Swamp Thing: Green Hell #1 Review: Returning the Beloved Beast to His Monstrous Roots

Swamp Thing's debut in 1971 introduced him as a horror figure, with subsequent adventures over the years painting him in a much more heroic light. He might not have ever had the appeal of traditional heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, or Batman, but all incarnations of the beast have seen his legacy spread, much like the vegetation he embodies. Making him a complicated figure is that his fan base rivals those more traditional heroes, yet his mythology has always been rooted (pun intended) in the macabre and grotesque. After just one issue of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Doug Mahnke's Swamp Thing: Green Hell, the character looks to be returning to his more supernatural origins while also offering readers the potential heroism of the terrestrial terror.

In the not-too-distant future, humanity has been forced to retreat to a mountaintop in hopes of avoiding a flooding world, though rising tides are only one threat survivors face, as the nature of humanity also means rivaling communities willing to take resources by force. Unfortunately for all of humankind, the Parliaments of the Red, the Green, and the Rot all agree that time has come for the species, posing an even bigger threat to anything holding out hope for survival. In face of these otherworldly threats, an isolated drifter and their unlikely alliance might be humanity's only hope to avoid eradication.

One of the challenges of any Swamp Thing story is finding the balance between traditional threats from the DC's roster while also embracing his more horrifying themes. While he's had his fair share of stories in which he represents Earth and pushes back against those intending to cause it harm, there's only so many ways threats the creature can push back against. However, if you stray too far into the more cosmic realm, you run the risk of sacrificing the humanity that is inherent in the beast. Luckily, Lemire and Mahnke manage to find that harmony between compelling human figures and threats that emerge from the abyss to craft an adventure worthy of Swamp Thing.

This premiere issue leans heavily into the otherworldly horrors, as the characters we meet quickly take a backseat to the discussions between the Parliaments about the grim future of humanity. Anyone familiar with Lemire's run on Animal Man will recognize these entities and the careful balance they have with one another as to not overtake the world. In this series, however, it almost seems like it really is time for them to rise up, given what humans have done to the planet. It's not entirely a dour affair, though, as the human characters we do meet, while somewhat stereotypical for a dystopia, largely deliver readers the best of what humanity has to offer.

With this being a Swamp Thing book and there not being readily available swamps in a drowning world, Mahnke and colorist David Baron aren't allowed to channel well-known elements of the character, though this frees them to reimagine the Green in exciting and horrifying ways. Rather than trees, shrubs, and roots representing the Parliament, we see spindly tendrils of kelp coming together to unleash horrors on humanity, evoking the likes of Cthulhu. The human characters and the scenes of water crashing on rocky shores serve as a juxtaposition of those more unsettling images, with each panel being as evocative of oceanic terror as any piece of dialogue.

In what might excite some DC fans and surely disappoint others, this book and the upcoming adventure isn't solely the quest of Swamp Thing, as another beloved figure from the franchise who has battled with a number of supernatural forces is at the ready. Devout Swamp Thing fans might feel underwhelmed that the series doesn't focus solely on the beloved beast, yet the final pages of this book do present an exciting future for the team-up, so the readers' mileage will surely vary.

In a day and age where reboots, revivals, and reinventions reign supreme, Swamp Thing: Green Hell takes the best approach to delivering a fresh and unexpected take on a beloved concept while also honoring what really makes the character special. Future installments might lean more heavily in humanoids waging battle with monstrous threats, and for those fans hoping to see the Green attempting to claim the Earth once and for all, this debut issue teases how such a feat is entirely possible. The book is grim and gruesome, all while highlighting the highs and lows of what it really means to be a monster. 

Published by DC Comics

On December 28, 2021

Written by Jeff Lemire

Art by Doug Mahnke

Colors by David Baron

Lettering by Steve Wands

Cover by Doug Mahnke