I could start this with a cheesy pun, I suppose, and say that when I heard that DC Comics was planning on bringing back Swamp Thing yet again — this time in a six-part mini-series written by the character’s co-creator, Len Wein, and illustrated by Kelley Jones, who probably does the closest stylistic approximation of anyone out there to the work of Swampy’s other co-creator, Bernie Wrightson — that it sounded to me like the big green muck monster was “going back to his roots,” but I dunno — is it still a pun if it’s absolutely true?
When it was first announced, however many years back now (about five, I think), that the one-time Vertigo “supernatural characters” would be folded back into the “proper” DC Universe as part of the “New 52” initiative, I honestly thought that Swamp Thing was the only one who could potentially benefit from such a move, especially given that Scott Snyder was going to be writing the then-new book, but let’s be honest — the results have been far less than impressive on the whole, with Snyder and his successor, Charles Soule, both doing their level best to immerse the character ever-more-heavily into a shallow contemporary version of the “Parliament” mythology established back in the 1980s by Alan Moore and modified, with ever-diminishing results, by just about every writer who took a crack at the book (in any number of newly-numbered “volumes”) since. I’ve read ’em all, of course, but about the only time I think they came close to getting it right in terms of moving the character forward (by moving him back, but I’m getting ahead of myself) was during Nancy A. Collins’ criminally-overlooked run on the Vertigo version of the series back in the early ’90s. Her approach was very much a “fundamentalist” one, if you will, essentially choosing to simply ignore the already-convoluted-by-that-time continuity that had been piled on top of her charge and to go back to just telling good old comic book horror stories with a decidedly “Southern Gothic” flair, and ya know what? It worked. But they could just never leave well enough alone, and one failed re-launch after another has left Swamp Thing well and truly bogged down at this point.
Enter Wein, Jones, and colorist Michelle Madsen (with a nod to variant cover artist Yanick Paquette), who have again chosen to blow off, rather than blow up, what’s come before, and have given us an all-new Swamp Thing #1 that, to be perfectly blunt, feels anything but. And wouldn’t you just know it? I’m not complaining in the least. From page one on, this comic feels like stepping back to about 1976 or so, but it’s not a pale imitation or lackluster approximation of the real thing (I’m looking at you, THE FORCE AWAKENS), it absolutely is the real thing — and that, my friends, makes all the difference.
Wein’s prose it still as deliriously purple as ever, with the “show, don’t tell” school of modern comics storytelling nowhere to be found in these parts, and while that may be frustrating for some given that Jones’ art is more than capable enough to do most of the “heavy lifting,” this is a book that knows what it wants to do from the outset and proceeds accordingly — and as your options as a reader are as immediately apparent as they are simple: go with the “old-school” flow, or put the book down. I chose the former, of course, and so far it’s proven to be a very wise decision.
The story’s nothing complicated, of course, nor should it be: Swampy, his supporting cast completely absent, is hanging out in the bayou doing nothing more than contemplating his newly-stripped-down existence, when The Phantom Stranger shows up, warns him of some typically-ambiguous bad shit about to go down, and then we get familiarized-by-force with the goings-on at a local college where an unorthodox (to say the least) professor has decided to take it upon himself to resurrect the dead — but first he’s gotta kill one of his student “volunteers” to do it, as you’d no doubt expect. And while some among you may feel that the inclusion of a zombie in this story is indeed some sort of nod to modern horror tropes, I assure you that this typically- tragic villain would in no way be out of place in a 1970s horror comic, be it Creepy, Eerie, Tomb Of Dracula or, of course, Swamp Thing, Plus, this particular zombie seems to owe more to Herbert West, Reanimator than to The Walking Dead — thank goodness.
Look, it’s no secret which way things are going in terms of the overall trajectory here — we’re headed for an extended confrontation between two slow, shambling, supernatural foes, with a bit of dime-store occultism and “secret college cult” shit thrown into the mix for good measure. A guest appearance or two from the likes of Deadman and/or The Spectre is certainly not out of the question. And Jones will have plenty of gooey and gory scenes to sink his still-considerably-sharp artistic teeth into. He and Wein previously teamed up, with unspectacular results, for the two-part Convergence Swamp Thing mini-series early last year, but there they were hamstrung by heavy editorial constraints related to the “one alternate reality vs. another” over-arching theme of the predictably-rancid crossover “event” of which it was a part Here, there’s a definite feeling that they’re just being allowed to do their own thing — and that “thing” hasn’t really changed much in 40 years.
Look, I won’t kid you — there may not be a ton on offer in this first issue (entitled, awesomely, “The Dead Don’t Sleep!”) beyond pure nostalgia — and certainly as the basis for a new ongoing series, this “throwback” approach would probably get pretty old pretty fast to modern readers, but never fear — Alec Holland will be getting back to his gig as “Avatar of the Green” or whatever in due course, I’m sure. And us old dinosaurs will probably take a pass on it at that point and let you kids have your fun. I hope the next inevitable re-launch of this character will be good, sure — but given the track record of the Jim Lee/DanDiDio regime at DC, I wouldn’t bet on it.
For the next six months, though, there’s absolutely no harm in letting how things used to be play-act at being how they are again (however temporarily). Swamp Thing #1 was a blast, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest.