Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Swamp Thing #1 Review and *SPOILERS*
Return to the Houma Lou Swamp
Written By: Len Wein
Art By: Kelley Jones, Michelle Madsen
Letters By: Rob Leigh
Cover Price: $2.99
Release Date: January 6, 2016
*Non-Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! My dearest wish has been answered in the positive with the return of Swamp Thing! You may already know, dear reader, that Swamp Thing is one of my favorite characters in the DCU. But what you probably don’t know is that Swamp Thing was actually my introduction into the DC Universe, and the book that got me interested in superhero comics in the first place! With co-creator Len Wein writing and, heir-apparent to Bernie Wrightson, Kelley Jones on art, what could go wrong? What? Does that sound ominous or something? Kind of like my enthusiasm for the book is about to be tempered by its reality? What would give you that idea? Just read on and find out how wrong you are!
The Swamp Thing tie-in was my favorite book to come out of last year’s Convergence event (check out our 2015 Awards Show podcast for proof!) and immediately after reading it I squinted my eyes shut and closed my fists super tight and wished with all of my might that Len Wein and Kelley Jones would do a Swamp Thing series. Well Dan Didio must have caught wind of this wish while traipsing through the Realm of Dream and sprinkling sleep dust on the eyelids of innocent children (someone’s got to do it), because issue number one is here! The story begins with a well-paced introduction to the titular character and tone of this story: a lush swamp scene rendered by Kelley Jones and colored by Michelle Madsen is punctuated with Len Wein’s uniquely macabre descriptive captions. It took me right back to the original 1970s run as well as brought me quickly up to speed on what capacities ol’ Swampy has—essentially his basic early-Alan Moore power set of regrowing himself as needed and controlling all local flora. Swamp Thing tussles with a hungry alligator, thrashing through the murky swamp in some panels that seem tailored to Jones’ unique artistic talents. And then Swamp Thing speaks.
Um…what? “And to tick me off big time that you’d even take the shot?” That’s…weird, and it doesn’t sound like any Swamp Thing I’ve ever read about. Based on the ellipses between phrases, I’m guessing he’s got that slow, gravely speech that was common to the character until Scott Snyder and Charles Soule’s runs on the book. But that just makes it even odder, like he’s some Jersey Shore douchebag with Down’s Syndrome. I don’t expect Swamp Thing to speak colloquially, though I suppose being that he’s got the mind-funk of Alec Holland it makes some sense. It just takes me right out of the mood that’s been set by the captions and pitch-perfect artwork, like on that show Ghost Hunters where a team of people creeps around a haunted house and everything is really tense until one of them bellows, “Yo ghost! Get da fuck out here an’ make a recordin’!” Then, for no particular reason, the Phantom Stranger shows up, tips his hat at the Swampster with a friendly wink, and then fucks off to parts unknown.
Seriously, he shows up and tells Swampo that the Parliament of Trees has been trying to get a hold of him, and then scrams. What the hell was the point of that? Did he need to do some comic book work in order to make this month’s rent? Mr. S. Thing is alerted by a cry for help from elsewhere in the swamp, and he crashes through the muck and trees to find a woman trying to rescue her husband from drowning in quicksand. Of course, this is easy stuff for the Swampster, who blasts out of the murky water like Rambo in First Blood: Part Two, presumably to impress the lady. The two introduce themselves as Frank and Grace Wormwood, and thank Swamp Thing by begging him to rescue their only son Lazlo from the Crowley College of Evolving Arts. I assume this is not an accredited institution of higher learning.
Things wrap up pretty quickly from here: we find out that Lazlo’s pals inadvertently turned him into a zombie, and he’s getting revenge on them by killing them. Hey Lazlo, didn’t you ever hear that the best revenge is living well? Swampola is fairly well handing Lazlo his ass, but then mentions that he’s going to bring him back to his parents. This sets Lazlo off because he’s out after curfew and he’ll totally get grounded, so he tears Swamp Thing in half and lumbers off, probably to find some heavy metal heads smoking cigarettes or something.
What cannot be impugned in this comic book is the artwork. Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen do an incredible job and there’s not one panel that isn’t absolutely awesome and thematically perfect for a horror book. But Swamp Thing’s dialogue throughout the book pretty much killed the mood for me. Perhaps it will be shown in the six-issue series that this version of Alec Holland was a cornball dad who said stupid phrases taken from action movies and overheard one-liners, but that still won’t make this into the horror book I was hoping for—and saw, in the tie-in from Convergence. It’s a cool enough comic, and—again—I cannot stress enough how great the art is. But this Swamp Thing is a little too casual for my tastes.
Bits and Pieces
If this were a silent issue that contained only Kelley Jones’ and Michelle Madsen’s artwork, I might give this comic a perfect score (no offense meant to letterer Rob Leigh.) But then Swamp Thing speaks and it comes across sounding silly. Len Wein stunts his trademark syllabically-intense descriptive captions, but the dialogue really ripped me right out of the spooky tone that was being set. The plot was nothing special, yet not anything to complain about either. It was the stuff in the word balloons that disappointing and dragged down my score.