Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Swamp Thing Annual #1

Swamp Thing Annual #1

Writers: Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Artist: Becky Cloonan
DC Comics

This issue was a breath of fresh air.  I haven't exactly been silent on my feelings regarding the overall direction of Swamp Thing and Animal Man since the New 52 began.   Initially, I loved that both of these books were essentially superhero horror stories, and I really enjoyed the interconnectedness between the two titles.  However, as the months settled, these books started to feel stagnant, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they've essentially been facing the same mutual antagonist since day one: The Rot.  This lead into the Rotworld crossover, which I was initially excited for, but the delay brought on by Zero Month has made this crossover seem like its stalling.  These titles are just barely keeping me interested, especially as this crossover is scheduled to drag on into February 2013.  And in comes this issue, with guest co-writer Scott Tuft and art by the always wonderful Becky Cloonan.

Full disclosure: Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's miniseries Demo was one of the first graphic novels I ever bought.  I have been fan of Becky's art ever since, so my capacity to judge her art objectively is somewhat blinded by the fact that I am an unabashed fan.

Along those same lines, Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft's 2011 collaboration, Severed, was one of my favorite comics of last year, so as soon as I heard that Tuft co-writing this issue, I started getting chills.

So it pains me to say that this issue is a bit of a mixed bag.

Most of this issue takes place outside of the main story of the Rotworld crossover, and this is where the issue really shines.  The introduction and conclusion of the story are pencilled by Andrew Belanger and take place within the Rotworld story, although not exactly from where Issue #13 left off, and well, it just serves to remind me of how tired I am of the whole storyline involving The Rot.  Once we're past that intro, and the story focuses on Alec Holland and Abby Arcane's first meeting, the issue really starts to take off and reminds me of why I love these characters.

It's difficult to describe the tone and atmosphere of this issue.  I'd say it's a cross between a romance comic and an EC horror book.  Most of the issue just focuses on Abby and Alec's first date, and it's exactly as charming and sweet as you'd think a story about star-crossed lovers drawn by Becky Cloonan would be...and then Anton Arcane is shown skinning a hanged man so he can wear his body like a meat-suit.

Wow, that got dark quickly.

Despite the abrupt shift in tone and genre however, the story and the art just work.  This is the best art I've seen in Swamp Thing, actually, any DC Comic, since Yanick Paquette left as the full-time artist on this book.  It's a real shame she isn't staying on this book longer, which is the same I'd say for Scott Tuft as co-writer.  Clearly, he and Snyder share the same horror sensibilities.  Though much of this issue is really light-hearted and romantic, this issue gets downright scary, much more than in any previous issue of Swamp Thing.

If Scott Snyder can leave The Rot storyline behind and bring Tuft on as a co-writer full time, it might be enough to keep me interested.  Anton Arcane has turned out to be a genuinely frightening threat, but crossover fatigue is keeping me from being excited about this book any more.  I know it sounds like backhanded praise, but if you've been feeling like I have about Swamp Thing, I'd recommend you pick this issue up. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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