The “Swamp Thing” relaunch, with Scott Snyder writing and Yanick Paquette illustrating, was perhaps one of the most critically awaited series of the whole DC initiative. There have been other creators on this book, but everyone wanted this one to finally succeed in following on from Alan Moore’s legendary run. It was a tall order and quite honestly one that wasn’t filled. The first two issues had some buzz in them and yet mostly felt dragged down by exposition, and they lacked that rich depth Moore packed into each month. It was a good title, sure, however the next level was yet to be achieved. It is that sort of build that makes this month even sweeter as we finally get an issue that is masterful on every level. This is the origin of evil and the true base upon which Snyder — with Paquette and fair art assists from Victor Ibanez — will build an empire.
The very first page works to set up the reader. There is a hint of intrigue for the reader to grab, a promise of something to come, and then the second page hooks you completely with just the first panel’s image. It’s a fun hook that only gets better by the end of the page. This is going to impact on the heart of the title and we don’t even know the start of it. That will come later. First, however, we switch scenes and Snyder gives us more information. This isn’t catch up, this isn’t establishing what we know as still being there, this is just something new and from here on out the rest of the issue works extremely hard to validate our attendance and massage our enjoyment. This is a comic with ideas and deadly innovative ways to express them.
The reveals at the start slowly coalesce until it’s like watching two trains speeding toward each other. Two trains on parallel tracks and the danger then becomes watching how far apart they will get before one can turn to enter the chase. As an origin story, this issue packs one hell of a punch. There’s evil afoot in this world and yet it’s also saddled with a poignant start that going to affect us no matter what happens in the future. We are invested and I’m pretty sure we are going to get our heart broken, one way or another. You might think you know a character but it is important to keep an eye on their facial expressions, even in the small moments. There might be some groans at moments of retroactive continuity at play, the insertion of hidden plot tokens previously and conveniently unseen for years, but these tropes have existed for a long time. You really should just enjoy them as Snyder expands and hopefully pays off your trust with interest.
“Swamp Thing” has most definitely returned as a horror comic. The big green knight doesn’t make an appearance here and yet his/its world is being expanded and made all the more gruesome for it. Snyder infuses gore into the foreground while a simmering dread fills the background. However, there is also success in making this terrible tale resonate as a thing of beauty. The concepts feel eternal and constant and yet their presentation is new while also paying homage to the delivery method we prefer for this book.
Paquette and Ibanez work in concert here like one is the left hand and the other the right. Their styles don’t lead to confusion or annoyance in the slightest; their pages even showcase their different strengths and make the book all the more for it. Paquette is given a gorgeous double-page spread in the middle of the book that reminds of Totleben and Bissette and yet doesn’t try to overtly ape or lean on them. Ibanez keeps his characters consistent with the world Paquette has established and yet finds ways to play with layout and background that make these panels and moments his own. Credit also needs to go to Nathan Fairbairn for delivering crisp pages that rely on color and receive them in such style. The result is a book that looks more beautiful than you expect and deserves another look through once you have been bowled over by the story.
This is the moment “Swamp Thing” lives up to the hype. This is the stepping stone from which something grand will be told. This is a comic that stands alone quite well as one piece of a very large puzzle. Snyder is finally building something here and the art, even from dual hands, keeps up with every twist and turn. Horror has never felt so good as you’ll be grossed out and yet compelled to keep on moving; you will not look away. That’s a promise.