Batman 23 (2017)
The Brave and the Mold
Batman fans and surface level Swamp Thing fans will find the most enjoyment out of Batman 23. There are great comedic and touching moments in this one-and-done murder mystery starring Batman and Swamp Thing but those moments get lost while trying to wrap your head around the character histories you’re accustomed to. Swamp Thing now has unresolved father issues.
– cover and variant cover
One night only. Swamp Thing Live at the Apollo!
It’s worth asking, which Swamp Thing is this? In the grand history of Swamp Thing and Batman (and even Gotham City) this is another brief encounter between the two DC icons. But, within the first few pages we learn that James Gordon is not aware that Batman and Swamp Thing have been acquainted and that Alec Holland has an estranged birth father. These two items contradict previous DCU/Swampy lore and that’s confusing.
I found this issue to be fun, entertaining and I was not completely surprised by the confusion that came with it. In trying to untie the canonical knots left over from their New 52 endeavor, DC Comics continues to tediously reveal their latest continuity countermeasures in the form of the Rebirth storyarc. It’s slow-burn reveal started over a year ago and only now are we getting glimpses of the Watchmen based storyline that will supposedly restore balance to the DC ship. This New 52/Rebirth shift in continuity has made me wonder a great deal as to the status of Swamp Thing. What’s the current origin, personality, abilities, weaknesses, etc? Every book to come from this 52/Rebirth era has only created more questions and a lack of clarity. That being said, I’ve been reading most Swampy appearances with apprehension…
Lloyd Bernard McGinn’s final words are that of a song. He sings Chauncey Olcott’s “My Wild Irish Rose” while being executed. The 68 year old recluse hardly has proof of his existence. When and if he left his 84th floor efficiency apartment in Gotham City, it was to mail letters or tie one on in the evening.
Tom King kicks the book off by “filling in the gaps” of Alec Holland’s origin by revealing that his birth father is Lloyd McGinn. Simultaneously Swamp Thing shows up to help investigate his death…
upon arriving to the crime scene, Swamp Thing startles Jim Gordon. His reaction to Swamp Thing is very funny. Oddly enough though, Jim doesn’t seem to recall his history with Swampy. Nor does he recall Batman’s relationship with Swampy.
Back at Wayne manor Swamp Thing and Bruce Wayne take tea in the study. During their Q&A, Swampy talks about his relationship with his birth father.
Here’s what we learn about Alec’s new dad: Lloyd Bernard McGinn was born in Louisiana. He was out of Alec McGinn’s life by the age of 5 years old. Alec and Lloyd were not close. Lloyd would sing, “My Wild Irish Rose” to Alec when he was scared. Alec’s mother remarried and Alec took the name of his step-father (Holland) who raised him. Lloyd moved to Gotham; when is unclear. We know that Alec is from Seattle, based on all accounts, so it’s to be assumed at some point the Holland family moved to Seattle or Alec was born in Seattle…? And how does Alec’s estranged brother, Edward fit into all of this? This now means Alec descends from the McGinn surname, not Holland.
Does this matter? I have no idea.
Does giving Alec Holland a step-father do anything for the Rebirth continuity? Again, I don’t know. But it certainly doesn’t do anything to strengthen the characterization of Swamp Thing. As we’ve seen, since 1971 Swamp Thing has an intense history in dealing with the human condition. Father issues are the last thing I thought would rear its head. In this case, I hope the cart wasn’t put before the horse. It would be a shame if Swamp Thing’s origin was adjusted and tossed into the mix only to further explore Bruce Wayne’s constant struggle in dealing with the death of his parents.
These new plot points could open up a can of worms if this is intended to stick. But, like most from 52/Rebirth I have no idea what will stick, what is intentional or what is simply a lack of research (which seems to be the case in a number of books). Again, I haven’t the foggiest but never the less Tom King opened the door on this one and I think he should have closed it by the end of this stand-alone “daddy issue”.
Lloyd was sugar in a salad that was eaten by Swamp Thing’s grandmother?
Seemingly cold toward the murder of his birth father, Swamp Thing poeticly describes his father’s connection to the cycle of life and death. The metaphor he uses -paired with the new knowledge of his actual father- brought this touching scene between acquaintances to a screeching hault. It’s one of a few moments where the record scratches for Swamp Thing fans. The metaphor is not completely lost but it does raise the question, does Lloyd McGinn have some sort of connection to the Green? Or is this just some whimsical explanation Swamp Thing provides? I’m leaning toward whimsy.
The way Swamp Thing generates a teacup from the palm of his hand along with the sap tea is an awesome concept.
Swampy mentions that he met his birth father after the explosion that turned him to Swamp Thing. Although absent from his life as a child, McGinn began writing Swamp Thing letters after their meeting. It’s to be assumed those letters are what got recluse, Lloyd Bernard McGinn out of his apartment most days.
Throughout the book there is some very amusing acting from the characters. Artist, Mitch Gerads does an amazing job with the gags. During tea time, in the scene below, Alfred has a hell of a time cleaning up after Swamp Thing. His determination is really funny.
The bonding continues as Swamp Thing and Batman peruse leads and narrow down a suspect list. Batman relies on his technology and detective skills while Swamp Thing relies on his connection to the earth.
Their comedic dynamic helps take some of the weight off of the subject matter. The characters have a great back and forth. Batman’s sense of humor reminds me of his dry demeanor in the animated film, Justice League Dark.
“Why do you need a car?”
“why do you need a body?”
Origin confusion aside, the story is open ended. The murder case is resolved but it spurs more questions relating to Batman and Swamp Thing.
“The story doesn’t complete itself. It leaves a question open and we’d like to revisit that but what Swamp Thing does to Batman in this issue and the pain he releases in Batman pays off over the next year and goes right into what ‘Jokes and Riddles’ is about. In that way, the story continues.” -Tom King
For Batman, the questions relate to coping with the loss of his parents. For Swamp Thing, it seems to be much more existential. And that seems to be the theme of this story. McGinn is noted as, “barely existing”, Swamp Thing wants to know, “why am I here?”, Batman tries to find understanding in life through Swamp Thing’s metaphors, etc. Everyone is trying to find meaning through the connections with their families. I enjoyed this issue and how it felt like a glimpse into an old, seasoned relationship but I’m not entirely sure it serves the characters it houses. The story would benefit from being a two parter. I’m interested to hear the thoughts of other Swamp Thing fans. I’d imagine most will be indifferent to the newly revised origin story but all will be wondering what happened at the end of this book.