Swamp Thing #0: Arcane History

Scott Snyder brings us the backstory of the creepy-as-hell Anton Arcane, the nasty avatar of The Rot.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Swamp Thing #0

The issue zeros are here! The issues zeros are here!

Really, that doesn’t mean very much. DC has decided to go back to the beginning of the universe they just created to give us some background info on how that universe came to be. It would have been great if DC did this back when the New 52 was, well, new, but they did not and so here we are. As goofy as this zero idea is, the stories coming out of it could be worthwhile. Take Swamp Thing #0, penned by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Kano. In this issue, we get the backstory of Anton Arcane, a character we’ve long known and dreaded. In Swamp Thing #0, Scott Snyder takes the original idea and runs with it, which is something he does very well.

Originally, Arcane was just a big bad guy for Swamp Thing to duke it out with. When Alan Moore took over, he deepened the legend of both Swamp Thing and Arcane. Now, in the midst of reinventing Alec Holland and his connection to the Green, Scott Snyder has raised the ante once more. To really understand what Snyder is doing here, you have to understand how badly DC screwed with the Swamp Thing continuity.

Pre-New 52, Alec Holland was never actually Swamp Thing. The creature we knew and loved was an extension of the Green, a tiny bit of Holland’s consciousness that had been used within the Swamp Thing, but not actually Holland himself. When Holland returned after Blackest Night, he was destined to become the greatest Swamp Thing ever.

Here’s where things get tricky. The idea behind Alec Holland himself becoming Swamp Thing stuck, but because DC insisted on this insipid “this all started 5 years ago” rule, what that story arc was built on could not have happened. As you can see, it’s a big old mess. So DC now turns to the magic pen of Scott Snyder to bring some order to their chaos, which he does quite effectively. Snyder orchestrates the history of Anton Arcane in such a way that it cleans up the pre-52 business and gives the new story arc stronger legs.

Swamp Thing Zero is all about Anton Arcane. The opening pages are some of the best that Snyder has penned. I’m not usually thrown by a comic book, but Snyder’s twist in page four caught me completely by surprise. From that point, we learn how Arcane is not just a man but an ancient evil that has hunted the avatar of the Red and Green for eons. He often finds these avatars when they’re still babies (a scene shown to great gruesome effect by Kano) but if not, Arcane slaughters them later. Having felt the power of Alec Holland, Arcane disguises himself and slithers into Holland’s scientific camp as they study the power of the Green. The end of the issue sees Arcane celebrating a victory we all know he didn’t achieve.

Snyder manages to organize, delete, rewrite and combine what was necessary to keep Swamp Thing going. This is another testament to the fact that Snyder is not only a great comic book author, he’s an all around great storyteller. He connects dots, erases and makes new connections and does it all without disturbing the legend that’s come before. The truly astonishing thing here is that Snyder takes an issue that was little more than a DC money shill and makes into something important to the lineage.

The art from Kano is another high water mark for the Swamp Thing series. To really be effective, the pencils needed to not just be weird but also disturbing. The aforementioned scene when Arcane kills little babies is exactly what I’m talking about. Kano gives Arcane a beastly vibe as well as demon look. This guy oozes evil and the drawings capture that perfectly.

I also enjoyed Kano’s knack for panel placement as well as switching of styles between human and creature. His humans are thin lines, very meek looking. In contrast, his monsters are thickly drawn with an enormous amount of weight to them. What Kano does in this book is really terrific horror art. Swamp Thing #0 can be considered another victory for both author and artist.