"Swamp Thing: Volume 1 – Raise Them Bones" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by DC Comics
Originally published as Swamp Thing #1 - #7
Written by Scott Snyder
Illustrated by Yanick Paquette
2011, 168 Pages
Trade paperback released on August 28th, 2012
Swamp Thing always struck me as a weird character. On the surface, he seems like the Aquaman for plants, which sounds even lamer than regular Aquaman. Apparently that's not the case, though. Alan Moore took Swamp Thing and wrote some crazy stories with him back in the 1980s, then the character hung out in DC's Vertigo line until fairly recently when the publisher folded those books into the overall DC Universe. With the reboot of their titles in the “New 52,” Swamp Thing was amongst the heroes that received their own ongoing title. Scott Snyder (Severed, American Vampire, Batman) took a crack at bringing the plant guy to the modern age.
The comic starts out with Doctor Alec Holland running away from his destiny. Lately, he's been having some trouble keeping his thoughts straight, and there are memories in his head that are not his own. It turns out that he died before he could become the Swamp Thing, and the Parliament of Trees used their powers to clone him the best they could. He is meant to be a great warrior in a coming battle between the Green and the Rot. If this sounds a little familiar, you're right. DC kept this a little quiet at first, but Swamp Thing and Animal Man are intertwined in a really cool way.
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So Swamp Thing is tied to the Green, which represents all plant life on the planet. Animal Man is linked to the Red, which works along the same lines but for all animal life. Then there's the Rot, which is basically anti-life. It wants nothing more than to destroy everything. The three of them live in a rough balance, keeping each other in check, but the Rot is starting to make some moves to take over, and neither the Green nor the Red are ready for such a battle.
Much of this first volume, entitled Raise Them Bones, deals with Alec's uncertainty when faced with his fate of becoming Swamp Thing and thus losing his humanity. What steals the show is a young boy named William. Just as Alec is destined to be a conduit of the Green, William, a lad allergic to chlorophyll, is meant to be a warrior for the Rot. He taps into his powers as he makes his way to the deserts in the western United States to control dead flesh to horrific levels. He causes tumors to grow at an exponential rate and burst through the skin. Smoke a few cigarettes in your youth? Now you've got lung cancer and it's exploding out of your chest. All that's before he finds a pet cemetery.
As terrifying as William is, the agents of the Rot are even creepier. They infect people by turning into small flies and getting into their brains. Then they take over and force the person to break their own neck. The result is dozens of shuffling corpses with their heads facing backward, often with unsettling grins across their faces. These are way more scary than zombies. It's like a middle ground between your regular old zombie and the lunatics in Crossed.
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All of this is brought to life by artist Yanick Paquette. William's death powers? That's him. The infected humans? All Paquette. There's also some terrific art direction throughout the book, with panels broken up in really cool ways. There will be a large, shocking image taking up most of the page, with some jagged panels breaking up the lower third of it, providing details of some aspects of the shot. It's an excellent framing device. The separations between panels also changes based on the tone of the story. In violent scenes, the separations are rough and often bloody, while moments earlier they're clean cut and organized. It's a subtle move but it has an effect on the mood.
The design of the Parliament of Trees, the retired Swamp Things, is also pretty cool. Paquette gave them all a unique look, showing how the Green has affected different people over the years. They're ancient and appear more tree than human. There's also a really crazy dinosaur version in a flashback as they explain that they used whichever creatures that currently inhabited the world to do their bidding. Seeing a Swamp Thing version of a T-Rex take on a Rot-covered, decomposing dinosaur is badass.
This version of Swamp Thing sets the stage for some pretty epic battles. This isn't something that the Justice League can come in and mop up in an afternoon. It's a world-ending force that only Alec Holland and Animal Man can hope to stop. They just haven't met each other yet. I also didn't think I'd be this creeped out reading a comic that Superman appears in. Between this and Animal Man, DC has built a nice little horror line that flies under the radar when compared to some of their bigger name titles.