''I'd prefer not to,'' — a phrase made famous by Herman Melville's (some say sagacious) scrivener, the anti-hero, Bartleby — occupies the thoughts of Alec Holland and acts as the underlying refrain in the latest incarnation of Swamp Thing … until now. ''I'd prefer not to'' is so enigmatic a phrase as to have kept academicians, agitators and idlers engaged for a century and a half. Bartleby's curt invective expresses both a thumbs-up and a thumbs-down, a dichotomy, part protest part philosophy — absurd and plain-spoken all at once; a What if? if there ever was one.
In Swamp Thing #1, Holland spoke a similar truth to (super)power: ''I'm sorry, Superman, I am. I really appreciate your coming down here and all. And you're right. I do feel lost at the moment. But the truth is … right now, I just don't want to be found.'' Depending upon how one prefers, Holland's words can be read as deferment or the freedom of choice, free will. For six issues Scott Snyder has been directing his own horrific version of It's a Wonderful Life; a construct that (perhaps) taxes the reader's patience with its slow show of what Alec Holland's world would look like without the man or the monster inside the man — an anatomy lesson in the inconsistencies of fate and free will. Swamp Thing is not about the road less traveled or the path not taken — it's about asking why one is on the road at all.
Swamp Thing #7 makes a monstrous (and perhaps predictable) lurch forward in the narrative by delivering on its title; there is, however, little doubt that Snyder desires to do anything as conventional again, for a long time. Yes, the veil lifts and the monster is revealed, but the seeds of discontent sown at the start of this story have begun to fruit. In his tête-à-tête with the "Man of Steel," Holland sights a sorrel plant and says, ''as we speak, it's choking that blackberry bush to death … The plant world is angry and cruel and violent.'' That innocent looking sorrel is emblematic of Swamp Thing: looks can be deceiving; deception grows everywhere and (worse) hides in plain sight.
Before Holland makes his (inevitable) choice he castigates the Parliament of Trees, calling them ''conscienceless'' and sermonizing about their loss of respect ''for prized human qualities'' leaving an abscess of hunger and greed, ''…just as the rot has. And just as the Red has.'' The trees agree. The reader is left to imagine that the coming war will not be fought with conventional means and that the enemy of my enemy is not a friend, but only another enemy. Comic book boilerplate, no?
Swamp Thing represents a "golden mean" in comic books. At one extreme is Snyder with his eerie odd ball take on a conventional "will-he-won't-he story" while at the other end of the spectrum is artist Yanick Paquette, whose style is an amalgam of J.H. Williams III and psychedelic artist Rick Griffin, he of the Grateful Dead's Aoxomoxa. Paquette's work on Swamp Thing is (sorry) organic, but there is no better way to describe it; each page courses with images of flora and fauna extremis; from burning blistering flesh to a (seemingly) placid water lily and from thorny vigilante to (hazardous) hibiscus. The only time Paquette's swirls and curlicues fall into line is on the "big reveal" and even then coils and crimps whorl and wave in the gyre of this second coming. Tying these two extremes together is colorist Nathan Fairbairn. His colors on the opening and closing pages show how he is equally adept at fearful swirls of blood and ink and buttery hazy washes of salvation.
The monster within is now without, unbound, winged (yes, winged) and ready to make war. Snyder and Paquette have their champion, a Swamp Thing of their own making to stand alongside earlier incarnations in the parliament of Wein and Wrightson, Moore and Bissette. Wither Alec Holland? He chooses free will, duty bound to fight for the woman he loves who is now handmaiden to the satanic Sethe, but that is a tale for another time. When Sethe slouches his way out of the desert, Swamp Thing née Alec Holland will have more choices to make about the Rot, about the Red, and about the Green too, unless, of course, he'd prefer not to.
Mr. Silva is a recent relapsed reader of comic books, loves alliteration and dies a little inside each time he can’t use an oxford comma in his reviews for Comics Bulletin. He spends most days waiting for files to render except on occasion when he can slip the bonds of editing and amble around cow barns, run alongside tractors and try not to talk while the camera is running. When not playing the fool for the three women he lives with, he reads long, inscrutable novels with swear words. He recently took single malt Scotch and would like to again, soon.