He’s big. He’s green. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. And he’s coming to Gotham.
Nah, not that guy (Batman already took the wind out of that angry, radioactive brute’s sails back in 1981); we mean the walking, talking plant elemental known as Swamp Thing, who joins forces with Batman to solve a murder mystery in Batman #23. We find out if writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads make good on that “Strangest Team-Up in History” boast on the cover…
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Publisher: DC Comics
“The Brave and the Mold,” opens in a Gotham highrise apartment, where a bedraggled old man, wearing only skivvies, sits in a chair singing an old Irish song, “My Wild Irish Rose“. Before he can finish, he’s shot in the head twice, still crooning the lyrics, “She is dearer by far than the world’s brightest star/And I call her my wild Irish rose” even as he lays moribund in a pool of his own blood.
Batman and Commissioner Gordon show up to examine the murder scene and are soon joined by Swamp Thing, who literally blooms from a moldy piece of bread in an eerily fantastic nine panel progression from Gerads that tracks the materialization from tiny little seedling strands to a set of outstretched hands and finally Swampy’s enormous, bog-slimed, moss-grown humanoid body looming behind them. While Gordon looks on in horror, Batman remains unphased:
“Is there a problem, Alec?” Batman asks.
“No, Batman… there is not… a problem,” Swamp thing replies. “This… was my father,” he reveals as they look down on the murdered man’s body.
The sequence is especially striking given how fantastical the Herbaceous One is in comparison to the rest of the cast and how he sticks out like a sore, uh, green thumb among the grounded, gritty world that Gerads creates. Take a look at this page with Bruce and ST sitting across from each other in the Wayne Manor Library, casually sipping coffee for a better idea of what I mean:
Enough about his rendering of Swamp Thing, though. Gerads brings his usual repertoire of textured, lifelike art, striking figures and a gifted sense of scope and perspective. His coloring is downright potent, though; his lighting and shading as life-like as I’ve seen and his color choice gifts every scene with the perfect ambiance, from Swamp Thing’s range of raw, seasoned, earthy greens to the cool nighttime pallette of sky-high Gotham to the milk-white walls inside the Gotham Museum.
The writing from King is commensurately top-notch. From the introductory story seeds he plants with the cryptic folk song and the old man (that later on ends up being meaningful to the overall plot); to the to the unraveling murder mystery and the combined efforts of odd couple teammates Batman and Swamp Thing to solve it; to the poignant ending — King writes the hell out of this issue from start to finish.
Of the many facets to love about King’s work in this narrative, my favorite ended up being the excellent exchanges between Batman and Swamp Thing; so often we’re used to Batman being the stoic one — to see him one-upped in that regard by Swamp Thing is a refreshing, fascinating angle. This aspect is only bolstered by King’s extreme finesse with Swamp Thing’s dialogue, which is so jarring, so seemingly incongruous, so alien — and yet perfectly in line with Swamp Thing’s nature. King’s confidence with the character is also impressive; if you’d told me he’d been writing the character his entire career coming into this I’d have believed you and by issue’s end you’ll be craving even more.
I could gush on and on about King’s script, so for brevity’s sake I’ll just list a few more highlights:
- Gordon’s reaction to Swamp Thing’s entrance juxtaposed with Batman’s, “Is there a problem, Alec?”
- Alfred sweeping up Swampy’s “trail,” along with a perfectly befitting look on his face
- Batman and Swamp Thing’s disparate perspectives on death
- A Donnie Darko-esque conversation between ST and Batman in the Batmobile that’s all sorts of awesome
- Everyone’s new favorite recurring character in King’s run makes an appearance
- Batman’s detective work combined with Swamp Thing’s elemental control is a sheer joy
- “The grass… told me.”
- Batman’s ultimate rooftop interrogation. Seriously, how can he top this one?
- A poignant, gruesome museum scene
- The way King compartmentalizes the issue into named chapters lends a cool, theatrical feel and accentuates this issue’s impeccable pacing
Is It Good?
Batman #23 is an accomplishment not only for King’s Batman run, but for his oeuvre; it’s the sort of well-crafted, uniquely enjoyable offering that Bat-fans can offer up to Bat-King naysayers as proof that he’s still “got the juice to write stuff in the same lauded echelon as Vision and Omega Men; you just had to believe, man,” and delightful enough that even those naysayers will want to flip through its pages time and time again when all’s said and done.
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