Every year we are blessed with a generous helping of short stories from DC to help celebrate Halloween. In many of these years we also get a sprinkle of the Swamp Thing thrown into their published festivities. In fact, it’s quite often the we get a Swamp Thing special or even monthly publications featuring Swamp Thing around this time. And yet, it’s still very rare for him to have his own story exceeding 15 pages. My hope is that by the end of this 48-page Halloween Special we get enough fans pushing for a new monthly comic series to make it a reality.
The opening cover promises is us a treat with big DC Comic talents such as James Tynion IV and Ram, who were both at one point part of the very popular Justice League Dark series, so I have no doubt that Swamp Thing will be in good hands here. Moreover, the soft horror tones of the latest JLD run inspired hope for a touch of horror for this Halloween Spectacular. With 6 stories spanning a total of 48 pages, will this book deliver?
We kick things off with the strongest story in the book, with Ram V taking the lead on a Swamp Thing tale packed with familiar themes and imagery going back to the days of the Alan Moore run. More familiar themes are quickly added with a Grandmother Willow-like character taking a warm yet haunting secondary role. Forgive my vagueness, but with each story being 8 pages at most, I’m treading lightly to avoid spoilers. Ram has done a great job here cementing a strong, familiar path for Swamp Thing readers to follow. The art provided by Mike Perkins with Andy Troy is astounding and leaves me lusting even harder for a new Swamp Thing monthly series. Oh, and don’t forget Aditya Bidikar who has cemented his place as my favourite letterer of the moment after his work on Image’s Department of Truth. This opening story leads us into a reflection of the many lives of the Swamp Thing.
Before I continue, I am going to provide a brief background to those not so familiar with the Swamp Thing’s history. When he originally appeared in House of Secrets #92 back in July 1971, the man behind the moss was Alex Olson, who was subsequently replaced by Alec Holland. Alec is the core Swamp Thing based on publications. ‘The Green’ is the living life force binding all plant life together, held in balance with the other orders such as ‘The Red’ representing the fleshy beings and ‘The Rot’, who strongly opposes the green. Long story short there is a balance and each order has its own avatar doing their will. Swamp Thing is the avatar of the green, with people such as Animal Man representing the red and villain Anton Arcane representing the rot. The point being, these mantles are passed on to various entities throughout time. This is the core premise behind these short stories, with the Avatar reminiscing collective memories of the former avatars.
The standout feature of this collection is the variety of styles on display. Swamp Thing is a versatile character with writers tackling various genres, each of which are complimented with an appropriate artistic style. Swamp Thing has been used in romance and horror stories, mostly in the Wein Wrightson and Moore runs. The New 52 took a sci-fi and superhero approach, while the Justice League Dark focused on the magic and mystery of the forces behind his powers. The way the writers and artists play with each of the elements building Swamp Thing is very commendable. Just check out the Age of Discovery story from Tynion and artist Christian Ward, it’s a visual treat.
So, while at first this collection seems great it suffers from a couple of core issue for the long-term Swamp fans. The storytelling narrative has been used before by Alan Moore & Snyder in the New 52, and in my opinion, both were done far better. Now I know a short story would never be able to top the longer narratives, but combined with my next problem, this special seems to flounder a little, ending up in the glut of “just okay” Swamp Thing stories.
With this being a Halloween Spectacular, I had expected more in the way of horror, which had been a real strength of previous stories. Don’t get me wrong, we get some grounded human stories with a wonderful adventure penned by Tynion IV, and Ram V gives us a small, mind-bending adventure, but unfortunately with the wealth of Swamp Thing content already out there, a lot of these stories fall into the forgettable. I don’t feel this is solely because they are short stories, as the Winter Special still holds a strong place in my heart, but more because as a Halloween Spectacular it didn’t deliver on expectations. Short stories including the Superman Annual and the interactions with Scarecrow and Swamp Thing lasted a similar number of pages but held more interest. Perhaps the rumours that this Spectacular was just a rehash of the now cancelled 100-page special were true. Either way, this is one for the collection but not one for high recommendation.