Serialized storytelling is all about keeping readers hooked and eager for the next installment, which often means that it resorts to the handy trick of unveiling mystery after mystery. Last month in the first issue of the newly relaunched Swamp Thing, Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette rolled out an image that was nothing but a huge mystery: there was our hero, Alec Holland, formerly Swamp Thing, getting a surprise visit from… Swamp Thing?!
If you thought that ending meant that we’d be treated to some kind of new Swamp Thing era where Alec Holland has a Tyler Durden complex, you probably weren’t alone. The going theory based on that ending was that Holland had somehow exorcised Swamp Thing and that this relaunched title would find them working together in a somewhat symbiotic way, with Swamp Thing essentially functioning as Holland’s eco-consciousness brought to life. So many other writers would have milked this situation for as long as possible, teasing the readers with slight answers while unfolding larger questions.
But instead, Snyder jumps right into it, opening issue two with the origin of not-Tyler Durden Swamp Thing, who turns out to be a former RAF pilot who went down over a swamp during World War II, dying from catastrophic burns and injuries before being consumed by the Green. His name isn’t Tyler Durden (or Robert Paulson), it’s Calbraith A.H. Rodgers, but in the horrific scene showing the Green taking him as their guardian, it’s pretty clear that he was always the property of the Green and his humanity never mattered. That’s a point Holland himself leans on, calling out the minimal human elements that remain in Rodgers and bringing up the constant sacrifices he has made himself for Rodgers and the rest of the Parliament of the Green.
It’s through Rodgers, though, that we learn precisely how human Holland is and what the status of Swamp Thing’s complicated backstory is at this point. Snyder has pulled off some miraculous work here by tying together more or less all of the continuity that Swamp Thing fans will be used to, leaving intact Alan Moore’s work (in a way you likely won’t guess) but also simplifying the convoluted nature of the character for new fans. This is an extremely talky issue as a result, but Paquette similarly works wonders here, experimenting with panel structure and unifying the images with beautiful framing and symbols. It can be a bit confusing at first, but it forces the reader to spend more time following what’s happening, which serves the dual function of keeping the eyes on the art longer and making Snyder’s words get the proper amount of thought. Considering Snyder has in some ways turned Alec Holland into a King Arthur figure for the Green, Paquette’s use of illustrated manuscript-like touches and Romantic symbols is more than just window dressing, it’s a perfect addition that adds extra layers to the meaning of the text.
The horror aspects of the series remain in place as well, particularly at the issue’s start with the aforementioned origin of Rodgers and then once more at its end as the agents of Swamp Thing’s new big baddie, Sethe, make their way to Holland. Paquette’s depiction of Sethe has to be one of the most gruesomely imagined creations ever seen in comics, an unholy conglomeration of any number of organic parts and Sethe’s chosen method of conversion — those flies that manage to break their victims’ necks from within — is profoundly unsettling. Snyder drops in one last little twist at the end, but it continues to be satisfying rather than merely a perfunctory tease as he is clearly less interested in cheaply elongating reader tension than moving his story forward in a thoughtful, meticulous way.
Snyder may have come into this title with the world immediately comparing him against the great Alan Moore, but he has more than met the challenge. The new Swamp Thing is excelling because Snyder isn’t afraid of comics’ bogeyman, he’s reverent and respectful but also willing to use Moore’s own ideas and concepts as a springboard for his new story and to tweak that master’s work where needed. Between this title and Jeff Lemire’s similarly burdened Animal Man, it looks like the DC relaunch’s greatest contribution may just be the return of horror comics to the top of the mainstream.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.