Comic Book Review: SWAMP THING #1 And BATWOMAN #1

BATWOMAN and SWAMP THING look great, but are not geared to new readers at all.

Swamp Thing #1 came out last week, but I never got around to writing about it (because I am lazy) and then after I read Batwoman #1 I realized they made perfect review companions. Because both are horrible #1s.

They’re both good comics, but Swamp Thing and Batwoman both read like they’re part 3 of a 5 part storyline. I could follow Swamp Thing well enough, although I spent the whole issue unclear on why I was reading about Alec Holland, Swampy’s human half, and why the green guy only appears on the last page in a dream scene. I had absolutely no clue what the hell was going on in Batwoman. Like, I was lost from page to page.

Swamp Thing #1 jumps directly out of the events of Brightest Day, DC’s follow-up to Blackest Night, which as far as I can tell is completely and totally in continuity in the New 52. I have read that artist Yanick Paquette (who is simply excellent) had to redraw Batman, Superman and Aquaman in this comic because it was completed before the decision to reboot DC was made. If that’s the case it’s a pretty damning indictment of the seriously haphazard approach editorial has taken to the New 52.

The first issue of Swamp Thing was very pretty, well written and super creepy, so I’ll return for #2 even though I feel like there are huge elements of the story I didn’t understand due to not reading all of Brightest Day (at one point Superman and Alec Holland have a discussion about ‘the last year’ which I’m assuming references that story but which I didn’t really understand).

I probably won’t be back for Batwoman #2, however. I feel like I was unwelcome in Batwoman #1 as it is. I don’t know who Batwoman is, I don’t know what her story or origin is, I don’t know who her friends and enemies are and this comic did nothing to tell me any of that. I did know she was a lesbian, and that’s the one bit of information the comic strenuously tried to get across to me.

The art by JH Williams is stunning, and his panel layouts, often spread fluidly across two pages, are incredible. Just thumbing through this book is a pleasure, a real work of art. Then you start reading it.

The story opens with a flashback to Batwoman attempting to stop an awesome looking ghost woman from stealing some kids. It turns out the parents are talking to Maggie Sawyer, who I forgot was now in Gotham. Then Sawyer runs into a reheaded woman in the lobby of the police department who I assume is Batwoman, who is looking at a picture of Renee Montoya, who I assume is dead. And they talk about a date or something - they’re lesbians!

Later we see Batwoman training with some woman named Bette who was in the Teen Titans, but I have no idea who she is or why she’s Batwoman’s sidekick. There’s a scene with a woman who is meeting with a guy who has a skull for a face and who smokes, so I assume he’s a villain. I didn’t know who these people were when I read the comic, but some Wikipedia-ing brought me up to speed* that it’s Chase from the DEO, a superhuman hunting government agency. Anyway, then Batwoman’s dad shows up and there’s this two page exposition spread about her dead mom and sister and then maybe her sister isn’t dead and there’s an amazing picture of a giant werewolf menacing a plane and a guy with octopus arms hugging another guy.

At about this point I mostly checked out. I just had no clue what was happening, and this spread, obviously intended to get me up to speed, made me even more baffled. It’s hallucinatory. Beautiful, but hallucinatory. Also, I was sort of weirded out by the fact that the comic dedicated four solid pages to women changing their clothes. It feels like fetish business.

Batwoman #1 might be the biggest disappointment for me in the New 52 because it looks so great but is so impenetrable for me. And while Swamp Thing was easier for me to understand (mainly because I had some awareness of the events of Brightest Day), it also feels incredibly unfriendly to new readers. More and more the New 52 feels like bad costume changes and arbitrary renumberings.

* This simply should never have to happen. I should be able to read a comic book and understand the basic aspects of what I’m reading without doing research.