Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Swamp Classics - The Conqueror Worms!

With its eleventh issue Swamp Thing trudges into new territory, at least in terms of creative input. This issue features the debut of Nestor Redondo as the artist and sports a very atmospheric cover by Luis Dominguez. The cover is a dandy if the Swamp Thing himself were a bit more on model. He seems too like Marvel's Man-Thing here and not the somewhat more heroic figure that Swampy traditionally cuts.

The story begins in the swamp where Swamp Thing muses about his lost opportunity to save himself now that his lab is utterly destroyed by the spaceship which launched from within it a few issues previously. Just then Matt Cable and Abigail Arcane arrive with the new mission to find the Swamp Thing and uncover his mysterious connection to the death of the Hollands. Cable has finally shaken off his hatred of Swamp Thing. Soon though the pair are attacked by a mutant alligator which Swamp Thing shows up in time to battle. Meanwhile two giant hideous worm creatures capture Cable and Arcane and drag them back to a mysterious sealed laboratory beneath the swamps. They meet four other captives -- an old man named Luke, a mute sheriff named Kain, and a young black couple called Bolt and Ruth. All it seems are being held by a madman named Zachary Nail who built his lab as a defense against a polluted world. Nail battled Dr.Thirteen previously in the pages of The Phantom Stranger and was defeated. He was found and nursed back to relative health by the giant worms who he imagines want to accomplish the same things he does. Swamp Thing meanwhile finds the lab and enters to find and save Cable and Arcane yet again. It's then revealed that the worms don't want to save the world or mankind save to keep them as livestock to be consumed. This revelation drives Nail over the edge and in his maniacal frustration he shoots and kills Ruth before activating the lab's self-destruct sequence. Swamp Thing arrives to help the people escape and stops Bolt from killing Nail. All the survivors leave the exploding lab, but Swamp Thing disappears having found a mysterious purple jewel which transports him back into time to face a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Redondo's lush artwork is a good replacement for Wrightson's moody work. That said, there is a loss of the classic horror feel the comic had developed and a turn toward a more straight-forward science fiction adventure. The characters are more traditionally handsome than before in the hands of Berni who is magnificent at creating slightly odd human beings.

Neal Adams
The story too, despite being written by Wein has a more pure sci-fi feel to it. The appearance of a character from another yarn he'd created and written for the fourteenth Phantom Stranger draws Swamp Thing more tightly into DC's continuity which in a way is good I guess in the long run, but does somewhat undermine again the isolated horror vibe the book had generated to this point. Despite the appearance of Batman earlier, the series seemed to take place in a whole other world, a world more akin to that of the Universal monster flicks than the universe of Superman.

There also seem to be too many characters in this one. Luke and Kain add almost nothing to the story but are there right along. The death of Ruth is shocking and does set up a future storyline with Bolt, but seemed in the final analysis a bit gratuitous. Wein clearly wants to pivot the series at this juncture, but it's not at all clear to me what he is aiming to do with that change of direction.

Maybe next issue will say more.

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