THE PITCH: Swamp Thing was the protector of the Green, a strange hero of the natural world–but now all that’s left of him is botanist Alec Holland, who only has memories of dying and being reborn in the swamp, of a love he never knew, adventures he never had, and horrors he never met.
HOW WAS IT? If the synopsis above is a little too flowery and maybe doesn’t get the appeal of this book across, how about this: “brilliant scientist has reverse amnesia, causing him to remember being a quasi-superhero and it’s freaking him the hell out. Scott Snyder’s script for the first issue of the new Swamp Thing goes a long way towards instilling a sense of dread from the first pages, featuring what seems to be a global die-off of the world’s flying wildlife. But the former Swamp Thing, doesn’t want any part of it, even when Superman (the present-day one, it seems, very different from the one wrecking stuff in Action Comics) personally shows up looking for a hand, Holland turns him down. He’d prefer to work an anonymous construction job and try to sort out his own identity rather than get dragged back into a life he didn’t know he had.
Sure, it’s a little maudlin, and you kind of want to give Holland a little smack for not manning up to the challenge, but Snyder so effectively lays the groundwork for his protagonist’s ambivalence, that it makes up for any failing of the character to leap headlong into the plot with the rest of us. There’s actually a bit of back and forth between Superman and Dr. Holland and the long and the short of it is that not only is he haunted by Swamp Thing, he’s haunted by his own work as a botanist–something dire might just happen if he succeeds with his work on the potentially life-saving regenerative formula that turned him into the monster he was.
Yanick Paquette was a strange choice to me when the creative lineup was announced–his characters tend to be beefy and bold and it felt like an odd fit for supernatural horror (look at his bang-up, brief stint on Batman, Inc. and tell me I’m not wrong). But Paquette knows how to position actors and more importantly, he knows how to visualize corner-of-your-eye horror (see: the whole sequence at the archaeological dig). Snyder’s likely responsible for the idea behind the book’s best moment involving men with twisted necks but Paquette’s pen sells it completely, and it’s such an unsettling image that’s the kind of plausible horror that I like to see. He also creates jagged panels during the supernatural bits, cramming more onto the page, overwhelming you with a sprawl of visual data.
The theme of the issue appears to be the savagery underlying nature–we get that here and it’s terrific starting point for the update to the character. Now if only Snyder and Paquette can keep convincing us that Holland’s struggle with/against that savagery is worth revisiting each month, we may have a book that deserves to survive the initial New 52 launch.
BEST BIT: Man, those archaeologists with their necks twisted look like some kind of sick effect from an 80’s horror movie you saw as a kid and just can’t get out of your head.
WORST BIT: I guess if I had to pick anything, it’d be Superman’s sleeves.
EASTER EGGS: Does it count as an Easter Egg if I couldn’t find the hooded woman? Like, if this is the only book she’s not in? If not, then no.
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Sure enough. The premise of the book is laid out pretty clearly in the first couple of pages, and there’s a great hook on the final page for readers old and new.
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? In a heartbeat. Wish it were out now.