Review: The Swamp Thing Vol. 2: Conduit trade paperback (DC Comics)

It’s not really a surprise, but Ram V’s The Swamp Thing Vol. 2: Conduit — given a few more issues to spread its wings than the first volume — is profoundly great. I have enjoyed other Swamp Thing portrayals over the years — mainly the highly underappreciated New 52 run — but as I’ve mentioned before, Ram V’s Swamp Thing feels as close to Alan Moore’s definitive Saga of the Swamp Thing run as we’ve come. Artist Mike Perkins is also a joy on every page.

I was continually impressed with the depth of knowledge that Ram V shows here, deftly rafting an array of histories and alt-histories. Too the skillful blending of flashback and forward action, how the villains here are so logically chosen in-story but yet offer so much possibility for the narrative. The brilliantly layered final conflict is also a joy.

It feels a loss to divorce the story of Swamp Thing from Alec Holland. Ram V’s book does not do that, actually; Holland is far from forgotten, his experiences readily accessible. Rather I’m expressing my misgivings over very much wanting Levi Kamei to become the DCU’s Swamp Thing for the foreseeable future and not for his tenure to cease with the end of Ram V’s miniseries in the third volume. Ram V’s paradigm for Swamp Thing is a new one, absent much of the angst of the previous; I perhaps understand the way in which that’s not “true” Swamp Thing, though it’s very, very appealing.

[Review contains spoilers]

I’m not sure Ram V intended this, but there’s a scene late in Conduit where Levi transforms into Swamp Thing that involves Levi pulling his glasses aside, and it’s exceptionally reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s transformation from Clark Kent to Superman. That’s an uncommon comparison, DC’s muckiest monster and their most dashing superhero, but then again, Ram V’s Levi Kamei is not a traditional Swamp Thing.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

The starkest difference between Levi and Alec Holland (or the monster who at times believes himself to be Alec Holland, depending on your flavor of Swamp Thing) is that so far Levi seems to be able to transform to and from his Swamp Thing form at will. That excises a significant amount of angst from the Swamp Thing character, no longer a beast forced to give up his humanity and a chance at a normal life and love, and instead a mission driven, dare-I-say-superheroic avatar of the Green.

I can see how a Swamp Thing without the trauma of longing for what he can’t have isn’t a Swamp Thing, like a Batman whose parents didn’t die or a mutant not shunned by humanity. If Ram V doesn’t do away with this himself in the third act, my fear is it’ll happen with the very next writer to take Levi on, trapping him in Swamp Thing form. Here, though, I find it additive; it’s not like Levi-as-human plays a big role in the story, but simply that he walks down the street or rides in airplanes instead of always ducking into the Green and emerging in a flower pot grounds the story a bit. Even as I praise The Swamp Thing’s similarity to the classics, it feels slightly less fanciful in a positive way.

But indeed Conduit kicks off in what feels a decidedly Moore-esque manner, in a story about a London apartment building whose residents are taking on the roles of Allies and Axis due to the “ideas” of an unexploded bomb in the foundation. If it sounds vaguely Twilight Zone-esque, it is, the kind of Swamp Thing one-off horror story (Moore’s “The Curse” comes to mind) that could just as soon as not involve Swamp Thing except that he comes in to save the day at the end, Swamp Thing by way of the horror anthologies of his beginnings. That Ram V gets this, and is even willing to give over an issue in the scant space of his miniseries to it, goes a long way toward identifying Ram V as the Swamp Thing writer we need.

From there, Ram V uses what otherwise might be the burden of a crossover — here with Robbie Thompson’s Suicide Squad — as a venue for delving into Levi’s origins. In-story, Amanda Waller brings in Nightmare Nurse for her supernatural gifts, Chemo to cause ecological damage, and Parasite to siphon the Swamp Thing’s powers, but narratively, both Nightmare Nurse and Parasite’s abilities serve to explicate the trip to India that brought Levi to this point. And Ram V and Perkins deliver some nice touches that demonstrate neither Nightmare Nurse nor Parasite are simple villain stand-ins — Ram V nods to Swamp Thing and Nightmare Nurse’s meeting in Forever Evil: Blight, a few continuities ago, and Perkins draws Darkseid in the background of Parasite, a reference to Fury of Firestorm way back in the Legends crossover(!).

In the course of all of this, Levi’s brother and perhaps archenemy Jacob arrives, now transformed into the demonic Hedera. If Levi dropping right in to where his brother roams is mildly too convenient, this is redeemed in the dynamic, multi-faceted conclusion, where Levi must both attack the Prescot company to rescue his kidnapped friend but also defend Prescot from his brother, seeking vengeance for Prescot developing on their ancestral lands. There’s a lot of wrong for the right reasons and right for the wrong reasons here, giving the characters on all sides far more depth than less thoughtful DC fare.



Ram V’s thematic elements and metaphors are strong in The Swamp Thing Vol. 2: Conduit, whether the question of ideas and how they “root” and grow, or that the Green gets in through “wounds” — a reference to infection, but also how avatars often come to the Green through emotional trauma. The artful narration — another way in which this Swamp Thing reminds of Moore — beautifully describes the constant back-and-forth between nature and people here — how patient trees are, watching humanity stumble and rise, paralleled with Levi’s father granting Levi forgiveness before his father’s death, patiently trusting in Levi’s eventual success.

In all this is an auspicious entry into the Swamp Thing mythos, and hopefully the next volume is both the end and also a beginning.

[Includes original and variant covers (including some stunners by Brian Bolland), sketches]


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