By Darthmat 2 Comments
The comparison has to be made. Animal Man and Swamp Thing are immediately juxtaposed for a very obvious reason: they operate under the same forces. Animal Man receives his powers from "The Red," the force of nature bound to animal life. Swamp Thing is an avatar of "The Green," which represents plant life. They are also facing minions of the same evil, "The Black," or "The Rot."
The books' similarities extend beyond the obvious, though. At their core are two characters whose place in the universe are being thrown into question, and whether or not they are prepared to deal with the answers will determine the fate of life on Earth.
Animal Man, written by Jeff Lemire, stars Buddy Baker. Buddy is a warm, likable character. He's not plagued with a huge ego, and he's genial when interacting with us common folk. Most importantly, though, he is a father of two children and a husband.
When a soldier that belongs to a family goes off to war, it's life-changing for the family. In Animal Man, duty calls, and the Baker unit is shaken to its core. Ellen Baker, his wife, is understandably distressed; she doesn't want to hear that her husband has died, and she doesn't want her children to grow up without a father.
Throughout the events of the story, however, one character remains unsettlingly peaceful: Maxine Baker, the daughter. At its conclusion, issue #1 set the stage for the first story arc by showing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Maxine is not an ordinary girl. By issue #3, we find that what could have been misinterpreted as a hollow cliffhanger was careful story planning, and Maxine lies at its center.
In the end, though, it all goes back to Buddy. In the latest issue, those in charge of The Red, in so many words, tell Buddy that he was a pawn on their chessboard, and his main purpose was to father Maxine, their new avatar.
How Buddy acts now is crucial. He was just told he's less important than he thought he was, and that his daughter needs to fight in a war. As a person, how will he cope with this information? As a father, will he let his daughter endanger herself if she needs to for the fate of the world - will he even have a choice? Buddy Baker's life is changing rapidly, and we'll have to wait to find out whether or not he's able to keep up.
Alec Holland, the protagonist of Swamp Thing, is facing questions on the opposite side of the same coin. Alec is being told that a nagging voice in the back of his mind has finally caught up with him. The Green needs its avatar, but all Alec wants to do is live an unassuming life.
Swamp Thing, written by Scott Snyder, features a superhero who has never actually fought a force of evil before. The Green imitated Alec's spirit in the past to attempt to create a makeshift guardian for themselves, and that Swamp Thing was immensely powerful. Right now, though, they need the real deal.
To Alec, however, this is all insanity. He has vague impressions of being this green monster, but nothing more. Suddenly, he's told that he needs to give up his life and fight for the fate of the planet. The reader, however, is not shown any of this life except for a brief glimpse at his job as a construction worker in issue #1. Perhaps this was done intentionally; without being tied to a human life, Alec will be able to embrace The Green.
The most crucial interaction Alec has with another person at this point is Abby Arcane, who is entirely tied to Swamp Thing. Abby Arcane and Swamp Thing were deeply in love. Now, years later, Abby has returned, and she is more connected to the elemental forces than ever. Anton Arcane, her uncle, was Swamp Thing's greatest archenemy. As it turns out, Arcanes are directly tied to The Rot. Right now, Abby seems to be fighting the dark voices that call to her, but will she be able to continue resisting them?
Again, what most blatantly ties these books together is the common villain. Being a force of decay, one would expect the villains to be disturbing. They are all that and more.
In Animal Man, the agents of The Rot going after the Bakers are referred to The Hunter's Three, and these are three of the most terrifying villains I've ever read. If Travel Foreman's depiction of The Hunter's Three and the events of Animal Man were even a bit more disorienting, the book would be unintelligible. The art just dances along this border, however, and while entirely comprehensible, the baffling and beautiful artwork adds to the tone of Buddy's confusion and the horror of The Black.
In Swamp Thing, artists Yanick Paquette and Victor Ibanez don't hold anything back. While we are still being introduced to the villains in Swamp Thing, and what a haunting introduction it has been thus-far, every panel in which The Rot appears is unbelievably wrong. The Black is a corruption of life, and that's portrayed perfectly in Swamp Thing.
The artists aren't just great at drawing the bad, however. In both books, while The Black is amazingly done, so are The Red and The Green. The characters are all given special attention, and panels which don't feature exciting events are given just as much detail and care as the action-packed ones.
Animal Man features Buddy Baker, a man whose self-image is being taken for an unpleasant and shocking whirl. Swamp Thing's Alec Holland is being given a mantle of immense responsibility he didn't ask for. Buddy's family means the world to him, and all Alec has for company is a love gone awry he doesn't even remember. Both are fighting for the fate of the Earth, and both stories are absolutely astounding.