The Swamp Thing #4 reads almost as much like a page from a textbook as it does a comic. An exciting textbook. Its pages are chock full of history. Writer Ram V, artist Mike Perkins, colorist Mike Spicer, and letterer Aditya Bidikar turn the Green into a world of old comics and ripe new ideas.
V’s story is a collision of the old and the new. His fresh faced characters rub shoulders with legends. Perhaps it’s because V makes this history lesson so beautiful, or because this series has already been such a delight, but one can already picture writers of the future treating V’s story with the same gravitas. Though this issue risks being overly expositional, V sidesteps this pitfall. He informs us of the rules of this world through the inquisitive eyes of newcomers. But he also gives a unique voice to each of their guides. “How did you end up here?” Jennifer Reece asks the Floronic Man. “Half-formed and unwanted,” he answers. It doesn’t answer her question, but it tells us so much more about who it is that’s leading her through the wilderness.
Perkins is Stephen Bissette. He’s Bernie Wrightson and John Totleben. Yet somehow, in all of it, he’s also Mike Perkins. Perkins seems to effortlessly take on the styles of his predecessors. He moves between his own style and theirs so seamlessly that it underlines again why Perkins is a perfect fit for Swamp Thing. But not everything Perkins does in this issue is an homage. His original work is a breathtaking ode to the all-encompassing nature of the Green. When Swamp Thing connects with the Green, he sees its power. Behind his head we see plant cells, the patterns on a leaf, large forests, and the indistinct image of a green land mass. The images show the scope of the Green, but they also surround Swamp Thing. Perkins envelops us in this world, making us wish we never had to leave.
There’s a clear battle in Spicer’s pages between the Red and the Green. The Red represents Man’s encroaching influence. We see it in the flowers, spreading like a pestilence through the Green. But we also see it in Swamp Thing. The more the issue goes on, the more red seems to cling to our moldy friend. Some of it is Levi Kamei, as beneath the surface he’s still a man. We see images of Swamp Thing in the past, but as they catch up to the modern day they become more and more infused with red. But some of this crimson hue is the mysterious mark that Levi’s brother left on him. The red drips like blood but offers no answers just yet.
One of the most noticeable things about Bidikar’s lettering is what’s missing. There are no sound effects. There’s plenty of action. Plenty of chances for a “BOOM” or “POW.” But Bidikar offers none, and it gives the Green an almost religious quality, like whispering in church. That’s not to say this issue’s lettering doesn’t have style and even a sense of fun. This whole issue just goes to show how much Bidikar does. Rarely do characters speak in plain speech bubbles with normal font. The Floronic Man, Ivy, and Swamp Thing all have their own fonts and speech bubbles. They each have their own sound. And when one character fades away, their words fade too. Bidikar is deliberately and brilliantly doing everything to add flavor to the lettering. It’s working.
The Swamp Thing #4 is beautiful and a fantastic mix of homage and innovation. This creative team is creating a series that feels quiet and gentle. Just like the Swamp Thing himself. Pick up The Swamp Thing #4, out from DC Comics June 1st, at a comic shop near you!