Those desperate to find something wrong with Swamp Thing: Green Hell #2 might be forced to point out its ludicrous delay—the book arrived in shops a full calendar year after its scheduled release date—or (if they were the squeamish type) they might concern themselves with the over-the-top gore of the book.
There isn’t much to be nitpicked in the second issue otherwise; it fully delivers on the deeply compelling promise of its first issue. Sure, you might have to re-read that first issue to remember what had excited you to begin with, but that excitement was big. That issue waited until its final pages to introduce familiar faces and, upon those introductions, and left us desperate to see how the story would utilize them.
This second issue immediately puts those characters to use, losing none of the momentum. Alec, freshly ripped from his paradise by an aged but still smug Constantine, wades into the gruesome and violent work of confronting the monstrous agent of the Green in the midst of its humanity-ending goal. Constantine, meanwhile, continues the work of gathering the Earth’s final heroes, understanding the boundless forces set against the remaining dregs of humanity.
In a world destroyed by mankind’s all-too-real ecological disaster—the world flooded to its tallest mountain peaks, those vast waters devoid of anything but the detritus of a dead society—it’s hard to completely see the brutal action of nature’s forces as wrong. The remainder of mankind is violent, given to treacherous tribalism as it scrapes the last remaining resources from the world. The Parliaments of the Green, Red, and Rot only seek to find a way to restore balance, to end the experiment of humanity so that the world might begin anew.
But this is a story about the resilience of man, even if its only defender is poor, damned Alec Holland, whose ties to humanity have long since been severed. After the Green strips him of his well-deserved paradise (as well as a good portion of his powers), it seems almost fruitless for Swamp Thing to stand against the coming wave of extinction-driven creatures.
Which is where Constantine’s journey comes in; using a reluctant Deadman as a sort of astral guide, John seeks out the final being that might be considered Alec’s opposite number: the Red Avatar Maxine Baker, Animal Man’s daughter all grown up into Animal Woman.
DC’s Black Label imprint seems to have focused on Elseworlds-style content, speculations, and character studies crafted by unique and singular voices. Green Hell adds a wistful touch of old Vertigo to that formula, looking back to Black Label’s vaunted predecessor with an intimate familiarity of that celebrated horror and mysticism.
Updating that sensibility with the gloss of modern storytelling, artist Doug Mahnke details the weirdness with precise, nightmarish detail, while David Baron’s colors saturate the end of the world in an unearthly spectrum—the book pushes well past the technological boundaries of its 1980s source material.
Green Hell #2 was well worth the wait, and all of its grotesqueries feel elevated and exciting. There have been no misstep in momentum, no tonal or artistic extreme spared. It belongs alongside all the true masterpieces of Swamp Thing’s long, beloved journey.
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