Swamp Thing is the type of guy that when his allies betray him and set him up in a Knightfall plot, he handles the whole thing in three pages and then the badguys return the boss’ money and say they don’t want to fight Swamp Thing no more. The brief action shots that close out this issue help to break up a dialogue-heavy story of plotting and scheming, making sure that SWAMP THING remains one of the most visually compelling books out there even when the writer and artists are tasked with getting 20 pages of exposition out of the way to set up the next story arc.
SWAMP THING #33, by Charles Soule and Javier Pina, isn’t a bad issue by any means, but it feels like a 20 page segue, a stretch of storytelling that’s not deeply interesting on its own, but it’s getting us where we need to go. Soule seems to have been well aware of this, hence the pretty cool sequence of Swamp Thing effortlessly crushing an army of abominations. It’s all part of a failed scheme to destroy Holland, and it’s set up and knocked down in just a few pages.
Structurally, this sequence is scarcely even necessary. We know Holland is too tough for “throw more monsters at him” to be an effective strategy to use against him, but the plan creates some great action in a relatively action-free issue. The Coen Brothers added Knox Harrington, the video artist, into an exposition-heavy scene in The Big Lebowski for the same reason, resulting in one of the most memorable scenes from that film, and the brief action sequence we get here is pretty satisfying. If you absolutely need to write a scene with two characters just sitting around talking to each other, this isn’t a bad strategy to keep it from getting boring.
Even before we get there, however, the issue is as packed with great art as SWAMP THING seems to have been every single month since the New 52 launch, without exception. The mini-Swamp Thing Holland creates in particular is beautifully designed and illustrated and the colors by Matthew Wilson achieve some really nice atmospheric effects. A few pages depicting a grassy hillside under the late afternoon sun have a very strong melancholic feel to them.
I want to celebrate this issue as an example of how good SWAMP THING can be even when it’s at its… well, least interesting. Superhero stories are so heavily layered with backstory and continuity, villains frequently double and triple cross one another, and lengthy exposition is sort of a necessity. A writer ill-equipped for the material can be weighed down by this, creating dense, boring stories. Charles Soule makes it look easy to pack this much information into a story and keep it entertaining, and the art team always finds a way to make the page stunning.
SWAMP THING is never not gorgeous to look at. Swamp Thing has often been drawn as a large man-shaped heap of moss. Javier Pina details every vegetative muscle while Matthew Wilson explores several shades of green to segment the character and clearly distinguish his arms from torso from lush interior tissue.
Soule’s writing is capable at keeping us interested even when the book is saddled with some heavy exposition.
Above all, the series has remained true to Holland’s nature as a conflicted, mournful hero with as much in common with Frankenstein’s Monster as with Superman.
Great art and writing aside, it’s still 20 pages of exposition, transitioning us into the next arc. To a certain extent, it can’t be helped, and it does do an efficient job of getting us excited for what’s to come, but you can tell when a comic just needs you to know a bunch of stuff before it can start digging too deep into the story.
Not the strongest issue of the New 52 SWAMP THING, but a testament to how consistently good the series is even between its bigger moments.