Swamp Thing is, at its core, a horror character.
That’s an obvious statement, but the character’s beginnings as a stalking, haunting creature of the night can sometimes be lost in the more super-heroic trappings of DC Comics. But here, in the first issue of The Swamp Thing by Ram V and Mike Perkins, readers are reminded of why they should fear the emerald thing in the dark. The Swamp Thing is a being that barely resembles a man, and in the early days of the character, he both hated and feared what he had become.
This first issue introduces us to Levi Kamei, an all-new avatar of the Green. In doing so, this series offers newer readers and longtime fans an opportunity to see the confusing and often painful first steps into becoming the next Swamp Thing.
(Beware of mild spoilers ahead.)
It’s not yet entirely clear what Levi encountered during his trip to India, but what is interesting to note is that Ram V writes the lead character as someone who has already gone through a transformation — even before he begins sprouting foliage from his pores. Levi seems to be a bit rudderless, disconnected from his home and members of his family. He behaves like a man without a place to go, like someone who hoped to find his roots (pun only slightly intended), but has instead become even more untethered than ever before. He seems to already feel like an outsider, which will likely grant the character a vastly different perspective on the role of Swamp Thing.
Mike Perkins’ illustrations throughout are exquisite. Even aside from the horror elements (more on those in a moment), there is a keen focus on human interaction that dominates this book. Whether it’s people looking slightly ashamed for remembering local folklore so well, or it’s two close friends being hesitant to communicate on a more intimate level, there is always so much being said through sideways glances and shifting weight. Aside from the villain of the piece, every character feels undeniably human — which is probably why the final pages of the issue feel like a punch in the gut.
Swamp Thing has always been a character born out of trauma, and the creature’s presentation in this first issue is no different. Well, it’s no different in terms of intentionality, at least. The visual representations of that trauma, particularly during this issue’s final act, are truly terrifying. When Levi manifests in his new body, it’s a horrific scene, a glimpse at an abomination that is struggling to approximate human form. Perkins draws the everliving hell out of this sequence, portraying the Swamp Thing as a frightened, slack-jawed mess of tangled weeds. At this point, he is to be pitied, rather than frightened.
Mike Spicer’s colors throughout the issue create a stark contrast between the various settings, driving home how truly rotten things have gotten out in the desert. From the antiseptic whites and grays of the airplane and the city to the grungy reds and yellows of the Pale Wanderer’s domain, it almost feels like the reader has been tossed into a whole new world at times, just like Levi.
Further cementing this disorientation and escalation is the exceptional lettering from Aditya Bidikar, which changes size on multiple occasions to drive home a character’s excitement or fear. Also of note are the word balloons for both the Pale Wanderer and Swamp Thing. While the latter’s dialogue appears to be almost choked out of him, the Pale Wanderer literally oozes malice, his word balloons appearing to decompose as soon as the words pass his lips.
Every element comes together to make The Swamp Thing one of the most striking debut issues in recent memory. If this first installment is any indication, then this series will be one to watch for fans of action and horror.
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