Review: Swamp Thing Vol. 7: Season's End trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Swamp Thing and Animal Man are two characters who've well transcended the traditional superhero genre. In their most noted iterations, each characters' title dealt with more than just heroes versus villains or even science-fiction or horror, into questions of art, religion, and identity. Though the New 52 series have been more superheroic, Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire did well in forging a connection between the two characters (something it's surprising hadn't been stronger sooner). Lemire's Animal Man did ultimately get back to some of those larger questions; Snyder and Charles Soule's Swamp Thing not so much, though in Swamp Thing Vol. 7: Season's End, Soule does offer a final, Animal Man-ian twist.

In Season's End, Soule finds a place for every major threat Swamp Thing has faced in the run so far, such to tie up most of the remaining threads neatly. There's a "everything and the kitchen sink" feel to it, but certainly the story (and especially the final issue) are less rushed than many ending books. Artists Jesus Saiz and Javier Pina have shined throughout; it's a rare treat to find a book where artist and guest-artist mesh so seamlessly, and also colorist Matt Wilson provides a gorgeous painterly effect to Saiz's work in the Futures End tie-in issue collected here. This is a strong ending that offers new ground for the Swamp Thing character going forward.

[Review contains spoilers]

Of Soule's four Swamp Thing volumes, my preference is for his first, third, and this, his fourth, and not his second -- that is, those that set Swamp Thing's supernatural adventures and horror against a modern background, and not the wholly fantastical battle with the Parliament of Trees. For that reason, Soule pitting Swamp Thing in Season's End against technology run amok -- the new kingdom of the Machine -- is right in my Swamp Thing wheelhouse. The horror in this book has ebbed since the crazed townspeople of Soule's "Whisky Tree" story, but there's effectively gory moments here of mechanic tendrils bursting through people's faces and such. Even against the backdrop of a kind of traditional superhero battle story, Soule delivers a lot of what I'm looking for from this series.

That extends to Soule's twist at the end of the regular series, in which Soule introduces yet another kingdom, that of story or ideas. It's a concept worthy of Animal Man, something Lemire upheld but that originated with Grant Morrison's fourth wall-breaking run, positing Animal Man and now Swamp Thing as characters aware of their character-ness, trapped on the page. The story avatar says the kingdom chose to reveal itself to Swamp Thing because of his "creativity," praise which Soule deserves but that he's obviously not lauding on himself. Instead, this is a nice moment of recognition for the two "fathers" of this particular comics movement, Alan Moore for bringing forth such a multifaceted character from the Swamp Thing concept and Morrison for championing the kind of moment the Swamp Thing character now enjoys.

Notably when Soule had Swamp Thing Alec Holland disassemble the Parliament of Trees, seemingly gone with it was the Alan Moore "plant who thinks he's a man" Swamp Thing, who'd appeared briefly earlier in Vol. 5: The Killing Field. That's controversial, but I figured Soule had a plan, and indeed the Moore Swamp Thing returns here in support of Alec's various actions. The Moore Swamp Thing seems to meet his death again, but the Futures End "Five Years Later" story shows us his return; that tie-in was published before the finale, but works better here as an epilogue to show us the "Moore Thing"'s death and resurrection in order. Curiously Soule makes brief mention early in this book of the Moore Thing having possessed a White Lantern ring, and the same comes back in the Futures End issue; that reference to Brightest Day is of course a continuity nightmare of things that couldn't have happened (or could they have, in reference Rebirth), but I loved that Soule gave a callback to where this series ostensibly began.

I have decried on and on that these Futures End tie-in issues don't actually tie in to Futures End at all, but Soule's is among the more enjoyable. In taking Swamp Thing on a quest through the kingdoms of Red, Grey, Machine, and "Divided" (bacteria), Soule casts his net especially wide, hinting at stories for which we barely know the who and what, let alone the why -- the woman that the fungal Grey is obsessed with, what caused the comical fall-out between the Green and the Red, what happened between the kingdoms and the Spectre, and so on. All of it seems interesting, not unlike Bryan Q. Miller's final forward-looking Batgirl story, and it's a credit to Soule to leave us wanting more even as he departed DC altogether.

Soule's Swamp Thing run did not do much with Swamp Thing Alec Holland and Abby Arcane, leaving that perhaps as Snyder's dominion and approaching it only here at the end. The reasons for Alec and Abby being unable to be around one another aren't quite clear, and their solution is no clearer in the final pages that show Holland and Abby together again. We can surmise, however, that the presence of the Sureen who might put both Alec and Abby in more compatible bodies means better things to come for the characters than before.

In pitting the villains Lady Weeds, the Avatar of the Grey, and Anton Arcane against Swamp Thing, Abby, John Constantine, even the Seeder, Charles Soule brings this title to a satisfying ending in Swamp Thing Vol. 7: Season's End. Though I know Len Wein and Kelley Jones have completed a Swamp Thing miniseries, I'd be happy to see the character rest for a while and let this run fade to classic status, and have Swamp Thing return only when a new writer wants to do the kind of work with him that Scott Snyder and Soule did here.

[Includes original covers]
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5 comments:

  1. I thought the Future's End issue was one of the finest single issues of a comic I've ever read. A complete and compelling story in a meager 20 pages. And the Final (non Future) issue was such a great collection of everything and everyone that has made Swamp Thing great. This is the work that cemented Soule as not just a great writer worth watching, but a active master. Great stuff, I"m surprised you're not singing it's praises more.

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    1. I thought I was pretty positive; what would "more" look like? (If you want to see me really effusive about Soule, check out my Red Lanterns reviews.)

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    2. I bought Red Lanterns based on your praise, and I agree. It was fantastic! - I guess, yeah, that's more where my head was at. I thought the last volume of Swamp Thing even surpassed Red Lanterns. Those final two issues of swamp thing (last issue and FE) were just so phenomenal. But you're right, "Your praise was not praise-y enough!" is a pretty silly problem to have.

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  2. I loved all of Charles Soule whole Swamp Thing run from beginning to end. Heck, I loved most of his DC stuff. I did every review for Soule's Swampy on Amaazon and I too thought his Future's End issues for ST and Red Lanterns was brilliant.

    It's too bad his Marvel stuff is incredibly mixed stuff.

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    1. I can't speak for all of his Marvel work (Daredevil has bored me so far, and Inhumans seems editorial written, not writer written) - but his She-Hulk is fantastic.

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