Best Shots Extra: SWAMP THING #4, X-CLUB #1

Best Shots Extra: SWAMP THING, X-CLUB


Swamp Thing #4

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Marco Rudy, Sean Parsons, Michael Lacombe, and David Baron

Letters by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 9/10

Click here for preview

Finally, a "New 52" comic that has given me not what I expected, but what I was too afraid to hope for. When Swamp Thing launched back in September, I stayed away. As much as the character had roots (no pun intended) in the superhero milieu, many readers of my age and slightly older identify with the more horror-oriented work of Alan Moore as the baseline for the character. So, when DC brought the character back at the end of "Brightest Day," it was kind of a disappointing turn. Add to that the re-appropriation of other traditionally Vertigo-based characters by DC proper, and things looked grim for this relaunch.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Having caught up with the fourth issue, I can't say how Swamp Thing reads month-to-month, but sitting down with the title, nearly everything clicks, and this latest issue is no exception.

The main thing that Scott Snyder has done with this book is find a way to make the status quo set by "Brightest Day" work with what we already know about the character. The lack of large-scale interaction with the rest of the DC Universe means that Alec Holland can exist in his own corner of the world, unencumbered by the baggage of the new (and old) continuity. Snyder is proving himself a master of boiling a concept that's about as high and heavy as it gets into a digestible format without losing the depth. By far, my favorite thing about his writing on this book is Alec Holland's voice. Focusing on a lead character that wants nothing to do with the weird, wild life he seems destined for isn't a new idea, but Swamp Thing handles the idea deftly, and the dialogue, exposition-y as it may be at times, never feels hacky, or unnatural. This issue sees Holland confront Abigail Arcane as she's about to abandon him in the middle of the night. As he expresses his frustration that everyone seems to have an idea of where his life is going but him, it would be easy for Snyder to devolve into the same type of pointless, ranting dialogue that plagues these type of scenes. Instead, the scene feels natural and powerful; good adjectives for a book like this.

The only downside to this issue (and it's a minor one) is Marco Rudy who, with a veritable army of inkers, and colorist David Baron, does his best to craft a powerful imitation of regular artist Yanick Paquette's fluid, and organic style. Now, when I say downside, I mean that only in the sense that Paquette's style of layout and design doesn't seem to come as naturally to Rudy, who still manages to work in much of Paquette's oddly art nouveau style borders and panel breaks. Rudy's work stands well on it's own, and he certainly captures the characters properly. His work just isn't quite as lovely as Paquette's, and as much as it works, I couldn't help but miss the regular art team.

With a story and an antagonist that plant this book firmly in the horror genre, it's truly great to read a worthy take on Swamp Thing. He's a character that's very easy to get wrong, but, in the right hands, can be a perfect vehicle for this type of genre storytelling. Scott Snyder and his art team are onto something big with this book, and it deserves recognition that I don't think it's getting. Swamp Thing stands out as a prime example of everything that the rest of DC's new line should've been: cutting edge, thematic, and gorgeous.


X-Club #1

Written by Simon Spurrier

Art by Paul Davidson and Rachelle Rosenberg

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

There isn't anything wrong, per se, with entertainment that plays everything by the numbers. I know critics like to blast movies, shows, or comics with the moniker “it's so very formulaic”. When really, what we mean is, “the creators messed up the formula”. There is a reason we connect with certain stories that follow tried and true formulas. It's comfortable and just a little welcoming. For every emotionally challenging crime show like The Killing, we've got the safe and reliable Bones. The same is true in the world of comics. For every All-Star Superman, a book that takes the familiar and gives us something fresh, we have X-Club, a comic that doesn't really challenge the reader, can still deliver. Granted, a team book about mutantkind's best, brightest, and most egotistical isn't the most original of concepts. Still, a book featuring Dr. Nemesis, Danger, Dr. Kavita Rao, and Madison Jeffries acting as a brainy public relations stunt for the “real” X-Men of Utopia™ has potential.

Writer Simon Spurrier doesn't give us much in terms of setup. Likely under orders from both Magneto and Cyclops, the X-Club gang does some special mutant-powered science work with Stratocorp and together they create the world's very first space elevator. Science, what can't it do? Well, apparently it can't appease the native Atlanteans that are convinced science is messing with their under-the-sea voodoo. Protest hilarity breaks out. And, since this is a superhero comic, so does the punching, stabbing, and explosions when said Atlantean has a case of the über-mutation and goes all aggro on the team. (Poor Cyclops can never have a peaceful press conference). So, yes, a change in characters notwithstanding, X-Club isn't really breaking any new thematic ground. That doesn't stop the book from being fun, if a tad cliché.

I enjoy Spurrier's take on the individual members of the team, as well as the ancillary characters in the book. His Dr. Nemesis is all ego, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't snort when he called Scott Summers “LaForge.” Warren Ellis would be proud. Madison Jeffries has just enough quirks to keep him entertaining, without falling into Reginald Barkley territory. (That's two Trek references – wait, I'm not done). Dr. Rao's rather considerable intellect and empathy don't jive with Nemesis' attention-hungry arrogance, and she becomes the book's Counselor Troi. And finally, Danger fills the role of the machine doing it's best to be more human with poorly timed jokes. Like I said, it's a cast we've seen before. However, Spurrier manages to play the formula well and turns in an interesting story with just enough mystery and action to hold my attention for 30 pages.

Relying on facial expressions and body language, a lot of the jokes in X-Club fall on the shoulders of artist Paul Davidson. Although the book is lacking in close-up panels, Davidson still does a good job of conveying the snark, nervousness, and general annoyance from the various members of the team. Indeed, I'm convinced we could have gone the breadth of the issue without a single Dr. Nemesis word balloon and we would still “hear” the character. It's not really a surprise then when a book so reliant on snarky banter and technobabble falters a bit once the fighting kicks in. The actions scenes feel a little lacking in energy, and I rarely found myself pulled into the moment. Knowing this was the opening salvo of a larger story and the main characters weren't in any real danger lessened my involvement; I still wish the fights had a bit more oomph to them. In a book based on over-the-top science concepts, I'd hoped for brighter hues from colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, but I'm guessing this was a decision out of her control. However, she does makes good use of shadows and negative space in the book and helps bring out Davidson's lines.

I know I keep hammering away with the whole comics-by-the-numbers thing in regards to X-Club, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a fun read. It was. Could this team of supporting characters maintain an ongoing title? Probably not. Can they maintain a five-issue miniseries? If Spurrier and Davidson keep up the pace from issue #1, sure. I know I want to know what science does next. 

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