Review – Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 (DC Comics)

Publisher: DC Comics
Writer(s): Len Wein, Tom King
Artwork: Jason Fabok, Kelley Jones, Brad Anderson (colours), Michelle Madsen (colours)
Release Date: 7th February 2018

After a week’s delay due to some shipping issues, DC’s eagerly-anticipated Swamp Thing Winter Special hits shelves today, and it’s certainly worth the wait.

The special takes the form of two stories, the first of which sees Tom King joining up with artist Jason Fabok and colourist Brad Anderson for what is an undeniably tense and genuinely emotional story.  Bookended by a sports talk radio segment, the subtext of which is difficult to ignore, the story sees a weakened Swamp Thing struggling to connect with the Green as he escorts a frightened youngster across a frozen, snowy wasteland, trying to stay one step ahead of the terrifying, elusive Snow Monster that seems to be hot on their heels.

Fabok brings Swamp Thing to the page with a typically emphatic style, but also manages to pack in a surprising amount of nuance and emotion as the Avatar of the Green struggles with his memory during his seemingly endless quest to project his young friend.  There are subtle moments, like the panel-heavy ‘passage of time’ sequences which show Swampy becoming weaker and weaker, as well as more dynamic, in-your-face comic book fare like the tense showdown with a hulking grizzly bear.

It’s definitely a great looking book, and colourist Brad Anderson deserves just as much credit as Fabok for helping bringing King’s story to life here.  Everything is rich and pleasingly solid, and even if it may lack some of the subtlety and grime of Swamp Thing’s more famous depictions, there’s still a lot here to like from a visual point of view.  It’s actually the snow itself that steals a lot of the scenes, particularly the one where we get our first glimpse of Swamp Thing and his companion, cloaking the surroundings in a white haze and almost choking our characters at times.

A beautifully structured story that really cuts to the core of what Swamp Thing is all about, showing his innate sense of heroism and balance even when he can’t actually remember what he’s doing or why he’s doing it.   My only niggle is the fact that King perhaps lingers just a tiny bit too long on the mystery of his story, to the point where the reader is more than likely to figure out the secret for themselves, diminishing its eventual reveal.

Even with that, however, this is still one of the best Swamp Thing stories I’ve read for quite some time – not that it’s necessarily had a whole lot of competition – and certainly the best solo outing since Charles Soule’s stellar stint with the character at the end of the New 52.

The backup strip, if you can even call it that, is filled with a sense of tragedy as a result of it being the last comic the legendary Len Wein would ever write.  And in a particularly moving decision born out of the fact that Wein never had the chance to finish the actual script for the issue, the story is presented in an entirely wordless format, letting the striking artwork of Kelley Jones carry the bulk of the narrative.

Unfortunately, this works a lot better as a concept than it does in execution, and while Jones and regular colourist Michelle Madsen do produce some stunning pages featuring Swamp Thing, Solomon Grundy and a certain Dark Knight, it all feels a little hollow without Wein’s eloquent prose and distinctive dialogue.  Thankfully, we’re also provided with his original story treatment, which adds some much-needed depth to the artwork, although even this is tinged in sadness knowing we’ll never get to see what else Wein had in store for his iconic creation.

At the end of the day, if you’re a Swamp Thing fan this should be viewed an absolutely essential purchase, as both King and Fabok show a great level of affinity and passion for the iconic character.  The Wein strip feels a little hollower, even if it’s always a treat to see Kelley Jones artwork, although there may be an aspect of grief and frustration that’s stopping me from fully investing in the story.  Either way, let’s hope this Winter Special does well enough to spark some line-wide interest in Swamp Thing, as there’s simply too much potential in the character for him to be relegated to a series of fleeting cameos.

Rating: 4.5/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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