REVIEW: Swamp Thing #7

At this stage, I imagine it goes without saying that Swamp Thing #7 features the long-awaited return of the title character.  I mean, it’s on the cover.  So, most of us knew going in that this latest instalment of Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette’s New 52 relaunch would give us the much-delayed moment that even those who have thought the book to be otherwise perfect have been clamouring for, and for that it was always going to rate highly.  Buth both Snyder and Paquette do more than simply give the readers what they want.  That happens too, of course, but Swamp Thing #7 manages to exceed even lofty expectations and emerge as a truly stunning comic, possibly the best in the series so far.

Over the course of what is basically a single extended scene, Scott Snyder condenses the key themes and ideas that have been explored over the preceding 6 issues into a single chapter that will serve as both a pivotal turning point in the larger narrative, and a mission statement for Snyder’s whole interpretation of the Swamp Thing mythos.  Snyder’s Swamp Thing is a story of choice VS destiny, and you could make a case for both claiming victory here.  Since the relaunch, we’ve been told that becoming Swamp Thing has always been Alec Holland’s destiny, and that his attempts to escape this fate were futile, and here, indeed, the prophecy is fulfilled.  But we also see that, this time round, Alec Holland is not a victim of fate, but rather an active participant in his own transformation.  And as Abigail Arcane battles against her own transformation, it becomes apparent that this choice VS destiny theme will continue to play out as the story enters its next phase.

On the subject of Abigail, one of the other key themes of the series is love, and its ability to overcome impossible odds.  Alan Moore’s seminal run on Swamp Thing was, at its core, a love story, and I’m glad this element has been maintained.  While Moore set up obstacles of distance between Swamp Thing and Abby, first sending Swamp Thing on missions around the world and then sending him to the far reaches of the universe – with the goal of being reunited with his love always what drove him – Snyder’s obstacle is more abstract, but arguably much harder to overcome.  Just as Alec Holland is the avatar of life, Abigail Arcane has been summoned as the avatar of death.  The two are sworn enemies, and have always meant to be so.  We get ominous glimpses of the monstrous creature Abigail is becoming throughout this issue, foreshadowing the heartbreaking conflict that lies ahead.  But even so, it is still Abigail that Swamp Thing is fighting for, still that desire to be reunited with her that drives him.  “I’m doing it for her,” are his final words as a human.

The motif of death and rebirth – and how the two are linked – is also given enhanced attention here, obvious even from that beautiful front cover.  How much do the designs surrounding Swamp Thing remind you of a butterfly?  In the issue itself, Alec Holland’s body (and indeed, Abigail Arcane’s body also) is housed in a cocoon while his transformation takes place.  In the previous issues we’ve seen much of the encroach of death and decay, but the final image of this issue is that of flowers blooming: from death springs life.  In his argument with the dying Parliament of Trees, Holland suggests that The Green is not too different from The Rot.  Life and death may be in constant struggle, but they complement one another.

I’ve said all this, without even getting into Yanick Paquette’s astounding artwork.  It’s interesting how, even when talented artists fill in for him, Paquette’s return to the book after an issue’s absence always feels like an act of triumphant restoration.  This is how Swamp Thing is supposed to look.  But Paquette pushes his invention to a whole new level this issue, with every page becoming a jawdropping, meticulously-crafted tableau.  Traditional panel borders are abandoned altogether in favor of lush vines and floral patterns doing battle with the black, splotchy chaos of The Rot.  The images themselves are surprisingly packed with detail, demanding to be lingered over, savoured.

Though the whole issue is gorgeous, undeniably the standout visual sequence is the aforementioned transformation.  In a collection of wince-inducing extreme close-ups, we see various parts of Alec Holland’s body – inside and out – being converted by The Green, the images getting smaller and more tightly packed as the transformation picks up pace.  And then it all culminates in a pageturn reveal that is sure to become an instantly iconic image.  Though the experimental tableaus Paquette has liberally employed throughout the book often feel like splash pages, in this instance here when he actually uses a full page splash, the impact is like a gut-punch.

It’s also worth emphasizing again how much the rich, vibrant colors of Nathan Fairbairn enhance Paquette’s artwork.  In Holland’s dialogue with the Parliament of Trees, the deep shades of green and orange make the pages feel like they are teeming with life.  And on the flipside, our glimpses of the Kingdom of Bones become laced with an almost tangible pestilence, that richness of tone turning sickly sweet when shifting to a palette of reds and yellows.  Snyder and Paquette have been showered with much well-deserved praise, but Fairbairn just might be the unsung hero of Swamp Thing.

This is a title that has ranked near the top of DC’s output since the month of its debut, but with Swamp Thing #7, the creative team raise their game.  This feels like a culmination of all that has been brewing in the series over the past six months.  But more than that, it makes those excellent first 6 chapters feel like little more than a prelude, suggesting that the stage has been set for a truly epic saga to unfold.  Swamp Thing truly is back.

REVIEW: Swamp Thing #6

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.

 

REVIEW: Swamp Thing #3

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.

REVIEW: Swamp Thing #2

I used quite a bit of hyperbole in my praise for Swamp Thing #1 last month.  I called it the best of DC’s New 52, I said it was the best issue #1 of any comic I’d read in quite some time.  I’ve now reread that first issue several times, and it holds up under repeat scrutiny as a perfectly-orchestrated return to the world of Swamp Thing, and a triumph for the whole creative team.  The difficulty with such hyperbole, however, is that there’s nowhere else to go from there.  Which is quite problematic in the case of Swamp Thing #2, since it’s even better than Swamp Thing #1.

One complaint I’ve seen other reviewers level towards the first issue of the series is that, for new readers, there wasn’t enough about the history of Alec Holland and Swamp Thing.  This wasn’t an issue for me, given my love for Alan Moore’s run, but anyone who did have such a problem will surely be left satisfied if they returned for this second instalment.  The first half of the book immerses us in the mythology of Swamp Thing and how Alec Holland fits into it all.  For new readers, this introduces concepts such as The Green and the Parliament of Trees, and gets the plot moving along by further establishing the monstrous creature that rose in the desert last issue.  This being now has a name – Sethe – and a backstory of its own, linked to that of the Swamp Thing.  I think, as an introduction to Swamp Thing, this issue does a great job.

But while this is accessible to new readers, it’s a real treat for old readers.  Scott Snyder is not just reintroducing Swamp Thing: he’s reinventing him.  Carefully threaded through this sequence is a revelation that nothing is quite as we thought it was, and he adds a wrinkle in the mythology that adds a whole new dimension to the character.  This is, in a lot of ways, like “The Anatomy Lesson”, arguably the most famous issue of The Saga of the Swamp Thing that Moore and Bissette gave us, and quite possibly my favorite single issue of any comic, ever.  Like “The Anatomy Lesson”, “When It Comes A’Knockin'” is the second issue of the run, with the previous issue following on from a status quo set up by someone else.  And like “The Anatomy Lesson”, this totally changes our perspective of what Swamp Thing is, but instead of doing it as a retcon, does it in a way that feels integral to what has come before, as if it’s rooted in a love for those earlier stories and the depths seemingly hidden within them all along, waiting to be dug up.

Snyder is certainly a fan of Swamp Thing.  That can be seen right from the opening page, a flashback to the life (and death) of the previous Swamp Thing before Alec Holland.  This is a character first alluded to all the way back in The Saga of the Swamp Thing #47, where Swamp Thing found a toy plane in the forest where the Parliament of Trees reside, and felt “an inexplicable sadness” upon touching it.  Here, we see how that toy plane found its way there, and the gaps in the story of the doomed pilot are filled in for us.  It’s like Alan Moore left these little nuggets of gold for later writers to uncover, as if this was the way the tapestry was always supposed to unfold.  Even the bad guys of that era could now be retroactively viewed as followers of Sethe: the nightmarish creature they invoked, the Invunche, is eerily similar to Sethe’s mangled servants in this issue.  It seems to me like Snyder is returning to the classic Len Wein characterisation of Swamp Thing, but is inserting that more human interpretation of the character into the a story containing the ambitious concepts and scope of Alan Moore’s work, mixing it all into something bigger and entirely his own.

But Swamp Thing #2 isn’t all talking heads and info dumps.  The second half of the issue gives way to a frenzied action sequence, culminating in the return of a favorite character from the mythos.  It would seem that next issue should provide another crucial piece of the puzzle of Swamp Thing lore for readers old and new alike.

But amidst Snyder’s careful pacing, some might be unhappy.  They might grumble that we’re now two issues in, and Alec Holland isn’t Swamp Thing yet.  By the looks of things, he might not even be Swamp Thing by the end of issue #3!  But that’s exactly the point.  Swamp Thing has cool powers, and is one of the most awesomely-designed characters in comics.  But Snyder wants our connection to him to be deeper than that.  He is setting this Swamp Thing, our Swamp Thing, apart from all those other Swamp Things through the ages.  And to do that, he is giving us reasons to care about Alec Holland, the man, before his inevitable transformation.  With each passing chapter, we are being immersed deeper in the mythology of Swamp Thing, and it’s at once familiar and inherently different because Holland – originally little more than a prologue player – is now immersed in it too.  We’re discovering this world anew with him.

In light of Action Comics #2, there is a lot of talk of Superman as Moses.  But if we’re looking for Biblical parallels, how about Alec Holland as Jonah?  He has a great responsibility, and he’s trying to run away from it, but no matter where he runs it’s going to claim him eventually.  The swtich in the comic’s central conceit from being a monster haunted by memories of a man he never was to a man haunted by memories of a monster he never was makes Holland a fascinatingly damaged character, one who says, “I’m not the hero you think I am.”  And that, to me, is an interesting twist.  The mantle of Swamp Thing was originally seen as a curse, but here Snyder presents it as an important responsibility, perhaps even a gift.  Swamp Thing is prophecised not to be an outsider or a monster, but to be a great hero and protector, and Alec’s reticence to return to that role is based largely on doubt about whether he can live up to that calling.

At this point, I’ve written over 1000 words, and I haven’t even talked about the incredible artwork of Yanick Paquette.  Every word of praise I uttered about the masterfully crafted page layouts when discussing last issue, I carry over to his work here, and then some.  The old Swamp Thing’s tale is presented to us amidst a network of vines.  And when Holland speaks of seeing these images through vines himself, we realise that Paquette is letting us see this narrative through Holland’s eyes, experiencing it as he experiences it.  Then, when we take a trip into The Green, the panel borders flourish into arrangements of flowers and greenery.  The highlight of the layouts, however, remains the sequences when the agents of The Other make their presence felt, with the panels seemingly breaking down and decaying before our eyes.  One page in particular stood out for me, where we see a fly buzzing along the border of the page, bringing the decay with it.  This instantly reminded me of Stephen Bissette’s stunning work in another classic Moore issue, “Love and Death”: another nod to the character’s history.

I want to take this moment to go on a brief tangent and praise the lettering of John J. Hill throughout this issue.  Paquette creates some visually-ambitious tableaus, some spreading across two pages, but we never lose sight of the order in which our eyes are meant to fall on each image.  Why is that?  Because through his speech bubbles and captions, Hill carefully lays out a trail that leads the eye unobtrusively from image to image.  This is an eample of how skilled lettering can really enhance the reading experience.

But back to Paquette.  It’s not just with the panel layouts that he excels.  The images within are incredible too.  Snyder gives Paquette some nightmarish stuff to draw here, and he brings it to life with pinache.  The Invluche (even if these poor folk aren’t necessarily Invulche, I’ll keep calling them that until told otherwise – it’s better than “twisty head people”) look suitably terrifying: the whited-out eyes make them look truly ghoulish, but the way the skin folds on their twisted necks makes you cringe, and in turn empathise with the fact that these mindless killers were once human.  I think the most unnerving bit of their appearance in this issue is that one of them talks.  To me, the thought that there’s just a little bit of the person they used to be left in there, rather than them simply being a mute zombie, is enough to give me the shudders.

If it wasn’t immediately obvious from the cover of the first issue, Paquette also renders a great Swamp Thing.  I love how he’s constantly changing from panel to panel, with branches growing and leaves falling off from his body.  Nathan Fairbairn helps here too, presenting a Swamp Thing who changes from summer green to autumn brown with the passage of time.  In general, Fairbairn’s rich, textured colors add much to the aesthetic of the book.

The solicits tell us that Yanick Paquette will be getting a partial assist from Victor Ibanez next month, with Ibanez taking over for the entirety of issue #4.  I have mixed feelings about this.  Paquette has made such an immediate impact on this title, to the point where I’m already having difficulty imagining what the comic is going to look like without him.  And I appreciate the sentiment that while short term delays suck, long term it would be a better investment to be able to release graphic novel collections with consistent, beautiful artwork from Paquette throughout.  But on the other hand, I’m selfishly thinking of the short term, and I don’t know if I could bear to wait more than a month for each new instalment of this saga.  And even back in the Moore days, Swamp Thing was a title that always had fill-in artists.  And while the downside was not having Bissette draw every issue, the upside was that artists like John Totleben and Rick Veitch – great in their own right – also got to leave their mark on the character.  All I’ll say is, Paquette’s going to be a hard act to top, and regardless of any requirement for fill-ins, I hope he keeps on returning to the title as primary artist for a good while yet.

It’s still early days, and the story is just starting to come together, but I already think that both Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette could be shaping up to give us the finest work of their careers thus far with this Swamp Thing saga.  Issue #1 was a brilliantly-constructed introduction, and issue #2 is a masterclass in escalation and building upon the groundwork laid.  Right now, along the top shelf of my bookcase, I have a hardcover DC Comics Library edition of The Roots of the Swamp Thing, collecting the original Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson run, and next to it I have volumes 1-5 of Alan Moore’s The Saga of the Swamp Thing.  If this story keeps up the quality, I already yearn for a hardcover edition I can place next to those all-time classics.

REVIEW: Swamp Thing #1

Back in June, when the DC relaunch was first announced, the first comic that emerged as being at the top of my hype list for September, the one I really couldn’t wait for, was Swamp Thing.  I’m a big fan of the character, was excited about him returning to the DCU, and the pairing of writer Scott Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette seemed like a real dream team.  So, I plunged back into the old Alan Moore run, buying all the lovely hardcover editions DC has recently released.  Rediscovering this landmark run, I found it to be even better than I remembered, arguably Moore’s finest work, and I found a whole new appreciation for what Stephen Bissette was doing with the artwork, years (if not decades) ahead of his time.  Swamp Thing is, in my opinion, one of the best characters in DC’s roster, and him getting his first non-Vertigo series in around 20 years is a big deal.

However, as the months have worn on and the big day has drawn closer, my interest in the new Swamp Thing #1 waned ever so slightly.  Don’t get me wrong, every new art preview or interview from Snyder impressed me, but other books, such as Action Comics, Snyder’s own Batman, and more recently Stormwatch, began to surpass Swamp Thing in my personal anticipation stakes.  Oh me of little faith.  Today marks a vintage comic week, and a creative triumph for DC.  I was treated to great comic after great comic from this week’s offerings in the New 52, but standing head and shoulders above the rest as the best of the bunch was Swamp Thing #1.

There is an effective narrative device that Scott Snyder has used in a few of his works.  He begins both the first issue of American Vampire and the first part of his run on Detective Comics with the protagonist, through voiceover, reminiscing about a childhood memory, while the images being shown on the page cast these memories in a sinister new light.  This recurring motif also pops up in Swamp Thing #1, but what makes it all the more intriguing this time round is that the protagonist in question, Dr. Alec Holland, is a character who, until now, is known more for his death (and what followed) than any detail of his life.

At first glance, people might be put off by a Swamp Thing comic without Swamp Thing.  Based on the plot synopsis of this first issue, a rhetorical question seemed to hang in the air: “Should people care about Alec Holland even if he isn’t big, green and leavy?”  In short: yes.  Holland is presented as a man haunted by his past as Swamp Thing, a past that is hounding him, trying to reclaim him.  Plants and greenery seem to follow him wherever he goes, whether it towers ominously in the background or grow in vines and creepers around his feet.  One of the highlights of the issue is Holland’s monologue about the violent nature of plants, which has the unusual combination of being both educational and laced with menace.  But beyond this, Snyder’s characterisation of Holland gives us a sympathetic depiction of the survivor of a monumental trauma; a normal man who has gone through the death and resurrection cycle common in comics, but normally saved for superheroes.  This is best portrayed through a conversation between Superman and Alec Holland that makes up the centrepiece of the issue.  The idea that these two people – on the surface, worlds apart – are united by a common experience, is quite a powerful idea.

But this isn’t a comic that’s all about meaningful conversation and soul-searching.  Out in the desert of Arizona, something awful is happening.  Swamp Thing is a comic that has earned a reputation for delivering some moments of genuinely bloodcurdling horror, and Snyder is able to carry on that fine tradition with a truly gruesome sequence near the issue’s climax.  As this monstrous new threat reveals itself, some iconography comes into play that will be familiar to longtime Swamp Thing readers.  Those who are still haunted by memories of the Invunche – one of the most gruesome creatures to appear in Moore’s run – will get a chill at the fate met by some characters here, and it all but goes without saying that you can’t use a fly in a Swamp Thing without drawing up unsettling memories of Anton Arcane.  This is a story that I believe is totally accessible to someone who has never read a Swamp Thing comic in their lives and wants to see what all the fuss is about, but little Easter eggs like this make the road ahead all the more tantalising for those of us a bit more familiar with the mythos.

I’ve done a lot of gushing about Scott Snyder’s writing, but I would be negligent if I didn’t shower equal praise on the incredible contribution of Yanick Paquette.  Quite simply, this comic looks stunning.  From the very first page, with a cinematic zoom-in from the Metropolis skyline to Clark Kent’s face, followed by a macabre yet beautifully arranged double-page spread, we are immediately immersed in the world of the story.  Paquette is really channeling the spirit of Stephen Bissette here, with inventive layouts that turn each page into an intricately designed tableau, and panels packed with a deceptive level of detail.

Paquette uses all kinds of clever tricks to ensure Swamp Thing looks unlike anything else in DC’s New 52.  Something as small as making the panel borders black instead of white instantly sets it apart, DC Dark indeed.  And it’s in the panel borders where Paquette puts to use a trick that I found particularly clever.  Whenever the ominous, looming threat casting a shadow over this story makes its presence felt on the page, the neat, cirsp panel borders break down, turning ragged and uneven, and the panels within them become more wild and erratic in their layout.  It’s as if this primal embodiment of death and decay were eating through the very fabric of the page, rotting the images and the paper and seeping through to get us.  Indeed, when we see its giant, fly-covered eye, it seems to be staring out of the page, right at us.

This comic is a masterpiece of technical craft, both in art and writing (and let’s not forget the rich coloring of Nathan Fairbairn: this is a comic where green packs as much dramatic punch as in Green Lantern), and is the most exciting first issue of any comic I’ve read in quite some time.  It has human drama, it has horror, and it has mysteries and unanswered questions, including a big one that acts as the first issue’s cliffhanger.  But it doesn’t feel decompressed.  I got plenty of satisfying content in Swamp Thing #1.  But all the same, the wait for Swamp Thing #2 is going to be agonising.  One thing’s for sure, though: I won’t be forgetting what comic I should be looking forward to most this time.