New DC Comics, Part 4 – Animal Man and Swamp Thing

cover to Swamp Thing #1

Swamp Thing

cover to Animal Man #1

Animal Man

Two of the most intriguing titles of the DC relaunch have been reinterpretations of classic Vertigo characters: Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Not only are the interesting on their own, but they are setting the stage for a shared story: While one hero is the avatar of The Green (or plant life), and the other is in touch with The Red (animal life), they are both at odds with the death-forces of “The Rot”.

One noteworthy thing about these series is how eager they seem to be to distance themselves from the old stories. In direct opposition to the classic Alan Moore status quo, this Swamp Thing starts with Alec Holland as a human, horrified by his memories of being the avatar of The Green. The first time he meets his old love Abby, she points a gun at him. Animal Man, meanwhile, undoes Buddy Baker’s alien-based origin story to make The Red into an elemental force like The Green. However, both still have a lot of obvious love for the classic stories, and there’s arguably nothing more that can be done with the characters without going back to basics here. Both titles have a history of author-mandated changes, anyway: The alterations being made to Swamp Thing now mirror the ones that Moore made when he began his stories, and the classic Animal Man run was a metatextual commentary on how the author can mold the character as desired. So really, I’m happy to judge these by their story quality.

That quality is very good. Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man had the best opening issue of any new DC title, managing to establish characters, explain the backstory (without boring readers who already knew it), and lead to the creepy shock that kickstarts this conflict with The Rot. Buddy Baker’s status as a family man is as important to the story as his powers, and the plot has combined those aspects in a way that brings out Animal Man’s strengths. Swamp Thing, meanwhile, is handled by hot new horror writer Scott Snyder, and he mixes in some tense pacing and genuinely disturbing moments with the introductions of the opening issues. A common theme is that the plant world is much more violent and destructive than we give it credit for, but it’s still easy to root for them against some evil agents of The Rot.

The art quality definitely separates the two of them, though. Swamp Thing has lush, beautiful art from Yanick Paquette. Expressive and often featuring creative page compositions, it is appropriate to both the human characters and the plant-based scenes. Animal Man, on the other hand, has sparse, dry artwork by Travel Foreman. The “everyday” scenes are bare and flat to the point of boredom, and sometimes the shapes of the people just feel unnatural. The weirder scenes, as Buddy goes into The Red or the evil “Hunters Three” shift bodies, are mixed. Sometimes they are appropriately strange and visceral, capturing the wet, meaty essence of animal spirits. Other times, though, those images seem incomplete and slightly off.

Animal Man is still worth reading on its own, and the connection to the excellent Swamp Thing makes it an obvious choice. I’ve found Foreman’s art to be more frustrating as the series goes on, but he is soon being replaced. Meanwhile, issues like #6 are a reminder that Lemire has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Composed mostly of a scene from a movie that the hero starred in, it develops the series’ themes of family and responsibility from a different angle, while providing a respite from the impending doom of the main story. Swamp Thing, on the other hand, lets the doom build remorselessly, but it’s appropriate to the horror legacy of the character. These first six issues have featured a slightly standard introduction to the tale of a reluctant hero, but the scope and power of the threat have been shocking enough to make it feel new.

If you’re only going to read one of these series, it should be Swamp Thing. (In fact, if you’re choosing only one DC series to read at all, Swamp Thing would be a top contender.) Animal Man, though, is a very original twist to the standard superhero stories, and it seems that the connection between the two comics will strengthen them both.

Grades, based on issues #1-6:

Animal Man: B-

Swamp Thing: A-


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