Sometimes in professional wrestling things get so insane that the crowd starts chanting “Holy Shit, Holy Shit.” That’s what Animal Man and Swamp Thing #17 combine to give you. The War Of The Rot finally comes to a head and we get one of the first “Holy Shit” moments of 2013. I combined the two issues because they are two parts of one story. Critically, I will say that Animal Man is slightly more impressive than Swamp Thing, but the overall story is really powerful stuff.
Animal Man is standing just outside Anton Arcane’s castle. He’s brought his rag tag group of warriors, including Black Orchid, Frankenstein and his undead army, plus Beast Boy and a Green Lantern discovered as a prisoner of the Rot. The war they wage is against the Justice League, who are now mindless and deformed members of Arcane’s evil plan. Animal Man #17 is a nice balance between savage action and genuine story arc.
Writer Jeff Lemire does a sensational job of ramping up not just the physical aspects of the story, but also the emotion of the story. Buddy Baker (Animal Man) isn’t just fighting for our world, he’s fighting for the survival of his youngest daughter. The key to the fight is a Bat-Bot, a giant robot that Batman designed and filled with a chemical compound that will eliminate the Rot and destroy Arcane. Problem is, the bot has to be flown into the sky to explode and create a cleansing rain. That’s a tall order when the only flying hero you have is Swamp Thing and he’s currently involved in a battle with the rot infested Superman. Lemire definitely isn’t making this easy on our heroes.
There are so many great scenes in Animal Man #17. Frankenstein becoming a Green Lantern, Buddy Baker actually catching the rot infested Flash and crushing his skull, the protector of the Red arriving with winged animal avengers. Almost every time you turn the page, there’s something new to cheer about. Lemire does this not to be entertaining, but to set us up for the end. Right as things seem to be going the way of the heroes, Arcane unleashes his latest horde of creatures. At the forefront of these monsters is Baker’s daughter Maxine, who is now a crab insect creature topped off with half of her own head. It’s a devastating ending that sets up Swamp Thing #17 nicely.
Picking up right away, Swamp Thing is involved in his own misery. As Animal Man is forced to battle his own daughter, Swamp Thing must battle Abby Arcane, the woman he has been fighting to save. The loss of both of these motivators nearly renders our heroes unable to continue, but they push on, with vengeance filling in where love has been lost. The fight becomes more personal and more intense as Swamp Thing uses his last bit of green strength to raise the Bat-Bot into the air and cure the world. As exciting as it is, it feels like too little too late. This is where Animal Man slightly outshines Swamp Thing.
Swamp Thing is just too dark. I don’t say that because dark themes bother me, but rather because when things get this dark, especially in mainstream comics, you can guess the ending. Baker’s daughter is dead, Abby is dead, the world has been shredded by the Rot, the heroes are zombies, the living heroes dying, the day is so lost that even the cleansing rain seems like a band aid on a bullet wound. The only way this could work is if Swamp Thing and Animal Man are given a chance to go back in time and stop Arcane’s plot from the get go, which is exactly what happens.
In lesser hands, the end of Swamp Thing would’ve been a let down. However, writer Scott Snyder, being a brilliant storyteller, adds something to give the end an edge. Turns out The Rot itself is not evil, but the gods of it were tricked into making Arcane their avatar and have been watching in horror at his destructive streak. They are offering this chance to save history because they do not wish the Rot to be seen in this light. Snyder spent so much time setting up that the Rot was inherently evil that this surprise is an awesome twist.
The other problem with Swamp Thing is the art. Why, when you normally feature an artist as gifted as Yanick Paquette, would a new artist slide in for the epic finish? Andrew Belanger’s art isn’t awful, but it certainly isn’t the eye-popping work of Paquette. In that shadow, Belanger’s work looks goofy and completely inappropriate for the end of a massive arc. We’ve waited an entire year to see this war, why give us average art when leading up to it we’ve gotten incredible work? It’s a real slap in the face to the loyal Swamp Thing readers.
Steve Pugh’s work in Animal Man is so much better. His detail work is cleaner, the line work is solid and Pugh ramps up the evil and carnage. This looks like a battle in hell, unlike Belanger’s cartoonish attempt at illustrating the war. Realistically, I wish DC had brought back original Animal Man artist Travel Forman for this issue and kept Yanick Paquette on Swamp Thing. That would have allowed the art to equal the storytelling and knocked this out of the park. Sadly, that’s not what happened.
Overall, though, Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder have given us something truly unique and unforgettable.
Animal Man: (5 Story, 3.5 Art)
Swamp Thing: (4.5 Story, 2 Art)