It's no secret that we at Death-Ray Ozone love Scott Snyder, bless his opening comic books by reflecting on something a mentor once told him heart. But guys. Guys. I am having a hard time figuring out what the hell is going on in Swamp Thing. Which would be something I'd take for granted if it weren't part of DC's New 52, which is laughably supposed to introduce new readers to the DC Universe. So (presumably) the only rule is that the new series have to stand alone, no wait the only rule is do whatever, no wait the only rule is do whatever but you have to put Superman in that dumb new costume. Zing! Those are the rules.
Swamp Thing is among those books that was all, reboot=retcon, right? (NOPE.) But the universe itself is rebooted (we know this because of, say it with me, Superman's dumb new costume). So it can be best described as a retcon within a rebooted universe? (DC, I can't believe you made me write that sentence.) I know. I KNOW. Shhh, shhhhhh, I'm here now. And we're going to make sense of this together, one issue of Swamp Thing at a time.
ISSUE ONE (The McLaughlin Group? Anybody?*):
The first line is "My father was a florist," so don't worry, you guys--Scott Snyder is definitely writing this book. Some sort of metaphor seems to be happening in the narration while Clark Kent is in the Daily Planet building (which according to George Perez, doesn't exist anymore, so does this take place before page one of his rebooted Superman? Must be! REBOOTS. Love it.) with Lois Lane & Perry White, watching a whole mess of pigeons fall out of the sky dead. It's super gross because pigeons are gross and so is death.
Meanwhile, in Gotham, Batman is distressed to see the same thing happening to bats. In addition to being a personal thing for Batman, bats are also more useful to society than pigeons because they eat pests, so this is objectively sadder. Under the sea we join Aquaman for some dead fish action. Also presumably sad (though who knows with Aquaman these days).
We are now at a construction site in Louisiana, where we realize that Alec Holland has been our narrator all along, and boy does this guy have feelings about plants. We are meant to think he has put his plant doctor life behind him for a life of construction work, with occasional allusions to plant doctoring. In Arizona, both recently (lizard!) and long-dead (mammoth!) animals are becoming mysteriously disinterred.
Back to Alec! He's hitting us with some more Plant Facts (like Flash Facts, but for botany and horticulture enthusiasts). And then, IMPORTANT EXPOSITION. While working on a bio-restorative formula that could grow plants wherever, there was a lab explosion, and Alec straight-up died. What? Yes. He woke up alive six weeks ago in a swamp with memories of being, ahem, a SWAMP THING during the intervening time.
Superman arrives! I won't tell you what he's wearing, but I'm sure you can guess.** He couldn't find Alec because bro quit his lab job (SWAMP THING NO MORE). Superman is concerned about the dead animals, Swam--I mean Alec thinks it's kind of no big deal because this stuff happens (like in Magnolia or the Bible). He also denies ever having been Swamp Thing. No sir, not him. Superman gets down to brass tacks and is like "I'm worried about you, bro." And Alec is like "RIGHTLY SO." He has weird swampy memories and a crush on a white-haired lady he's never met. Superman suggests Alec goes back to being a Superbotanist but he's not having any of it.
In Arizona the guys who were excavating the mammoth are like, "Where's our mammoth?" One of them sees something disgusting and unspeakable and then a fly flies into his ear even though he kept saying that he was a scientist! At which point his head twists backwards, his eyes go white, and he becomes a disgusting fiend. Same thing for everybody else in the party. Then we glimpse this huge corpsey monster.
Back to Alec, who is chilling in a motel that Original Eyeball of the Mindless Ones pointed out is named after former Swamp Thing artist John Totleben (good catch!). Alec is beset by vines to the point that he's all set to throw away his bio-restorative formula when he meets, a creature I can only describe as a Swamp Thing.
We open in a WWII flashback, where A. H. Rogers is flying a fighter plane. He is killed in a crash and pretty unhappy about it because he became a pilot to avoid his swampy destiny and now he's in a swamp, being overtaken by destiny.*** So this is the Swamp Thing standing before Alec right now. He was Swamp thing for awhile, then took root at the Parliament of Trees and is only now hauling his ass away from said Parliament to have some words with Alec, who is being a good ol' fashioned Joe Campbell reluctant hero. Swamp Thing Rogers is pretty insistent about having this chat, so Alec relents.
So there is this amorphous plaguey villain called Seethe that Swamp Thing Rogers is pretty worried about (we can assume said villainous plague force is responsible for the gross stuff we saw in #1). Seethe has a long history of pulling horrible, life-destroying stunts like what it's doing in Wrightson Diner (hey, paying attention to the signs now, that one's Bernie Wrightson, another former Swamp Thing artist). And he's gathering an army! Like those paleontologists whose heads he twisted! Seethe looks an awful lot like the Hunters Three we've been seeing in Animal Man, so it looks like we're inching into crossover territory (which make sense given that Snyder and Jeff Lemire are buddies, and that Animal Man and Swamp Thing are natural hippie allies--we'd invite Aquaman but he thinks he's too cool for that shit now).
So Swamp Thing Rogers is pulling the prophecy card and saying that it's time for Alec to step up and join the fight. Alec is miffed because he insists he was already a Swamp Thing, but Swamp Thing Rogers says that actually what happened is that the explosion prevented Alec from becoming Swamp Thing. So basically the Parliament made a facsimile Swamp Thing Holland with Alec's memories (the one from Alan Moore's run), and somehow Alec is now alive again and has those memories but they aren't really his but they kind of are. They...swapped memories? I think? So each has memories of a time when he was not alive? Tradesies?
Swamp Thing Rogers starts dying (because he uprooted himself from the Parliament, which is apparently a pretty serious thing), still with his "Don't write off this Swamp Thing thing, we think you'd be pretty good. Either way, avoid that white-haired lady you've never met but have a crush on." Sounds easy enough. Alec goes back to the motel, feeling weird. The manager? Owner? Something? of the motel gets attacked by the super gross flies and then shows up at Alec's door all head-torquey and bearing an axe. To kill him! Everyone else in proximity: same deal.
Alec responds, as any rational human would, by jumping on a motorcycle with a stranger who will no doubt turn out to be the very lady Swamp Thing Rogers warned him about, because come on. They outrun Seethe's hordes, and Alec wants to stop the bike. Motorcycle person is like, "No big deal, because not only am I the white-haired lady you were warned about, but I have a gun and am totally pointing it at you."
[DEAFENING PIPE ORGAN CHORD]
So that's where we are so far. Thanks for joining me! I'll be back with future editions unless Swamp Thing becomes really straightforward somewhere down the line.
*Hey, it's a totally relevant allusion because The McLaughlin Group made a cameo in Watchmen, written by former writer of Swamp Thing and guy with formidable beard, Alan Moore. BOOM.
**Credit where credit is due, Yanick Paquette gives us the least terrible rendition of Superman's new costume that I've seen so far. His art on this book is pretty damn exceptional.
***We get into the whole Swamp Thing mythos with successive Swamp Things who are born as humans with fancy special earthy blood and are selected by the Parliament of Trees and when they die they get Swamped and when they're done Swamping they join the Parliament where they can hang out forever and presumably choose future Swamp Things?