Culture & Conversation

Enter the Rot

When DC Comics re-launched their entire line-up of  back in September 2011 for their New 52! campaign, one of the highlights was their line of Dark titles. Part of this dark little corner of DC included an Arthurian fantasy featuring Jack Kirby’s The Demon; the re-vamping of I, Vampire, an obscure 1980s serial which originally appeared in the horror anthology House of Mystery; and a new team book entitled Justice League Dark, which united host of characters from DC’s mature Vertigo branch into a more mainstream, action-adventure series, exploring the supernatural side of the DC universe.

Also making the leap from Vertigo to DC proper were two titles made famous in the 80s by industry icons Grant Morrison and Alan Moore—Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Helming the re-launch of these characters are two of DC’s rising stars, Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder. Lemire and Snyder are a natural fit to fill the footsteps of Morrison and Moore, themselves both being Vertigo writers, with Sweet Tooth for Lemire and American Vampire for Snyder.

What Lemire and Snyder envisioned for the characters was a complete re-definition of their place in the DC universe by uniting them in a tri-part connection in which the plant world (the green), the animal world (the red), and the dead world (the rot) interacted in a delicate balance. Naturally, the rot spins out of control, threatening to overtake the world, and only Animal Man and Swamp Thing, as the chosen protectors of their realms, can stop it.

The concept itself is so brilliant in the simplicity of its logic—pairing Animal Man and Swamp Thing in a yin yang duality—that it’s surprising nobody thought of it before. There’s a certain irony, as well, of inextricably linking these two characters who were essentially the early breakouts for Morrison and Moore, considering that the two writers have been notoriously at odds for years.            

For the most part, Lemire and Snyder’s re-envisioning abstains from the deeper metaphysical explorations of Morrison and Moore’s runs and instead focus on delivering a high-octane horror-thriller to great effect. One of the elements that makes Rotworld such a successful story is the amazing artwork which furnishes the storytelling. Yanick Paquette’s lavish panelling and attention to detail perfectly compliment the lush, verdant tone of Swamp Thing and and Travel Foreman’s artwork in Animal Man delivers some of the most mind-bending anatomical anomalies ever created.

Judged separately, Snyder’s Swamp Thing is the most successful of the two series. It is a well orchestrated thriller that seamlessly transitions the story with plot twists all the while drawing and elaborating on Swamp Thing’s rich history. Snyder is perfectly at ease in the horror genre and his signature writing style, although perhaps beginning to show its seams, continues to deliver incredibly rewarding results.

On the other hand, Jeff Lemire’s work on Animal Man begins strong. However, as the story progresses the plot twists feel somewhat strained, as though Lemire is treading water, waiting for the climactic conclusion to arrive. Unfortunately, when the conclusion does arrive, it arrives with plot holes and a questionable resolution. Even looking past the narrative structure, Lemire’s writing simply isn’t as tight or as engaging as Snyder’s. However, on the positive side, Lemire has created a winning formula with Animal Man’s comedic and heartfelt family dynamic as his entire family gets swept into the drama of Rotworld. Enjoyable also, is the depiction of the red, the secret world where the protectors of the red dwell, which is reminiscent of the classic fantasy films The Never Ending Story and The Labyrinth. Unlike Snyder, who left Swamp Thing at the conclusion of Rotworld, Lemire is continuing on Animal Man. Perhaps he will re-deem some of his more questionable narrative decisions as his grand scheme reveals itself in the following installment.

For whatever minor flaws this storyline has, do not be dissuaded, this is mainstream comics at their best. To read the entire Rotworld storyline, grab volume 1-3 of Animal Man and volume 1-3 of Swamp Thing.

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