Guest artist John McCrea joins Ram V to tell a tale of the English Gothic. In The Swamp Thing #5, the Green’s newest avatar is pulled to London, where he must join forces with the troublesome John Constantine and stop an evil that is literally ticking away beneath everyone’s feet.
In the capable hands of this creative team, London becomes a living thing, and each of the book’s characters are sent pumping through the city’s tired old veins. The panels showing the interconnected streets of the city feel like they are of a piece with Mike Perkins’ anatomical illustrations in previous issues, allowing this issue to continue that visual through-line in a clever and interesting way.
Here, the Swamp Thing is learning (or perhaps re-learning) to use the Green in different ways. Building off of his visions of the past in last month’s issue, he’s found ways of accessing the the earth’s synapses, plugging himself directly into the shared memory of the Green and everyone who has touched it. The results are haunting. While previous issues have definitely delved into body horror in the form of Levi’s nightly transformations, this installment introduces a whole new flavor of fear. McCrea’s artwork is exceptional throughout, beginning with a particularly nasty metamorphosis for Levi and continuing into sequences of nightmares being made real.
The dreamlike scenes of the London bombings are harrowing, as is the eventual reveal of what has happened to poor Nigel. McCrea’s scratchy rendition of a city at war is perfectly complemented by Mike Spicer’s colors, bathing everything in hopeless orange and grey hues, save for the figure in the foreground, who is colored in reddish tones. Nothing could possibly grow in this place, and yet life continues on.
Ram V continues to explore the themes of previous installments, opening them up in different ways. This issue takes the concept of ideas becoming tangible things and pushes it to a new and terrifying end. The “villain” of the piece is a brilliant and haunting reveal. Ideas are the oldest and most powerful kind of magic, and so it stands to reason that a city may be poisoned by the very idea of hate. John literally calls this out in a moment that feels almost expository in nature — but then again, John would certainly know a thing or three about the power of negativity, wouldn’t he? Not only does this story explore more of the concepts at play in this latest iteration of the Swamp Thing saga, but it feels like a companion of sorts to the recent Hellblazer volume by Si Spurrier (gone too soon).
The Swamp Thing #5 also continues to explore the idea put forth in the book’s very title, that Levi Kamei isn’t just the latest Swamp Thing — he is The Swamp Thing. Every avatar that ever was lives through him, and so he “knows” Constantine immediately. The first encounter between the two is a lovely moment, with both characters acknowledging their “shared” history before getting straight to work, just like old times. The resulting adventure is one of my favorites of this run so far, and an issue that will likely remain a highlight of this series.
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