It’s arrived. With Swamp Thing #40, Charles Soule and Jesus Saiz create a wonderful sendoff for Alec Holland and his supporting cast.
The issue opens as Swamp Thing calls on all the former Avatars of the Green to beat back Anton Arcane from their domain. The battle here is quick as Arcane quickly realizes he is outmatched and makes a tactical retreat toward the Machine Queen. Swamp Thing, recognizing that time is short, urges his predecessors to strike with him against the Machine Queen now, before the power of the Green wanes. Some agree with Holland, including some faces readers will recognize from earlier in Soule’s run. However most know they are too weak to join Swamp Thing in the fight and instead turn to heal the damage done to the Green by Arcane in the hopes that this will strengthen those in the battle.
Swamp Thing #40 transitions straight into the battle itself. The Machine Queen has chosen the Gobi Desert as the battlefield, hoping to sever whatever remains of Swamp Thing’s connection to the Green. The battle is fierce and as it rages on, Holland feels himself growing stronger. He attempts to withdraw from the battlefield, hoping that the combatants in the pitched battle remain engaged long enough for him to fully regain his strength. Seeing his gambit, Lady Weeds sends her minions after him causing the fleeing Swamp Thing to fall from the sky and into a library.
It is here that the issue presents a major turn of events as Swamp Thing is greeted by a being unknown to him. The being appears to be a literary avatar, and offers Swamp Thing the chance to stay in the world where this is only a story and not a real series of events. Swamp Thing considers the offer before choosing to return to the real world and continue the fight against the machines.
The conclusion to Swamp Thing #40 is swift, but Holland comes out victorious, with a new adventure waiting for him in his hands.
One cannot talk about Swamp Thing #40 without addressing the implementation of narrative commentary in the captions. The metafictional aspects to Swamp Thing #40 are done in a clever way, working in avatars of various kingdoms that one wouldn’t naturally think of. It’s a big risk to bring in this element so late in the game; Soule has worked with metafiction before in the run, most recently in the Future’s End tie-in, but this is more integrated and essential to the narrative. And even though this issue is a full 30 pages of story, one still has to be economical with that space. Fortunately, Soule avoids most of the pitfalls. The unnamed avatar and his offer do not serve as a deus ex machina, providing Holland with new powers or a solution. Instead, Holland leaves the situation with only a bolstered resolve. This allows the elements to have an impact on the story without serving as an out for the battle raging on.
Not enough can be said about Jesus Saiz’s art. When the series first debuted, readers were blown away by Yanick Pacquette’s detailed linework and two-page spreads. Pacquette left large shoes to fill and Saiz has more than filled them, providing incredible design work and emotion. In this issue alone, readers are presented with fantastic images like a dinosaur version of Swamp Thing and more meditative visages, such as Holland engrossing himself in a good book. There are solid layouts here as well; comics are often limited in their ability to depict action simply due to space. A complicated fight sequence in film can take hundreds of shots and comics simply don’t have the real estate to keep up that type of intensity. But Saiz uses his layouts intelligently, depicting a large spread of the overall battle, and then overlaying that with smaller panels capturing the individual moments of the fight.
The use of the metafictional elements is a huge risk. It pays off in big ways, but such a risk still takes up precious page space, and in a finale, that can be costly. The biggest thing that suffers is that Swamp Thing #40 doesn’t quite deliver on the closure for Holland and his supporting cast. The main omission is Abby who, while she appears throughout the issue, is almost a non-factor. It would have been nice to see Swamp Thing and his love get a final moment together in the end and one can’t help but feel that the space for this was taken by other elements in the issue.
Swamp Thing #40 sees a big risk taken by Charles Soule in crafting a story that is self-aware. The metafictional gamble pays off though, bringing an added layer to not just the finale, but the entire series. That being said, some readers may feel like the conclusion didn’t fully address the emotional state of Holland or his supporting cast thoroughly enough. Ultimately, though, this is not just an enjoyable finale, but one that will make you think on both the storytelling choices and letting Jesus Saiz’s gorgeous art sink in.