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Starting Over

 

Swamp Thing: Regenesis

Rick Veitch, Alfredo Alcala, Brett Ewins

DC, 2004

Rating: 4.2

 

January 16, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau

It's tempting to wonder exactly how DC plans to market its inevitable collection featuring the end of Rick Veitch's run on Swamp Thing. (Veitch, you'll recall, acrimoniously split with the company after it vetoed an issue titled "The Mourning of the Magician," written by Veitch depicting the powerful elemental meeting with Jesus Christ; his storyline was left dangling for months until a replacement writer was found.)

For now, though, fans of Veitch and Swamp Thing have Regenesis, which presents his first six issues as writer following Alan Moore's departure. Comparisons to Moore are inevitable, so let's just say that Veitch's long-term, big-picture plotting is perhaps more conventional (in the superhero comic sense of the term), but his issue-to-issue writing can be, well, wordier, denser -- less succinctly satisfying than Moore's, but inarguably sturdy. (Veitch's work also exhibits more of an enthusiasm with its ideas, as opposed to Moore's often maddeningly nonchalant brilliance.)

Regenesis finds the Swamp Thing back at home in the Louisiana swamps with his lover, Abby Cable, following the planet-hopping jaunt that closed Moore's run. In the Swamp Thing's absence, another plant elemental has been created, its soul awaiting birth, throwing askew your requisite delicate balance: "There can be only one," indeed. This puts the elemental at odds with the Parliament of Trees, since he refuses either to continue his duties, or simply die and let the new avatar (nicknamed "the Sprout") take his place.

Veitch (sometimes unnecessarily) underlines the drama of this conflict by showing John Constantine (still a sort of mystic dilettante and Sting lookalike, rather than the more fully realized character he'd become in Hellblazer) working hard to figure out what we, the readers, already know about the Swamp Thing's predicament. And his introduction of Roger Huntoon, a grotesque, self-important superhero "expert" at odds with Constantine, does nothing to advance this story. If anything, excerpts from Huntoon's tangled writings, set against visuals currently occurring in the story that seem to illustrate their points, seem little more than forced attempts to prove Veitch's writerly bona fides by aping a play or two from the Alan Moore playbook circa Watchmen.

Such show-off-y self-justification on Veitch's part is unnecessary. Granted, some of his social criticism is heavy-handed at best (a garish pair of TV men searching for Swamp Thing; a would-be assassin who turns into an ad-jingle-spouting mockery of a would-be plant elemental), and it's sometimes difficult to tell exactly what's happening (one crucial confrontation with the Parliament has to be explained in the following chapter). But despite the occasional muddiness, he keeps his events on a suspenseful track, and his characterization of Abby, if anything, fleshes her out far more than Moore ever did. (We also begin to see Veitch's development of Abby's aging hippie friend Chester, one of the better points of Veitch's run.)

Regenesis proves (for newcomers) and reinforces (for older readers) that Veitch's taking over Swamp Thing from Moore was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the title after such a definitive run. Veitch's general approach to storytelling -- in terms of plot, pacing, dialogue and the targets in his sights -- was different enough from Moore's, and from any of the British writers who could have filled Moore's shoes (Jamie Delano, Neil Gaiman), that the book pulled off the difficult task of establishing a distinct identity of its own -- separate enough from what had gone before to make it fresh and intriguing on its own terms. In that sense, these early issues indeed mark a "regenesis" for Swamp Thing -- one that no creative team has yet been able to duplicate after Veitch's unceremoniously abrupt exit.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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