It's time for "Rotworld" to get personal in Animal Man and Swamp Thing. And the lives of the lives of Buddy Baker and Alec Holland will be drastically altered by what they encounter.
As readers found out in this week's issues #17 of both series, Animal Man and Swamp Thing have been offered a way to leave behind the horrific future of "Rotworld," but if the "rift in Anton Arcane's wake" works, the two heroes still face major challenges that will change their lives in a very personal way."[Issue #18] really delivers one of the most emotional issues of Animal Man," Jeff Lemire told Newsarama. "And for Scott, I know [Swamp Thing #18 is] his last issue, so it's bound to be a sort of coda and a love letter to the character. And for me, it's this big thing that happens to the Bakers. So both issues are really strong.
"All the big, fun stuff from Rotworld has passed, and now we refocus on who they are as people," Lemire said.
"We're both really proud of the way the story changes the status quo for both characters. We hope the readers find the endings both kind of inevitable but surprising at the same time."
The storyline, which has been brewing through both Animal Man and Swamp Thing since October, has demonstrated just how much the concepts in both series matter to the DCU. The balance between the Red, the Green and the Rot is necessary — and without it, the future gets pretty messed up.
In issue #17 of both series, both Animal Man and Swamp Thing seemingly defeated the forces of the Rot, but Lemire and Snyder said that does not mean everything goes back to normal for the two heroes.
"I've seen reviews, and people are kind of dismissing it as this thing that will inevitably snap back to the real world, and they'll time travel back and fix everything," Lemire said. "So they're discrediting the story already and saying it doesn't count. But we knew going in that if this story didn't have consequences afterwards, it would just be frivolous. There really is a big change at the end of both books that will stick, that will last, not just a gimmick, you know? I think it will probably surprise some people too."For most readers and reviewers, "Rotworld" has felt like a fun romp through an alternate future. And while Snyder and Lemire both wanted that type of reaction to the storyline, they also wanted there to be consequences afterward.
"We had been building this mythology since the first issue of each of the books. And it felt like the story just kept getting bigger and bigger," Lemire said. "We sat down and figured out what the ultimate end point of this was, saying to ourselves, if we keep growing it, as the Rot just keeps getting out of control, what would that end point be? From there, it just seemed like a really fun way to do one of these alternate timeline kind of stories, this post-apocalyptic superhero epic.
"At the same time, I think we were both really conscious that if we were going to do it, it could be fun, but it would have to have some consequence," Lemire said. "It couldn't just be wiped clean and go back to normal at the end."
Lemire said he enjoyed getting to bring some really obscure characters into his side of "Rotworld."
"I think Buddy's always been an oddball character anyway, so it's fun to surround him with other, like-minded DC characters from the past," he said. "Animal Man has always been about family. So it's almost like he's gathered a new family as he went through the Rot lands and got this new collection of oddball superheroes as a surrogate family, in a way, as he looks for his real family."Meanwhile, Alec encountered characters, but was more isolated in Rotworld, the writers said. "Swamp Thing has always been, aside from Abby, this lonely, shambling character. And Animal Man is all about the family," Lemire said. "So it's just inherent to who they are that their journey as characters have to reflect that."
"Alec was so isolated, and everyone kept telling him that Abby was dead, but he believed deep down that she was still alive and that he sensed her there," Snyder said. "So in that way, I feel like the circumstances have made him feel like a character that needs to be isolated and kind of be alone with his own fear. So I tried to make a story with him that was more of a travelogue, as he was on this mission that everybody tells him can't work, as he goes forward, sort of collecting characters and things along the way. He stops in Gotham, but for the most part, he's under this cloud in his mind that everything that he loves isn't there."
Solicitations have indicated that Alec Holland, the man inside the Swamp Thing, makes a great sacrifice at the end of "Rotworld," but fans of the Swamp Thing series will also make a sacrifice, as Snyder and regular artist Yanick Paquette leave the book after issue #18.
"Our last issue together is #18. Me and Yanick," Snyder said. "So you can imagine that we're going to try to really pull out all the stops and give a massive conclusion to it there.
"We wanted to really bring around the story that we began in issue #1," he said. "You'll see things from that issue come back, and some of the very earliest stuff that we did on Swamp Thing will come to a complete circle. You'll get a sense that we're leaving the characters at a place that we intended from the very beginning, even though it is a massive change."
"In #17, we were lucky to get Andy Belanger, who's a good friend and someone I admire. He brought a different, almost rock 'n' roll style to it," Snyder said. "Then we're back to Yanick in #18. He's definitely making it the most beautiful issue so far, and I really can't wait for you guys to see it."
Animal Man has been balancing two artists in the two storylines within the comic during "Rotworld," with the present day depicted by Timothy Green and the futuristic, Rotworld stuff drawn by Steve Pugh."They both brought a different voice to it," Lemire said. "In issue #18, it will be all Steve again, and readers will see that he captured the emotional story really well."
After issue #18, Buddy Baker will continue his heroic adventures in the present day, although he will remember what he saw in "Rotworld."
"I think one kind of cool thing, now that I'm sort of waiting — because now I'm on issue #24 or something scriptwise, so I'm well beyond this stuff — and one fun thing I'm playing with now is that Buddy remembers everything that happened. He remembers his relationships with people like Constantine and Black Orchid that he had in Rotworld," Lemire said. "But they don't. So there's some fun there to be had, where he has this relationship with these people that haven't met him yet."
After Snyder leaves the book with issue #18, Charles Soule takes over writing the series. The change frees Snyder to write his upcoming untitled Superman title with artist Jim Lee.
But he said the experience of writing Swamp Thing and working with Paquette has opened his eyes to how supportive fans can be of DC's less well-known characters.
"Thanks to everyone who's been so supportive of both of us on these books," Snyder said. "They're dream characters, and they're characters that conceivably could have fallen off a cliff pretty quickly. Instead, we're both really proud and excited about where the series are at this point, so just thanks to everyone reading them."