Review: Swamp Thing Vol. 3: Rotworld - The Green Kingdom trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 01, 2014

Swamp Thing Vol. 3: Rotword - The Green Kingdom has the unfortunate happenstance of being the second "Rotworld" volume that I read, after Animal Man Vol. 3: Rotworld - The Red Kingdom. This inevitably means that some of the good surprises in the parts of these books co-written by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire have already been spoiled, and that lessens the impact that the Swamp Thing volume might initially have had.

But, as has been the case throughout these titles' New 52 incarnation, I ultimately just liked the Animal Man volume better than this Swamp Thing volume. There is some to like in the book, including an engaging set of parallel stories and interesting, controversial changes in the end, but in all having seen what "Rotworld" could be in Lemire's Animal Man book, I came to feel more could have been done with Snyder's Swamp Thing book.

[Review contains spoilers]

It's maybe not entirely fair to evaluate Snyder's "Rotworld" volume in comparison to Lemire's volume instead of looking at the book on its own merits. But, both books deal with the same material and begin and end in the same place, so some discussion of which book does the same thing better is probably warranted. Admittedly the two writers have different goals for their stories. Lemire was writing Justice League Dark at the time, and was about to integrate aspects of Ravagers into Animal Man, so the continuity-heavy use of Black Orchid and Beast Boy came naturally. Snyder, on the other hand, would be finishing his Swamp Thing run at the end of the book, so his "Rotworld" tie-in might naturally be more self-contained; also it's surely a fun wink and nod that Snyder's "Rotworld" story is largely Gotham- and Bat-universe-based, given Snyder spearheading the Batman title.

But, it does remain that Black Orchid and Beast Boy are wonderful oddball choices for Lemire's "Rotworld" (plus Steel and Frankenstein), and again Lemire gives them some continuity relevance. In contrast, Snyder's "Rotworld" characters are Poison Ivy, perhaps the most obvious and least esoteric "Green" character available, and Deadman, who's not at all Rot-ified despite his clear connection and who basically just acts like Deadman. Snyder's best surprise, Barbara Gordon the Man-Batgirl, was again unfortunately spoiled for me by the Animal Man volume. Additionally I thought Snyder glossed over what could have been a really strong aspect, how an army of regular Gothamites donned Robin masks and makeshift costumes to go fight the Rot; instead, they just appear on the page and we're told who they are.

I might have liked a little more imagination in general, but also I would have encouraged Snyder to have made the "Rotworld" story more his own. An appearance by the Court of Owls would have been a nice tie to Snyder's other works, or maybe some use of James Gordon Jr., for instance. Also there's a brief mention of Jason Woodrue in the story and what I think is a cameo appearance, but nothing to build off of or add more detail to Snyder's great, quick use of Woodrue in Swamp Thing Vol. 2, and this too felt like a missed opportunity.

Artist Yanick Paquette draws nicely scary figures as needed in this volume, and I was also particularly struck this time by Paquette's close-up faces, which were clear and emotion-filled without melodrama. For "Rotworld," I think Animal Man's Steve Pugh's Rot-figures were the more grotesque (though Paquette contributes a nice zombie Teen Titans), but to choose an artist to head another series, I'd probably go with Paquette. It's only a problem, as it was in Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Raise Them Bones, that the book replaces Paquette with a fill-in artist right at a climactic issue, which lessens that issue's impact and the story's in general.

One of the strongest and most notable aspects of Snyder's run has been his use of the human Alec Holland within and without Swamp Thing; the entire first volume starred Holland, and even when he became Swamp Thing in the second volume, we still had plenty of flashbacks and dream sequences where Swamp Thing was Holland again, continuing to this book. This is unique and in keeping with the tenets of the New 52, and I think it gave Snyder's Swamp Thing a dimension that separated it from its predecessors (even if Snyder's Swamp Thing was maybe a little too given over to superhero battles).

But Snyder wraps up his New 52 Swamp Thing run in part by restoring the status quo, in part not. The human Alec Holland within Swamp Thing dies, making him now fully Swamp Thing. At the outset of this book, readers learned that what we thought of as the pre-Flashpoint Swamp Thing was just Holland's doppelganger and not the "true" Swamp Thing, but that rather the true Swamp Thing was the new Alec-within-Swamp Thing. Now the new Swamp Thing is the old Swamp Thing in essence, sans Alec. I don't know if this makes a discernible difference, except that restoring Swamp Thing to his old full-swamp form might be easier for future writers to remember; at the same time, I hope new Swamp Thing writer Charles Soule might utilize visions of Alec Holland as Snyder did.

Snyder also changes Abby Arcane perhaps the most dramatically at the end of this volume, making her a super-powered Avatar of the Rot. Though I like the Romeo and Juliet/Green and Rot aspect of Alec and Abby that Snyder introduced, and indeed Abby's fight with her uncle Arcane that runs parallel to the main "Rotworld" story is perhaps the most engaging part of the book, I'm not enthused by Abby as "Queen Rot." In Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Abby represented the human side of Swamp Thing, such as it was; Abby's relative normalcy wasn't a drag, but an integral part of herself. To give Abby powers at the end of this book makes the character less special, I think (like Lana Lang getting Kryptonite powers at the end of Smallville).

I guess this works to separate Swamp Thing and Abby such to give Swamp Thing new adventures that are different than what came before the New 52, and a new romantic interest for Swamp Thing besides Abby has definite possibilities, but I wasn't sure if this was the best change for Abby even if it works for Swamp Thing himself.

I maintain that having a Swamp Thing book regularly on the stands is good for society as a whole. Scott Snyder has written a Swamp Thing book that aptly represents, for better or for worse, what an early New 52 Swamp Thing book needed to be (though a tide of some less superhero-focused books is now beginning to crash over the line). Though enjoyable enough, I did not think Swamp Thing Vol. 3: Rotworld - The Green Kingdom was overly strong; however, I'm glad the Swamp Thing title has arrived this far and I'm eager to see where it goes next.

[Includes original covers, cover sketches and designs]

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  1. I havent read Animal Man so I cant compare Swap Thing to it, but I really liked volume 3 of Swap Thing.
    That Abby and Swap Thing "cant" be together now because of her and his powers is something I found interesting, because Swap Thing has got enough people that can give him advice when he needs it.
    Frankenstein´s appearence made me happy because I liked the 3 volumes of Frankenstein that came out (sadly it got cancelled).

    off topic: what do you think of Black Adam being played by Dwayne Johnson? I was sure he would play Shazam because I thought he would be perfect for that role.

    1. I was just thrilled to see #BlackAdam trending. I think that's an incredible credit to the work Geoff Johns did and Jerry Ordway before him on the character; they should be proud.

      But I didn't like the Green Lantern movie and I wasn't too keen on Man of Steel either; I think Warner Bros needs to figure out how to make a grown-up superhero movie with action and likable characters. I'm excited for a Shazam movie in theory but I can easily see how it could go campy and wrong, so I'm also rather nervous about it.