In the true spirit of a zero issue, Scott Snyder and Kano’s “Swamp Thing” #0 is accessible for new readers, serving as an origin story for Alec Holland but starring his arch nemesis in the New 52 — Arcane of the Rot.
Arcane is a disgusting, savage being with further evidence of his prowess over the avatars of both the Red (Animal Man) and Green (Swamp Thing) provided early on in this issue. Throughout his existence Arcane has consistently weakened the Red and Green in preparation for the Rot’s rise currently going down in both this series and Jeff Lemire’s “Animal Man.”
Snyder keeps the cause of Holland’s transformation into Swamp Thing true to the 1970s origins but alters some details. An explosion is responsible for his death but the instigator is different here as Arcane wants Holland dead for the good of the Rot. In 1971’s “House of Secrets” #92, Holland met his demise due to a co-worker’s petty jealousy and lust for his wife. In Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s “Swamp Thing” #1 from 1972, it’s also a co-worker who murders Holland but this time it’s envy which drives the violent action as he’s after Holland’s formula to convert deserts into lush forests.
A nod is given to this classic plot point as Arcane infiltrates Holland’s lab, posing as one of his lab workers who helped create the same formula. Snyder successfully spins his own riff on Swamp Thing’s origin, keeping some key elements from the originals but making it unique to the New 52.
The true success of this issue is through the art. Kano uses elements of storytelling infused in this title since issue #1, like plant cells and branches bordering panels. It adds personality to the book and a feeling of detachment from the rest of the DC Universe, further sucking the reader in to this dark world. Kano’s layouts aren’t as dynamic as Yanick Paquette’s, but his final few pages are the best stuff in the issue — his detail and textures give the eye plenty to dissect and a panel showing the Green wiring into Holland’s brain stands out in my mind.
Kano captures the horror of Arcane early on in a scene where the villain sheds his human skin with bulging eyes leaking blood. Another shot of Arcane dragging the mutilated corpses of two older Animal Man and Swamp Thing avatars held my attention for awhile, as the narration gets into the gory details of what happens to the victims of Arcane in the moments before their death. The millipede crawling out of the panel borders, which were stitches in Arcane’s back, made me squirm.
The most unnerving moment was when Arcane infiltrates a hospital nursery with a creepy headcrab-esque thing made up of a brain/face fused to a hand which it uses to be mobile. Get a visual of that in your mind. I won’t tell you what this strange creature does, but the last time my stomach turned in a similar fashion was when I accidentally flipped to a scene in “Crossed” where a pregnant girl cut out her fetus and ate it. This isn’t quite as graphic, but it’s close.
Matthew Wilson’s color palette is nicely utilized — it’s a darker, leafy green serving as the proverbial cherry on top to Kano’s work.
This issue was more about Arcane, the main antagonist in both “Swamp Thing” and “Animal Man,” as opposed to Alec Holland and it’s truly horrific. While the argument could be made by regular “Swamp Thing” readers not much is revealed here we didn’t already know, it accomplishes what’s expected out of a #0. I’d argue the New 52 “Swamp Thing” should have started with this issue a year ago as it lays out who the major two players are and reasons for their actions — I was moderately in the dark when this series began. Having this issue kick it all off could have alleviated some of that confusion.