I’ve been quite vocal about the long and winding road both Swamp Thing and Animal Man have taken getting to their battle with The Rot. Both series are fifteen issues in and both have wasted at least three to four issues in a holding pattern waiting for something to happen. This holding pattern has finally been broken and both titles are moving forward against The Rot, though in very different ways. Scott Snyder is keeping Swamp Thing very isolated in his journey, while Animal Man has aligned himself with an army. Furthermore, Swamp Thing’s journey in issue 15 takes him to Gotham City while Animal Man heads towards Metropolis.
For those not keeping score, let me recap the basic idea here. The Rot, a powerful natural force made up of all the rotting flesh and death in the world, is trying to rise up against the power of the Green, which symbolizes plant life and nature and the power of the Red, which symbolizes the flesh. The three live in a perfect balance, but The Rot is trying to tip the scale using their ultimate soldier Anton Arcane, currently back from the dead. Swamp Thing and Animal Man entered the world of The Rot to end the conflict but failed. When they returned to their world, they discovered both heroes had been gone for a year and, during that time, The Rot had infected the world. Now both Animal Man and Swamp Thing are journeying to battle The Rot and save their world.
Swamp Thing’s adventure begins with a confrontation against William Arcane, the deeply disturbed nephew of extreme baddy Anton. William stands against Swamp Thing and Deadman using creatures of the oceans all twisted by the power of the Rot. As the battle rages, William tells Swamp Thing the story of how Abby Arcane, his current love interest, was tortured and killed by Anton during Swamp Thing’s absence. Swamp Thing battles the various mutated sea creatures until Deadman sacrifices himself by possessing William and destroying him. Swamp Thing stumbles to Gotham and then into the Batcave, where he discovers a mutated and Rot-possessed Batman and a surprise hero in waiting.
Meanwhile, Animal Man has joined forces with Steel, Beast Boy, Black Orchid, and Constantine to try and get to the heart of The Rot to save his daughter Maxine. Animal Man #15 opens with the rag tag crew being beaten back by the Gorilla Grodd army. As all seemed lost, Frankenstein and his Patchwork Army appear like some undead cavalry. After defeating Grodd, Frankenstein joins his army with Animal Man’s crew in order to reach Metropolis. Rumor has it a former superhero of the highest order is being held as a prisoner of The Rot. Most think it’s Superman, but what Animal Man and his army find is quite different. We also learn how Animal Man’s family were wiped out by The Rot while he was away initially.
Scott Snyder keeps his ultimate plot very close to the chest, revealing only small bits and pieces along the way. We don’t know what happened to William Arcane or how Gotham City fits into all it. What exactly Swamp Thing is doing is vague, as is this battle between Abby Arcane and Anton. You can feel that Snyder is leading up to something cool, but he sheds light on each part only as Swamp Thing discovers it himself.
On the flip side, Jeff Lemire is creating a bigger, more action-packed and sensationalized scene. From the very start, we know that the goal is to find this hero and for Animal Man to seek out his daughter. Lemire likes to show us everything but often tell us nothing. It keeps you baited to each page as this motley crew pushes forward through the Rot. Lemire also keeps a horror comic feel to what he does, while Snyder is going for a more noir and theatrical style. If Animal Man was Tales From The Crypt, then Swamp Thing is True Crime Stories. Both are very effective ways to tell their stories.
Art-wise, Swamp Thing’s Marco Rudy slaps all the ass off Animal Man’s Steve Pugh. Rudy’s stuff is so rich with detail and action. His panel placement is amazing as is his eye for small details, even in the outer boarders of each panel. Rudy’s Anton Arcane is actually disturbing and the imagination he uses for the Rot sea creatures is perfect. Heavy inks, lots of shading, more muted colors and powerful lines, Marco Rudy completely elevates what Scott Snyder is writing.
Steve Pugh’s work is good, but not great. His faces are boring, his fluidity leaves a lot to be desired. Some of his splash pages are cool but, by and large, Pugh’s work is stagnant and does little to propel the action. I also don’t like Pugh’s faces – they all look the same and mostly half realized. Nothing Pugh is doing is downright awful, but it has nowhere near the power of Marco Rudy’s work in Swamp Thing.
The Rot war is on and business has picked up. Swamp Thing and Animal Man are telling great stories destined to become classic adventures.
Swamp Thing (4 Story, 5 Art)
Animal Man (4 Story, 3 Art)