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Critical Review: Swamp Thing and Animal Man

This week’s comic book review is a two for one deal. I was going to do them separately but after issue 4 of each of them it’s impossible to do that. I never read Animal Man in the past, it was always on that “Yeah maybe I’ll get around to it” list, the same with Swamp Thing. I read a few of Alan Moore’s issues but that was about it. With the New 52 I decided I should really look into them and Erik picked them up first and told me to definitely give them a shot.

Holy shit was I blown away. Swamp Thing is written by one of my new favorite writers, Scott Snyder. I could sing praises for him all day, and I just might. Jeff Lemire has writing duties on Animal Man, taking the character in a really crazy direction and showing a very human approach to the superhero genre. As I’ve mentioned before, my knowledge of the pre-New 52 DC universe is pretty incomplete, especially when dealing with these characters. My knowledge of Swamp Thing comes primarily from the movie and the cartoon when I was a kid. Hell I didn’t even know what Animal Man’s powers were until I started reading this comic. Now I’m all “Why wasn’t I reading this before?” As for Swamp Thing, he was a thing that lived in the swamp, that used to be a person named Alec Holland. He might have been a scientist? Well now I know, and knowing is half the…something.

The Green Vs The Black, more of this please.

With the preface out of the way, let’s tackle this review shall we? We’ll start with Swamp Thing. Or Thang, as the kids say these days. Alec Holland woke up in a swamp, wet and cold, but human. With memories of being a monster, the Swamp Thing, and feelings for a woman with white hair he has never met. As the story opens he has left his work as a botanist and is working at a construction site. At the same time a series of bizarre die offs has occurred across the world, birds dropping out of the sky in Metropolis, bat corpses falling all over Batman’s Batmobile and making a mess of the Batcave and fish going belly up as Aquaman looks on. This is all part of the set up and it’s handled very well, so far the recurring theme in Swamp Thing is that Alec doesn’t want to be Swamp Thing, he has his life back as a normal person and wants to keep it that way. Swamp Thing is an avatar of the Green, the essence of all plant life. Alec was not the first, nor will he be the last. It seems an avatar of the Black, the essence of death and decay has arisen and seeks to destroy all life. Sometimes it does this by making bizarre zombie things with backwards heads.

It's all just started, indeed.

Animal Man is a different story, but similar in a lot of key ways. Buddy Baker has all but quit being a superhero, but it still calls to him. He has a wife and two kids who want him to settle down and stop putting his life in danger. He still loves going out and fighting crime, tapping into the morphogenetic field and taking on animal abilities. Things get crazy when he starts having bizarre dreams involving his children in a bizarre world, his son being gutted and him and his daughter running from bizarre creatures. Without giving too much away the Black also plays into this story with an avatar of the Red chosen to defend earth’s living things.

What really stands out about these series is the writing. Both books deal with the struggles of animal and plant life, while maintaining a firm grasp on the human aspect. Alec not wanting to be Swamp Thing, his fear of the Green, is a big part of his character. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t even see him as Swamp Thing for the first ten issues. He even contemplates destroying the bio-restorative formula, his life’s work because as he had a vision of the world covered in green, and plants are the most vicious of Earth’s life. Suddenly he is thrown back into the world of Swamp Thing, called by the Parliament of Trees, his white haired dream woman appears and his life is changed once again. Maybe I just have a soft spot for reluctant heroes.

Power of the horned lizard? No? Oh...that's not good.

Animal Man’s storyline is a bit more family oriented and I really don’t want to ruin anything, it’s that good. Go read the damn books. Jeff Lemire is doing a great job with the writing and the only thing that throws me off about the book is the art. It’s not bad, but compared to 90% of the other DC titles it’s not as spectacular. Foreman’s art style just isn’t my thing, it’s a little too loose, and the coloring is really flat. There are some really surreal scenes that take place inside of the Red that the style really works so I’m not knocking it, entirely. Actually, the surreal stuff is what really made me sit up and take notice. The travel into the world of the Red, where Buddy meets the former Avatars is really, truly bizarre and amazing.

If you’re into psychedelic and more thought provoking books, or just want to get away from the standard superhero fare for a moment, Swamp Thing and Animal Man are books for you. These books really are unlike any others in the DCU and really stand on their own while complimenting each other’s story. Yes, you could just read Swamp Thing or just Animal Man, I wouldn’t though. Pick up both, I can’t recommend them enough.