This week, Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire begin taking two of the surprise hits of the New 52 reboot — Swamp Thing and Animal Man — and mix them together for a five-month event called "Rotworld."
And it incorporates the entire DCU, with heroes not only fighting against the Rot — but some already transformed because of it.
So what do you need to know to read "Rotworld?"
1) In the DCU, there is a balance among the elements of life. These are represented by the Green (plant life), the Red (human and animal life), and the Rot (death).
2) Each of these balanced forces have an avatar: Swamp Thing for the Green, Animal Man for the Red, and now, the evil Anton Arcane has become the avatar for the Rot. He wants more power for the Rot, and he is trying to upset the balance on Earth, battling against the Green and Red.
As "Rotworld" begins this week, Animal Man and Swamp Thing have tried to stop the Rot, but they end up in a future where the Rot has already won. The Green and Red have lost.All of the DCU — including heroes like Batman and Superman — have been twisted in this Rot-filled future into very different creatures. While Buddy Baker (Animal Man) and Alec Holland (Swamp Thing) try to reverse things in the future, characters that are still in the present-day DCU work to prevent the seemingly inevitable triumph of the Rot over the DCU.
Readers can expect an epic yet horror-themed story by Snyder and Lemire, working with artists Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy (Swamp Thing), and Steve Pugh and Timothy Green (Animal Man).
Filling in some blanks left from when we last talked to Lemire and Snyder about the event, Newsarama talked to Snyder and Lemire to find out what role the characters play in "Rotworld," and whether their titles will change when it's all done.
Newsarama: Scott, how would describe "Rotworld" overall? What kind of story are you putting together for this event?
Scott Snyder: What we're trying to do with "Rotworld" is really expand what we've been doing in Animal Man and Swamp Thing, on a stage that incorporates the entire DCU.
So they're all of the themes and call the conflict that you've seen with the Red and the Green and the Rot. And that conflict is meant to be epic. These are the three forces that represent life and death on earth, the whole cycle of life.
If they get out of balance — you've seen it happening in Animal Man and Swamp Thing, and the consequences have been big, but not this big.
We wanted to really take it to a place where we show you how much this mythology matters to everything in the DCU, and to envision a world where, through the lens of the Red, the Green and the Rot, one of them was allowed to get completely out of whack.It's a nightmarish version of the DCU with these heroes being the only ones left that can restore the world to the way it's supposed to be.
There's also a tremendous among of joy for us in that we really love Elseworlds stories and getting to reimagine characters that you love in different contexts.
So here, getting to see Batman or Superman, or characters that you wouldn't even expect, in the strange context of this nightmarishly formed DCU — whether they're good, they're bad, they're alive, they're undead — has been incredibly fun. And we want to give readers that sense of fun with this event as well.
So as grim as the world is, we want it to have lots of guilty pleasures and lots of emotion. And just be the biggest, most epic thing we could possibly do on these books.
Nrama: Originally, you'd told me that the first couple issues this week will go together, but then each title will have separate narratives until the last couple issues, which cross over again. Is that still the plan?
Jeff Lemire: Well, I guess technically you don't have to read them both until the end. But you kind of do have to read them both. You won't know what's going on.
Snyder: We tried to structure it to be as generous to readers as we could, so that if they really did want to just read one and not the other, they could. Basically, the anchors of the story, at the beginning and the end, you have to read both. The characters are literally together. Buddy and Alec are together at the beginning and they're together at the end.So both issues #12 go together, with part one in Animal Man and part two in Swamp Thing. And issues #17 will be the same. But everything in between, the characters are separated, so you can follow them individually.
But honestly, I mean, if you're following one, you should just pick them both up. I feel like I keep saying, "oh, you could read them separately." But I agree with Jeff. You won't get the whole story. You're going to miss things. So just buy them both.
Lemire: We worked really hard to make a coordinated story that's fun to read together. Look at it as a 40-page issue every month. Yes, it costs twice as much, but you're getting twice as much content and it all works together.
Nrama: Is it tough to keep track of what's going on in the future, what's going on in the present, and what storylines are affecting what? Do you have big charts in your office, or what?
Lemire: I do. I literally have a big, giant sheet of paper with the different narratives on it.
Snyder: Do you really?
Lemire: Yeah, I do.
Snyder: Wow, I don't.
Lemire: See, as you can tell, Vaneta, I'm doing all the work. There are four narratives we're keeping track of: Abby, Ellen and the kids, and then Buddy and then Alex. And then Frankenstein as well, so there are five.
So yeah, it is kind of confusing.
There are many phone calls. Scott will call me, or I'll call him, whenever we catch something, and we'll say, "OK, so what issue do they get here again?" You know, just reminding ourselves, because there are so many moving pieces.
But you know, we spent a few days over last Christmas break getting the main beats of the story down. Once we did that...
Snyder: It totally changed.
Lemire: Yeah, and then they just change everything.
No, I guess the answer to your question is, yes, it is very confusing.
Snyder: I was kidding too. We're both pretty maniacal planners, in terms of working way ahead. We joke about it. But we're not the kind of guys that fly by the seat of our pants at all with these stories. I try to plan out everything way before we start. And I think that's one of the reasons we get along so well as colleagues, talking stories, because we both have a certain set of priorities when we begin that we need to have in place.But the fun thing about having all these moving pieces, and it has been really interesting to learn how to juggle it, is that we get to build this mythology in all these surprising areas.
Having such a broad and expansive story helps you find yourself, I think, at least for me, sort of expanding your own way of telling a story. Where I've been so focused on doing these consecutive issues in singular series, but you really learn how to make almost a tapestry together or some kind of mosaic with it in a way that feels really, really fun, so you have pieces all over the place, but they all come together to make this one big picture.
Nrama: You mentioned Arcane, and he was a part of both of your #0 issues. In issues that were kind of "origin" stories for your characters, how did Arcane end up becoming important to the #0 issues?
Lemire: Scott came up with an idea of how to use his #0 to tell Alec's story again, but also set-up and recap and tell the history of Arcane and expand on what was already in continuity before to tie it into the Rot.
And then once he'd done that, I thought it was my job to tell Buddy's origin, but also to find some way to connect it to Arcane. He was such a Swamp Thing villain up to this point that I needed to have some kind of connection between Buddy and Arcane so that, when we did get to "Rotworld," he wasn't just a Swamp Thing villain. I felt like he had to be both their villains at that point.So I used the #0 issue to tell the origin, but also show how Arcane has been a part of Buddy's mythology in the past as well.
Snyder: My first arc was all about Swamp Thing's origin as Alec, so with #0, I wanted to show the moment that he died instead of becoming Swamp Thing. But to do it in a way to give it a different layer. And the way in for me was through Arcane. And to give him a much richer history. I had a blast in the #0 issue really making him as scary as possible.
Nrama: You certainly made him creepy in that issue. It's not like he's a new character. It's just that you give him much more of a history of evil.
Lemire: With the #0, we had to give a sense of his full character. We were both very conscious of the fact that, with the New 52, there are people who aren't familiar with Arcane. So we had to re-establish who he is, while also expanding upon it and making him relevant to the story we're telling.
Snyder: Yeah, he's become one of my favorite characters I've ever gotten to work with.
In the Swamp Thing Annual [coming out later in October] with [artist] Becky Cloonan, we're going to revisit Arcane. You'll see his castle and a lot of things about what he was doing at that time with Abby back in that whole distant land.
Nrama: Jeff, one of the things that showed up in your #0 issues and elsewhere during your run were those yellow aliens who gave Animal Man his powers in the previous runs of Animal Man. On the surface, those don't seem to fit nicely into the world you're building, although you found a way to make them work. Was it tempting to not incorporate those into the story now that you could reboot?
Lemire; No, I couldn't wait to use those guys. I thought they were really fun. I love the challenge of an idea like that, and trying to make it somehow mesh with the mythology we were creating. And I think I came up with a fun solution.
That kind of stuff is a blast to me.
Nrama: One of my favorite scenes that happened recently was when Ellen's mom showed her support for Buddy, after constantly tearing him down in the past. I know Jeff, you and I have talked before about how you seem to write stories with at "fatherhood" theme behind them. What are your thoughts behind her character, her role in the story, and where she is now — and whether she'll be part of the "Rotworld" story along with the rest of the family?
Lemire: Yeah, I really felt like maybe I was turning Ellen's mom, Mary, into a one-note character, where all she did was complain about Buddy. As soon as I realized that I had an opportunity to have that scene of support with her, I wanted to do that, where we expect her to start complaining to Buddy and blaming him for everything, but she actually does the opposite because she can see that, while he's not perfect and he's kind of screwed up, he really does love his family and is trying to do the best for them.
It's hard for me to talk about her role in the book moving forward without spoiling things, but as far as I'm concerned, Mary is part of the family now, so she's always going to be a part of the book.
Snyder: She becomes the new Swamp Thing.
Lemire: Yeah, she is. [Laughs.] Scott! How could you spoil that.
Snyder: [Laughs.] No, she doesn't.
Nrama: What will the rest of Buddy's family be experiencing going forward, and what type of themes are you exploring with them?
Lemire: Ellen, Maxine, Mary and Cliff will all be a big part of my book throughout "Rotworld." And as we saw in issues #11 and #12, Cliff has been infected by the Rot, or something's happening to him, so it's going to be them trying to find Cliff and save Cliff. But the consequences of that will play into the future world. It's hard to say much more without spoiling it.
Nrama: Scott, what role does the Parliament of Trees play in the "Rotworld" story?
Snyder: The thing that always fascinated me about the concept of the Parliament of Trees, even more than the power of them, was the history that they represent. You know, all the avatars that have come before Alec, and all the stories that lie within those characters.Part of the reason I felt comfortable coming onto the book in the very first place was because I felt like I had an idea as to how to re-imagine their place, in that with our mythology, when you're a Swamp Thing, you are human underneath the Green. But when your body dies, you retire to the Grove and become a member of the Parliament. You would be too powerful if you stayed a Swamp Thing and you could travel through the Green without the restriction of a human body that can't literally go through the Green as a consciousness.
So all those characters are characters that have served the Green and have retired, and have full, long lives as protectors of the Green. So all those stories and that sense of history and legacy, to me, is part of what I'm so fascinated about with the character and the mythology itself, in the way that I think both of us have come onto these characters and tried to do something new on our own, but tried to keep the past. So keeping the Parliament and all the characters they represent, for me, is a key part of respecting what came before.
And their role going forward? It's really important, but you'll see them take on a slightly different role in "Rotworld." They reconsider some of the things, I think, that they thought about Abigail and the Rot, as well. And I wanted to make them a little bit more flawed, you know? And a little bit more human, because that's really what they are, beneath the way they look. They were people that served the Green, and they have a subjective perception of stuff. And it can be right, but they can also be wrong and misguided.
So they have a big part to play.
But I wasn't ready to, like, let them die. And burn. Or anything. I really like all the history of Swamp Thing, so I pulled them through.
Nrama: What role does Abby play in "Rotworld?"
Snyder: This is really the culmination of everything we've done in Swamp Thing so far with her, where, you know, Abby to me is a character like Alec. The reason that they have this bond — and you'll see in the Annual this secret first meeting of them that no one knows about, even Alec — but they have this bond because, essentially, both of them have been running away from these destinies that they've felt coming for them forever. And they feel safe around each other, because each one of them sort of negates the other's sense of destiny that way. So when Abby's around Alec, she doesn't hear the Rot calling to her, and he doesn't hear the Green calling to him.
In a lot of ways, as brave as Abby's been fighting the Rot, she hasn't gone back to the place where she was raised, to face it.So this really is her story about homecoming and going to face all of the legacy that she's been running from. She's meant to be this great avatar of the Rot.
In our first arc, when Sethe, the monster in the desert, manipulates her, he turns her into a bastardized version of what she's supposed to become, like a minion of his with all of this great power.
But we have not seen who she would be if she actually accepted her destiny.
So this really is her story, in terms of her having to come to terms with all the stuff we've been building toward in Swamp Thing.
Nrama: Scott, we talked to Yanick about this event. How much does his art bring to the final product?
Snyder: He's just bringing an incredible amount of imagination to every aspect of it, where he's been excited to do this from go. I think he told you that Marco is probably going to do one of the issues, because it's a lot for Yanick to do. But it's been great to see Yanick's versions of these characters. And the things he come up with, like when he drew Poison Ivy, he drew her so that she has an arm that was infected by the Rot. And it's gnarled as this battle scar that she carries. He's incredible at re-imagining these characters. And that's just one of, like, 40 or 50 DC characters you'll see in "Rotworld" that have completely different looks and feels.
I can't say enough good things about him and the stuff that I've seen from Steve too. We're really lucky to get to work with these guys.
Lemire: It is a really big story with a really big scope. I think we're asking a lot of the artists. So what we decided to do was have Steve Pugh do all the stuff set in "Rotworld," and then all the stuff set in the present day with Abby and Maxine, Timothy Green is going to do, just so that they can both focus and stay on time, because there are pretty big scenes that they have to draw.
I don't know what to say about Steve that I haven't already said. He's just such a pleasure to work with. He's such a professional. I loved his work back on the original Animal Man stuff, and I think he's even better now. He just brings so much life to the characters. I'm really lucky to have him.
And I thought the Annual turned out amazing with Timothy. He did such a great job on that. So I mean, they're both just incredible artists.
Nrama: Jeff, I gave Scott the chance at the beginning of the interview to describe "Rotworld" overall, and the type of story you guys are writing. To finish up, how would you describe it?
Lemire: You know, before the books even launched in the New 52, we said this was a horror book first, with superheroes. And that's still true in "Rotworld," but with everything being even more epic. This is like a big, sprawling, epic superhero story that you've seen in the past, but at its heart, it's a horror book. So it's really dark and there are a lot of monsters. But there's a lot of fun. Even though it's such a dark, grim world, there are a lot of big, huge, fun action set pieces and stuff. I think that will surprise some people.
Like Scott said earlier, we love those great post-apocalyptic things like "Old Man Logan" and all the Elseworlds stuff. So this is us getting to do that, but this time it's not out of continuity, and it has more of a lasting effect on both characters going forward.
Nrama: So it's go ramifications, even if things go back to the way it was?
Snyder: The status quo of these characters is going to really radically change at the end of "Rotworld."
Lemire: Yes, both will be very different than they have been. There will be huge, lasting changes.
Snyder: I know people say that, "Oh, nothing will be the same!" But there are changes to the status quo that we've been building toward and thinking about for a year that really will change the way these books move forward after this.
So "Rotworld" is going to really, really matter in Swamp Thing and Animal Man in a huge way.
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