Not my comic-book universe: Swamp Thing and Black Panther (#SFWApro)

Justin Zyduck’s post about how Marvel Comics just aren’t his thing any more probably nails one of my feelings about current comics (both Marvel and DC) better than I think I’ve ever managed.

Zyduck says that while there are some comics from the MU he likes a lot, he doesn’t like them in the same way he did. The differences in style (nobody uses thought balloons any more), the fondness for shuffling people in and out of established identities (e.g., the Falcon became Captain America and then a second Captain America, Commissioner Gordon and Dick Grayson have both been Batman, now Victor Von Doom has or will become Iron Man), some of the characterizations just make it feel like a different MU than the one he loved. Which doesn’t make them bad — there’s no reason he should be Marvel’s target audience — just not for him.

And yeah, that’s how I feel at times, though I don’t think I’ve ever expressed it so clearly. Sure, there are comics I really think stink (like having Batman build armor that can defeat the JLA)  but there are many that I don’t like simply because they have a different target audience or a different style.Maybe if I were ten I’d think it no more unusual to have Bruce Wayne repeatedly replaced as Batman than to have a character’s love interest replaced. Even when I do like a series, I like it as itself, rather than as part of a big super-hero universe I’m also emotionally attached to.

Now to get a couple of specific examples:


Swamp Thing (cover by Berni Wrightson, all rights reside with current holder) started as a horror drama about a man transformed into a monster and struggling to deal (not an original idea, but so well done). Alan Moore then reinvented Swampie as an avator of “the green,” the plant kingdom, agent of the Parliament of Trees. Later writers expanded that by adding Parliaments of Waves, Flames and Stones, then the kingdoms of the red (animals), the Rot (death and decay) and most recently the Machines. And while it’s far removed from the source, it works okay for me (as noted at the link, I enjoyed the Machine Kingdom story).

But Swamp Thing: Family Tree by Scott Snyder plus other writers and artists, retcons the later Swamp Thing fantasy world back to the beginning. Arcane, who started out as a mad scientist, is now an agent of the Rot; Swampie’s human self, Alec Holland, was a Chosen One, destined to be the Green’s great champion; and the accident that created ST was Arcane’s attempt to destroy him and abort that possibility. It’s not bad, so to speak—Swamp Thing as demigod has now been around longer than the original concept — but it just ain’t my Swamp Thing.

Then there’s Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze. As a result of Wakanda getting pounded in multiple big crossover events, it’s now a failed state. Bandits loot it, the neighbors are claiming territory, T’Challa seems to spend most of his time hand-wringing and members of his former honor guard have turned vigilante. It’s well-done, with the caveat that it’s structured more like a big, epic novel: while a lot’s going on, I don’t think any of the issues really have a payoff, even a cliffhanger (I can accept well-done opening chapters of a novel as mostly set-up but not so much four issues of a comic book).

But again, this broken failed state is not my Wakanda. My Wakanda (including T’Challa’s early FF appearances, his Bronze Age series and the 21st century run by Christopher Priest) is a cool place. A powerful, technologically advanced nation, albeit struggling to reconcile its modern and traditional sides. It ain’t utopia, but it functions. That’s not saying Coates made a wrong call: he simply looked at what’s been happening to Wakanda and asked how that would affect things (from his interviews, I don’t think he’s happy that Wakanda keeps getting razed but he didn’t want to just ignore it). It’s logical and reasonable, but … not me.

I’m sure I’ll be referring back to this post in comics reviews down the road.


Filed under Comics, Reading

7 responses to “Not my comic-book universe: Swamp Thing and Black Panther (#SFWApro)

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  7. Agreed on Coates’ Wakanda.

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