After being absent for much of the first couple of days, and underwhelming in my selling to the point of practically being a cooler while I was around, I was relieved that I’d found an approach to selling that worked for me, and helped me to start pulling my weight at the table more. I even earned the nickname “The Sellin’ Scotsman” from Tyler, which was nice. I was really pleased to start seeing copies of The Standard shifting en masse, and I managed to sell people on the other titles on the ComixTribe lineup as well.
Towards the end of the con day, I took a walk down to Artist’s Alley, and met Greg Capullo. I’ve been a big fan of his work on Batman, but my main incentive for introducing myself was my knowledge that Capullo is the hero of Jonathan Rector, my friend and artist of The Standard. I got Greg to sign two copies of Batman #1 – one for myself and one for Jon – and gave him copies of The Standard, explaining how much the artist was a fan of his work. So perhaps Greg Capullo is now a fan of your work too, Jon!
I’m pleased to report we were selling comics right up to closing time, and a little beyond. Saturday was a huge success for ComixTribe, and the best day of NYCC thus far. My one disappointment of the day was not getting into the after-hours Black Dynamite panel. Infuriatingly, there was a Dragonball Z panel in the same room immediately after it, so I arrived to a massive queue, populated mostly by young anime fans who quite clearly had no interest in Black Dynamite. I was in line with a couple of other Black Dynamite fans, and once it became clear that we weren’t going to get into the panel, things started getting nasty. These other guys started getting into a confrontation with one of the NYCC volunteers, who didn’t help the situation much by replying with, “Well, if you wanted into this panel you should have been queueing from Avengers this afternoon.” In my repressed British way, I wasn’t up for getting into a fight when it was quite clear that no amount of shouting would get me a seat in this panel, so I told the increasingly flustered NYCC rep that I appreciated it wasn’t his fault, and dejectedly left the Javits Center.
After grabbing a quick Subway for dinner (so much for making the most of New York’s cuisine) I met up with Joe, and we headed out to the Indy Comics After-Party, an invite-only event at Blaggards Pub we had managed to score invitations to. However, we didn’t see anyone there that we knew or recognised, and with a live band playing, the music was even louder than at Tempest a couple of nights earlier, so loud neither of us could hear a word the other was saying. After a while, Joe and I gave up and headed out, relocating to the quieter, nicer Twins Bar and talking about politics and other subjects for a bit. Oooh, I’m such a party animal!
Overall, Saturday was an amazing day. I got to meet some great comics people, ComixTribe and The Standard really started to gain momentum, and the whole day was just good fun. I was already starting to feel sad that the con – and my time in New York – would soon be over.
I’ve mentiond it numerous times now, but the highlight of the DC relaunch for me thus far have been the horror/supernatural themed titles assembled under the stable of DC Dark. Swamp Thing and Animal Man were the two best comics of last week, while Demon Knights and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. were my top picks for this one. Such was the unblemished quality of the Dark line that my decision to buy Resurrection Man #1 was cemented. I hadn’t been planning on getting it until the 11th hour, when I realised I was getting every other Dark book and that I might as well give it a try and complete the set.
I’ve not followed any of the marketing for Resurrection Man, and all I really knew about the character was that he starred in an obscure, short-lived ’90s series, and that he is brought back to life with a new superpower every time he dies. Thankfully, this first issue – written by the original creators of the character, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning – doesn’t require any previous knowledge, serving as an accessible enough introduction to the dark world of Mitch Shelly. I was surprised by the inclusion of angels and demons, making the comic more mystical and otherworldly in tone than I was expecting, and a more obvious fit for the DC Dark line. The central setpiece of this first issue is a plane-set sequence with an unexpected resolution that makes for an effective narrative gut-punch.
But I must admit, while the story was interesting enough, it never really grabbed me. The narration and dialogue is at times clunky, giving Mitch an inconsistent voice that illuminates his powers, but not much of his personality. And aside from the introduction of some interesting new villains that seem set to be hunting our protagonist, and the surprise appearance of a character who popped up in another New 52 comic this week, there wasn’t much of a hook to bring me back for the next issue.
The artwork of Fernando Dagnino is solid, giving a gritty vibe to the pages that’s reminiscent of Sean Murphy. It lacks the jaw-dropping quality of Yanick Paquette or Diogenes Neves, or the unorthodox approach of Travel Foreman or Alberto Ponticelli, but Dagnino still provides some impressive visuals, with one creature reveal in particular.
With how excellent the other DC Dark titles have been, I had high hopes for Resurrection Man #1. This is probably a bit of an oxymoron, but I read it expecting it to surprise me. But this issue ended up being the weakest of the Dark comics thus far. But by regular comic standards, this is a good debut, and there are enough intriguing elements at work here for Resurrection Man to gain a fan following.