The cover of Swamp Thing #4 promised a deadly battle with Alec Holland. In some comics you could rest assured that you wouldn’t really get that as cover art is almost always hyperbolic but that was simply not the case here. The battle did indeed take place but was it any good?
So Swamp Thing follows on immediately from the last issue as the surprising turn of events that transpired during the climax of that book send shockwaves through the reader. Alec Holland is no longer the titular creature as his supposed friend, Matt Cable, has taken his leafy curse from him and become the new Swamp Thing.
From that brief description you should see how brave Len Wein has been with this short series and, in particular, this issue. It would have been easy to keep going as he was and create a perfectly acceptable old school horror comic without really offering too much in the way of standout moments. There is certainly nothing wrong with a competently written and drawn book that makes few waves but there will always be something far more satisfying about a story that has at least one jaw dropping moment weaved into it. Wein not only provides one such moment but he goes so far as to give the reader two unexpected twists to bookend this issue.
The first is the aforementioned massive change from Alec to Matt. The build to this moment was a full issue long and it was treated with reverence and trepidation that such a bold move deserves. The scripting both before and after reflect the weight being lifted from Alec for the briefest of moments before he realises Matt’s sacrifice. This tight dialogue, both spoken and internal, moves the story along at a satisfying pace which means that the book never gets a chance to grow stagnant. Despite the speed of the narrative there is still plenty of time afforded to the creation of an appropriate sense of dread that seeps into every word and picture. This is a true horror comic and Wein makes sure not sacrifice that at any point.
The rest of the comic is essentially a showing of Alec’s humanity. It is interest
ing how Wein makes it clear that, despite his years as a monster, Alec has never lost that integral part of himself that allows him to feel empathy for others. This characterisation also creates a jarring juxtaposition when Matt’s true nature become readily apparent towards the end of the book.
Even after his friend sticks by his moss covered side and teaches him how to be the most effective Swamp Thing that he can possibly be, Matt turns on him and the rest of humanity to unleash his master plan. The sinister nature of this character was hinted at in the last instalment when he was first introduced, shooting an animal as Alec play fought with it. That moment turned out to be far more symbolic that many may have realised as it showed that the oneness Alec has with nature was simply not present in Matt. At their core they were vastly disparate people and that, correctly, caused most fans to feel uneasy about the returning ‘ally’.
As you might have guessed, the battle is not a 20 plus page slugfest between the two characters but is instead a short affair built up to in delightfully tense detail. The feeling that something is very wrong with Matt is persistent throughout the story and when he finally switches to the dark side as it were there is both an ‘Aha!’ moment as well as one of dread. The consequences of the fight won’t be spoiled here as it is well worth getting a copy of the comic and checking it out for yourself but suffice to say that is has potentially huge ramifications that will keep you hooked for the next issue.
Comic reviews must all sound akin to a broken record as so many praise the art on almost every book. Well, this one will be no different as to not comment on Kelley Jones’ artistic brilliance would be a true crime. The way in which Jones crafts a book that looks every bit the retro horror/pulp comic that it should it quite remarkable. From the shading to the grotesque characters and landscapes, there is not a single line or brush stroke gone to waste. It all adds up to make a visually arresting affair that torments and delights in equal measure.
To summarise, you need to get your hands on this run of Swamp Thing. It will only go for two more issues so it is hardly a large financial commitment and it is one you will be happy you made. Is it the best comic on the market? No, but it is reasonably high on the list.
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