"Swamp Thing" #24 led directly into this week's "Swamp Thing Annual" #2, and at the time it looked like this issue would kick off the challenge between Swamp Thing and the Seeder for complete control of the Green. What Charles Soule, Javier Pina and Kano actually present in "Swamp Thing Annual" #2 is Swampy training for that upcoming battle, at the hands of two past avatars of the Green. While that might sound less than riveting, the end result is surprisingly fascinating.
Soule uses "Swamp Thing Annual" #2 to give the reader a brief history of the Green, as well as its relationship with the Red. It's a surprisingly engrossing little story, one that reminds how plant life (the Green) had existed before animal life (the Red) evolved on the planet. At the same time, it also lets "Swamp Thing Annual" #2 serve as a jumping-on point for new readers, one who might decide that with the "fifth week" of comics that they'll take the opportunity to pick up the Annual and see what all the fuss is about. It's a smart tactic, and one that I'd love to see pay off.
The bulk of the issue, though, has Swamp Thing square off against two different past avatars. The Lady Weeds is the more dangerous of the two, a dangerous member of the Parliament of Trees that even the other avatars fear. What's nice is that Soule doesn't just tell us that, he shows us as well. No sooner do we meet her than we see how she can turn a little dandelion into a nasty killing machine, a moment ably drawn by Pina. It's a smart turn, one that lets us understand the full potential of the powers of the Green, as well as reminding us why Swamp Thing needs this training. As the story progresses, we get a glimpse into how the Lady Weeds was able to cow the rest of the Parliament of Trees into submission during her time as their champion, and Soule's mixing it in with a real historical event gives it an extra punch. But best of all, it's nice that Soule concludes this not with Swamp Thing merely stating that he's more powerful, but actually showing us in a tangible and understandable way. It's a utilization of the Swamp Thing powers that keeps in line with everything we've seen up until now, but in an offensive manner that Swamp Thing hasn't achieved before. That's exactly how a training session should progress in "Swamp Thing," and I like how well Soule's story moves us through it.
A lot of kudos also belong to Pina, whose visuals here look outstanding. This series has been quite fortunate in terms of guest artists since Kano took over as the main artist, and this issue is no exception. There are so many things here that Pina does well; the depictions of the ancient Swamp Things (it's hard to decide if dinosaur Swamp Thing is better than samurai Swamp Thing), the idyllic dwelling of the Parliament of Trees, or even something as simple as the wine glasses made out of curled leaves. The battle between Swamp Thing and the Lady Weeds is also pretty impressive; that initial attack is so strong in part because of how well Pina draws it. As the tendrils of the plant burst out and whip back around, you can feel the motion thanks to the sequential panel by panel progression. The step back as the initial barb protrudes through his chest, the slight twist of Swamp Thing's head as the head of the flower bursts open, the half-stagger forward as his body is pierced... each image flows well into the next, and gives us the full range of motion for our minds to easily fill in as a result. That's good storytelling. Kano also draws a small sequence within this issue, and those five pages are good too. It's a reminder that Kano's a smart choice for this book when he's available, and whenever he returns he'll be welcomed.
"Swamp Thing Annual" #2 deserves the slightly higher profile release this month, and I'm glad to see it here. Soule's script here is strong, and this is easily the best art I've seen from Pina in his career. This is a creative team that should get together more often, if something so much fun is the end result. If you've been wondering how "Swamp Thing" has been post-Scott Snyder, this is a great spot to find out for yourself. Take a look.