Very soon, on beginning this Justice League Dark Annual, I realised that it’s a stealth Swamp Thing Special. Very soon, I didn’t care. Because this is an absorbing, affecting, great-looking read which works as a one-off, while feeding into DC’s current crossover, Year of the Villain.
Not that the other characters who weave in and out of Wonder Woman’s Justice League offshoot aren’t here at all – as well as Diana, the first few pages give us Man-Bat, Zatanna and Detective Chimp, and it’s John Constantine who cajoles Swamp Thing Into leaving the Hall of Justice’s lower levels for a solo outing.
Meet Oleander Sorrel who, with wife Natasha, is researching plants in a bid to feed the world.
… if you’re familiar with Swamp Thing lore, you’ll have an idea where this is going.
What you probably won’t guess is where it finally ends up. But I bet you enjoy finding out, thanks to a superb creative team – regular JLD writer James Tynion IV plots with relative newcomer to DC Ram V, who provides the script, while Guillem March VI (OK, I added that last number just for fun) illustrates, Arif Prianto colours and Rob Leigh letters. I’m not familiar with Ram V’s previous work – I know he’s written some Catwoman for DC – but on the basis of this issue, I’ll be looking for more. The temptation for Swamp Thing writers is to emulate Alan Moore’s haunting style; Ram V, though, has his own voice – yes, his prose is lyrical, but it’s not overly flowery (and if ever an issue invited flowery prose, this is it). Ram V is especially good on loss.
He also nails the voices and interaction of the Leaguers, with John Constantine the best I’ve seen in a long while… he actually seems British.
As for the villain of the piece – I won’t spoil, as I imagine this isn’t an automatic buy and I’d like to persuade someone to give it a try, and be surprised – I don’t recall the last time they were so diabolical… it all bodes very well for the upcoming Injustice League Dark storyline.
I don’t recall having seen Guillem March draw Swamp Thing previously; I would like to see him tackle the former Alec Holland again, because March captures that mix of eeriness, power and melancholy so essential to the character. March and Prianto’s Swampy looks terrific even with the current design – JLD features him with scraggy ‘hair’ and beard, perhaps in some misguided tribute to Moore.
As elementals go, Oleander Sorrel looks amazing, like something from a Mexican Day of the Dead parade. Even before he’s transformed, though, the scientist is memorable, as March evokes that classic DC mystery book vibe that informed the work of original Swamp Thing artist Berni Wrightson.
There does seem to have been an artistic miscommunication in that Oleander’s wife leaves him to stay with her sister, then spends the rest of the book with, presumably, her brother. March being Spanish, it could be a ‘hermana/hermano’ thing, easily fixed for the trade. This issue also debuts a new look for Circe, and I pity the artists for having to draw and colour it – think drum majorette meets Pennywise from It.
Rob Leigh deserves a shout-out not just for his always excellent work, including typically imaginative title lettering, but for evoking so well the style of longtime Swamp Thing fontsman John Costanza.
The only aspect of this issue I’m not thrilled with is the cover. Usually, I enjoy the work of illustrator Riley Rossmo and colourist Ivan Plascencia, but the faces here are more suited to L’il Gotham than Justice League Dark, while the transformed Oleander Sorrel is all but lost midst the purples and oranges. The cover generally is too busy, no one but Swampy meets the ‘King of Petals’ (DC missed a trick by not having Oleander based in Petaluma), and our ‘overgrown houseplant’ isn’t exiled by anyone.
All in all, though, I loved this issue, as writers and artists in communion give us a thrilling, sad, creepy day in the life of Swamp Thing. Buy it.