Scott Snyder likes the long game. It’s as clear as day with this over-sized annual #1 of the New52 Swamp Thing. For those who like to follow my witty repartee, know all too well that I love the long game. I also happen to love Scott Snyder’s work. Which is why, I am so terribly shocked to have to say this. Swamp Thing Annual 1 is a predictable, schlocky, melodramatic waste of ink and paper. Worse than that? It’s overpriced. Nothing gets the piss and vinegar a flowin’ in this dude like wasting cash. Buckle up kiddos, this is is gonna be a swampy ride.
For those not following along with the mean green machine, Snyder’s set-up is crystal clear: the world of animals, plants, and death need to be in balance. Every so often one of the three gets a little antsy. Then there’s a war. Well, this time around, big surprise, Death (“The Rot”) wants to lay claim to our dirt bowl of a planet. Hence the need for a Swamp Thing book. Specifically, the annual devolves into a “lost tale” of how Alec Holland and Abby Arcane were once star-crossed lovers. After a year’s worth of them reiterating how much they love one another, here is a lesson in futility.
Let me get one major gripe outta the way before we go any further. Snyder frames this ‘hidden tale’ (the 427th story the parliament of trees felt the need to hide from Alec Holland, mind you) by spoiling Swampy’s metamorphosis for the next issue on the very first page. Even better? The editors acknowledge the gaff with a cautionary caption box. So, either you’ll get to just “accept” what’s going on, before the book takes off into the main presentation… or you’ll put the book down and move forward with issue 14 when it comes out. And given how lame the actual content is in this annual? You might as well skip it all together. But I digress. Let’s peel some more pedals from this dying tulip.
Framing gaff aside, the story of Alec and Abby’s first encounter has all the depth, weight, and panache of a romantic comedy from 1996. Even more hilarious? Holland seems in on the joke! After being escorted to a creepy castle from an unforeseen benefactor by a creepy man-servent, Swampy-to-be jokes that he’s seen this movie before. Now, when he drops his little cheeky line, I smirked. I then double checked that Snyder’s name was on the front cover. I figured with the tropes all moved past so quickly, we’d get to the twist / originality / depth that Snyder is so adept as using. It never comes. Instead, we must change gears from ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ to ‘She’s All That’, and suffer through the plodding beats; ‘boy meets girl’ , ‘witty banter’, ‘a stolen kiss’, and ‘obvious foreshadowing’ leading to the eventual ‘fight between a disembodied Swamp Thing and Intelligent Zombie King’.
Artistically speaking, we take yet-another turn for the amazing-let-down. Taking up the dirt-laden pencils this time around is Becky Cloonan. Fresh off her fill-in issue of Batman, her anime-inspired forms merely inspired me to shuffle through the book as quickly as possible. Don’t get me wrong… I love me some big-eyed dudes and dudettes in the right context. But in a series that has been built on realism, gore, and layered presentation, Cloonan is understandably out of her league—but trying damned hard to hide it. Cloonen tries to lay a layer of visual glop to her decidedly simple style, in an attempt to match series regular Yanick Paquette, but it reads as being entirely forced. While I find her faces to be a bit too young and ‘permanently surprised’, I’ll be nice enough: she gets an A for effort. Given the source material requiring a lot of walking, talking, and hand-holding… she stages her pages well enough. They are sparse, but are colored well (nod to Tona Avina). The book, if you don’t pay enough attention, is actually pretty. But the maggots are in the details.
The problem is two-fold. Simply put, we’ve been here before, and this bloated book gives us nothing new. Worse though is that this follows a strong issue 13, and another “lost chapter” from the recent ‘issue 0′. By proxy of 0′s waste of a plot, this annual is even more of a let down. It’s only wasting time until the inevitable fighting… and after a literal year of build up? Even this lover of the long game is starting to consider changing the channel.
The fact is this book was entirely unnecessary. The big reveal that Abby and Alec knew one another in the long-long ago, only fuels a fire Swamp Thing had already. We know he’s mad at Anton Arcane, and there’s a big messy fight a’coming. The fact that an annual had to be wedged into the narrative should have been a chance to find a new perspective, or deliver a new unforeseen development. The issue though is that when you deconstruct an arc as heavily as they’re doing here… the ‘calm before the storm’ slows down a pace that in and of itself is already slower than grass growing. I swear I’m running out of plant metaphors guys. Truly.
Because Snyder and Tuft deliver a tale that gives us no real new or even believable foot-hold for our main cast… Swamp Thing Annual #1 belongs in the compost pile. Your 5 dollars are better spent on a sandwich. I suggest extra spinach.