I’m writing my critique for Swamp Thing and Animal Man #8 together because they’re two parts of one story. Both heroes are finally facing the power of The Rot. Both heroes are driven by love, one of a woman who is part of a greater memory and one for his family. Both stories are solid reads. Swamp Thing remains much more a straight forward comic book than Animal Man and, once more, both books remain some of the best work coming out of DC.
Swamp Thing #8 is more a reveal issue than Animal Man. It moves between The Rot preparing for the coming of the Swamp Thing and Alec Holland accepting his rebirth as the vessel of the green. Writer Scott Snyder was up against the wall here, he needed to have Swamp Thing still be an elemental, still be that stoic creature that Alan Moore had perfected. At the same time, this is not a spiritual essence that vaguely had to do with Holland, this is the man reborn by his own hand. Snyder makes this Swamp Thing a warrior, brutal and focused. When he confronts The Rot, there is no doubt he will slaughter their demon hordes to try and save the woman he cares so deeply for. There are those who will have issue with the updated look of the Swamp Thing. To me, the updates work. They make him look harsher, meaner – a true spirit of a world Alec Holland has accepted as exceptionally brutal.
On the flipside, Animal Man #8 is a darker book, one that bathes itself in a thick weirdness bath. Buddy Baker is facing down The Rot to save his family. His youngest daughter Maxine has been exposed as the most powerful vessel of a force called The Red. If The Green is the power of all plant life, The Red is the power of all living things of flesh and blood. The Rot wants Maxine dead and that has brought the entire Baker family under fire. Issue #8 opens with a child’s brutal murder. Yep, you read that right, a child’s murder. The Rot have tracked the Baker’s to a Winnebago and they want blood. Buddy is about to step out and throw down when Maxine jumps in front of him saying she can make the “bad animals stop”. Instead, she’s ripped apart. Seeing this, Buddy snaps and proceeds to rip apart each animal demon with a fire we’ve not seen in a long time.
Back to Swamp Thing. Writing the inner monologue of a man who has been turned into a giant green monster isn’t easy. The line between introspection and silliness is a fine one here and Snyder manages to write it with true elegance. You feel for Alec Holland, you know his decision was right and that his power has become unstoppable, but he’s no longer a man, the normal life he wanted so badly is gone forever. The writing never spills into self-doubt or pity, so when Swamp Thing finally confronts The Rot, it’s a the arrival of a warrior, not an emo kid covered in plants. The battle between The Rot and Swamp Thing is awesome and even with a telegraphed ending, the issue works.
In Animal Man’s world, the Bakers have stepped out to mourn over the shredded carcass of their daughter. Here’s where we get into a weird area. Turns out Maxine isn’t dead. Nope, she just lifted her spirit out of her old body, put it inside a wolf and then physically evolved the wolf into a spitting image of her old self. The Baker family actually catches her in mid-transformation, which is really grim. Having a dead daughter reborn from the body of a wolf pushes the whole family right over the edge. Grandma has meltdown and Buddy’s wife comes unglued. It’s a real emotional mess. As much as he wants to tend to his family’s crisis, Buddy has to go face down the bulk of The Rot and try to find the Swamp Thing and protect his daughter.
Here’s where writer Jeff Lemire really shines. In the middle of all this weirdness, he gives Buddy a monologue about his family and the effect this has all had on them. It speaks to Animal Man’s past and sets up what could be a dark future. Lemire even deftly addresses the difference between the old Animal Man and this new version. The end of Animal Man #8 is dark, very dark, and again leaves you curious as to what Lemire is going to do next. The writing for the eighth issue of Swamp Thing and Animal Man is pretty equal. One is more bizarre than the other, but both Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire nail the emotional power of their stories as well as giving us some brutal action.
The art is really where the difference comes in. Swamp Thing’s Yanick Paquette is on FIRE here. The layouts are brilliant, each page a knockout of what can be done with panel placement. The pencils themselves are meticulously handled. The rich detail helps bring Snyder’s story to another level. Paquette has a vivid imagination and in Swamp Thing #8 is runs wild. There is not one page that isn’t a masterpiece.
Animal Man is a slightly different beast (pun alert). When the series started artist Travel Foreman was unstoppable. His work was some of the most amazing I’d seen in all of 2011. At some point, for some reason, Foreman decided he wasn’t going to pencil Animal Man anymore, and his laziness shows. Foreman only pencils the first five pages, new artist Steve Pugh does the rest. Foreman’s work is lazy, lacking any of the dynamics and eye popping nature of his earlier stuff. It just lays on the page with no life to it. Pugh’s work is okay, but he’s trying to mimic Foreman’s style and just can’t. Except for Foreman’s cover, which is brilliant, the art for Animal Man #8 is sloppy and uninteresting. Something that hurts the impact of the entire book.
SWAMP THING #8
(4 Story, 5 Art)
ANIMAL MAN #8
(5 Story, 2 Art)