Sir Jon’s Comic Book Review – Swamp Thing #1
DC Comics have done little to attract my attention as a reader since the inception of their “New 52” Universe, which drove me away in ways my similes and metaphors cry about. Some things, mostly from their withered Vertigo line of titles, find me interested, if I’m not at least skimming them. A few ideas of late have sparked that old desire to read them again, with one being the upcoming SWAMP THING six issue series written by character co-creator Len Wein and drawn by Vertigo veteran Kelley Jones. Having read a preview copy of the first issue, I have some thoughts to share.
Swamp Thing and I have a lengthy history. I’d known of the character long before ever reading the title for the time I did. The early Bernie Wrightson issues were enigmatically eye-catching. You could get enraptured by a single panel of deep inks and dark colors on that old newsprint, wholly expecting all sorts of creepy images, even in the sedate ones. Len Wein had a read finger on what he wanted out of the character, with many of those early tales feeling like what they were – stories in the ‘70’s. Watch an episode of Kolchak, the Night Stalker and then read an old Wein/Wrightson Swampy story and you’ll see what I mean. Good, creepy stories that are definitely set in their time period and work well. Regardless, I didn’t read many of these old stories until much later, when I started collecting the series then known as SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING.
Alan Moore had already been the writer of Swamp Thing for around a year by the time the series came to my attention. It was being promoted heavily in the DC trade press and I was attracted by the “Sophisticated Suspense” subheading on the covers. I was hooked for good, terribly impressed with the artwork of Steve Bissette and John Totleben, enjoying the creepy, moody horror that was a step beyond that of the older stories. Looking back, many of the early Moore Swamp Thing tales were indicative of the times then – the 1980’s. It’s an interesting thought, considering where the title went after Moore left. A re-read of the entire series might be a good idea for future reviews, where I can explain why I liked Doug Wheeler’s Swampy just as much as Nancy Collins’.
I love the character. I read Swamp Thing through the completion of that series, which ran for almost 200 issues. I read the next series, and the next, and the next… right up until Swamp Thing was removed from the Vertigo line by editorial decree and deposited back into the DCU proper. Shortly thereafter, the “New 52” drove me off and kept me away.
The new series hearkens back to the early days in more ways than just the original writer. Kelley Jones’ art always had a Wrightson feel to it, with lots of dark shadows and heavy lines. Having had drawn the character before, it only helps the throwback mood. The first six pages are a recap of Swamp Thing’s origin, with a three page alligator battle that allows a base review of his abilities, highly reminiscent of older comic books’ need to introduce readers with exposition. Once past that though, the pages become a seesaw fight between the good and the groan-inducing.
If this title is meant to be a re-introduction to the character, avoiding too much of the plot-heavy post-“New 52” series, it fails. Too many concepts are made mention of, such as the Parliament of Trees (which I know of only from the pre-“New 52” series), Swamp Thing being the avatar of the Earth (which I know nothing of and sounds really dumb) and Swampy being a known entity to the general populace, without much of a note made about it. Not having the information about these and other things gave the book a heavy, overburdened feeling that I couldn’t shake. Once upon a time, comics added little asterisk boxes in the panels, regularly providing information or an issue number to go find to get the information. Having a few of those in this story might have made it seem like I was reading an unpublished story from the ‘70’s.
There is a big fight with a creature to top off the story, with a weird and eerie cause behind the creature. Jones gets to draw all sorts of fun panels, from the creature origins to the ultimate fighter champ brawl between it and Swampy. It’s completely enjoyable to look at, mostly. There are two single page pieces that do little more than showcase characters, like the Phantom Stranger, who isn’t explained to anyone. I know the character from years of reading comics, but the “New 52” characters are not the ones I know so he could be a completely different sub-creation at this point. His appearance annoyed me, detracting from the book.
I think, in looking over the preview and rereading some of the work, that the story suffers from too much editorial direction. It suffers in places where situations outside the book are mentioned, or characters just show up. The dialogue seems like a mix of older Swamp Thing and a Swamp Thing that fell out of a Fox Network sitcom. It’s uneven, similar to the overall story itself. While much of the feeling of an older, simpler tale is there, it doesn’t work with the way DC chooses to organize their books now. So, sorry Len, sorry Kelley, I can’t give the new SWAMP THING #1 much more than a ‘meh’.
Swamp Thing #1 is scheduled for a January 6th release.