WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Justice League Dark Annual #1 by James Tynion IV, Ram V, Guillem March, Arif Prianto, and Rob Leigh, on sale now.
What kind of a legacy will you leave behind when you're gone? It's a question we have all considered at some point in our lives, but it's hard to come up with a definitive answer. What if you had amazing abilities and the responsibility that comes with it to protect the world? While that might sound like Spider-Man's usual concerns, Swamp Thing asks himself this very question in Justice League Dark Annual #1.
Swamp Thing, the long-time avatar of the Green—the life force of all plants on Earth—is dying. The Parliament of Trees, who once safeguarded the Green and chose successive avatars, is no more. Now faced with a magical world falling apart, no masters to answer to, and no legacy to leave behind for the next generation of vegetative champions, Swamp Thing is left searching.
There is a fleeting gleam of hope with the emergence of the Parliament of Flowers gives birth to a new champion. However, when Swampy sets out to help the next generation, everything goes wrong. Instead of an ally and legacy, our hero is only left with a new enemy and an uncertain future.
All Hail the King of Petals
Following the destruction of the Parliament of Trees in the climax of the Witching Hour crossover, Alec Holland was left without much direction in life. However, with this destruction also came new life. The Parliament of Flowers emerged to replace what came before and create a new champion for all plant-life. This new champion would be called the King of Petals.
Dr. Oleander Sorrel is a scientist studying flowers who ends up dying under suspicious circumstances. Like Swamp Thing before him, he merged with the plants around him and was reborn into a new body so he could ascend to his role as protector of the Green. Unfortunately, things don't turn out as well as anyone would have hoped.
When Alec turns up to try and guide Oleander through his new life, the King of Petals freaks out. As it turns out, accepting the idea that you are now dead and you have been reborn as something greater than yourself is not that easy. Alec himself spent many years ignoring his destiny, but given Oleander's reaction, it seems like these things can't be rushed for anyone.
Instead of accepting his role as a hero, the King of Petals clings to his old life and plays with the emotions of his ex-wife. The two became distant following the death of their young son, and unable to comfort his wife, Oleander pushed her away. Now he's determined to make her happy by creating children for her to care for made out of leaves. It's a horrifying series of events that ends in tragedy.
This already tenuous situation is made even worse by the villainous Floronic Man. A long-time enemy of Swamp Thing, Jason Woodrue manipulates the newly created King of Petals by speaking directly to Oleander's remaining humanity. Oleander is scared and overwhelmed, so he's easily influenced by everything the Floronic Man has to say.
Instead of becoming a hero like Alec wanted, the King of Petals becomes a creature of pure id by ignoring his new responsibilities and embracing his all-too-human needs. Eventually the pressure proves to be too much, and Oleander snaps. In the end, the King of Petals is unwilling to become more than he was in life, and he gives up his power to anyone who will take it.
Unfortunately for Swamp Thing and the DC Universe at large, that someone is the Floronic Man. After playing the part of the trustworthy friend, Woodrue shows his true colors when he devours the King of Petals, taking his place as the new champion of the Parliament of Flowers. At the dawn of a new age, everything has gone wrong, and it's hard to see how Swamp Thing has a chance.
Faced with one small sliver of opportunity to help prepare the next generation for the future and leave behind some kind of legacy, Alec Holland has failed. When everything is said and done, it's not quite clear if the King of Petals would have been better off if Swamp Thing had intervened, but the uncertainty is enough to leave our hero devastated.
The story will continue, however. In the end, the reborn Floronic Man meets with Circe in a tease of the forthcoming storyline that introduces a new Injustice League, and Jason Woodrue will also be appearing in the Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy series. Alec Holland may have lost his best chance to secure a future for himself, but the fight isn't over yet. There's still a chance that Swamp Thing can wrestle control of the future back from the villain, and that's all anyone can ever hope for.