Review: Swamp Thing Vol. 4: Seeder trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 08, 2014

Charles Soule's Swamp Thing Vol. 4: Seeder is a good first volume for Soule's new run -- by which I mean that it would not be a great third volume for his run, but for the first volume, it works. Soule has a number of parts of this book that are quite engaging, even as I think there's some parts in the middle that get away from him. However, in writing voice trumps all, and what Soule delivers here best of all is a great voice for Swamp Thing; this voice carries the book and is largely what would bring me back for the next volume.

[Review contains spoilers]

Yanick Paquette drew Scott Snyder's run on Swamp Thing that preceded Soule, a run often given to the serious, grotesque horror of the Rot, enemy of Swamp Thing's Green. As Paquette's realistic, detailed images fit Snyder's story, so too is Kano's rounded, more animated style perfect for Soule's take on the character. I've been a fan of Kano since his Action Comics days (not to mention H-E-R-O), and he depicts especially well the book's lighter moments, as well as the horror that arrives at the end.

Kano's Swamp Thing is a stooped, kind of gangly guy, perhaps the first Swamp Thing ever that readers might want to hug. This fits exactly with Soule's take on Swamp Thing Alec Holland, now kind of the Eyeore of the superhero set -- a regular joe, heavily put upon (on the account that he looks like a big green monster), just trying to do his job and get on in the world. And Soule makes Swamp Thing funny, which is the best part, as when he remarks that Superman "looks like a male model. I'm a salad. We face different challenges with respect to interpersonal relations," and later, Swamp Thing's utter befuddlement when faced with an immortal warrior seeking asylum.

This sense of humor continues though the book, leavening the story even in the dark times. With this, Soule is also making good use of Snyder's establishment of the New 52 Swamp Thing as man first, monster second; we get events filtered through what we ourselves might think and not through the perspective of a mythic elemental monster, and that goes a long way toward making this an exceptionally approachable take on Swamp Thing.

In five issues plus the Villain's Month issue, Soule tells a two-part story, a one-part story, a two-part story, and then the Villain's Month Arcane one-shot. Of these, the second two-parter is the hands-down best. Swamp Thing deals with the various actions of the mysterious Seeder throughout the book, but in the penultimate story Seeder has set a town to madness (plus John Constantine) and Swamp Thing comes within an inch of his own life trying to save them.

To me, this read like Alan Moore's Swamp Thing -- supernatural madness, Swamp Thing present but sometimes tertiary to the plot, and of course a big role for Constantine. The horror here is not in the form of monsters, as Snyder's often was, but rather in the form of man's cruelty to man, and the realism, too, echoed Moore. This was a two-parter I could get behind, tying in to the larger "Seeder" plot but also functioning as a cogent Swamp Thing story on its own.

The first two-parter, I had more mixed feelings about. On one hand, the humor is again wonderful, and the whole premise of Swamp Thing traveling to Metropolis to get advice from Superman as to how to fit in is precious. But on the other hand, Soule begins his run with a story about Swamp Thing talking about what it means to be Swamp Thing, which is a pet peeve of mine -- Soule spends two issues writing his way into the character, instead of just writing the character. And while Swamp Thing getting gassed by and fighting the Scarecrow is also precious, it felt small for the first issues, and also lacked real horror elements, making me concerned in the beginning that Soule's Swamp Thing wouldn't offer that horror inherent in the character.

The bridge issue is no slouch in the art department, with one of my favorites, Jesus Saiz. But despite that Swamp Thing is as confused as the reader, it is confusing when a futuristic-looking warrior appears out of nowhere, makes no explanation for looking futuristic, and tosses off the fact that she's 800 years old in stride. Stranger still are the hunters, one in a ball cap and one with a sword, who show up chasing the warrior and acting equally like this is just another day in the swamp. Soule, through the Parliament of Green, ultimately explains the basis of the asylum that the warrior seeks from Swamp Thing, but not who she is or via what aesthetic (future warrior, immortal in our midsts, etc.) the reader is supposed to understand her. This lessens any emotional connection the reader is supposed to have with the character, and also makes for a chapter that generally feels "off."

The Villain's Month issue is enjoyable, but also meanders a bit too much. Soule starts off depicting the evil Arcane in confinement, long enough that I feared that might be all there was to the issue. Eventually Abby Arcane appears, and it is nice to see Soule using Abby so early in his run and so soon after she went off-screen in Snyder's run. The story that Arcane tells Abby is gripping in its horror, but in the end the audience learns it's all a lie (and realizes we actually already knew that). If this story is solely to show Arcane's escape from imprisonment, I don't think Soule gave the story enough meat; my hope is that Abby's patchwork "mother" might appear later in the series, else it hardly seems worth a whole issue for just the last page.

But ultimately, I like Charles Soule's Swamp Thing, and to that extent even if all of Swamp Thing Vol. 4: Seeder had been Swamp Thing reading the Farmer's Almanac, I bet I would have been entertained. This is my first exposure to Soule's work, as he's quickly beginning to handle titles across the DC Universe; Seeder makes me enthusiastic for what I might read from Soule next.

[Includes original covers, character and cover designs and sketches]

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  1. Unfortunately, Soule is a soon-to-be Marvel exclusive, although reports are that he is going to finish up his DC stuff on his own schedule.

  2. I had no idea Soule was going to go exclusive. It wasn't too long ago when he was just one of the new popular writers from Image.