Review – Swamp Thing: The Root of All Evil
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Coloring: Tajana Wood
Lettering: Richard Starkings
Cover/Back Art: John Mueller
Release Dates: August 2015
With origins in the 1970s and seeing some small amount of popularity through the 80s, the Swamp Thing series found some of its more solid footing in the early 90s with a four issue arc penned by Grant Morrison, fresh off of Arkham Asylum, and a then young up and comer known as Mark Millar, who would of course go on to write seminal works of his own like The Ultimates, Superman: Red Son, and of course Marvel’s Civil War. Morrison worked with Millar to author those four opening issues, and following that, Millar would continue to write for the remainder of that volume by himself. Today we’ll review Swamp Thing: The Root of All Evil and see if Morrison and Millar’s writing capture the essence of the not so jolly green giant, or if it’s dead on the branch.
If you’re at all familiar with the various works of Grant Morrison, you know well enough to expect a story that aims to bend your mind and demands to be revisited and poured over once or twice to really absorb everything that is being laid down in front of you. Swamp Thing: The Root of all Evil’s writing displays all the typical hallmarks of a Grant Morrison tale; weaving in flowery symbolism and esoteric references to ancient gods, shamanic rituals, and the philosophies and theories of psychedelic scholars like Terrance McKenna that might have you feeling a bit like keeping a notepad nearby to keep track of it. The story also features some enjoyably deep cuts from other cosmic corners of the DC universe such as appearances (albeit brief) by Dr. Fate, The Phantom Stranger, and a couple of other familiar faces that solidly ground the tale in the greater DC Universe.
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The Root of All Evil almost functions as something of a soft reboot for the character, re-contextualizing Alec Holland’s earlier adventures as the Swamp Thing as some sort of long hallucinogenic trip that leaves Holland, very much looking like a regular man, waking from his dream in the jungles of South America. The pages wear Morrison’s kaleidoscopic style on its sleeve, and even once Millar takes up the pen in full in the back half of the book that feeling of eccentric dread never quite lets up or lets go, though Millar’s writing does noticeably lack the same psychedelic influences that weaved their way through the first half of the story. That said, despite some stylistic differences, Morrison and Millar both craft a poetic, compelling, and oftentimes downright chilling narrative from start to finish.
This macabre tale of fate the descent into the mystical unknown is brought to life by the art of Phil Hester (Green Arrow: Quiver and most recently announced as the newest artist on DC’s Superman as of December 2020) with Kim DeMulder filling Hester’s pencils in with inky blacks and deep shadows that hide dark things. The whole spread is colored by Tatjana Wood, who casts the most disturbing elements of the book in a sickening pallor, but also makes room for bright floral greens and reds in the scenes where Swamp Thing exercises his full powers.
The art, at first, did take some getting used to, especially if you are accustomed to the more cinematic art styles of later 21st century comics, but it becomes clear before long that the aesthetic presented is perfectly suited for the unflinching horror elements of the book. And they are unflinching. It can’t be stated emphatically enough that this is a book for mature readers, with enough gore, nudity, and overall grotesque imagery to give your deepest nightmares some wonderfully terrifying ideas.
All in all, it’s hard not to recommend Swamp Thing: The Root of All Evil upon review, especially since the story as a whole was never collected in trade paperback until very recently (2015), and so may have been missed out on by a lot of readers. However, that recommendation does come with a word of caution: The story can occasionally be confusing, though it is mostly explained by the end, and the imagery does not hold back or pull any punches, joyfully presenting you scene after scene of gothic horror. However, if you’re in the mood for an unsettling, gripping ride, and willing to accept a bit of confusion at the outset of the volume, then this comes highly recommended. Or, if you’ve ever wondered just what that whole Swamp Thing is about and are thinking of taking the plunge, this is as good a place as any to start.
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