Legend of the Swamp Thing Halloween Spectacular
It’s Halloween, and DC invites you to welcome Swamp Thing to your witching-hour festivities. In this 48-page collection of all-new stories, the Guardian of the Green reveals past lives and the unforgettable horrors that befall those who cross his path. From ancient Rome to present day, Swamp Thing stalks these ghostly and ghastly tales-all of which are best read by the light of a jack-o’-lantern!
More than just the environmental message, Swamp Thing can function as an avenging force for purposes other than defending the natural world. It can operate on behalf of the people, as a compassionate or malevolent entity—sometimes both at once, depending on context. Humans are as much a part of the natural world as the plants and animals, so why wouldn’t Swamp Thing intervene for them? And why would it do that? What could move the Green to act in such a way?
This month’s Legend of the Swamp Thing Halloween Spectacular anthology offers up stories that attempt to answer that question, with varying degrees of eloquence and quality. The theme of this anthology, perhaps somewhat unintentionally, is centered around trespassing and violating boundaries, and the consequences in doing so.
Swamp Thing, or the Green more generally, is a loving entity, but that love has limits. In each story, we see what happens when that love is taken for granted, rejected, or outright ignored in the name of greed and violence.
Ram V and Mike Perkins handle the framing sequence, centered on a lost child missing in the Great Dismal Swamp. Swamp Thing rescues the boy from Old Willow, who has offered him comfort to the point of nearly allowing him to die. It’s a touching and sad sequence illustrating what the compounding effects of trauma and pain can have on someone. Good horror always uses its elements to reflect our anxieties and fears back at us, which V and Perkins execute brilliantly.
The trouble with the story is minor, but worth mentioning: as a story, it’s good. It’s great. Perkins and colorist Andy Troy render the action in oppressive blues and greens, a dimly lit palette for a tale of sorrow. There’s drama and heart and heartbreak in it, especially in the closing portion, where David returns to the swamp in a last ditch attempt to find some validation in his colorful and meaningful life. It ends the issue on a mournful but poignant note, reminding us that life itself is meaning and that looking for it beyond ourselves is missing the point. All very beautiful stuff, well written and executed, but it doesn’t really match up with the stories in the middle, which engage with the themes of trespassing and violating boundaries with a decidedly more political bent.
“Ring of Stones”, by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Dominike Stanton, is a perfectly average story of invaders being pushed off the land. The art feels a little off, and the writing doesn’t generate a lot of tension or fear, but it does establish the tone for these middle stories.
Vita Ayala and Emma Rios’ “Sleeping Giant”, however, is far above average, tackling slavery and colonialism head-on as it shows the monstrous behavior of the people in charge. The man in charge of the plantation at the center of the story violates the land not only with his plantation, but his killing of the native peoples. Swamp Thing is an avenging force, here to return the land to the people. These themes run through the four middle stories, and to see the issue tackled with such grace and force is refreshing.
The third story, “No Sign of the Enemy”, by Julan Lytle and John Timms, centers on a Japanese soldier who keeps watch for a war that no longer exists. Swamp Thing shows compassion, attempting to push the soldier back to civilization, to a world that isn’t embroiled in horrifying global conflict. But pride and ignorance are his downfall, as he clings to his outmoded sense of duty while still believing his war is still worth fighting. It’s a melancholy, tragic tale, showing off Timms’ art very well, with flowing figure work and detailed backgrounds. Watching something that is completely avoidable reach its inevitable conclusion when something better is possible is conveyed through Lytle’s narration and dialog.
Covering much the same ground as the first story,
James Tynion IV and Christian Ward’s “Age of Discovery” tops every story by presenting a tale that, while of a piece with what’s come before, renders the entire thing in vivid, painterly color. The themes of trespassing and violation rise to the surface here, but there is recognition of the wrongs committed. The narrator realizes the fraudulent nature of “exploration”, and its morally bankrupt ambitions, far too late, and is left to die with men who assumed they owned the world. As Swamp Thing shows us, that’s not true, and the Green will go to whatever lengths necessary to tell us.
This anthology isn’t simply a series of spooky stories. Each of them use the durable concept of an avenging nature guardian in an attempt to engage big ideas, either personal or external, in a way that’s more sophisticated than what the material called for. This anthology didn’t need to be filled with this much great storytelling, but that’s what we’re given. There are consequences to living out of harmony with nature and our fellow man, and nature’s wrath can be deadly.
Legend of the Swamp Thing Halloween Spectacular offers up a surprisingly great, weighty set of tales rooted in sorrow and hope.
Legend of the Swamp Thing Halloween Spectacular: The Green Loves, The Green Kills
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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