Alec Holland was one of the world's top botanists, and he was just about to complete his master work: a bio-restorative formula that could re-grow plant life around the planet, effectively ending famine forever. Certain dubious enemies of the project had him killed. A group of elemental protectors known as Parliament of Trees, however, grew a copycat Alec Holland out of plants. Dubbed "the Swamp Thing," this new creature became a protector of the Green worldwide. He was only, of course, the shell of a man. BUT THEN, thanks to events cataloged elsewhere, Alec Holland—the real Alec Holland—came back to life. All of a sudden, the Parliament of Trees had a flesh-and-blood protector to fight for them again. But would he want to?
This is the basic background behind Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette's Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones, the first volume of stories featuring DC Comics' Swamp Thing character in the rebooted "New 52." If you couldn't tell from the exposition, though, this series actually builds pretty heavily on stories that came before it, particularly Alan Moore's groundbreaking 1980s run on the character. Although in theory anyone who's never read Swamp Thing can pick this book up and start fresh (pun intended?), people coming to it with Moore's stories in mind will find a lot of familiar territory.
That's not to say, however, that Scott Snyder isn't interested in exploring any new ground. Using Moore's stories (plus recent DC history) as a jumping-off point, Raise Them Bones features our first glimpse of the Rot, the natural enemy of the Green that Swamp Thing protects. The Rot is everything dead and disgusting in the world, and it's finally found its own version of a Swamp Thing-like champion to make its big push for global takeover. No wonder the Parliament of Trees wants Alec Holland in their service. Holland's perfectly happy working blue-collar jobs in quiet little towns, though; he doesn't want anything to do with a world of plant monsters and super-powered creatures any more.
Of course, since there has to be conflict here, Alec's not going to get his wish. Throughout Raise Them Bones, a series of events ends up dragging Alec further and further into this world he simply wants no part of. In particular, even though Alec never really was the Swamp Thing, he seems to have memories of the Swamp Thing's previous adventures, including a white-haired woman the creature used to love who seems to be at the center of the battle between the Green and the Rot. Holland may be able to resist the pull of the Green, but the pull of his emotions is a different story.
Building off what writers like Alan Moore have done, Snyder infuses a very strong element of horror and suspense in his scripts. These comics are all about mood; they're unsettling and eerie throughout. That's all complemented perfectly by Yanick Paquette's fluid pencils and Nathan Fairbairn's expressive colors. Artist Marco Rudy fills in on a few pages and does a stellar job as well. Perhaps the best example of this book's visuals being creepy as all get-out comes in chapter three, where we meet one of the antagonists, William, a young boy who can manipulate the Rot in such a way that any dead or diseased tissue in your body will grow uncontrollably. The panels of William blowing up a smoker's cancerous lungs to a grotesque size are some of the most disturbing visuals in the past year or so of mainstream comics.
The only downside to this book is that the moodiness and suspense have a price. Snyder's a writer who likes to build situations slowly, and as a result some things here feel like they could've been done in about half the space. That's important, because only at the very end of this book does the actual Swamp Thing appear. You might see that as delayed gratification, which is a cool literary device, but it also might come as frustrating that the title hero of this book doesn't really get to do anything in the whole first volume of his series.
There's plenty of other good stuff to carry you through Raise Them Bones, though. Even though a few of the issues feel drawn-out, Snyder and his artists convey a really strong sense of character and environment that, admittedly, makes it all the cooler when Swamp Thing finally does appear. The really exciting stuff in this series comes in volume two, but volume one's still definitely a worthwhile read, especially if you like your comics with a side of horror and a smattering of suspense. B+