I look at the time stamp of my last post and realize that it’s been two weeks since I last posted and I feel ashamed. I’ll blame it on the awesome Flash vs. the Rogues story I’m working up (DC, call me). In honor of Halloween I’m breaking the drought of content with an all out slugfest between two Vertigo mainstays who hit it big in DC’s New 52, Swamp Thing and Animal Man. The two books/characters have been so closely tied in the build up towards Rotworld that it’s hard to consider them as separate books. However, I’m about to make myself do just that. I’ll be comparing each book’s central and supporting characters, and art direction to decide which book is the best. I will only be comparing the New 52 incarnations of the characters for the sake of this match up.
Central Characters: Buddy Baker vs. Alec Holland
In one corner we have Buddy Baker; family man, animal rights activist, even one time movie star. In the other we have Alec Holland, a world-class botanist given a new lease on life. I can’t say that this is any easy call, but I’m going to have to go with Buddy. The two characters have had similar arcs to this point. Both have had to accept a destiny that was thrust on them by a higher power in order to protect those that they love and combat a terrifying evil. However, it took Alec seven issues to step up and accept the mantle of Swamp Thing, while Buddy did whatever he could to protect his family from the beginning. It seems to me Alec’s character development up to this point has served the progression of the story, while the plot of Animal Man has been shaped by Buddy’s superb character arc.
Winner: Animal Man
Anton Arcane has been revealed as the big bad of Rotworld, making him responsible for the terrible events occurring in both Animal Man and Swamp Thing. However, the fact remains that the character is first and foremost a Swamp Thing villain. Arcane and Swamp Thing go back all the way to the beginning, and with the revelations from Swamp Thing #0, the bad blood between the two is stronger than it has ever been. Throw in the battle between Alec and Anton for Abby’s life and you have a rivalry for the ages. So, if you take Arcane out of the equation, that means the only villain Animal Man has faced at this point are the Hunters. Now, those characters were visually revolting and terrifying but at the end of the day they are essentially glorified henchman. Swamp Thing takes the cake for giving us the dastardly Anton Arcane.
Winner: Swamp Thing
Supporting Characters: The Baker Family vs. Abigail Arcane
Swamp Thing enters this category with a large handicap considering the book’s main supporting cast consists of Abby Arcane and the occasional appearance of the Parliament of trees. While the horror tinged star-crossed love story between Alec and Abby is really great, it hasn’t been developed far past where it has been for years. On the other hand, Jeff Lemire has a great cast to work with in the form of Buddy’s family. You can’t help but feel for Ellen Baker as she attempts to protect her children and trust her husband to do what’s right, or to sympathize for Cliff as he compares himself to his father and sister. Even minor comedic relief characters like Socks the cat and Shepard bring something fun and unique to the book. Animal Man’s supporting cast is one of the best in comics, period.
Winner: Animal Man
The Art Teams
Both Animal Man and Swamp Thing have had terrific creative teams. Swamp Thing originally began with Yannick Paquette and has since featured fill-in artists such as Marco Rudy, Kano, and one of my absolute favorites, Francesco Francavilla. Animal Man began with Travel Foreman on art, who after doing several issues left the series to be replaced by Steve Pugh. Timothy Green II worked on the annual issue and has done some fill work if I recall correctly. While I initially wasn’t a huge fan of Foreman’s extremely unusual art style, it quickly grew on me and gave the book a definitive style that helped cement it as a must read book. While Steve Pugh does good work on the book, the loss of Foreman was a major blow to the book. However, the tag team of Yannick Paquette and Marco Rudy have made Swamp Thing one of the most gorgeous and visually unique books on the stands. I would argue that J.H. Williams III’s work on Batwoman is the only book that rival’s Swamp Thing’s complex panel composition. Paquette’s use of vines, bones, and other thematically relevant materials to border the organically flowing panels has even seemed to influence Steve Pugh’s recent Animal Man issues. Between the two books, Swamp Thing is clearly leading the art direction. Oh, and I just saw a preview Becky Cloonan’s pages for the upcoming Swamp Thing Annual. Fantastic.
Winner: Swamp Thing
This one is impossible for me to decide. Animal Man has frankenpets, rot-demons that transform into whatever they eat, and SO. MUCH. BLOOD. Swamp Thing, on the other hand, has parasitic flies that snap their victims necks and take over their bodies, a Grandpa that vomit black sludge into his grandaughter’s mouth, and a monster that consists of a deformed head attached to a hand that crawls around and smothers babies. Honestly, I don’t know how either Snyder or Lemire sleep at night.
With a 2.5-2.5 tie, you wouldn’t possibly expect me to decide this with a “Je ne sais quoi” argument, would you? Well, I’m afraid that’s how I’m going to do it. As much as I love both series, Swamp Thing just comes out slightly higher for me than Animal Man. I can’t quite place exactly why that is. It might be because I like green better than red. Maybe, having read through much of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, I have a greater connection to Swampy. I’m a huge Morrison fan but I’ve never read his work on Animal Man, so who knows how that might influence my overall decision. It could just be that I’m a sucker for the incredible new Swamp Thing design (he has wings!). So, as much of a cop-out as it is, I have to give the tie breaking point to Swamp Thing, because my heart tells me it’s right.
Overall Winner: Swamp Thing
Now, this was mostly just for fun and my opinion is not the end all be all. I enjoy both Swamp Thing and Animal Man and couldn’t imagine reading one without the other. I will say that Animal Man is slightly more reader friendly in my opinion. All the reader needs to know about the character is right there in his first issue. Swamp Thing, however, bears the burden of past continuity, which could deter a new reader. However, I’m not a new reader, and as the inclusion of a “New Reader Friendly” category would result in another tie, I leave my decision as it is. These are by far some of the best comics out there, by any publisher. I look forward to the future of both series as they explore Rotworld and beyond.