Published on June 3rd, 2015 | by Swamp Thing0
Convergence: Swamp Thing – A Review
Swamp Thing Returns To His Roots.
So, following on from my piece on the demise of Swamp Thing’s New 52 title, and as an appendix to our Brad’s excellent Convergence Recap article, here’s a brief review of Swampy’s part in DC’s Convergence event. As Brad has done a fine job of it already, I’m not going to cover the complete whys and wherefores of Convergence and limit myself to the Swamp Thing 2 part mini. Perhaps one of the most intriguing and anticipated aspects of Convergence is the reuniting of some of DC’s beloved characters with some of DC’s beloved old-guard contributors. In the case of Swamp Thing, it’s the return of his co-creator Len Wein as writer for the 2 part mini. So what did the creator have in store for his creation?
Issue #1: It’s Not Easy Being Green.
As perhaps one would expect, a significant part of Convergence: Swamp Thing #1 is a retelling of Swamp Thing’s origin story, his discovery that he’s not Alec Holland, and his discovery of his place within The Green. Hardly new territory for Wein (though much of the story he’s retelling was Alan Moore’s contribution to the Swamp Thing mythos). There’s also a quick recap of Swampy’s relationship with Abigail Cable (nee Arcane). It’s at this point that the story turns down an unfamiliar path, following the new continuity of Convergence. The skies of Earth have inexplicably turned red (not so inexplicable for the students of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths), and Abby and Swamp Thing head for Gotham City in search of Batman, Swampy having all but ignored Abby’s suggestion they head for Metropolis and find ‘big blue’. For reasons he cannot explain, he feels compelled to go to Gotham. City. Handy, because had they not been there when Telos encloses Gotham in a dome then they might have missed the fun of Convergence altogether. The presence of the dome breaks Swampy’s connection to The Green and he begins to wither. With Abby scrounging up plant food and bags of fertilizer to keep Swamp Thing alive, Telos pipes up and explains the dastardly plan in which cities from throughout the Multiverse have to provide champions to fight to the death for the survival of their city. With the cat out of the bag, everybody else gets to come out from under the dome. With the dome dissolved, Swamp Thing’s connection to The Green is restored, just in time for he and Abby to be enveloped in some form of ‘quicksilver’ and transported to an alternative Gotham to face a hoard of bloodthirsty man-bat vampire types. Fade to black.
Plot aside (and there’s really not much of it in this issue), Wein’s writing is as solid and precise as ever. He always was economical with his narrative, and that suits Swamp Thing. Wein, and Swampy’s co-creator Bernie Wrightson, have always rooted (sorry) their work in Gothic horror, and with Convergence we get a healthy dose of it. Whilst Wein’s illustrator this time around, Kelley Jones, is no Bernie Wrightson, we get panel after panel that are pure homage to Wrightson’s style. Swamp Thing is solid and muscular in a way that he hasn’t been since Wrightson left the title way back in the 70s. We also get flashes of other Swampy illustrators, with the likes of Veitch, Bissette and Totleben being echoed in Jones’ work. I can’t believe these echoes are anything but deliberate, and they provide an additional frisson of nostalgia , especially for those of us who were reading Swamp Thing back when those guys were drawing him the first time around. Not everyone appreciates Kelley Jones’ style, but I like his take on Swamp Thing. I’m not so keen on some of his other facial or physique work. His female faces in particular are not to my taste, so it’s not so good that apart from Swampy the main characters in this issue are women. As well as Abby we have brief cameos from Batgirl and Poison Ivy, and my feeling is that Jones does neither of them any favours.
Overall it’s an issue that has much to commend it, but I was still left with a feeling of disappointment. There is a lot here that’s nearly excellent. It’s great to see Len Wein back, but a lot of time is given over to rehashing old material, and when you find out your favourite band is about to release their first album in years you hope for more than a greatest hits compilation. The last page holds more promise for what’s coming from Wein in the second issue when there’s no need for so much exposition. As for the art, personally I can live with the parts of Jones’ work I don’t like as long as Swamp Thing keeps looking this good. There’s also no denying that his portrayal of Swampy’s decline as he withers under the dome is skillfully executed. For that reason alone I will reserve final judgement on Mr. Jones until after I’ve seen issue #2.
And so, on to…
Issue #2: The Night Has A Thousand Eyes!
*Spoiler alert – pretty much everything that follows is a dead giveaway*
After a few short panels of issue #1 recap , we’re right into it in issue #2. If anybody had been in doubt about which Gotham it is that Swampy and Abby have ended up in, they’re put to rest by the arrival of Earth-43’s Batman, who helps Swamp Thing defeat the winged vampire hoard. Apparently Telos wants Swamp Thing and Red Rain’s Vampire Batman to fight to the death for the survival of the Gotham City of their respective Earths. But vampire or no, Batman is still trying to be a hero and comes to an agreement with Swamp Thing to try and rid this Gotham of as many vampires as possible (and killing vampires is something that Swamp Things do best). Swampy’s ability to commune with The Green (or Earth-43’s less hospitable version of it) allows him to track down the Queen vampire, and whilst Swamp Thing deals with the vampire army (by using a Swamp Thing anti-vampire garlic spray, in best Batman utility belt fashion), Batman takes down the Queen. With the Queen gone, all the vampires in Gotham become human again. All except Batman. He was sired by Dracula, so ‘the normal rules don’t apply’. He chooses to make the ultimate sacrifice (if that’s possible when you’re already dead), and he and Swamp Thing stand to watch the dawn as the sun rises over Gotham for the first time in a year. With Batman gone, the battle is over. Telos has his victor. Swamp Thing’s Gotham is saved and he and Abby are transported back there. We’re given a hint that all is not well in the form of a minor earthquake just after they get back, then they head for the city…
Issue #1 had hinted at the Gothic horror roots that Len Wein was taking Swamp Thing back to, and with issue #2 he delivers them in spades. The look and feel of The Night has A Thousand Eyes! transports us back to the Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing of the early 70s, and as with issue #1, Kelley Jones would appear to be making very deliberate nods in the direction of the earlier artwork. Indeed, some panels could have been lifted directly from Swamp Thing vs Vampires (and a few that could pass as Swamp Thing vs UnMen) from any number of issues from the 70s and 80s. Lengthy battles against horrific foes are Wein’s, and Swampy’s, forte. The protracted battle also plays to Kelley Jones’ strengths, as he clearly does better with monsters than with people. Batman in particular is well executed, as are the vampire deaths. Again, though, I found his work on Abby to be inconsistent (if a slight improvement on issue #1), and across the two issues you’d be hard pushed to find two panels where she’s facially identifiable as the same person.
Rounding off the creative team for both issues are colourist Michelle Madsen and letterer Rob Leigh. I’m afraid I’m not one who can really gauge the quality of the letterer. There are letters. They are legible. As far as I can tell they’re all in the right order. Colourists I’m more fussy about. Madsen’s work is bold and for the most part green. In some places I would have preferred a little more subtlety as so much primary colour can be just too ‘in your face’ on a double page spread, but it does have a slightly ‘retro’ feel to it, and that’s in keeping with the Wrightson-esque tone of both issues.
As well as the return of Len Wein to Swamp Thing for this Convergence event, there’s also a rather more covert return by another pair of names from Swampy’s illustrious (i think that might be a joke) past. The variant covers for both issues are officially by Chip Kidd ‘with Steve Bissette and John Totleben’. As far as i can tell, Kidd has taken a classic Bissette/Totleben Swamp Thing portrait and sprayed yellow paint over it. Now don’t get me started on variant covers, that’s an hour-long tirade waiting to happen (and at some point in the hour the phrases ‘grubby commercialism’ and ‘exploitative corporate greed’ are likely to make an appearance), but when it comes to one of the variant covers for Convergence #1 I’ll happily push those heartfelt principles to one side because it’s by Brian Bolland and has cool Swamp Thing and Plastic Man art.
That’s a Wrap.
And so to my conclusions for Convergence: Swamp Thing. A lot of people have said previously, me included, that Convergence was designed to keep things ticking over at DC whilst they relocated their offices. In part, these two Swamp Thing issues support that viewpoint. We spend a lot of time in the first issue walking a well-trodden path, and a significant amount of the second issue is given over Swampy’s support of Batman’s battle against the vampire Queen. The art is solid without being exceptional and there are times when it feels like speed was more important than substance with both the pencil work and the colouring. If all of that sounds negative, it is. But here’s the rub: Swamp Thing Convergence manages to be more than the sum of its parts. The return of Len Wein, the Wrightson-esque style of the artwork (and the nods to other Swampy artists), the lengthy battle against vampires, the dialogue between Swampy and Abby; all of it is comic nostalgia that synchronizes perfectly with the purpose of these Convergence tie-ins. Convergence is about nostalgia. It’s about DC’s history and the characters, and the readers, who’ve come along with them for the ride.
Convergence: Swamp Thing is far from perfect, and for those who weren’t there the first time around the nostalgia trip will be a less exciting ride than for us elders of geekdom, but for all of its flaws I find myself having no choice but to love it.