Sunday, January 31, 2016

REVIEW: Swamp Thing #1 (of 6)

Writer: Len Wein
Illustrator: Kelley Jones

C'mon, you guys, like I WASN'T gonna review a new Swamp Thing book? Especially one by Len Wein and Kelley Jones?
Please . . .

I know you all look forward to hearing about my love of giant vegetable monsters, and this certainly is no exception. Although I lean more towards Man-Thing in my adoration of shambling mounds, ol' Swampy was my first love. You've all heard the the tale of one of my very first comics, The Saga of the Swamp Thing no.14. This thing exploded my 7-year old brain and there was no going back. It introduced me to both Phantom Stranger and Swamp Thing, a deeper level of storytelling, wonderful art, and that sweet, sweet newsprint back issue smell.
You know the one.

Swamp Thing's latest foray into print punched me right in the nostalgia with an opening page that paints the portrait of our title character's Louisiana bayou home.

An excerpt, if I may:

"This is bayou country. Here, in the beating heart of Mother Nature's most unruly child, noises carry . . ."

These are our opening words in the book, and you can give me that all day long. Poetry, ladies and gentlemen. The narrative goes on about herons, bullfrogs, freight trains and gators, and the last panel of page one hits us with the figure of Swamp Thing standing stoically amidst cypress trees and rain an unmoving sentinel. An obligatory retread of our hero's origin story for the uninitiated follows, and then we're off to the races.

Right after that we switch gears and get treated to a rasslin' match between Swamp Thing and an alligator. Phenomenal.

It's revealed, post-gator, that Swamp Thing has cut ties with the Parliament of Trees and living unfettered from the elemental spirit-lords. I'll not get into the Parliament of Trees too much, as I tend to go on as it is, but it's a collective of plant elementals dedicated to preserving Earth's flora.
Trust me, it's a lot deeper and more cerebral than that, but the description will suffice . . .

After a bit of exposition who should show but POW! PHANTOM STRANGER!
I may have cheered a bit at this reveal. What are the odds that the guest star of my first ever Swamp Thing book would turn up in the new series?
Rhetorical question. Never tell me the odds.
Stranger admonishes Swamp Thing's recent behavior a bit then disappears as he is wont to do. A quicksand rescue later and the root of the miniseries is exposed.

A zombie college student.

Sweet Jesus, I've got the vapors . . .

This left turn originates from Crowley College at the edge of the swamp and brought to us courtesy of Professor Crisp's Life After Death class.
We just got real Lovecraftian, and I approve so highly it's ridiculous. Prof. Crisp is even shown holding a copy of "Der Vermis Mystris" and HP Lovecraft fans rejoiced.

Swamp Thing agrees to rid Crowley College of this reanimated college boy and when they finally meet there's a full-pager that reveals the zombiefied antagonist, the unfortunately named Lazlo Wormwood. Bathed in moonlight, Zombie Lazlo and Swamp Thing clash, and I'm fairly certain I can die happy.

There's clues leading us to believe more than meets the eye with ol' Lazlo, as is to be expected, and we almost certainly haven't seen the last of Phantom Stranger. I can only hope to see Swamp Thing's ladylove Abigail Arcane at some point. Hell, I wouldn't be disappointed if perpetual antagonist Anton Arcane poked his head out of the muck at some point.

To be frank, I was committed to this series before issue 1 hit the stands. I'm a horrendously easy sell with characters near and dear to my heart and it'd take an extremely poorly crafted Swamp Thing book to turn me away.
This is not that book.

Kelley Jones' art is phenomenal as always, further cementing him in my mind as an illustrator in the same caliber as Ploog, Wrightson, Kaluta, & Dringenberg. Fans of his work will not be disappointed and those unfamiliar with it will soon be welcome fans.
And Len Wein, hot damn! Co-creator of Swamp Thing back in the driver's seat with his monster. The writing seemed like it was ripped right out of the pages of a '70s-'80s adventure/horror comic and flooded this reader with a sense of calm amidst a storm of flotsam that so frequently finds its way onto the shelf. Sublime work from the co-creator of Wolverine and the scribe of Giant-Size X-Men #1. Say what you will, but that book was a game changer and Len Wein is carrying weight of his legacy well.
This Swamp Thing book isn't likely to change the landscape of comics, but it sure as hell isn't a filler book either.

My only writing gripe has to do with some of Swamp Thing's dialogue. My preferred incarnation of the titular character leans towards the inwardly brooding, introspective, angst-ridden defender of the Green, and the dialogue in issue 1 was a bit too glib for my taste. Lines like, "you try to take a piece of me, friend, all you're going to get is a mouthful of muck!", and, "you're a lot of dead weight, Frank, just don't be dead!" served to disconnect me a bit from the moody atmosphere of what is traditionally a horror comic. A bit too super-heroic for my taste.

I have absolutely no idea what version of continuity this series inhabits in DCs post-Convergence universe, and I don't much care. It may end up building off canon established in the Nu52 Swamp Thing, it may follow the tradition of the older series, or it may be an entirely new monster in and of itself.

Hopefully this miniseries will springboard into an ongoing, as Swamp Thing is the spice of life that DC could currently use to offset its current bland flavor. Dozens of Superman and Batman comics are all well and good, but more engaging books like All-Star Western and Swamp Thing are oft overlooked pieces that remain vital to keep a company flourishing.

No comments:

Post a Comment