Review: Swamp Thing: Twin Branches
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches
Writer: Maggie Stiefvater
Artist: Morgan Beem
DC Comics; $16.99
DC’s iconic swamp monster hero gets a YA remake courtesy of Shiver Trilogy and Raven Cycle author Maggie Stiefvater and artist Morgan Beem. Alec Holland, the botanist whose “bio-restorative” formula blew up in his face and turned him into Swamp Thing, generally gets short shrift in Swamp Thing stories—so much so that in the still-influential 1980s reinvention of the character by Alan Moore and company, Holland was disentangled from Swamp Thing, so that the creature wasn’t what Holland had turned into, but rather sentient plant life with Holland’s memories.
While unlikely to be as influential as Moore’s seminal run, Stiefvater and Beem’s original graphic novel is in some ways just as daring, as it puts Holland front and center of the story and all but removes the title character, saving it for a single, climactic scene. In addition to reorienting Holland as the protagonist, they also make more of him—sort of. In this version of the story, Holland is a twin, and his outgoing, popular brother Walker seems to have gotten personality enough for them both.
Always the life of the party, Walker tries to help his brother engage with others, and his efforts are given new urgency the summer before the Hollands head off to college, a summer which is actually going to be spent with their cousins in rural Louisiana, after their very human father’s infidelity causes them to be sent away.
Alec, meanwhile, has always been more comfortable with plants than people, to the extent that he tends to think like a plant—something that no doubt proved helpful in his ongoing science experiment, to grow new plants that retain the “memories” of older plants.
A more low-key accident causes Alec to lose much of his experiment here—no gangsters, no explosion—and other animal life gets into it before he ever does. When he finally does indulge, it allows him to hear the thoughts of plants, but it is portrayed as something akin to a psychedelic experience, rather than the dramatic physical transformation of other Swamp Thing stories.
Alec will eventually become a plant creature, something foreshadowed by the appearances of sentient plants shaped like birds, as well as the transformation of a pair of dogs that drink the formula, but as the creators make clear, Alec was something of a plant thing on the inside long before he gulps down his super-formula.
Twin Branches seems to be paced somewhat strangely, but that may simply be the result of my bringing the expectations of a comic book series to a work that more closely resembles a novel. Still, given the suddenness of the ending, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s a sequel in the future, as there remains a great deal of character conflict to resolve, in addition to the examination of Alec’s new life as a plant creature.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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