Swamp Thing & Animal Man #14: The Rot Rolls On

Swamp Thing #14

"Rotworld" is in full swing, and the 14th issues of Swamp Thing and Animal Man are both leading up to a team-up between the two title characters. Again.

Last time they got together, they journeyed into The Rot itself, Arcane pulled some dirty shenanigans, and they woke up a year later to an Earth that's almost entirely dead. Alec Holland has awakened to find that Poison Ivy and  Deadman are the only folks around The Parliament of Trees in their tiny oasis in the Rotworld. Buddy Baker has a little more luck with Beast Boy, Steel, Black Orchid and John Constantine, as well as some goat-guy named Shepherd and a handful of animal-folk like Croco-Man and a bird guy… sorry, I haven't really been keeping up with the Animal Man side of things. This funky Justice League Dark-Lite team-up, however, might get me on board – especially now that that off-putting art from Travel Foreman that everyone else loved is no longer around.

What got me to pick up Animal Man #14, however, was a bit of my unfortunate human nature. I read that Lemire worked in a mild shot at Rob Liefeld – who, you may recall, had a war of words with Swamp Thing writer Scott Snyder when he publicly and obnoxiously left all his DC books and burned his bridges in the process. Both of today's books feature the avatars of The Green and The Red duking it out with rotten-ass versions of dead supertypes, but while Snyder's got the Swamp Thing growing huge in size and stoping out undead Teen Titans, Lemire's got his Rotworld-buddy's back by throwing all of Liefeld's ex-characters in the mix: Hawk, Dove, Deathstroke, Grifter and – as seen last issue – Hawkman. Sure, it was likely Lemire's subtle dig, but artist Steve Pugh seems to have had fun with it.

Anyway, Rotworld, the story.

While I haven't read the bulk of Animal Man, I've read and listened to my fellow Crave Comics Cohort Iann Robinson speaking highly of it at first, and then slowly wearing down as the massive, overarching story wore on – and doing the same thing with Swamp Thing, a book I have been reading regularly. I always deferred to him, as he's much more familiar with the Swamp Thing's storied history than I am, but as he's tapped out, as is his prerogative, I'm sticking with it for now, and it's my turn to step up to the review plate.

I certainly understand his criticisms – it does feel as though this same story has been going on for an entire year now, and these most recent issues feel a bit recycled from the lead-up to their first team-up, just with more desolate circumstances. I'm not quite sure why they're thinking that if Animal Man and Swamp Thing team up NOW, it'll be any different than last time, which resulted in them apparently blinking out of existence for a year and the end of the world. Also, with Animal Man in particular – which I haven't read since issue #1 – it feels like I haven't missed anything, as it opens with the Baker family being possessed by rot-monster creepiness and turning on little Maxine, who's apparently the real super-duper avatar of the Red, and Buddy's just a placeholder. Only now, Maxine also has a talking cat for some reason. But that whole sequence reminds me of the dreams Buddy was having in the first issue, as creepily delivered by Foreman – whose art I appreciated but didn't enjoy. There's a difference.

All that said, I've tried to step back from the notion of comic books as a series of varying story arcs and take this as one long story. The heroes step into a world larger than they'd imagined, slowly begin to understand it, team up, get defeated and separated, and now have to find their way together again to unite forces. It's a massive epic detailing the extensive lore of these three natural forces and the need for balance between them, and that's taking it's time to unfold. Now it's even become a post-apocalyptic zombie story, but with people that might actually be able to defeat the root cause of zombies rather than detonating each individual zombie head as they appear. And it seems they're gearing up for the final battle – but, of course, we've felt that way a few times before.

It seems as though there's been a huge build-up to The War With The Rot, but Snyder and Lemire pulled the rug out from under us by doing this time-jump thing, and so this new re-build-up feels a bit like a retread. However, what's kept me hooked into Swamp Thing, and what might be drawing me into Animal Man is the character stuff. AM is sporting characters from Justice League Dark, a Lemire book I am enjoying, and last week's Swamp Thing Annual gave us a sweetly touching look at a forgotten first meeting between Holland and Abigail Arcane that pulled on a heartstring or two. It's not often I enjoy a love story of destiny, but Snyder's got a solid touch with it, and Becky Cloonan's stellar art on the annual, plus Yanick Paquette's consistently great work on the main series really helped to serve that angle. I'm kind of a sap. I can admit this. I may also just be a sucker for funky-colored two-tone hair, like Abby's black and white look.

Swamp Thing is a book I've liked but not loved. Animal Man is a book to which I've only occasionally paid attention. I'm on board with both of them as they seem to approach the end of this mega-arc, although if it turns out that Alec and Buddy have all been in some Rot-induced dreamstate for the last several issues instead of an actual alternate future, and thus, they'll need to jumpstart that build-up to that final showdown all over again – if there even can be a final showdown with a force of nature that must survive and be in balance – I might have to withdraw as well, as it will really feel as though they have no other stories to tell with these characters.

For as high-minded and elemental as these series may aspire to be, we REALLY need the visceral comic book satisfaction of seeing Anton Arcane get his ass stomped. Oh, and Frankenstein better show up to help.