Jason Howard is mainly known as an artist, having collaborated on Trees with Warren Ellis and The Astounding Wolf-Man with Robert Kirkman. This is a dystopian story about a genetic experiment gone wrong: a formula intended to grow giant plants for food infects the human population, causing all of the newborn children to rapidly grow into giants. The male children start out normal, but quickly mutate into monsters called Jacks: violent and seemingly incapable of rational thought. The females just grow up to be 300 feet tall, the titular Big Girls.
Most of the normal humans live in an area called the Preserve, where they carefully watch for signs of new births to guard against any new Jacks. And the Big Girls guard against incursions by the Jacks, which means lots of big monster battles. But there is more going on: not only the history, but also current conflict between Joanna (the scientist who developed the genetics, and who everyone though was dead) and the High Marshall. Ember (one of the Big Girls) sees humanity in the Jacks. A couple of men become giants, and one of them may represent a way out.
On one level the story is a simple giant women versus monsters tale, and it works very well that way: lots of big graphic battles. But there are also some seeds planted for future stories, which promise to be more complex. Here’s hoping.
As the title implies, these stories represent a return to the Swamp Thing’s roots: more of a reimagining than a reboot or a rehash. Russell, Santucci and Kalisz’s tales open the collection, and come from the Swamp Thing Giant. Swampy is back to fighting the Sunderland Corporation. They have developed a bioengineered product called the Terminus Seed, which sterilizes itself so farmers will have to buy more. But since it sterilizes every plant it cross-pollinates with, it ultimately represents a death sentence for all plant life on Earth. Naturally ST actively opposes its use, so he sets about destroying every Sunderland facility.
He is presented much as he had been early in the character’s life: a plant-man with a connection to the natural world (who remembers the trauma of his fiery death and rebirth in the swamp), but with no mention of continuity baggage like being an avatar, or the Green, or the Parliament of Trees. Over the course of this arc Sunderland’s battle against ST escalates to include creating two Swamp Thing clones, as well as mobilizing the U.S. military. There is a new conclusion to the battle here, as Swampy manages to create a new green world while President Sunderland and his supporters hide in an underground bunker.
The second arc by Hester, Mandrake and Hi-Fi come from the Swamp Thing: New Roots series. They are a series of brief standalone stories, although there is a recurring appearance by a “ghost light” called the Fifolet in Louisiana. They feature a cursed circus, a cursed slave ship, some cursed toys…lots of cursed stuff, now that I think about it. But there are also interdimensional monsters and a vengeful ghost. Fun to read, and with an even lighter sense of continuity.
I can’t help thinking of this as a Dark Horse horror title. Not just because of Arcudi’s work on Hellboy and B.P.R.D., but also the horrific artwork of Giangiordano (who is mainly known for Marvel Comics covers), which is so compatible with the look of Dark Horse horror titles. The guy can definitely design monsters!
But this is a fairly fresh concept. Set in the American Civil War, it follows young soldier Virgil Morris, who finds he cannot escape his Pawnee heritage. Horrible as war is, after being visited by ghosts and visions he learns that there is far worse evil behind the conflict. In the beginning only he can see that some of the soldiers have been possessed by demons, who thrive on the hatred and violence they create. Then he finds an ally in nurse Frances Shaw. They fight the monsters to a standstill in this installment, including the poetic justice referred to in the subtitle of the collection.
The collection includes a great deal of bonus artwork: alternate covers, sketch covers, and an extensive sketchbook of character designs (with Arcudi’s annotations).