WARNING: The following article is an exclusive advance review, and may contain some minor spoilers.
DC Comics' expanding line of original graphic novels intended for middle-grade readers, DC Zoom, has reimagined the world of Swamp Thing from a middle schooler's perspective in The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid.
Written and illustrated by Kirk Scroggs, the graphic novel is told entirely from the viewpoint of its titular protagonist, Russell Weinwright, a teenager who has been dubbed "Swamp Kid" by his classmates for being a sentient plant-person, with mysterious links to the nearby Louisiana bayou and a certain iconic DC superhero residing within.
The graphic novel is a loving recreation of a spiral notebook featuring Russell's everyday musings, observations and doodles about the world around him. Trying to fit in with his unusual condition -- including subsisting through photosynthesis, sporting a massive tree trunk arm with a frog living inside and a occasionally uncontrollable tendril appendages -- Russell makes new friends while under the supervision of his suspicious teacher Mr. Finneca.
By the end, Russell discovers his mysterious link to Swamp Thing along with another secret that may save or doom all of his classmates.
Scroggs had previously come from a background of writing middle-grade books including the Snoop Troop series and Wiley & Grampa's Creature Features. The influence of the latter is particularly evident here, with Scroggs essentially telling a teenage monster story with superhero flourishes and all age-friendly sensibilities.
What really sets the title apart from anything else available through mainstream superhero publishers is its innovative format: a day-in-the-life notebook of a social misfit just trying to get by, using the spiral pad as an outlet for his constant daydreaming.
Similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, the entire graphic novel is told from this perspective, though Scroggs fills the book with more comic strips befitting its DC Comics origins. Letterer Steve Wands elevates Scroggs' story with Russell's distinct typography propelling the novel and maintaining the verisimilitude of it being a teenager's notebook.
What really makes the presentation excel is moments when Scroggs approaches the format like a full on art project, including pages that appear accidentally wet or burned or with drops of random condiments as Russell adds to the text while eating lunch. That attention to detail goes a long way towards maintaining the illusion of its presentation in an entertaining manner.
While nominally being a slice-of-life story, Scroggs is well aware he is still crafting a superhero-adjacent story and one set within a slightly reimagined version of the DC Universe. Swamp Thing is positioned as a reluctant mentor of sorts to Russell while his longtime foe Anton Arcane makes an appearance, teasing a larger conflict at work that the teenage protagonist finds himself drawn into the middle of.
In this unique format, Scroggs still finds a way to insert superhero action sequences to the medium, providing younger readers a much more family-friendly perspective on Swamp Thing than the character is normally associated with.
The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid is easily the most off-kilter title offered across DC Comics' entire publishing line but in a distinctly good way.
Kirk Scroggs is clearly having a blast as he subverts the traditional expectations of the medium, offering a unique take on a social outsider finding his larger place in the world against the backdrop of the Swamp Thing mythos. Readers unfamiliar with the format may be thrown off initially, but Scroggs makes it accessible enough for audiences to become accustomed to its presentation in a way that's fun and entertaining.
Swamp Kid shows DC Zoom entrusting its creators with more experimental license and it certainly makes for a fresh read in what could have been a simple retreading of well-worn tropes.