Charles Soule wraps up his run with this volume, and it goes out on a pretty strong note. The introduction of the Metal Kingdom, teased on the last page of vol. 6, continues in full swing here as the emergent kingdom finds out the hard way that Alec Holland is not an avatar to be trifled with. Sensing the need for an avatar of their own, the Metal Kingdom goes looking for someone with an experience and a grudge against the title character. Hmmmm… is there anyone in this series who fits the bill? Possibly someone who had their neck broken in the previous volume? Meanwhile, we also get to see what happens to Capucine when her one thousand years of life are up and Etrigan comes calling to collect on his end of the deal. Then we get an epilogue with the “Future’s End” issue as we see how Soule ends the “Swamp Thing” saga five years into an imaginary future.
The thing I liked most about vol. 6 was the constant stream of new ideas and situations that the writer kept bringing to each new issue. That trend continues here with the introduction of a brand new kingdom and the chaos that it brings to the Swamp Thing’s world. He does a good job of fleshing out (so to speak…) their structure and agenda that it feels like a worthy addition to the mythos surrounding this title.
While the conflict between the title character and this new kingdom drives the volume, the stakes never really become as epic as the writer would like us to believe. Even with the return of characters like Abby Arcane, her evil dad Anton, and John Constantine, the conflict remains fairly small-scale until the end. Even when things reach a climax in the Gobi Desert, there’s not enough scale to convince us that the fate of the world is at stake here. That’s not a failing on artist Jesus Saiz’s part, as he delivers excellent work throughout this volume. He’s called on to display an incredible amount of diversity in between the inhabitants of each kingdom and the man pulls it off effortlessly on the page. To be honest, Soule probably needed an extra volume in order to pull off what he was aiming for here.
That becomes even more clear in the final issue where, instead of focusing on the battle between the kingdoms, Soule has Swamp Thing duck out of the current narrative entirely for a brief sojourn into metafiction. It reads like the writer recognized that he wasn’t going to have enough room to do what he really wanted, so he decided to do something else entirely. This includes having the title character meet what can only be described as an “Avatar of the Arts” to reflect on the nature of storytelling. The encounter is at least an interesting digression and offers an interesting look at where the story could’ve gone if the series had sold well enough for this not to be its final issue. Ultimately, it just sets up the final page where it looks like Swamp Thing is preparing to get lost in a good book. This is all interesting enough, but it doesn’t make for a fully satisfying ending to this run. Best to file this one under “reach exceeds grasp” section of “ambitious failures.”
Yet that’s not all this volume has to offer. There’s the third annual and the “Future’s End” issue, which serve as the least satisfying and best parts of this book. As I mentioned above, the annual focuses on Capucine as she reaches the end of her life and Etrigan comes calling to collect on her body and soul. A good setup for a story, without doubt. Yet Soule tries to shoehorn in some unnecessary drama and retcons about Capucine’s character by having Etrigan reveal that she’s been a really bad person for 999 of the years of her life. It doesn’t ring true, because even as bits from her earlier appearances are touched upon to back this up, the story never sets up any real doubt that she’ll do right by Swamp Thing in the end. The story does feature some great art from several different artists, but even they can’t give this redemption story the weight it needs because it’s about a character that never really felt like she needed to be redeemed in the first place.
Then you have the “Future’s End” issue which winds up being the real ending to Soule’s run. In fact, it’s probably the best thing I’ve read from him so far. While he wasn’t able to give the main story the epic heft that it needed, this done-in-one story has just that as we see Swamp Thing journey to the six (yes, six) kingdoms for a final confrontation with Anton Arcane. Some parts of the story could’ve stood to be a bit more clear, like the stalemate the kingdoms find themselves in as part of this new continuity, but Soule displays some genuine cleverness in showing Swamp Thing’s interactions with them. It’s actually quite gratifying to finally see the character be one step ahead of his enemies after reading several volumes where that hasn’t been the case. We also see that Soule can write an entertaining story without it going off the rails or feeling like he’s following an established formula. This is definitely a more worthy end to his run than the final issue of the ongoing series.
This series started off its tenure in the “New 52” under Scott Snyder with lots of acclaim and strong sales. It all ended on a down note, however, with the ill-fated “Rotworld” crossover. Ultimately, Soule turned things around and I think his work is ultimately the better of the two writers of this latest “Swamp Thing” series. DC has already offered an omnibus of Snyder’s work on the title, but Soule’s run is also deserving of such treatment. Even if he’s working exclusively at Marvel these days…