The Swamp Thing Winter Special opens with a radio host ranting about the Gotham Knights’ quarterback inexplicably botching their latest game. It’s not the first time writer Tom King has used Gotham sports games as a framing device; he also used a hockey game in the opening issue of The Button crossover last year (which was also illustrated by this issue’s artist, Jason Fabok). Both stories, like sports, make it seem that on some days, no matter how hard you try, you’re simply fated to lose.
In this one-shot story, entitled “The Talk of the Saints,” we watch spring turn suddenly to winter, and then begin to follow Swamp Thing as he trudges onward through a violent, blinding blizzard, carrying a young boy in his arms. Cut off from the Green that powers him, Swamp Thing is slowly withering both mentally and physically, but despite this, one of the first things we see him do is tear off his hand and burn it to keep the boy warm at night. To reveal anything further about the Avatar of the Green’s further fight for hieand the boy’s survival would be to do a disservice to the story, but as I said, it is a story of inevitability.
You may see the ending coming a mile away, but it doesn’t matter. The story is only predictable in the same way a poem about a flower in winter is predictable: there are only so many ways it’s going to end, the true beauty is in watching the struggle, and finding meaning in it. And this being comics, the beauty is also in the artwork, and artist Jason Fabok and colorist Brad Anderson deliver forty stunning pages in a row. They sell the mythic levels of tragedy with panels that are given just the right amount of detail, and the colors punctuate and heighten every moment’s emotion beautifully. You’ll find yourself wanting to soak in these pages, at least until you start feeling the cold in your bones.
But when you finally do get to the end, you’ll find yourself wondering about why we struggle against the death and darkness of winter instead of embracing its trials as a chance for renewal. Or maybe you will believe that the fight to defy death and its inevitability is what gives life meaning. Both are true, and cut right to the core of the dichotomy of the character.
Interestingly, the aforementioned The Button story was endcapped with an issue about Swamp Thing. There, King told the story of the murder of Alec Holland’s father, and we saw that while the plant part of him knew his father was just continuing the cycle of life and death, his human side could not help but to rage and mourn. We see the same dichotomy here in the moment with Swamp Thing’s hand, where Holland burns a part of the Green, paradoxically creating and destroying hope in the same act. It’s just a cycle, thinks the plant half of Swamp Thing, but all the same the human half of him can’t help trying to tip the scales.
Death is always a driving theme of Swamp Thing stories, but in this issue it is particularly poignant, as it pays tribute to both legendary creators of Swamp Thing, Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, who both passed away in 2017. The back half of the issue includes the last Swamp Thing story Wein ever wrote, both in comics form and in script. Because Wein died before putting in dialogue, the story is presented without lettering, simply a silent story by swamp-veteran Kelley Jones and colorist Michelle Madsen. It’s a wonderful addition to the issue, and the presentation feels incredibly heartfelt and joyful, especially for a silent Swamp Thing story.
There’s nothing that makes a better tribute to two creative titans than for beautiful art to be created with their characters, and there’s no question that’s exactly what was done here. A truly moving issue and powerful tribute that can’t be missed.