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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Comics thoughts for the week of 3/6/13

Another week, another DC-heavy reading pile. At some point, I think I'm going to have a culling of what I pull as I enjoy the characters of some of the titles I pick up but I'm finding a few of the books to be a chore to read, of which I'll elaborate on in a bit. This week I nabbed 6 DC and 2 Marvel. The main of highlight of which being the conclusion to a crossover that felt as though it would never end, but finally does in a fairly satisfying manner. Onward to this week's featured titles, as always spoilers are a go!

Swamp Thing #18
w- Scott Snyder, a- Yanick Paquette

Animal Man #18
w- Jeff Lemire, a- Steve Pugh

Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. They have alot in common. Both are highly regarded comic scribes who have inspired full generations of writers that came after them, perhaps the two biggest non-Neil Gaiman/Frank Miller names in the industry currently still working. They both are also known as practitioners of what is known as Chaos Magic, something that certainly plays a role in their more mind-bending narratives, though my conception of this is hazy at best. They're both from the UK. They're both vegetarians. And lastly, and most importantly to the subject at hand, they made their major break in comics re-envisioning two old castaway DC heroes into fully formed sagas they completely redefined the characters from the ground-up.

When they were first introduced, pre-Morrison and Moore, Animal Man and Swamp Thing were presented thus:

Swamp Thing was a typical horror-comic of the time, more or less an attempt by DC to emulate the old EC Comics' Tales from the Crypt series and meld it with the concept of the monster super-hero seen often in Marvel with characters like Beast and The Thing. Basically the gist is, a scientist's experiment in plants goes terribly awry due to meddling forced and it turns him into the plant-like Swamp Thing. Animal Man, was even less interesting, as he was more or less a C-grade super-hero that was created to take advantage of kid's interest in animals and jungle style heroics. His origin relates the tale of Buddy Baker, who discovers an alien craft whose irradiated-esque effect on Buddy gives him the power to emulate any animal he can think of. Neither tale being written all that well, Swamp Thing probably got a better start, but the character's run in House of Secrets was literally all of one issue until he received his own title a few years later.

The Eighties were a heck of a time for comics, after the Seventies tales of Denny O'Neill, Don McGregor, and Jim Starlin got the the ball rolling on more literate takes on comic heroes beyond the more "disposable kid's stuff" of the sixties, DC began to push to bring a different shade of writers on board to some of their fledgeling titles. From this effort, they recruited writers from the UK who grew up reading those aforementioned writers and more, bringing a bit of a punk-rock sneer along with them. Moore and Morrison were two of those writers. Moore being given Swamp Thing, and a few short years later Morrison taking on Animal Man. 

Just take a look at their covers to get an idea of just how much the characters tonal shift evolved under these two writers:

Under Moore and Morrison, the characters were morphed in two very different ways, both characters having their origins altered for similar yet opposing ends. Swamp Thing, rather than being a man who was turned into a plant, it turned out, was actually a plant who believed he was a man. He still carries the memories and emotions of being that man, including the love he holds for Abby Arcane, but he quickly learns his true purpose as a part of "the Green", the life force that binds all plant life. Moore utilizes the "never-was" Alec as an opportunity to explore the soul of America, fight off a nameless Cthulu like entity, and embark on the far reaches of the DC universe from outer space to what constitutes the underworld. It's quite the grand tour, with some of the most delightful purple prose you'll ever read in a comic book. On Morrison's side of things, he altered Buddy's origins, to where the aliens that granted his powers were actually universal tinkerers that granted him powers in order to allow him access to "The Template" from where he can gain his powers via a morphogenic field. Morrison also added a full family for Buddy, a wife and two children, giving the character a very blue-collar everyman vibe. By the end of the series, Animal Man had toured, instead of every fictional aspect of the DCU, the nature of writing comics itself and the relationship between creation and creator. Both were fascinating takes, though Moore's held longer and continue to inform the character whereas Morrison's was refined a bit to alter his origin via writer Jamie Delano introducing the concept of "the Red" as the origin point of Buddy's abilities, making him a bit of a Swamp Thing derivative. 

In the New 52, these origins more or less held as Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire took over the new iterations of Swamp Thing and Animal Man respectively. 

Very little changed for either take, other than Swamp Thing is again Alec Holland, now resurrected and carrying memories of the plant-man he once was in a neat bit of symmetry to the Moore run. Animal Man is essentially the same, give or take even stronger connections to the Swamp Thing title via the "Red/Green" dichotomy, and Buddy's daughter now also has abilities and is apparently the true Avatar of the Red, like how Alec is the Avatar of the Green. In general, the new series worked well, especially in their introductory arcs which both served as strong introductory tales to the characters but held a form of momentum that quickly evaporated by the end of their first year. By Issue 12, the third elemental force that opposed both the Red and the Green, the Rot, headed up by Swamp Thing's mortal enemy Anton Arcane became the sole focus as both titles became mired in the seemingly never-ending Rotworld crossover. 

The problem with the crossover was its concept, as its stakes were just far too high. In each issue Buddy and Alec would face a set of characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, The Teen Titans, etc...that had all been taken over by the Rot during its spread across the world. These possessed heroes were regularly killed by our protagonists and throughout it just causes a reader to say, "oh great, I look forward to all of this being undone" and wouldn't you know it? Last month's two-part finale in both titles introduced a time travel element allowing both characters to go back and stop the events that caused Rotworld in the first place. It's a shame that there were semi-important flashbacks throughout both books in the crossover as nothing that occurs in Rotworld proper is actually worthwhile or memorable. Luckily, this month's issues pull us back to the events just past each series number 12. 

Animal Man, which begins to boasts a series of beautiful Jae Lee covers starting this issue, sends Buddy back to stop the Rot-infested Hunters Two (?) from overtaking his daughter becoming the impetus that allows the rot to take over all animal life. There's little actual story here, Buddy defeats the Hunters and  with help from his daughter Maxine, and William Arcane is killed by his Buddy's son Cliff who dies in the encounter. Steve Pugh's art continues to work well here, though I miss Travel Foreman's work from earlier in the series. Basically it's a tale of disaster averted, though an interesting tie to Lemire's work on Justice League Dark appears causing one to wonder if perhaps Lemire's attentions will focus to tying together the books he's overseeing in DC's Dark line (JLD, Animal Man, and Constantine). 

Swamp Thing, which is Snyder's final issue on the title, is a huge step up from last month's, which bordered on down-right disaster. I have to agree with a friend of mine when he said "I don't know who wrote Swamp Thing #17, but it couldn't have been Scott Snyder". #18 is a beautiful return to form with Alec traveling back in time to save Abby from the forces of Anton Arcade. This culminates in Alec having to kill Abby in order for her to become the Avatar of the Rot and destroy Anton who had corrupted its force for ill. Much like the Animal Man battle, Swamp Thing ends in a death, this time in the form of Alec's body which is destroyed by Anton just before he in turn is defeated by Abby and banished by the Parliament of the Rot to eternal torment. Alec, who is then restored to his Moore-era plant form, has a final meeting with Abby illustrated beautifully by Yanick Paquette, the title's semi-regular artist. He is then left alone while both Abby and Alec's human bodies are left to grow moss together. Status quo restored, more or less.

I'll be interested to see where either title goes from here, if Lemire's work does indeed crossover deeper into the Vertigo-esque Dark titles it could make for interesting reading, though I'm hopeful that Animal Man starts to tell more of its own story rather than take most of its cues from another writer as it seemingly has done for almost two years. I'd like to really get a taste of what Lemire's Animal Man would look like, not Scott Snyder's idea of Lemire's Animal Man. Swamp Thing on the other hand has a brand new writer coming in by the name of Charles Soule, who part of a fairly long list of Image creators that are taking over DC titles this Spring. I'll be giving him at least one issue to keep me around, here's the cover...

Nice start.

Swamp Thing - A-
Animal Man - B-

One-sentence reviews:

Earth 2 #10: This book continues to be a struggle for me, as I quite like its plotting but can't stand its wordiness which was an issue I never faced with Starman or The Shade, perhaps the problem is me. C+

Green Lantern #18: I appreciate the fact that I can skip the rest of the crossover here and not feel like I'm missing too much, the art was also a nice touch, this was better. B

Detective Comics #18: I really dig this run, though it's got a few crossover nods that I wasn't fond of, the story with Oglivy and Zsasz is great. B+

Before Watchmen: Rorschach #4: Well, it certainly ended alright, it's written well-enough but its conclusion was the exact opposite of Dr. Manhattan's lending a sense of inessentialness to the whole proceeding. C

Avengers #7: I love when a book has a clear plan, and Hickman's is just now starting to click into place; if you had told me I'd be enjoying a book about the New Universe a few years ago, I would have laughed in your face. A

Daredevil: End of Days #6: I'm starting to find the list/reminiscence stuff a little grating but the central mystery is still compelling, that along with a nice surprise ending led to a strong read. B+

I didn't pick up Green Arrow this week, so let me know what your thoughts were if you did.
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  1. Green Arrow is still definitely an improvement over the original New 52 relaunch of it, but honestly other than looking pretty it's nothing really special. The story is on the generic side.

    Avengers was definitely my book of the week. I'm really looking forward to going back and reading all of Hickman's Avengers work in trade a few years from now and picking up on all the foreshadowing and connections he builds.

    1. I was worried that Lemire might veer into generic Ollie on the island territory. I feel like that character is better when dealing with his personal politics than faux-mysticism.

      Yeah, I'm still trying to figure out if there's a specific reading order for New Avengers and Avengers or not...I mean, I know New Avengers definitely takes place before Avengers, but is it meant to be read that way? hmmm

    2. I feel like at the moment they're separate enough that there is no reading order, but if you were to read far enough in New Avengers before starting Avengers that moment in Avengers #1 is somewhat spoiled.

      Once everything moves closer to Infinity the reading order will probably matter a bit more.

  2. re: Daredevil End of Days

    I wonder if Timmy has a larger role to play, considering the little mention about how the Daredevil costume is three sizes smaller and his initial appearance was in Bendis & Mack's first Daredevil collaboration.

    1. I'd sorta prefer the Peter Parker theory if I had to choose one. I will say though, it's a beautiful love-letter to Mack and Bendis' own work with the character's world. Poor old Brubaker got left out in the cold there :-)


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