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Even after having taking a long hiatus from reviewing this series since issue 4 because of my unshakable nostalgia for it’s predecessor, I never stopped reading the New 52 Swamp Thing. I never stopped seething either. But this issue made me reach a boiling point, and I can finally point out some things that are not just the nostalgia talking – as well as some nostalgic rants too, of course.
After saving Abby from the rot, Alec is exhausted. He and Abby take a trip back to their roots to rest up, but their peace is interrupted by the most rotten root in Swamp Thing’s history come back to haunt them: Anton Arcane. And he’s not alone.
Hearing that Anton Arcane was going to show up this issue at the end of Swamp Thing #9 built up a lot of anticipation for old Swamp Thing fans. Yet despite this, we hear Anton Arcane’s narration throughout but never even see him in action. For almost the entire issue he is in panels watered-down in red until the very last panel. There’s no fight with Alec as the cover would suggest. We’ll have to wait another issue for that, if it even happens since the end of this issue does not even set-up a fight between Anton and Alec but instead it sets-up a fight between Anton and Abby. Ironically, my favorite nudge to old-school fans is when Abby and Alec take a trip back to their old roots – literally.
The narration Anton is given isn’t terrible. It recounts Abigail’s childhood briefly and reveals some grim things about it, but this entire monologue of Anton’s feels very impersonal since it is coming from Anton and not Abby. Also, while the information he gives is ominous and fits the Swamp Thing mood, not a lot of information is given.
But, to take the focus off of Anton for a moment, the Parliament of Trees make a quick appearance in this issue and are involved in the biggest cop-out so far in this series (this may be slightly spoiler-ish for previous issues and this issue, so if that turns your skin green you can skip to the next paragraph). Recently, the Parliament of Trees was clearly killed by the rot. In this issue, Alec claims that when he bonded with the Swamp Thing he was able to pull out their essence and now he has a couple of mini-furs that are supposedly going to grow into the Parliament. This explanation is flimsy and just looks like an attempt for writer Scott Snyder to cop-out on killing the Parliament so he can continue to tell stories with Swamp Thing’s ancestors. Snyder could have found a better round-about way to do that other than a cop-out.
On pencils and colors this issue is Francesco Francavilla (loving the real-life double alliteration… and I though those only happened in comics). This is definitely a love-it or hate-it art style. I hesitate to compare it to the artwork in Sweet Tooth, but it does have several similarities. The artwork makes the world feel very desolate and the color scheme feels appropriately grimy. But this color scheme, while keeping the grimy feel, does change frequently. Most of the panels featuring an image of Anton Arcane (which is every panel of him except for one) is clouded in red which blurs the image. This may be an attempt to give the reader a surprise reveal of what Anton looks like at the end of the issue, but not only is his design uninspired (he looks no better than the brutish behemoth Mr. Hyde from Van Helsing… though it does look familiar to the Swamp Thing saga…), but the surprise is ruined by the cover!
These panels laced with red are the only panels that I don’t like. The rest of the artwork is fantastic for fans of the style. Despite my gripes with the Parliament of Trees, the full page panels with them is beautiful. It is all thanks to some simple but well-placed lines and great color choice that seeps throughout the entire issue. It is definitely a brilliant showcase of Francavilla’s seemingly simplistic but breathtaking artwork that fits the haunting and mystical mood of the Swamp Thing.
When I can tell the ending of this issue and not reveal anything new, there is a problem. The ending could have, and should have been, the opening, with Abby and Arcane coming face-to-face on the very last page. There is no suspense in this moment since Anton has been present in this issue through narration throughout the entire issue. While this does make this issue a possible jumping on point for new readers, it is also an unnecessary issue because nothing new is learned this issue that wasn’t established in the last: Anton Arcane is back and ready for a fight.
The only positive (other than Francavilla’s amazing artwork)? Umm… well… at least the cop-out in this issue wasn’t as bad as Barbara Gordon’s miraculous recovery after three years in a wheelchair.