Category: swamp thing

Demon, Barf

The Demon: written by Matt Wagner; illustrated by Matt Wagner, Art Nichols, and Bernie Mireault (1986-87, 1992; collected 2013): Matt Wagner’s done fine work on his own characters and on characters for DC. Alas, his work on The Demon, while sometimes lovely to look at, is also a wordy, needlessly labyrinthine, bleak mess.

As originally conceived and executed by writer-artist Jack Kirby in the early 1970’s, Etrigan the Demon was a surprisingly jolly demon who enjoyed beating the Hell out of supernatural menaces but otherwise seemed like a loveable scamp. Kirby’s Demon is the clearest, most obvious forerunner of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, another good demon.

However, when Alan Moore reimagined Etrigan in a thrilling, disturbing three-part story in Saga of the Swamp Thing in the early 1980’s, the ramifications of that reimagination would be an eternal souring of the pot. Moore’s Demon was a barely controlled monster. He also spoke in rhymes all the time, where Kirby’s Demon only rhymed to cast spells. Thus was unleashed thirty years and counting of an astonishingly misguided reinterpretation of an enjoyable but minor Kirby character.

Wagner’s 4-issue-miniseries revamp of Etrigan makes Alan Moore’s version look like a sun-filled romp in a jolly, jolly park by comparison. Jason Blood, the Demon’s ‘host,’ is now a bumbling, easily manipulated fool whose personality in no way resembles either Kirby’s dedicated occultist or Moore’s tragic, sardonic hero. Etrigan is a monster who speaks in rhymes that often, in their utterly confusing diction, pretty much form an airtight case for why Etrigan should not speak in rhymes all the time. At least not when Matt Wagner’s writing him.

The art has some flashes of surreal brilliance, especially in a sequence in which demons invade an apartment through the walls.¬† The annoyingly intrusive frame narration becomes an unwelcome Greek Chorus very, very quickly. The whole thing is dense and unpleasant, and that narrative density serves a story that’s actually paper-thin.

Alas and alas and alas, the depressing view of Etrigan has won out over the last 30 years. A Wagner-penned and illustrated standalone issue from the Demon’s early 1990’s series is a lot looser and more fantastic artistically. Unfortunately, the whole thing is narrated by Etrigan in a series of rhymes. Somebody please make sure Matt Wagner never, ever writes anything in rhymes again. It’s horrible. Wagner can be a compelling writer and artist, especially on his own wonderful Mage and Grendel books. Seek those out, not this. Not recommended.


Rotworld: written by Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, and others; illustrated by Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy, Steve Pugh, Travel Foreman, and others (2011-2013): I’d imagine that DC will eventually package the entire Rotworld run of Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and several issues of Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. into one 1000-page omnibus volume. While only a handful of issues from each title bore the Rotworld banner, the entire story actually started with the rebooted Swamp Thing and Animal Man comic books back with their first issues in September 2011, and was really only resolved with issues 18 of those books this March.

The set-up was relatively simple: there are three great living kingdoms on Earth: the Green (Vegetation Kingdom), the Red (Animal Kingdom), and the Rot (well, guess). Swamp Thing is the living avatar of the Green, Animal Man is essentially the acting regent of the Red until his daughter comes of age, and long-time Swamp Thing villain Anton Arcane is the avatar of the Rot.

Normally the three powers live in an occasionally contested balance, but over the last 200 years, Arcane’s stewardship of the Rot has led him to attempt to extinguish the other two forces in order to remake the Earth into a polluted, distorted kingdom for himself. And then he’ll reach out for other planets.

So, over about 800 story pages, Swamp Thing and Animal Man and a number of allies battle the Rot in the past, present, and future of the Earth. Yes, time travel is involved. And as this is part of the ‘soft’ reboot of the DC Universe, Swamp Thing himself has been born again: it turns out he was never really Alec Holland, but he will be Alec Holland again. Animal Man also learns an assortment of things that fall squarely into the category of Everything You Knew Was Wrong. Long-time Swamp Thing paramour Abigail Arcane gets the biggest conceptual makeover, however: she, and not her evil Uncle, is supposed to be the avatar of the Rot.

Did this story need to cover so many issues? Well, no. The reversals of fortune become frustrating at points, and there are times throughout where one wishes they’d just get on with it. But Snyder and Lemire also do some nice word-smithing and character-building.

Animal Man and Swamp Thing really shine in the art department, especially in those issues drawn by Yanick Paquette¬†or Steve Pugh. Paquette really goes all-out depicting the verdant yet often horrifying world of Swamp Thing: it’s the best art Paquette has ever done. Pugh, who’s been around the Animal Man book before, has a rare flair for the grotesque and the cloachal. Frankly, they could have gone off-schedule a bit more (or made both books 8-times-a-year, like in the oldey-timey days of comic books) so that Pugh and Paquette could have handled all the art chores. Oh, well.

As both books present new origins for their avatars, the whole storyline isn’t a bad jumping-on point for new readers. Long-time readers will of course wonder where the Hell the Fungus Kingdom — the Grey — is for the duration. Matango! Recommended.

In Flight from Lost Time

A Small Killing: written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Oscar Zarate (1991): Oscar Zarate’s art, lovely and grotesque and colourful, really adds layers to the this odd story of a successful designer of advertising campaigns and the demons that haunt him. Alan Moore works on a much smaller scale than he does in better-known works such as Watchmen or From Hell. This move away from the epic may explain why this sometimes seems to be Moore’s least-discussed major work. No explosions, no heroes, no villains, and no real fantasy elements. Well, maybe.

An ex-patriate Englander in New York starts to see a mysterious little boy on the eve of his trip to Moscow to design an ad campaign for an American soda-pop’s first foray into glasnost-era Russia. memories of past failures and betrayals begin to haunt him, always counterpointed with his own justifications and evasions — we’re shown the past and given the protagonist’s often wildly off-base commentary upon it. And then, prior to travelling to Moscow, he returns to England to visit his parents.

The telling of the story is much more compliated than the above synopsis makes it, with flash-backs and flash-sideways, numinous ‘normal’ objects become mythic in memory, fragments of dialogue to sift through, panel composition and colouring to mull over. Zarate does some marvelous things as he moves back and forth from subjective to objective, from crowds to solitude, from the grotesque to the everyday. A fine piece of work that deserves more recognition. Maybe Moore should have stuck a superhero in it. Highly recommended.


Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones: written by Scott Snyder; illustrated by Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy (2011-2012; collected 2012): I’m not sure there was any character who more needed a clean reboot than Swamp Thing when DC implemented its line-wide ‘soft’ reboot late last summer. Alas, this was indeed a soft reboot — apparently, pretty much everything that happened to Swamp Thing in 40 years of comic-book adventures happened to him anyway. It all just happened in five years. Or something. We still haven’t really been told.

With this loopy, continuity-albatross around their necks, Snyder, Paquette and Rudy do a solid job of giving us a partially rebooted Swamp Thing who has yet to be Swamp Thing even though he already was Swamp Thing. I’m not explaining that last bit any further. Paquette and Rudy draw some lovely, gooshy creature work, and a suitably gloopy, grungy, fertile swamp environment; Snyder deftly sketches out characters who are both familiar and subtly changed.

Unfortunately, Swamp Thing, like a number of other New 52 titles, drops us into a lengthy storyline that, as of this writing, shows no signs of wrapping up any time soon. We’re essentially reading the longest origin story for Swamp Thing ever written, by a factor of five or six and climbing.

And we’re also in a storyline that intimately crosses over into an equally lengthy storyline in Animal Man. By the time it’s all over, the opening storyline of the new Swamp Thing will also be the single longest Swamp Thing arc in comic-book history. I’ve enjoyed it so far, but I enjoy it less and less as I go along. None of the issues stand alone, and some of the issues require a parallel reading of Animal Man as well.

Frankly, Captain, I’m exhausted.

I’ll keep reading, but I sincerely hope that after this enormous opening, we get a few stand-alone issues and short arcs. If we don’t, here and elsewhere in the New 52 line, DC will founder on its new continuity with astonishing rapidity. Recommended.