Rotworld and its Build-Up (Comic Review)

cover to Swamp Thing #7

Swamp Thing

When I last looked at DC’s current Swamp Thing and Animal Man series, I found them to be fascinating character reboots, with a shared battle against “The Rot” making them even more compelling. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. didn’t impress me as much, but it had potential. It since joined these other two titles for the “Rotworld” event, under the theory that the unliving Frankenstein is one of the few creatures immune to the death and decay wielded by the enemy.

All series continued, if not improved upon, the high level of talent shown in the first few months, but “Rotworld” itself was disappointing. After a lot of fun character-building and horrific moments, the heroes suddenly found themselves in a future where The Rot had already won. It quickly fell into the pattern of alternate universe stories that are all too common in superhero comics: In a world that doesn’t have to last, lots of major characters can be killed off, minor ones can rise to prominence, villains can switch sides, and so on. These stories are fun the first few times you see them, but it doesn’t take long before they feel repetitive, and there’s never any question that everything will be undone by the end. The theme of plant- and animal-themed powers fighting against death did allow for more cool ideas than these events usually have, but on the other hand, the powers of The Rot meant that it was mainly just pictures of grotesque, corrupted heroes killing each other. After a year of exciting build-up, “Rotworld” went on for a couple months too long to stay interesting.

cover to Animal Man #17

Animal Man

It’s a shame, because Animal Man had been getting much better up to that point. The main problem with the first several issues was Travel Foreman’s art, which kept pulling me out of the story. The excellent Steve Pugh stepped in, though, and he improved it immensely: Deeper colors, less drastic differences in shading, and slightly more dynamic framing managed to make the art great without ever feeling like a break in continuity from Foreman’s style. Jeff Lemire’s writing stayed consistent throughout, but it sure seemed a lot better once the art wasn’t distracting me. Before Rotworld began, I’d reached a point where I was enjoying Animal Man a lot more than Swamp Thing every month.

Swamp Thing stayed good, too, but was less surprising than Animal Man once the new status quo was explained. As I noted in my second look at Batman, Scott Snyder’s writing skills lie in making formulaic stories interesting, rather than cutting new ground. So the middle act, about darkness rising, felt a little more like a straightforward than Animal Man’s family drama, though it never stopped being enjoyable. And my only real complaint is that Yanick Paquette remained unable to keep up with a monthly schedule.

However, Swamp Thing ended strongly. Issue #18 had been planned as the conclusion to Snyder and Paquette’s run, and while I’m sad to see them go, they did tell a good story. It’s rare to see in comics, but the conclusion felt like the logical outcome of everything that had happened so far. This is especially good to see after an alternate-world event, since usually those just result in one or two arbitrary changes, usually tragedies to make the event feel “serious”. Animal Man fell into that trap, but Swamp Thing came out feeling like a classic. Issue #18 is beautiful, satisfying, and makes me feel invested in the new status quo even though I had previously been unsure about following the new creators.

cover to Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #11

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. was an unexpected addition to the event. The early issues didn’t have anything to do with the battle against The Rot, but Jeff Lemire was writing both this and Animal Man. However, this crossed over with his big storyline after he handed writing duties over to Matt Kindt! Kindt was a great choice for this, though. I had been disappointed by Lemire’s story, and thought that it was trying too hard to be a weird Hellboy-type title without any actual spark. Just as Pugh was able to make Animal Man reach its potential with subtle changes, though, Kindt worked magic here. In his hand, the weird world felt like more of a backdrop, and the focus shifted to Frankenstein’s own longing for peace and purpose. The series never sold well, and it ended with issue #16. Over the course of a few months, I went from getting bored with this title to being sad to see it end.

I seem to have written mainly negative comic reviews so far this year, so I’m happy to say that all of these inter-related titles are worth reading. (And, with only a couple exceptions, they managed to keep themselves understandable even if you only weren’t reading them all.) The half-year spent in “Rotworld” definitely drags them down, and I can’t recommend them as highly as I would have at their peak. But Swamp Thing created a new classic story for the character. Animal Man fared much more poorly in the crossover, but it’s difficult to compare a still-ongoing series to a complete one. It did show that the team of Lemire and Pugh can do great things, and I’m actually more excited about its potential than I was in the early days. Finally, Frankenstein may have been cancelled, but it turned itself into something to mourn just in time.

Swamp Thing (based on issues #7-18, 0, and an Annual): B+

Animal Man (based on issues #7-18, 0, and an Annual): B-

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (based on issues #6-16 and 0): B-

 
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