Review: The Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Becoming trade paperback (DC Comics)

July 13, 2022

 ·  2 comments

I think it was a miscalculation on DC Comics' part including the Future State stories in the regular-series trades.

Sure if, case in point, you’re a Swamp Thing fan but didn’t want to pick up the Future State: Suicide Squad trade, it’s probably nice to get the Future State: Swamp Thing stories in Ram V and Mike Perkins' The Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Becoming. But Future State: Swamp Thing isn’t particularly or at least immediately relevant to Becoming proper (though it may be the best issues of the book), and including those two issues causes DC to only reprint a measly four issues of the 10-issue series (later extended to 16 issues).

[Review contains spoilers]

That’s a bare snippet of Ram V’s story — so little, as a matter of fact, that new Swamp Thing Levi Kamei spends a good chunk of it either holed up in his friend’s apartment or unconscious, and his transformations into the creature, while “real,” are mostly in the form of dreams or hallucinations. Ram V’s got a good thing going here, and I definitely don’t mind a slow burn as befits Perkins' sonorous artwork, but cutting this book off where DC does causes it to feel lacking in the substance I’m sure it would otherwise have.

Ram V first came on my radar for the Swamp Thing story he wrote with James Tynion for Justice League Dark Vol. 2, which seemed to me very much in the Alan Moore Saga of the Swamp Thing style. I don’t necessarily feel every good Swamp Thing story must be Moore-esque (see less mythical, more superheroic, but still great Swamp Thing runs by both Scott Snyder and Charles Soule), but Ram V’s appropriately wordy, pondorous narration (“Flesh from notions … sinew from thought … bone from convictions”) certainly evokes the classic run. So too does Perkins' detailed, shadowy art remind of Rich Veitch and Stephen Bissette.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

It’s unfortunate then that, at least in terms of this first volume, Ram V doesn’t have enough runway to do much. Among The Swamp Thing issues proper, the first two are the most successful, with a Swamp Thing-ified Levi dropping in on a small-town sheriff trying to stop a desert monster. It feels indeed like a flavor of classic Swamp Thing (even Sandman, for that matter), where the driving action is a mortal being terrorized by a superhuman force, with the hero only arriving to clean up at the end.

But that’s hampered by Swamp-Levi trying to figure out his own circumstances at the same time, such that we neither get enough time with Levi nor the sheriff to connect emotionally with either one. Meanwhile Levi’s human body mopes around and sleeps, such that there’s not much building him up, either.

I ought not wholly dismiss the final two issues, either, which introduce Levi to Swamp Thing stalwarts Poison Ivy, Jason Woodrue, and, of course, Alec Holland. But they’re all just visions in a dreamscape, so actually Levi isn’t meeting any of them. Moreover, four issues in, Ram V has done little to contextualize any of this — I’m pretty sure the Alec Holland Swamp Thing died later on in the pages of Justice League Dark, but then he was teamed with Wonder Woman in Dark Nights: Death Metal — that too was a dreamscape of sorts, but given all the back and forth we could do with some “I too was Swamp Thing, until …”

Equally Ram V has teased multiple times Levi’s conflict with his brother — accompanied by the exact same image by Perkins — such that it begins to feel repetitious, not written for the trade, rather than revealing any new information.

Still, I am eager to read more of Ram V’s series. One thing I like about this Swamp Thing iteration is that, thus far, there is not the man-turned-to-monster angst we’ve seen so many times before because Levi appears to turn into and back from the Swamp Thing, or projects his consciousness thereof. Among concepts in Ram V’s Future State: Swamp Thing stories is the Swamp Thing’s painstaking creation of organic pseudo-humanoids from plant matter, and we see the same kind of biological weird science in Levi’s transformations (see again, “Bone from convictions”). Rather this seems where Ram V shines in his Swamp Thing writing.

Again, the Future State: Swamp Thing issues collected here (which I reviewed in Future State: Suicide Squad) are not wholly necessary, even as they feel a more cogent treatise on Swamp Thing’s dual human and natural heritages in two issues than the rest of the book approaches in four. I did catch one new detail, though, that a line of dialogue from the Future State story, I realize in retrospect, is repeated by Levi in the main story. That is to say, reading the Future State books first, one would have no reason to think the Swamp Thing in that story wasn’t Alec Holland, but it seems now that it’s Levi. Furthermore, the story suggests that the Swamp Thing saving humanity is not the same one that previously threatened it, and I’m given to wonder now if this foreshadows some later conflict between Alec and Levi.

2.25

Rating

The next book following Ram V’s The Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Becoming is out in two months, so I don’t have that long to wait for the follow-up, but if I knew before I started Becoming what I know now, I might have waited. Ram V’s new Swamp Thing is well written, certainly nicely drawn by Mike Perkins, but it’s less than half of this story overall; the collection scheme doesn’t work in its favor.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. This is a series that I've been enjoying as the issues are released, but I'm thinking it will read even better when it is collected in a single (hopefully Deluxe) edition. Ram V is probably the writer who, in my opinion, has managed best to meld the original Len Wein Swamp Thing with the Alan Moore run to create something that captures the essence of Swamp Thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That Perkins art sure does deserve a deluxe. DC collecting this all in one volume (deluxe or not) would be nice, especially if Levi sticks around.

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