Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #164: Red Hell

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #164 by Drew Barth

Red Hell

Years ago, Grant Morrison talked about wanting to turn the DC Universe into a living, breathing organism. To what end? Who knows with Morrison. But if we’re going to collectively push for a comic universe as a living thing, we need to think about how it will age. DC’s Black Label imprint has been exploring this aspect of the comic universe for a few years now, most notably with Catwoman: Lonely City last year, and now with the first issue of Jeff Lemire, Doug Mahnke, David Baron, and Steve Wands’ Swamp Thing: Green Hell.  

Set after the inevitable climate apocalypse that will flood the earth, Swamp Thing: Green Hell centers on a small island that peaks above the water and the small group of survivors who cling to it. Many residents of the island are barely scraping by as their food is either nonexistent when they go out fishing or pilfered by pirates who routinely make raids on their settlement. But during all of this, representatives of the Red, the Green, and the Rot commune. The Rot is finding fewer and fewer things to feed as most life is now underwater. The Red cannot provide meat to rot as it cannot harm itself. The Green, then, must provide to them both by wiping out the last vestiges of humanity. And the Green begins its crusade by calling forth a new, more violent Swamp Thing to that small island before its residents turn to the one person who could potentially help them: John Constantine.

John Constantine, however, is an old man at this point. He’s still, and likely always will be, one of the only characters to age in real time. What can old man Constantine do? Through his classic bastard sorcery, he can summon up Alec Holland, the original Swamp Thing. Alec, however, is retired. His mind has been at peace within the ether for decades. But his Swamp Thing body, like Constantine’s, has seen age. Both of them are old men, in a world that likely won’t survive the next year, and they’re the only ones who can do something to help this world.

Much like Catwoman: Lonely City, we see characters like Constantine and Swamp Thing having to contend with their limits as people who exist in time. And it’s that little aspect that gives them something more than many other characters and series: a sense of the finite. If Constantine were still aging as he had been in his original series, he’d be pushing seventy right now. As magical as him and Swamp Thing are, they cannot live forever. And it feels like Swamp Thing: Green Hell is leading to that conclusion from its first issue. This may be a reality with magic and sapient elemental forces, but it is still a kind of living, breathing reality. And what’s what makes stories like this feel more real.

Get excited. Get green.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

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