Len Wein’s recent output seems to scream: “Please, please, don’t leave me in the 1970s.” He resurfaced most notably in 2012 to write Before Watchmen: Ozymandias, wasting Jae Lee’s art, with a script best left in the 1970s. DC continues to bring him along for projects; in this case, he’s heading up the relaunch of a character he created, the Swamp Thing.
Alan Moore told groundbreaking stories with his run on Saga of the Swamp Thing. The Beard with a Brain casts a long shadow wherever he walks, and Swamp Thing has suffered from this; almost always, the book has a tremendous artist, but an over-ambitious writer with aspirations to Beardliness. Len Wein doesn’t suffer from this, because he’s still reading some dusty old copy of a DC Writer’s Guide. The results are not pretty.
Well, not entirely unpretty. Kelley Jones is on pencils for this one, and Jones’ style is perfect for the story. Wein gives Jones a whole lot of cool things to draw here, and Jones’ panel-to-panel storytelling, for as bizarre as the style can get, is flawless. Kelley Jones is unfairly left out of the kinds of conversations where names like Sam Kieth, Bill Sienkiewicz, and their innumerable stylistic successors like Emma Rios and Kyle Baker. Here, we see art that wouldn’t have been out of place in Alan Moore’s seminal run on Swamp Thing. Even over a thirty-plus-year career, Kelley Jones’ work remains vibrant, bordering on dazzling.
The opposite goes for Len Wein.
This script, as well, could’ve easily been left in the 1970s. Instead, it’s here, and we’re reading it, because we’ve spent our money, and why would we not read what we’ve invested in? There’s even a little bit of promising dialog after the opening narrative, where it looks like Wein might even poke a little fun at himself. It’s all downhill from there. The narrative rambles on, and, despite the staggering word count, nothing of value is said. You’d expect better from a guy who made his living as an editor. The story is negligible at best, and a paint-drying level bore at worst; we’ve seen the cliffhanger a million times, and there’s nothing even vaguely interesting about what happens before that, unless you really like alligator fights. (On that note, Kelley Jones draws one heck of an alligator.) There’s no real plot to speak of, and in first issues, meandering is death. Swamp Thing #1, as such, is pure death.
Moody, exquisite art by Kelley Jones can’t save this monster of a script from stumbling over its own feet. One hopes that the story will develop into something worth reading, but the chances of that, given the content, are slim. Unless you’re the most devout of Swamp Thing fans, this one’s worth a skip. If you’re a faithful, Len Wein might even talk you out of it by the end of the issue.