Bubbling since the dawn of the DC Comics’ New 52, the highly-anticipated “Rotworld” crossover between “Animal Man” and “Swamp Thing” is finally here. Teased in the August issues of both titles — with the titular superheroes making cameos in one another’s book — the monstrous melee kicks into horrific high gear in October within the pages of “Animal Man” and “Swamp Thing” #13.
And while Buddy Baker and Alec Holland, fighting respectively for the Red (the elemental force of animal life) and the Green (the elemental force of plant life), have been pushed into the corner by Rot avatar Arcane, “Animal Man” writer Jeff Lemire and “Swamp Thing” scribe Scott Snyder are thrilled to finally deliver this story to both long-time fans of both the classic DC/Vertigo characters and new readers too.
CBR News checked in with Snyder and Lemire, and while their strong bond of friendship was apparent, their collective passion for the subject matter was even greater. With Lemire asserting “Rotworld” wasn’t an Elseworlds story, Snyder explained the crossover would follow a dual narrative. While Buddy’s family and Alec’s true love desperately fight for their lives in the present day trying to stop Rotworld from starting, Animal Man and Swamp Thing will fall deeper and deeper in the Rot and a future which very well could be the post-apocalyptic future — or cataclysmic close — of the DC Universe.
The writers also discussed the “Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” tie-in arc, “Rotworld” roles of “Justice League Dark” members John Constantine and Black Orchid, when the origins of Anton Arcane would be revealed and why the Red or the Green — if allowed to flourish — could be just as dangerous (and deadly) as the Rot.
CBR News: Take us back to the beginning — how early did you know that you were going to connect these titles? Was it in the pitch stage?
Jeff Lemire: Scott got “Swamp Thing” a number of months before we even knew anything about the New 52. And way before I knew anything about “Animal Man.” In the way that we do, he was calling me and running his ideas for “Swamp Thing” by me. We were just talking that way but then when I did get “Animal Man,” it seemed natural to take some of those ideas that we had already been discussing and use it for my book, as well. I don’t know if we ever had a definite plan for a crossover right off the bat or if as we got into two or three or four scripts, we could start to see that it could be something more tangible in terms of a crossover.
Obviously, the two of you work well together but what makes Animal Man and Swamp Thing so symbiotic?
Scott Snyder: The mythology is inherently tied in that Buddy is the avatar for the Red, which represents all biological life forces on Earth, and Swamp Thing is the avatar of the Green, all plant life and botanical life on Earth, so we felt that they would not only be linked in terms of the things that they could do or the issues that they would face internally — like that they would have to take on these mantles that require all of us this responsibility and incredible sacrifices — but also that they have a common enemy that we’ve since the very beginning.
They seemed organically linked from the moment we began writing them and like Jeff said, I have been showing him stuff that I’ve been working on since I started at DC. I guess just the idea of working with someone that you are that close to and is one of your closest friends was so exciting from the very beginning that it was never a calculated plan that we do a crossover.
It just kind of grew together because we knew we were both working with these superheroes and we work so closely together that the idea of doing something where we literally had a story that we could share was extremely exciting to us.
Lemire: Like Scott said, there is an obvious link with the Red and the Green but there is something that we saw with the characters themselves — Alec and Buddy — that would go really well together just like Scott and I go well together. That sounds cheesy but we just really wanted to work together.
The fact that Alec and Buddy really didn’t ask to be superheroes, the do-gooding was thrust upon them connects the two as well, right?
Lemire: Yeah, I think there is a reluctance to both of them that is common. I feel like Swamp Thing has always been reluctant to take the mantle that he’s been given, especially Scott’s version, and I think Buddy wants to be a superhero [Laughs] but all this other crazy stuff always gets in the way. And of course, there’s Buddy wanting to keep his family safe and not a part of all this but it’s these aspects — the two of them being forced to live up to these expectations that they didn’t ask for — that they have in common.
Snyder: In addition to that, the Red and the Green themselves, I think one of the things that is really unique about these two characters is that their power comes from a source that can be antagonistic to them at times. The Red and the Green have their own desires and things that they want in terms of their goals of being the No. 1 life force on Earth and having the Earth reshaped with them as the majority. They are hungry, volatile forces of nature and both Buddy and Alec have to deal with that all of the time. The things that they are supposed [to] protect and fight for, these are things that don’t always match up with their own priorities. That problem and the conflict, internally, really links them as unique characters in the DCU.
With the Red and the Green just as hungry as the Rot, would it be just as bad if the balance of the force tipped to one of them instead?
Lemire: That’s the whole idea. Yes, the Rot is evil but death is a natural part of life. It’s really the current avatar, Arcane, who is evil. The Rot has gone out of control and the balance that there is supposed to be between these three elements is out of control and the Rot’s growing. And now they have to stop it but it could as easily be, if someone else was the avatar of the Green, and the Green grew out of control. The word “evil” is misleading. It’s not an evil force, the Rot; it’s Arcane who is evil.
So if Deadman was the avatar for the Rot, there might be better balance?
Snyder: I would think so, yes.
As we descend deeper into Rotworld and Buddy and Swamp Thing pull further and further away from their loved ones, are we leaving Abby and the Baker family behind or will they play a role in this story?
Snyder: No, we’re definitely going to see them. I think that’s one of the most exciting parts of the story that there is a dual narrative in both books. On the one hand, you’re going to see what’s been going on in the present as Abby travels desperately to where she thinks she can stop the portal from opening and beginning Rotworld and what Ellen and Maxine are doing to try and save the present timeline in “Animal Man.” At the same time, you’ll be going deeper and deeper into Rotworld with Buddy and Alec and see this year in the future set in this post-apocalyptic environment.
Part of the thing that we had a lot of fun with is that “Rotworld” isn’t an alternate timeline or an alternate universe. It is the DCU one year from now if things don’t change in the present so in that way, you get to see both sides of it.
You’ll get to see things that happen in the present storyline with Ellen and Abby and Maxine and all of those characters, which will affect or have echoes — in a big way — in the later storyline in “Rotworld” with Alec and Buddy.
Lemire: And I think the other thing that we want to stress is that this isn’t an Elseworlds story where at #17, Alec and Buddy are suddenly going to push some reset button and everything will go back and be fine. There will be real consequences for both books afterwards and for all of the characters. And that’s really what you’re going to see unfolding in the present day storyline especially with Abby and Ellen and Maxine. There are consequences for the status quo of both books when this storyline is all done.
We saw rotted out versions of Hawkman and Flash at Comic-Con and you’ve also teased that Poison Ivy and Beast Boy would be featured in the crossover. Which other DCU heroes and villains play a role in Rotworld? And this is truly DCU spanning, right? If I’m not mistaken we’re going to see Gotham and Metropolis rotted out, too.
Lemire: The entire DC Universe will be represented. Every aspect will be explored with characters featured from across the line. We’ll have everyone from Hawkman to, well, I probably shouldn’t say anyone else but everyone is in it. The whole entire DC Universe is in it. We’ll see what happened and why certain superheroes aren’t there to help anymore and why certain ones are still around.
Can other characters, like Poison Ivy and Beast Boy, whom we’ve seen in the solicits, tap into the Red or the Green?
Lemire: I don’t know if it’s a matter of connecting in or something like that. It’s more that certain characters’ nature or power is inherently linked to one of the elements than the others. For instance, Poison Ivy, even though her powers came by artificial means, is clearly derived from aspects of the Green and likewise with Beast Boy and other characters like that. They’re inherently more in tune with those things, which results in them being able to survive.
Matt Kindt, who followed you, Jeff, on “Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.,” is bringing Frankenstein into the foray, as well, with a three-part arc. Will Frank be featured in either “Animal Man” or “Swamp Thing,” too?
Lemire: For sure. What we’ll see is “Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” #13-15 will be a “Rotworld” tie-in but he also shows up in “Animal Man” #16 and his story links up with what I am doing and he becomes a regular cast member in “Animal Man” #16 and #17.
And you are also dropping John Constantine from your run on “Justice League Dark” into the fold too, right?
Lemire: I figured even though he’s not connected to the Red or the Green, if anyone is going to survive somehow, it would probably be Constantine. He’s a survivor at any cost. So yes, he’s still around and playing a big part and manipulating situations. And he’ll be a big part of Buddy’s adventure as will Black Orchid, who is another “Justice League Dark” character.
We’re actually going to get a bigger clue about her powers and who she is during her involvement in “Rotworld” and the implications of that will feed into “Justice League Dark” after this is over.
We just learned Felix Faust will also be featured. How much does “Justice League Dark” tie into “Rotworld”?
Lemire: It’s pretty stand alone. The characters are in it but it doesn’t really connect with what I am doing in “Justice League Dark.” You don’t have to read “Justice League Dark” or read it afterwards to know what’s going on. It’s just that a lot of the characters bleed over. I’m trying to make it that they are not too reliant on one another.
Scott, let’s circle back to Arcane. Realizing he is the big bad here, are we going to further explore his history and what drives him in the months ahead?
Snyder: Absolutely, in a really big way in the upcoming issues of “Swamp Thing.” Basically, “Swamp Thing” #0, which is coming next month, is really devoted to exploring Alec’s early years through the lens of Arcane’s past and through the lens of Arcane’s mission for the Rot. That issue alone will give a ton of information about him and the annual that Becky Cloonan is drawing features the first meeting of Alec and Arcane. It’s really a secret moment in the mythology and it takes place by Arcane’s castle and it will have a lot to do about who he is, as well.
We’re going to really be exploring Arcane as a character in both the present and the past, filling in his back story and mythology a ton in “Swamp Thing.”
One of the great things about these characters is, like Jeff has been able to find with Buddy and I’ve been able to find with Alec and now Arcane, that even though they are really iconic and they have these amazing stories, the greatest thing is when you realize there is a pocket of their story that hasn’t been explored and you can explore and make it your own. With Arcane, this is a perfect example of that. He’s this big villain in “Swamp Thing” but what was he before he first appeared in that castle as that old man? It’s a complete mystery. In that way, exploring Arcane’s past allows me to honor the Arcane you have seen already and also further build this horrible Arcane that you will see in “Rotworld.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Yanick Paquette and Steve Pugh. I obviously love what you are doing with the story in “Rotworld” but the artists have really created a magical landscape for you to populate.
Snyder: Nobody brings the grossness like our guys. It’s pretty incredible how disgusting they can be. Yanick has been a beast on “Swamp Thing” and Marco Rudy has been awesome too. It’s the same as when I read “Animal Man.” Every time it makes me want to up my game and create something that can stand side by side with what Jeff is doing in that book — it’s so challenging and inspiring — I think the artists work that way too. It’s not competition but it’s just a want to do right by the level of quality in the other book. We’re very lucky guys to be working with this level of talent.
Lemire: Scott said it all but yes, Steve is fantastic. He can bring the action and the horror but what he really does well is the acting and the character moments. With a book like “Animal Man,” where it’s really focused on the family and the relationships, you need that and I am lucky to have him because he can do both of those aspects so well.
Finally, assuming Buddy and/or Alex make it out of “Rotworld,” will these two characters, and two titles, remain interconnected moving forward?
â€¨Lemire: I don’t know if we are allowed to say anything about that, are we Scott?
Snyder: No but we’ll never break free from each other.
“Rotworld” kicks off in “Animal Man” #13 and “Swamp Thing” #13.