A look into the Swamp Thing Winter Special – review and analysis

Swamp Thing Winter Special (2018)
-The following contains spoilers-

The Winter Special came out on Wednesday and I was extremely excited to read Len’s last story with Kelley Jones, as well as Tom King and Jason Fabok’s one-shot, “The Talk of the Saints”. The book is a wonderful tribute to Len and Bernie, capturing the magic and effort they put into the character.
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Wein & Jones open up a fun filled can of worms, bringing Solomon Grundy, Matt Cable, Jim Gordon and Batman along for the ride in this first issue of what could have been a beautiful run. My imagination runs wild with what Len would have cooked up for our favorite muck man. I hope this unfinished storyline acts as a catalyst for a new on-going Swamp Thing series. Len certainly provides the spark.
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Before Len and Kelley tell their tale, Editor Rebecca Taylor introduces the story with a beautiful editor’s note.
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Len and Kelley’s story picks up where issue 6 (series 6) left off. Swamp Thing is in Houma and seems to be adjusting quite well, post-Arcane attack. Matt Cable has finally recovered from the trauma he sustained while being possessed by Anton Arcane.
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Swamp Thing pays Cable a visit as he’s preparing to check out of the hospital. Kelley Jones depicts a whimsical and grotesque Swampy, as he makes his way into Cable’s room. I’ve always loved Jones’ Swamp Thing designs. He provides the most imaginative and entertaining visuals, while staying within the realm of Horror that Bernie Wrightson established for the character.

one of my favorite panels in the story was Kelley Jones’ tip of the hat to Bernie Wrightson
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The panel on the left is from Swamp Thing #1. The flowers Linda and Alec Holland grew using their biorestorative formula are depicted, from 1971. The flowers in the right panel, drawn by Jones, were left behind when Swamp Thing left Matt Cable’s hospital room (2018).

Wein provides plenty of playful interactions in this issue, providing fans with an entertaining balance of thrills and chuckles.
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Looking to start anew, Cable decides to stick around Houma and open a private detective agency. He likes the idea of being close to his good friend, Swampy.
After leaving the hospital, he pays the Police Dept a visit to notify them of his intentions.
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Wein is setting up my dream scenario here. Abby (in human/earthly form) showed up in the last panel of issue 6 (series 6), so it could be assumed she is back in town. Matt Cable is back in Houma, along with Swampy. Who’s next? Chester Williams? The possibilities that Len gives us seems endless and thrilling! Is this issue the reset button that the Swampy canon has been needing since New 52? It feels that way.

But, this story doesn’t just reside in Houma. Meanwhile in Gotham, the plot thickens when Grundy arrives on the scene.
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Jim Gordon and Batman are on the case!

And now, please enjoy Swamp Thing water skiing.
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I thoroughly recommend this story. It houses so much eye candy. Swamp Thing even water skis at one point! Len set us up for some fantastic plot threads mixed with light hearted moments, while Jones works his magic. Jones’ interpretation of Len’s script is—yet again—a non stop visual romp. Few can make Swamp Thing bend and morph the way Jones can. As Editor Rebecca Taylor noted in her editor’s note, this story holds the potential, much like Len’s piano. I’m excited to see someone jump on the piano stool and give it a whirl!

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Here’s to Len and Bernie! May Kelley Jones take the torche and run.

“The Talk of the Saints”
By Tom King and Jason Fabok
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I’ve read this story a number of times since picking it up on Wednesday so I could better wrap my head around all that goes on in this introspective adventure. Jason Fabok provides beautiful visuals as Tom King explores Swamp Thing’s eternal struggle in coming to terms with his humanity/monster dynamic. The story is rich, visually and poetic.
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Swamp Thing finds himself in a moment of doubt, feeling his confidence with his connection to humanity in limbo. This manifests itself into a brutal, unrelenting, winter landscape.

The story feels like a reinterpretation of a fable; the protagonist ventures into the dangerous forest to find himself, encountering physical and mental obstacles along the way. The arduous adventure comes to a head as the protagonist must look inward for truth and salvation. Only by facing himself does he find resolve. That being said, some of the details get in the way of the story, leaving the poignant moments feeling like the mark was missed.
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Using the same plot device as in Batman #21 “The Button”, Tom King uses sports talk radio to establish connections with his characters.
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WQRX, New Orleans Saints sports radio bookends this story. Tom King uses the radio commentators to establish a parallel with what Swampy is dealing with. The commentators discuss the challenges that a quarterback faced within a football game. Like the quarterback, Swamp Thing must overcome his fear/self-doubt, and come to terms with the monster that stands in the way of being true to himself. The football player in question loses a game, while Swamp Thing loses his way; away from the Green and out into the cold.

It’s not clear if this story takes place within the time span of a radio show segment or the length of a winter season. Based on the radio commentary bookending the story, character dialogue, and the locations that Swamp Thing seems to travel to, I’ve assumed the Winter season is a symbolic, dream-state/internal vision that Swampy finds himself within. Not unlike in series 2, when Swampy would go dormant/hibernate within the green.

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A leaf falls to the floor of the seemingly quiet swamp but a struggle lies beneath the surface. The falling leaf transitions into the figure of ST trudging through a blizzard. Winter rolls in, transforming the swamp into a snowy wasteland, distant from the reach of the Green. Much like the bruised and battered quarterback, Swamp Thing’s head is not in the game. His reasoning is impaired, he’s unclear of his intentions, and is not exactly sure what he’s running from. Swamp Thing exemplifies the idiom, “being stuck in one’s head” to the point that he’s manifested a hellish reality for himself.

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Swamp Thing travels great distances as he runs away from a snow monster. Seemingly far from Houma, Swamp Thing flees through various types of terrain, even a mountain range or two.

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Much like Pinnochio having Jiminy Cricket, Swamp Thing has a kind of guide throughout the story; motivating the tired, confused muck monster further into his journey. The companion is a small boy who Swamp Thing has sworn to protect from the monsterous winter storm. Initially, the boy appears to be the motivation Swamp Thing needs to push forward and to survive. Later we find that the boy is yet another hurtle for Swamp Thing to overcome. The boy acts as a metaphor, motivating Swamp Thing to run from his problems and his home, distancing himself from the swamp, the Green.

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During his trek, Swamp Thing encounters a bear. The bear seemed like a call-back to Swamp Thing #8, “The Lurker in Tunnel 13”. For a moment, I thought maybe this story was a Christmas Carol type of experience for Swampy; confronted by past, relevant experiences.

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As the story comes to a head, Tom King has prepared your heart strings for a good tugging. Allusions are shattered and Swamp Thing finds himself in the same scenario we’ve seen so many times before; coming to terms with his being. Monster or hero? Plant or human? Member of society or outcast? Loved or alone?

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Throughout the story, one monster runs from the other with the hope to one day feel in touch with humanity once again. But, as one must fight fire with fire, that monster must stop running so it may face the monster on it’s back, the monster within, and to find truth in identity.

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It is revealed that Swamp Thing hasn’t traveled away from the swamp and the child he desperately tried to save was nothing more than a manifestation; a vessel for Swamp Thing to convey his humanity.

Throughout the story, the boy seemingly leads Swamp Thing away from the monster world, pushing further from the Green. Traveling away from the Green while constantly saving the child’s life, Swamp Thing gets in touch with the humanity he seeks; caring for others, acting selfless and being accepted by others. Although these heroic trials appeal to Swampy’s humanity, it sends him further from what he truly is, the truest connection to the earth. As we see in the book, the more Swamp Thing distances himself from the Green-from what he truly is-he suffers. Regardless of his desire for humanity, only when Swamp Thing returns to his roots and accept who he is can he perform at his best… remember the quarterback?
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In the end, we get to see Swampy do his thing… walk somberly into the sunset, alone.

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I was recently asked to join the Wednesday Comics Podcast to discuss the Swamp Thing Winter Special. You can hear all about it here.

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