Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones is a devoutly New 52 series, focusing to a surprising extent on the man within the monster. This will certainly be a point of controversy -- depending on what version of Swamp Thing a reader subscribes to, Snyder's incarnation may amount to heresy.
[Review contains spoilers]
When Alan Moore took over the Saga of the Swamp Thing title in the 1980s, beginning the best-known run for the character, one of his first changes was to reveal that scientist Alec Holland was not the hulking Swamp Thing. Rather, Swamp Thing was a plant elemental created at the moment of Holland's fiery death, as other swamp things had been created before him, who mistakenly believed for a time that he was Holland. This freed the Swamp Thing character for more self-actualized stories; gone was the pathos of a man trapped in a monster's body, but at the same time Moore could now tell stories about Swamp Thing proper, not Alec-Holland-trapped-in-Swamp-Thing's-body.
Snyder's Swamp Thing is both entirely faithful to Moore's version, and radically different. Snyder's focus character is one Alec Holland, mysteriously resurrected from the dead and having never been Swamp Thing, though sharing all of Swamp Thing's memories. In this way, Moore's Swamp Thing existed, many of his adventures happened, and it's all preserved within Holland. And yet, Snyder retroactively reveals that Holland had been meant by the ruling Parliament of Trees to be Swamp Thing all along, and only with Holland's untimely death had Moore's "substitute" Swamp Thing been created as Holland's replacement. Moore's Swamp Thing existed, but he's been relegated to an experiment or placeholder; his adventures took place, but they don't necessarily "count."
If this dismays some Swamp Thing fans, the fault is not necessarily Snyder's; the idea of Alec Holland as the true Swamp Thing bore mention in Geoff Johns's Brightest Day finale, too. Undoubtedly some will see this as another strike by DC against Moore; with these changes, DC's Swamp Thing acknowledges Moore's work but simultaneously unshackles itself from it.
For better or worse, all of this adheres well to the tenets of the New 52 -- younger characters, more realistic and believable. Snyder makes the interesting creative choice -- in a book called Swamp Thing with an image of the "classic" Swamp Thing on the cover -- never to have the monster appear in the book until the end, and then mostly off-panel. The New 52 Swamp Thing's first volume is entirely Alec Holland's. The audience is therefore reminded for however long the Swamp Thing series lasts that there is a living, breathing man inside the monster, because that man gets seven issues of his own in the spotlight before he becomes the swampy beast. It's the equivalent of Grant Morrison writing about the T-shirted Superman before he gets his costume; Raise Them Bones is Swamp Thing's pre-origin.
The book itself is entertaining enough, though it pales in unfair comparison both to Moore's seminal Swamp Thing work and to Snyder's Batman: The Black Mirror -- Raise Them Bones is adequately scary, but it's not James Gordon Jr. scary. Snyder's Holland wants nothing to do with Swamp Thing or the Parliament of Trees until he's stalked by agents of the dark Rot, broken-necked zombies with a penchant for sharp objects. The action scenes with these demons are good, as are Holland's interactions with old friends and enemies, but Snyder gives over too many pages to repetitive exposition from the Parliament, especially later in the book. For seven issues, there isn't especially much that happens from the beginning to the end of Raise Them Bones.
Fans of Moore's Swamp Thing won't recognize the motorcycle-riding, shotgun-toting Abigail Arcane in Snyder's story, either (there's an apocalyptic Walking Dead vibe to the book that's too heavy in comparison to Moore's lighter, episodic Swamp Thing horror). Snyder does, however, finally offer a plausible explanation for Moore's sudden, inexplicable romance between Abby and Swamp Thing -- that, like Romeo and Juliet, they are representatives of two warring sides, the Green and the Rot, who can only find peace with one another. Abby exits the book at the end, just as Holland becomes Swamp Thing, and one hopes Snyder does not permanently keep her out of the book, nor make her (like Mary, Queen of Blood in I, Vampire) Swamp Thing's permanent nemesis and opposite number.
The amalgamation of old and new Swamp Thing legend here can't help but remind the audience of DC's recent steps with the Legion of Super-Heroes, cutting off their history after Great Darkness Saga and Crisis on Infinite Earths and grafting it to the present, leaving the "Five Years Later" and other eras in limbo. The same thing happens here -- Snyder's Abby makes no mention of she and Swamp Thing's daughter Tefe, for instance, suggesting that Swamp Thing's history has been snipped roundabouts the end of Moore's run and brought forward to the New 52 (this is beneficial, and perhaps not accidental, in that Moore's Swamp Thing trades are the ones most available to interested readers). But Snyder's Parliament also suggests that the "original" Swamp Thing has died, a story untold in previous comics, so one might hope Snyder will tell a flashback tale at some point and indeed spotlight the classic monster for an issue.
Artist Yanick Paquette brings forth both the Green and the Rot well, often using creative panel bordering to highlight each. His twisted-headed zombies and various undead farm animals are appropriately gory, and will undoubtedly become more so as the Swamp Thing title nears the upcoming "Rotworld" crossover with Jeff Lemire's Animal Man. As a boon to collection and digital readers, Paquette's pages often seem like two-page spreads, but they're instead single, thematically similar pages, making single-page reading easier. Guest artist Marco Rudy emulates Paquette's style well at first, but when he inks himself in issue #6 the art becomes too dark and scattered; though it features a climactic fight, this is the poorest of the issues.
Alan Moore's Swamp Thing is a literary highlight in DC Comics's library, a run that was frightening and cosmic, socially aware and romantic, funny and faithful to the overarching DC mythology around it. In contrast, Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones is Swamp Thing-light, a story where Alec Holland runs around for a while before the book's inevitable conclusion. Whereas Jeff Lemire's Animal Man felt as though it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Grant Morrison's ground-breaking run, Snyder's Swamp Thing still has a ways to go. That the DC Universe has a Swamp Thing again is auspicious, however, and hopefully things only get better from here.
[Includes original covers, sketchbook and cover designs by Yanick Paquette]
Later this week, the Collected Editions review of Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey. Don't miss it!