Swamp Thing: New Roots #1
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Marco Santucci and John Kalisz
Lettering by Jimmy Betancourt
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Mark Russell and Marco Santucci make a strong case for episodic Swamp Thing tales again in the debut of Swamp Thing: New Roots. Originally published as the Swamp Thing 100-Page Giant some months ago, Swamp Thing: New Roots is a wonderfully accessible and appropriately brutal Swamp Thing “pilot episode.”
Though the reduced page count does make the story feel a touch lighter than it should, Mark Russell, Marco Santucci, and John Kalisz cut right to the root of how and why Swamp Thing is interesting, delivering both engaging moralistic horror and dark comedy. All wrapped in lush, keenly blocked artwork that leans into the amorphic veggie form of Swampy to great effect throughout this short, but sweet opening issue. Harkening back to the old-school one-and-done “tales of suspense” of ‘70s spinner racks, Swamp Thing: New Roots #1 is a promising throwback.
Right from the jump, writer Mark Russell hits the ground in a sprint — and with the reduced page count, this is both a strength and hindrance for the opening issue. In terms of how this quick pacing works for the issue, it provides the story a brisk energy, which aids Russell’s surprising amount of plot heaviness. A new agricultural company, Sunderland Foods, have started to erect factory farms throughout Louisiana, engineering a new “predator seed” that threatens to cross pollinate with the rest of the swamp land’s plantlife and destroy the ecosystems.
Swampy, of course, can’t have that, and so we have a classic set up of monster versus corporation. Not only does this fit into Russell’s oeuvre quite well, but it finds a compelling purpose for Swamp Thing as a force of nature and less like a comic book superhero. Unfortunately, this is also where the speed of the issue starts to work against it — though Russell is introducing a lot of really fun elements, like the wryly self-aware corporate antagonists and the new ability Swampy has gained of sprouting poisonous fruit from his body filled with his anger toward humanity, none of it is given enough time to fully stick. It’s introduced only to quickly be moved away from as the issue barrels toward its grim conclusion. Hopefully this is only Russell planting flags for the future issues, but I feel this issue could have been stronger had it just lingered a bit on any one of these plot elements for longer.
Fortunately, this issue looks tremendous thanks to artist Marco Santucci and colorist John Kalisz. Though much of the action is depicted in closer cropped panels and zoomed-in points of view, Santucci and Kalisz lean into Russell’s imposing take on Swamp Thing visually. One highlight is the way they show how ineffective human weapons are on Swamp Thing throughout, such as when a squad of goons pathetically shoot through him (“it’s like shooting a salad!”, one screams) while he looms in the background, all shadows and burning orange eyes. There’s another winning sequence where a pair of bad guys use a flamethrower on Swampy, celebrating their “victory” even as our hero rises from the lush grass behind them even larger than before. While the scope and point of view of the issue is somewhat limited, Santucci and Kalisz make a meal out of the mysteriously visual potential of Swamp Thing as a title.
Though a touch slight in parts, Swamp Thing: New Roots #1 tills rich soil for the future of DC’s supernaturally focused new digital releases. Freed from the confines of the 100-page annuals, Russell, Santucci, and Kalisz have a chance to kick off the rare modern ongoing for Swamp Thing. If they can only slow down a bit to grow it out properly. Plant puns aside, Swamp Thing: New Roots #1 is a fun showing from DC’s new digital release slate.