It starts with a mysterious call from the ocean depths, worrisome enough that a secret government operative recruits marine biologist Dr. Lee Archer to investigate. Having opposed a major government project, she is no friend of the government. But she reluctantly agrees, and finds herself in a secret underwater drilling station with a diverse group–and all of them seem to have been recruited with a different story. The drilling operation has captured a strange merman-like creature (the source of the call) which is incredibly fast, strong, and vicious Before the team has much time to examine the creature, the situation begins to escalate, and the story changes from mystery to horror.
All of which would make Part One a fairly typical underwater horror story like The Abyss, albeit with a sharply drawn cast of characters and an especially imaginative creature design. But at the very end Part Two is set up with a large scale catastrophe: a deluge that sinks the coastal cities worldwide in a single day.
The scene shifts 200 years into the future. The world has become a watery dystopia, with a fascist government that behaves more like a warlord, and an outlaw class called Outliers. Our heroine Leeward seeks an answer for the cause of the flood, and a way to save the world. She thinks she has found it when she hears a radio transmission from Lee Archer. Lots of action in this part, too, culminating in confrontation between the Outliers and a huge government force when they meet up at the source of the transmission.
Here’s where the scope of the story changes, becoming even more epic than the action so far. Leeward meets Lee Archer herself, who the creatures have kept alive for 200 years. It turns out that they have known about the seeding of the world by an ancient race, keeping the secret Which is where it all becomes a bit vague to me. Having found the space craft that was left behind, Lee and the other humans the mer-race had chosen take off, presumably to find the origin planet. It’s all a bit Prometheus-like.
Leeward chooses to stay behind, which leaves her in the same waterlogged state as the rest of humanity. She is happy, but it’s hard to see the result as “saving the world.” Aren’t things the same for everyone left behind?
Anyway, it’s an exciting story, well told (even if the ending isn’t completely convincing). I was expecting more originality in the plot. American Vampire, Snyder’s other big horror project for Vertigo, is full of original ideas. It’s far from being a standard vampire tale.
While I’m criticizing Snyder’s contribution, I should mention an issue I’m starting to have with Murphy’s art. While I love the energy of it–and I previously mentioned the creative creature designs–I’m starting to feel like I’ve seen all of his faces. Lee and Leeward look very similar here, which one could argue was intentional. But they also look a lot like Gwen (and Dr. Epstein, for that matter) in Punk Rock Jesus, which makes me wonder if Murphy isn’t using the same model for all of them. On the other hand, he also does some really imaginative work on the buildings and vehicles in the dystopian future of Part Two.
This collection introduces another major player: a Russian organization like Mind Management, code named “Zero” because its true name was never discovered. The title home maker Megan was one of their sleeper agents, who was also recruited and trained by Mind Management. So the running vertical text in most of the page margins this time is the MATRYOSHKAS FIELD GUIDE, printed in red instead of the blue of the MIND MGMT FIELD GUIDE. (A matryoshka doll is also known as a Russian nesting doll, a visual image that represents the levels of deception involved in placing the sleeper agents).
The Russian organization is portrayed as being even more amoral and manipulative than Mind Management (if such a thing is even possible), but the unintended fallout of the truce between the opposing organizations is the sleeper agents out in the field. All of them are living a borrowed life while waiting for the signal to be reawakened. When Megan is awoken her whole neighborhood pays a horrific price, which Kindt vividly depicts using a four-page foldout splash page, a big visual moment in a series full of small visual moments.
In the end the two opposing groups of agents are brought to a standstill by Meru, who finally demonstrates her power: the ability to neutralize all of the other powers around her, no matter how strong. She throws her lot in with Lyme’s group, but now she is the one in charge.
As usual the story is full of small imaginative details. The marginal texts also include parts of MIND MANAGEMENT: A Novel; a novel by science fiction writer Philip K. Verve (a clear nod to Philip K. Dick); and a children’s book. While reading this collection I was struck by both the creativity and the amount of work involved in such small details. Kindt has crafted a rich world, which grows richer with each new story line. The marginal text may look like a parlor trick at first, but he uses it to more fully immerse the reader.
Charles Soule, writer; Kano, Jesus Saiz & Alvaro Lopez, artists; Matthew Wilson, colorist
New writer Charles Soule opens this collection with what feels like a fresh introduction of the character (especially after the interminable Rotworld story line). The first two issues are real old school Swamp Thing. They start with Swampy ruminating about his role, pretty low-key. He visits Metropolis and inadvertently causes a crisis–triggered by visiting Batman villain the Scarecrow–bringing Superman into the story. Swamp Thing finally asks Superman his question: with all your powers, how do you retain your humanity? Superman replies “I connect. I find people to help. It’s our choice, Alec…We can be as human as we want to be.” It’s a lovely moment.
Soule then introduces his first new character: Capucine, an ancient warrior who was once promised sanctuary by an earlier avatar of the Green. This gives Alec a reason to go into the Green to find out about the promise. It’s an interesting bit of history, but he immediately turns his attention to the title character Seeder, who has been disrupting the Green by forcing things to grow where they are not supposed to, pulling power from elsewhere in the Green every time he does it.
He follows Seeder to Scotland, where a village has been gifted with a tree that grows whisky. John Constantine is there as well, drawn by the magic. When he falls under the spell himself Soule spins a classic Swamp Thing/Constantine tale, only this time it is Swampy’s turn to save Constantine. Returning to the swamp he finds Capucine recovering from an attack by Seeder, who had come looking for him. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of both of these new characters.
The final issue in the collection (23.1) is part of the Forever Evil event, and is devoted to arch-villain Anton Arcane. Abigail Arcane (who became the new avatar of the Rot in the previous story line) visits him in Hell. She is seeking the truth about her mother, and gets more than she bargained for. The final scene implies that Arcane has escaped from his prison, surely the biggest loaded gun any Swamp Thing writer could conjure up.