The Vanier Report: Week 8
Swamp Thing #40
Written by: Charles Soule
Pencils by: Jesus Saiz
Inks by: Jesus Saiz and Javi Pina
Colours by: June Chung
Letters by: Travis Lenham
From the beginning of the arc, “The Machine Queen” has been about legacy. Initially, it was about the legacy of the Kingdoms of Earth; the birth of each Kingdom led to war as it tried to subjugate the ones that came before it, eventually submitting and striking a balance (albeit grudgingly) between them. The same was true of the Machine Kingdom, whose initial attempt to destroy the Green was unsuccessful.
The arc then became about the legacy of Alec Holland – the choices he made against Lady Weeds, Anton Arcane, the Mycos, and even the Parliament of Trees came back to haunt him as all the hatred and vengeance born of those choices bore down on him from all sides. Attacked by the Rot, the Mycos, and the Rithm all at once, and even faced with the monstrous spectre of his own reanimated corpse, Alec Holland was forced to confront his own legacy: one in which his choices could be considered rash, short-sighted, and even ill-advised.
In Swamp Thing #40, the arc – and indeed the title – comes to a fitting conclusion as the final, climactic phase of the story embraces the legacy of the Swamp Thing, including the entire history of the Green and every Avatar to have served the Parliament of Trees. Jesus Saiz’ art is at its best in this issue, giving life to a whole host of previous Avatars released from deep within Alec Holland to fight his impossible war. The massive scale of the battlefields – the Gobi desert, the skies over Philadelphia, and even the Green itself – elevates what has already proven to be an operatic piece of storytelling. This is a war of gods; a pitched battle between elemental forces in the same tradition of thousands of years of human mythology, and Saiz’ art – in conjunction with the gorgeous and haunting colours of June Chung – marks an invaluable contribution to the experience of this story.
Which is precisely the point. You see, not only is Swamp Thing #40 about the legacy of the Swamp Thing, it’s also about the legacy of the title and of storytelling itself.
Charles Soule’s script is steeped in metatextual layering. The primary narration of the book is an unfamiliar voice, written in a scripted font on a paper background by letterer Travis Lenham. It describes the action of the book while also offering commentary on the structure of the story itself: rising action and climax all leading to an as-of-yet unwritten ending.
This metatext comes to a head in the middle act of the book, where through the pages of a book Swamp Thing inadvertently enters a Kingdom whose existence has gone unknown. Though unnamed in the book, I have started referring to this realm as the Idea Kingdom – the collective sentience of all thought, idea, and creativity. It is revealed that the Avatar of the Idea Kingdom is our mysterious narrator (solving the mystery of Lenham’s unconventional lettering), who has been watching Alec Holland in the course of his battles. The Idea Avatar offers Holland that opportunity to remain within the Idea Kingdom – to never die and to explore the very nature of his own narrative.
Swamp Thing obviously refuses and returns to finish what he started, but the encounter with the Idea Kingdom is, I believe, central to the finale of this arc and this series.
Swamp Thing #40 is the final issue in the New 52 run of the title and, as is custom with finales, the issue must both tie up the current arc and reflect back on the run in its entirety. What Soule does differently here is explore the added layer of the real-world legacy of Swamp Thing: the writers and stories and perspectives that have built and torn down and shifted the character over its roughly 40 year history. Blue Swamp Thing, the Seeder, and even Alex Olsen appear in this issue, as Holland summons the full might and history of the Green and the Swamp Thing mantle to his cause.
The Idea Kingdom, in this way, feels a little bit like the metatextual creative space proposed by Grant Morrison’s run of Animal Man (another character connected to the web of natural Kingdoms). There’s even a not-so-subtle nod to Alan Moore among the occupants of the Idea Kingdom. Where the lovely musings on the nature of story fall down is in the rather rushed ending. Thanks to some hurried narration and some demon-ex-machina, the epic scale of the war which had been built throughout the past several issues came to a sudden, crashing conclusion which, though narratively satisfying, left me feeling a little cheated. “…you might want to hurry…you don’t have very many pages left,” warned the Idea Avatar, and I can’t help but feel that he spoke with Soule’s voice, having to wrap up a magnificent run possibly earlier than expected in order to accommodate his transition to being a Marvel-exclusive writer.
As with any issue, there are shortfalls. But even the most major of those fails to diminish from what I can only describe as a deeply experiential final issue. I would be lying if I said I intellectualized all of the narrative and metatextual depths Soule is plumbing, but in the most visceral way possible I still get it. It’s knowledge and understanding in the form of feeling, evoking the magic realism of the issue, the run, and the legacy of the character hauntingly echoed in the final panel of the comic: Swamp Thing serenely reading Gabriel Garcia-Márquez’ masterpiece, 100 Years of Solitude.
So though the war is won and the series has reached its conclusion, Swamp Thing’s story is far from over.
Feature Written By: Reid Vanier
“Reid is a comic book fan masquerading as a theatre artist. His love of comics (specifically DC) was inherited by his father’s collections of Flash, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Justice League of America. Reid is now the Editor and Lead Writer of Modern Mythologies.”