Thursday, 12 March 2015

Swamp Thing, Volume 5: The Killing Field Review (Charles Soule, Jesus Saiz)


Like a cheating partner, the Parliament of Trees has to choose who it wants to be Avatar of the Green: Swampy or the usurper Seeder. As the two train for their title match, we explore the mysterious world of the Green and the host of colourful new characters who inhabit it. It’s kinda like a grown up Fern Gully! 

Swamp Thing’s a tough cookie to get right, eh? Charles Soule comes close but I’m still not completely in love with his run on the character. You can split this book right down the middle into two halves, one which I liked and one which I didn’t. I really liked Soule’s expansion of Swampy’s world. The history of the Swamp Things goes back millennia so we see the very first prehistoric jellyfish-like Swamp Thing to a giant dinosaur Avatar and a caveman Swamp Thing who bears an uncanny resemblance to Alan Moore! 

In particular the Green itself is portrayed as an enchanting fantasyland. There’s The Wolf, the greatest Avatar before Alec Holland, is an 18th century nobleman who travels about on an enormous flower petal, and Lady Weeds, a vicious and cynical fighter who lives in a cave and teaches Swampy to use his powers to their full potential. 

Kano and Jesus Saiz’s gorgeous art flesh out Soule’s ideas to create this rich, whimsical world where I really hope more future stories take place. The Swamp Thing designs – really all the character designs - are absolutely brilliant and the horror element is maintained with the way flesh and foliage merge together into something visually unusual and disturbing. 

Then there’s the second half which is just empty fighting. Swampy and Seeder throw branches, spit seeds, ‘splode one another, regenerate, do it again. Is there anything more tedious than watching two people who can’t be killed fight? For all the imaginative training Swampy undergoes with his floral Yoda, Lady Weeds, his final fight with Seeder is so boring – “I’m gonna punch you hard” “Yeah? I’m gonna punch you harder!”, etc. (not actual dialogue but it captures the essence). 

Much like Red Lanterns Volume 5, Soule rushes the hell out of the ending, wrapping everything up in six pages. It literally goes from doom and the end of the world to Swampy saving the day and defeating everyone – in six pages!! Also, Seeder has never been an interesting character to me and the backstory he recounts is so played out and generic. Maybe if you’re a fan of the Alan Moore run you might enjoy it more as he’s from those comics, but even so I thought he’s only ever been an average baddie. 

The Killing Field isn’t a bad book, it’s just disappointing that for all the thought and imagination put into its build-up, it’s all in service to that most mundane of superhero stories: hero fighting villain. It’s an unsatisfying payoff. But I love the world-building Soule imbues into the series and hope it’s not discarded or forgotten after the forthcoming Convergence whirlwind. Like the last volume, Soule’s Swamp Thing continues to be pretty decent but not by any means amazing.

Swamp Thing, Volume 5: The Killing Field

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