I bought two comics yesterday but will only name one of them. The other doesn’t deserve being named. As an offering from a recently relaunched publishing company from the 1980s, it implied it would be daring, edgy, and worth the cover price. It failed on every count and was possibly the most un-funny, juvenile, and vulgar dreck I’ve wasted money on in recent times.
Thankfully, I also bought Swamp Thing #3. The story so far: after saving a small town from a revenge-mad zombie, Swamp Thing has been drawn into a circle of old acquaintances. None more old and dear than former agent Matthew Cable. After the presumed death of scientist Alec Holland, Cable swore he would track down the killer. For many years he hunted this strange, twisted swamp devil, sure that this was at least a piece of the puzzle that described the murder of his friend. Then he learned that this creature actually was his friend, mutated and tormented. Cable’s lived with the guilt for a very long time, so we are led to believe.
To say much more is to give too much away, and I think you owe it to yourself to get invested in this. First of all, it feels like a classic Swamp Thing tale because it is a classic Swamp Thing tale, with the character being reunited with one of his creators. Len Wein has stripped away so much of the muck that has affixed itself to Swamp Thing since the interesting, but overwrought days when writer Alan Moore was at the helm. That was a long time ago. You can imagine what all that entails. The character has been through DC’s mill, from being a mainline mainstay, to becoming part of the more subversive and adult Vertigo nameplate, to going back to DC and surviving the New 52 trifling. It is a pleasure — albeit a macabre and unnerving one — to have Swamp Thing back in the hands of someone that really understands the character.
Speaking of understanding, the other co-creator Bernie Wrightson left a very deep mark on how Swamp Thing has to be rendered. This particularity has brought some of comics’ best draftspeople up to the challenge. I’m personally fond of writer Martin Pasko’s run with gorgeous linework provided by Tom Yeates, but even that did not quite provide that ambiguity and unease that Bernie’s work presented…
…Well, until now. Kelley Jones has come as close as anyone since Wrightson’s run to getting that tone spot-on. Deep shadows, intricate details, faces that are as hidden as they are revealed, and above it all is the understanding that Swamp Thing is not human anymore, and any opportunity to reveal all that Alec Holland has lost are here. Plus, these humans are sinister, and that was always a key feature of this series. Swamp Thing was the monster that revealed the monstrosity of human nature — something else that Jones fully recognizes and offers up. If there is an award for comic book revivals, someone needs to make sure Mr. Jones is nominated and, if there’s any sense left in this industry, wins.
I’ve been deeply critical of DC over the past couple of years. They have messed up their properties again and again, to the point that it is smarter to not reengage with them rather to get glancingly drawn into a story arc, only to have it rendered meaningless by the next “event.” By going back to — pardon the pun — the roots of Swamp Thing, the company has done something even more important. They’ve made an old fan feel like there’s still hope.
Buy Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Kelley Jones, get a flashlight, and read it under the covers in bed, preferably during some dark and stormy night. You will be transported.