This comic is a hoot and a half! I didn’t really know what to expect going into this story, but I was quite pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
The first thing that I noticed was that this story has detective work in it. It seems odd to have to call this out every-time it happens in a Bat-book, because it should happen all the time, but it happens so rarely anymore that it’s a real treat when we do get some. In recent years, it just seems that writers are far more interested in exploring the action elements of the character rather than his noggin. But in the last month, I feel like we have gotten more detective work out of Batman than we have in the last year. First we had a great back and forth between Bruce and Barry in The Flash #21, and then we had Batman following clues in Batman /The Shadow #1. It’s as if the writers suddenly remembered that Batman is a detective and a man-hunter foremost and decided to lay it on us all at once. But that’s not a complaint, the more the merrier.
The next most prevalent element in this story is the humor. Humor?!? Exactly! Humor isn’t really the first thing you expect to find when reading a story about one character who got his start in horror and another who spends his nights beating the piss out of criminals. And really, even though it’s not something I expected (or even wanted), it’s actually the element that made this comic the most enjoyable for me. Now, I’m not going to ruin all the jokes for you by pointing them all out, but I will say this: seeing Alfred feverishly trying to clean up after Swamp Thing was hilarious!
You know who else shows up in this comic?
If I’m counting correctly, this is the third time that King has used Kite-Man. If King keeps up this trend, Kite-Man will have appeared more times in King’s stories than in every other appearance he has had since 1960. At this rate, if we don’t get a full Kite-Man story, then King is just the biggest tease ever.
I just have one little problem with Kite-Man’s inclusion in this story. The murder that Batman is investigating happened on the 84th floor of a building and the killer gained access through the window. Now, there are many ways that could have gone down. The killer could have repelled from the roof, or had powers, or suction cups….I don’t know. Lots of things. The point is, Batman went straight to Kite-Man….which was the correct answer. Now maybe there were other people Batman interrogated and it just happened off-panel. Maybe we only saw the Kite-Man scene because it was the only one that was relevant. And I guess that makes sense. But if you don’t take the time to put that together in your head, it really does seem as if Batman just knew Kite-Man was the right person to question. And furthermore, how did Batman know a kite was used to gain access. Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see anything that would have indicated that was the proper trail to follow.
While the humor was definitely my favorite part of the issue, the spiritual chat that Bruce and Alec have over tea was captivating. It really reminded me of this scene from Disney’s “The Lion King”. And really, this ends up being the theme that is central to the story. In a logical/cold way, dying is simply a part of life. To get upset about it is to fight an inevitable/natural process. The interesting thing is to see how people respond to it. How those who embrace a certain philosophy can still be caught unawares by their emotional response to it. When one considers that an element of Swamp Thing’s narrative has been about exhibiting calmness over power, and the ramifications of ignoring that, I found this to be a very powerful story.
What is Swamp Thing:
It’s possible that some of you reading this will have no clue who or what Swamp Thing is, so… He’s a scientist that was doing research in order to create a formula that would re-forest desolate parts of the world. He basically gets blown up and falls into the swamp, emerging as Swamp Thing. Depending on which version of Swamp Thing you are looking at, he is either a man that was changed into a swamp creature, or a swamp creature that appropriated the memories of a man. Either way you look at it, he’s Alec Holland. But what is Swamp Thing. Well, he’s kind of an Earth Elemental that’s responsible for taking care of the vegetation side of the planet, referred to as The Green. Although, at one time, he was responsible for all of Earth’s elements.
If you want a quick way to contextualize his powers, just look at him as a Clayface made of plants instead of mud. But that’s just scrapping the surface of his physical abilities and not doing him any real justice. Technically, he’s actually just a consciousness without a body. He can transport his consciousness into any vegetation, and then transform that vegetation into a humanoid form. He can also control all plant life and can speak with plants. Liken this to someone using the Internet to access traffic cameras or security feed, except he is accessing stuff through plants. He can essentially see and hear anything that is happening around any plant. And he can transport himself anywhere, as long as there is a plant for him to enter.
The three main themes that you will usually find in Swamp Thing comics are horror, ecological awareness, and spirituality. This particular issue leans more towards the spiritual aspect of the character.
If you are looking for other noteworthy Batman/Swamp Thing crossover stories, they can be found in the following:
- Swamp Thing #7 (1973) is written by Len Wein and Penciled by Bernie Wrightson. If you noticed, in the credits for this comic, these two are actually Swamp Thing’s creators. In this story, Swamp Thing comes to Gotham City seeking the individual who brought about his “disfigurement”.
- The Brave and The Bold #122 (1975). Basically, Gotham City is being overrun by giant roots/plants, so the citizens of Gotham blame Swamp Thing and want to destroy him. Batman knows something else is up, and the two of them discover the real source of the infestation. When you talk about Batman/Swamp Thing, many people cite Moore’s work, but I find it interesting how many things this story and his have in common. Plants overrunning Gotham City, check. Use of defoliants, check. Government trying to eliminate Swamp Thing, check. Swamp Thing seemingly dies at the end but really doesn’t, check.
- Oh, and if it wasn’t obvious to you, the title of King’s story was clearly inspired by the title of this series.
- Swamp Thing, issue #52-55 (1986). This story was written by Alan Moore. In previous Swamp Thing issues, Abby (Swamp Thing’s wife) was charged with “crimes against nature” by the state of Louisiana. She flees to Gotham, but is picked up by the GCPD. Swamp Thing shows up to rescue her, and when they won’t give her to him, he turns Gotham into an overgrown jungle. Which puts Swamp Thing and Batman at odds.
- Less noteworthy is Batman #521+522 (1995). In this story, Killer Croc is devolving into an animal like state. Croc decides to retreat to nature and live out his days in the swamps. Swamp Thing welcomes Croc with open arms and doesn’t allow Batman to take him back into captivity.
- Look everybody! It’s “Figure with Meat” by Francis Bacon! If that image seems familiar to you, it may be that you recognize it from the 1989 Batman Movie. It was the painting that Jack Nicholson’s Joker stopped Bob from destroying. “I kinda like this one Bob, leave it.”
- See that painting over the fireplace. It’s from Batman&Robin #10 (2012) by Patrick Gleason.
- I’m always super impressed when a writer digs up some nothing character and uses them. Oh, you thought the main villain from this was King’s creation. Nope. He’s a preexisting Batman character from Batman #487 (1992). Booyah!
- You’re a fan of seeing Batman and Swamp Thing together.
- Tom King has made you a Kite-Man fan.
- You like a story with a heavy dose of dry humor.
- You like detective work.
This story has a lot going on, but even though many of the elements are quite disparate from one another, I found them to fit together quite beautifully. While there is nothing here that’s relevant to the overall story currently being told in the pages of Batman, this was a wonderful little one-and-done that was succinct and to the point: providing action, detective work, humor, references, and thought-provoking subject matter all within 20 brief pages.
SCORE: 9 / 10