Best Shots Reviews: SWAMP THING #2, SPIDER-MAN #1

"Spider-Man #1" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Swamp Thing #2
Written by Len Wein
Art by Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Two masters have returned to the swamps, and they've brought all kinds of hell with them. Swamp Thing #2 written by Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein and drawn by the horrifyingly good team of Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen is a slice of early 1980s horror fare for the modern audience. Both grim and displaying a dark beauty throughout, this second installment finds Earth’s avatar again tussling with a vengeful zombie and his duplicitous parents, both introduced in the debut issue. While Swamp Thing #2 brings the chills and sometimes disgustingly striking artwork, Wein also expands Swamp Things world beyond the swamps with two choice DC cameos and a new character with strong ties to one of Swampy’s old stomping grounds, Gotham City. We don’t have a lot of monster books like Swamp Thing #2 on shelves anymore, but thankfully Team Swamp Thing deliver enough grotesque panels, thoughtful narration and monster fights to tide readers over until their next sojourn into the bayou.

Picking up directly after last month’s vegetation evisceration, Swamp Thing #2's main page count is dedicated to Swampy’s battle with the recently resurrected and very, very angry Lazlo Wormwood. Wormwood who was killed by his occult-obsessed professor and brought back to the land of the living thanks to his “loving” parents, who then enlisted Swamp Thing to destroy their son to cover their macabre mistake. Len Wein keeps the issue pushing forward throughout, but instead of just focusing on Swamp Thing versus a zombie, he fleshes out the cast of the book as well as delivering the twist involving the parents late in the issue, a move that would be more than welcome in the pages of Creepy.

Though the Phantom Stranger made a brief appetence in the first issue, Wein makes more substantial use of him this time around and even does us one better by pairing Swampy up with another dark fan-favorite of the magic side of the DCU, The Shade, who gives our favorite muck-encrusted mockery of a man the most old-school way to destroy the zombie forever; a bag of salt in which to fill his mouth with, and a needle and thread to sewn his mouth tightly shut. (Winchester brothers, eat your heart out.) However Wein doesn’t just stop with the cameos. In this second issue, we are also introduced to Sheriff Darcy Fox, niece of Lucius and newly installed from Gotham City, who no doubt will become either Swamp Thing’s human antagonist or ally in the coming issues. Though she is one step behind the plot in this second issue, it is nice to see Wein expanding his cast beyond monsters and madmen, and with a woman of color at that.

While Len Wein’s script commits fully to the classic horror comic book tone, Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen’s artwork is pure nightmare fuel. Even if you completely ignored the team’s shambling and gray-skinned zombie antagonist, Swamp Thing #2 is still filled with horrible and striking panels of its lurid, leafy lead. Jones, no stranger to monsters or to the Swamp Thing title as whole, warps Swamp Thing from a hulking and hunched humanoid to a tendriled, amorphous Lovecraftian plant monster, made even more eerie looking thanks to Madsen’s sickly greens and shadowy backgrounds. The entire appeal to me as a fan of Swamp Thing was the concept of the monster being the hero, but more often than not, artists would only give us heroic poses and vaguely humanoid forms for Swampy. That said, Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen have absolutely no problem making Swamp Thing look just as creepy as the foes that he faces, and that firmly locks Swamp Thing #2 back into the horror genre that it used to rule over.

I’ve used the term "old-school" a few times in this review and the more I think about it, the better I feel it describes Swamp Thing #2. Len Wein, Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen stripped away all the superhero trappings that made the previous title so engaging and have returned the series to a dark and disturbing place. Modern horror comic books often resort to disturbing ultra-violence or nihilistic gags that keep the audience gasping, but not Swamp Thing #2. No, Team Swamp Thing is determined to make your skin crawl without the modern tools of horror. For Wein, Jones, and Madsen, the old school is the best school, and Swamp Thing #2 is their stylishly weird proof.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Man #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli, Gaetano Carlucci and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Miles Morales has faced the end of the world multiple times. Whether it was a Galactus or a Doctor Doom apocalypse, in his short time as a Spider-Man, Miles has seen and experienced many universe-destroying catastrophes. And perhaps even more importantly, he has survived each and every one of them. In the latest end-of-times events which saw the so-called Ultimate Universe shuttled off into the dead-universe limbo, he’s one of the only survivors of that world, so maybe that would make a hero a bit cocky. Now living in the same greater New York City area as Peter Parker, Sam Wilson and Kamala Khan, Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s young Spider-Man is maybe a bit too cocksure and adrenaline-hungry.

Just how much Miles remembers of his pre-Secret Wars life remains a mystery. Something things are very different such as his mother is still alive but some things also remain the same as we see in Mile’s best buddy and confidante Ganke still offering heartfelt but maybe not the best advice to his friend. Bendis tries to establish Miles’ status quo in this new series without really focusing on what is different now. He actually lets Miles act in ways that spell out the difference. Between chasing girls at school just for the thrill of it and ditching class to chase after the sound of fire truck sirens, Miles’ cocky attitude makes sense for a kid who has faced the end of everything a number of times and has walked away basically unscratched.

Pichelli and colorist Justin Ponsor present the story with such clear and bright visuals of superheroing in action. Pichelli’s storytelling looks reminiscent of Stuart Immonen’s, giving Bendis’s story strong personality and fun daring-do action. Her layouts create the space needed to let the characters, particularly Miles, show us who they are. Whether it’s a quick phone call with a concerned mother or a talk with Ganke trying to straighten out Miles’ dating life, Pichelli’s pages let us know who this Spider-Man is. As Bendis tries to establish this new normalcy for the character, Pichelli gets into the heart of Miles, showing us just who he is right now.

Working within a world of the real Avengers (and not Ultimates), Bendis and Pichelli have the work ahead of them to define Miles and what he means as Spider-Man and as a hero. Marvel already has Kamala Khan, who fills in the role of Peter Parker and is a hero learning “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel is more of a Peter Parker-type character than Miles is and, as such, she fills a role in the Marvel Universe that’s more archetypical than Miles. That gives Bendis and Pichelli room to play around with Miles. Taking on Blackheart, the son of Mephisto, Bendis and Pichelli get to have the fun of having Miles start swinging around Captain America’s iconic shield in ways that Peter Parker never could. It’s a brash move for a rookie hero, and that almost tells you everything you need to know about him.

But it falls short of telling you anything about Miles, because Bendis and Pichelli don’t really give him any solid context in this post-Secret Wars continuity. There is no past or not future envisioned for this character in this issue. Miles ends up being just another Spider-based hero and there are a bunch of those running around right now. Miles occupies a unique space in many ways, but that’s not what this first issue of the series is about. Because it’s such a drastic change to where he was just a year or so ago, not acknowledging any of it makes this new life feel mundane and everyday - and that’s not what you really want out of your superhero comics. Miles Morales is a unique superhero, even if Spider-Man #1 doesn’t really give any insight into what could make him a great one.

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