With art by Mike Perkins, written by Ram V, colors by June Chung, and letters by Aditya Bidikar, DC Comics’ Future State: Swamp Thing #1 is unnerving and mysterious. V, Perkins, Chung, and Bidikar have the hefty task of introducing us to a world that must be both new and familiar. But even the new, here, feels somewhat familiar. That’s because this creative team pulls from the real world to give their mystical story the smack of realism.
V links our new cast of characters, a nomadic tribe of plant creatures, to nomadic tribes of the real world. We get a sense of more than just survival happening. When a young plant girl comes to Swamp Thing, he tells her of their history. It feels ritualistic, like a pillar of a culture steeped in oral traditions. Ultimately, that’s what V achieves in these pages. He makes us feel like these are characters with an established, almost ancient culture, even if it’s new to us. And every few pages, V walks us through how Swamp Thing went about creating life. We see the challenge of making lungs, muscles, and emotions out of leaf and root. So, while we feel like we’re playing catch up in some ways, we’re regularly reminded that this fantastic new world is rooted (no pun intended) in realism.
Perkins does a brilliant job of making us feel that this is a tribe of real people we’re following. Their skin might be bark, their hair leaves, but their smiles and suspicious glances are unmistakably human. Characters like Indigo, and the curious young girl who meets with Swamp Thing at the opening, are bursting with character. In fact, Perkins’ juxtaposition between these two is what highlights their traits. Indigo is a gnarled, bitter, trouble-making old man, while the young girl is bright-eyed and full of hope. Perkins also imbues seemingly innocent moments with human drama. When Indigo asks Swamp Thing to “lay bare your secrets,” it’s Swamp Thing’s fear, clear on his face, that makes the request suddenly feel dangerous. And Perkins’ nuanced expressions are interrupted by impersonal images of a plant person’s anatomy. DC Comics’ Future State: Swamp Thing #1 is a visual tug of war between the emotionless, secretive nature of its titular character and the excited humanity of its offspring.
To fully understand Chung’s coloring, you have to be familiar with the mythology of Swamp Thing. Guardian of the Green, Swamp Thing is a character who lives in a place of tension. Previously, he’d been a man. A creature of “the Red.” But now he lives to protect plant life. So it’s interesting, then, that Chung associates the color red with a few things. For one, Chung uses red to show when characters become panicked or angry. It’s their display of human emotions, marked by a color that is typically associated with humanity in this world. But, even stranger, Chung uses red to show Swamp Thing communing with the Green. When he uses his power, we see the roots of trees in red, looking like blood veins through the earth. Maybe it’s because Swamp Thing uses his power to find humans or because he’s a bit of both himself. Either way, Chung’s use of red and green in this issue is more than just cosmetic. It’s a representation of Swamp Thing’s warring natures.
Bidikar makes some fascinating choices when lettering this issue. We see Swamp Thing’s dialogue, written in the same format we’re used to. The orange word balloon and black lettering with a jagged edge, with ellipses showing his difficulty forming words. But the rest of the plant people, Swamp Thing’s offspring, are lettered differently. They have a green outline to their white word balloons with no ellipses to show any hesitation. Bidikar shows us that Swamp Thing is different than everyone else. He’s not like the plant people, nor is he like humans. The one moment Bidikar seems to have missed an opportunity is when Swamp Thing finds a human. “Let me speak… to him in a voice… he will understand…” he says to the others. And he does, but his dialogue doesn’t change visually. There’s no change in font of any kind to show this transition, which is slightly confusing. It’s a tough moment though. There’s no way Bidikar can mark Swamp Thing’s lines to the others as “translated from” because there’s no known language for plants. But even an absence of ellipses when they’re chatting amongst themselves could be a small tell to show a change.
DC Comics’ Future State: Swamp Thing #1 doesn’t feel like a first issue. It feels like another chapter in the long lineage of an ancient tribe. V, Perkins, Chung, and Bidikar make this new world feel marvelously lived-in. It’s a great introduction to the mystical side of DC Comics’ Future State event. Pick up Future State: Swamp Thing #1, out from DC Comics on the 5th of January, at a comic shop near you!