"Swamp Thing" #21 is three issues into Charles Soule's run as the series author, and I'm pleased to say that it's his best to date. Joined this month by guest artist Jesus Saiz, Soule's work on "Swamp Thing" is one of those rare series where you can honestly say that each issue has been stronger than the one previous. It's great to find a book that rewards readers by paying off on that initial promise.
"Swamp Thing" #21 gives a more robust introduction to Capucine, the woman from the end of the previous issue. Soule is careful in doling out the information; he reveals some important information about her, even as some facts are clearly being held back for future issues. What especially amused me was how well Soule manages to handle the dishing out of those details; by timing it just right, it's in a way that clues in the reader but not yet the protagonist. He's still in the dark, but not in a way that makes Swamp Thing come across as stupid or incompetent.
As for Capucine herself, I like what's been shown so far. A character who might be named after the French word for the nasturtium flower could easily be a bit of a shrinking violet, but instead we've got an extremely effective and physically adept character who (at least for now) also avoids any of the typical "bad girl" trappings that so often go hand-in-hand. I like that we've got a character here that can defend herself against all sorts of folk, but is ultimately in search of refuge.
Soule's usage of the Parliament of Trees is also a welcome addition here; I've always liked the idea of Swamp Thing being able to consult with the earlier holders of his title, and this glimpse 800 years into the past is fun. Not only does it show us how different Swamp Things have managed to interpret their role, but even little elements like the monk's robe of vegetation help cast this into something especially entertaining. "Swamp Thing" definitely feels like it's on track now.
While I like new series artist Kano, I'll admit I was delighted to see Saiz step in for an issue. The fact that he's not drawing an ongoing series right now is a shame, and "Swamp Thing" #21 a perfect example of why that's so. The opening splash is just beautiful, a mixture of an aerial few of the swamp and inset panels of the creatures who live there. Herons, gators, fish, and plants are all visuals that could have been throwaways, but Saiz beautifully and lovingly draws each in a manner worthy of examination. (It's also worth noting that Matthew Wilson's colors on this page are particularly exquisite.) Then again, this entire issue is an examination in attention to detail; the vegetation that Swamp Thing and Capucine stand on is just as carefully rendered as the characters themselves, for example, and the drawing of Swamp Thing's roots extended off-panel into the Green is entrancing.
I also love the contrast between Capucine and Swamp Thing in general; one drawn with very clean lines and a creamy smooth visage, the other with immense and careful detail and lots of tiny little additions and marks. Saiz continues what Yanick Paquette established for this current "Swamp Thing" series when it comes to panel borders, too; as Swamp Thing is pulled through the Green, the swirling knots of vegetation serve as a perfect way to divide up the page in a way that doesn't draw attention to itself but rewards the careful reader.
"Swamp Thing" #21 is a strong and enjoyable comic; it's great to see Soule establish himself so quickly on the comic, and for Saiz to step in so effortlessly for some guest art. (If Kano ever needs another break and Saiz is free, hopefully he'll be asked again.) If you were unsure about continuing with "Swamp Thing" after the recent creative team switch, hopefully this issue will persuade you to stick around. I know for me, it most definitely did.