DC Comics’ The Swamp Thing isn’t your typical superhero series. It’s as preoccupied with environmentalism as it is with capes, as interested in intimate memories as it is explosive action sequences. The Swamp Thing #6 is a perfect example of this. Writer Ram V, artist Mike Perkins, colorist Mike Spicer, and letterer Aditya Bidikar set up a great action sequence, but interrupt it often to tell us intimate stories about Levi Kamei’s past.
V has two storylines going on in this issue. He shows us the Suicide Squad as they hunt down Swamp Thing. They search for him through the Kaziranga Forest, in India. V infuses these scenes with an intense dramatic irony. Peacemaker and Heatwave might as well be teenagers making out in the woods in a horror movie, for all the good it will do them. They’re doomed from the start of this issue, with the twisting horror that is Levi Kamei hiding somewhere in the forest. But V spends just as much time diving into Levi’s past. We see him with his brother and father, grappling with his different identities. Is he Indian or is he American? We feel the tension Levi feels, and it mirrors his struggle with his big, green, present day self.
One of the first images we see, is a double page 32 panel grid. Perkins shows us Swamp Thing waking up from his slumber, accompanied by V’s stream of consciousness captions. We see small details: vines becoming hands, bark becoming a face. But the last 16 panels, the bottom half of both pages, is a single image. It’s the twisting, horrific image of a half-formed Levi Kamei. The gutters that run through this picture give us a sense of Levi’s fragmentation. It isn’t just a cool visual trick, dividing the moment into several panels, it actually shows us how Levi is feeling. Perkins continues to use white page gutters in this issue to create similar effects. But there’s one big exception: a memory within a memory.
When a drowning Levi is thinking about a chat with his father, Levi’s dad takes us even further back. “You used to love it when it rained out here, remember?” he asks his son. The image of Levi’s childhood is like something out of a storybook. Perkins leaves no dead space, having the figures of frogs, a muddy Levi and his brother, and their smiling parents all overlapping one another. It’s a busy, beautiful scene that is somehow also refreshingly simple.
Spicer creates a beautiful ambiance in this issue. But the beauty is often interrupted by moments of terror. As we see Swamp Thing reforming, the page begins in bright greens. But the second half of the page is a dark red, showing Levi’s mangled body. Even Levi’s memories of his brother crackle with danger around the edges. The bright yellow of the sun setting is reminiscent of the fire Levi sees in his dreams. But much of the issue is colored in soft colors and muted tones. Spicer makes us feel the evening air and the chill of a rainy day. When we see Levi as a child, the colors are brighter, but still soft, like the glow of a summer day. Spicer doesn’t just color a comic book in this issue. He invites us into it. We feel every raindrop and taste every warm cup of tea.
Bidikar swings from subtle drama to pulpy fun in this issue. Their range is on full display. As the issue opens, we see captions set against a black background. They aren’t in a text box, they just float freely as Swamp Thing slowly regains consciousness. Then, as Swamp Thing’s thoughts become clearer, the captions are shown in text boxes. It shows his return to normalcy from his disembodied state. In many scenes, Bidikar inserts pregnant pauses between lines of dialogue. The balloon connectors stretch far and the space between them speaks of long silences. Elsewhere, Bidikar ups the style and fun of certain scenes. The tail of Chemo’s word balloons have little droplets, making his dialogue sound wet and gurgled. The sound effects of Heat Wave’s flamethrower are lost in the brightness of its flames. It feels like every opportunity is taken to add a bit of storytelling and a dash of excitement.
DC Comics’ The Swamp Thing is as divided as its hero. It is simultaneously a story about small familial moments and big world-ending ones. Luckily, this creative team is brilliant enough to make both extremes shine. Pick up The Swamp Thing #6, out from DC Comics August 3rd, at a comic shop near you!