Posts Tagged ‘ Scott Snyder ’

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-

 

First Looks At DC’s New 52: The Third Wave

Finally, here are my First Looks at the new comics I started reading from DC’s “third wave” of recent releases. These launched in September, conveniently coinciding with DC’s month of 0-numbered issues, so they could provide a simple introduction right away. In fact, the month was structured that way at least in part to help promote these new comics, which seems like a lot of effort to go to for just four new series. Despite DC’s efforts, though, the rumors I’ve heard are that some of them are pretty much dead on arrival. There will be a couple successes from the new launches, but it seems that fans are only trying the ones tied to big-name characters or events. Those early days of the New 52, in which obscure characters and ideas actually had a shot, may be over.

After writing sixteen other comic reviews this week already, this article will be mercifully short. I have only been reading two of the four new series. Unless new titles deserving a First Look appear soon, I’ll probably wait about a year after this before I check back on the DC Universe.

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Checking In With DC’s “New 52” (Part 2)

This is the conclusion to my reviews of the DC comics that started last year. Note that I’m not yet reviewing Animal Man, Swamp Thing, or Frankenstein, as I want to wait for them to finish their ongoing “Rotworld” epic.

Again, each comic title before the reviews links you back to the initial reviews I did at the six-month mark for the title.

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New DC Comics, Part 6 – The Big Three

Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are sometimes referred to as the “big three” superheroes, because they are the only ones who have had a series stretching back continuously since before 1950. The distinction is a bit misleading, since it’s often obvious that DC only keeps a Wonder Woman comic going due to that history. It’s been rebooted and renumbered frequently as they try to work out what to do with her character, while Superman and Batman have both supported two ongoing series as well as frequent others dedicated to supporting characters.

Still, the recent DC relaunch is one time where the status of these three characters is obvious. The company assigned high-profile talent to all of them. I’m reading four of the five core books for these characters (I skipped Batman’s Detective Comics, and from what I’ve heard, it’s generally considered to be awful). Here are the reviews.

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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-