Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rotworld - Prologue

"The Rotworld Prologue" starts in "Animal Man", and focuses on providing the exposition from the more grounded point of view of the Baker family. The issue credits both Lemire and Snyder, the writers of the two titles crossing over, for providing the script. The art is by the series' regular Steve Pugh, who brings a detailed, visceral work focusing on the larger than life superhero aspects of the series.

In many ways, the issue lives up to its prologue status, with the bulk of the plot taking place next to the portal to the Rot, with the Baker family clearing up any misunderstandings between themselves and the Swamp Thing, before letting the title characters take a plunge. Meanwhile, the writer advances the Cliff subplot by switching over to Buddy's son to provide for some diversion, but by and large, the plot is a familiar one at this point.

The superhero icons have gone to the center of the Rot, while their loved ones stay behind to guard the portal and prevent the agents of Rot from spreading unchecked. Steve Pugh's artwork is solid throughout, with bold lines and clear layouts, but there is a slight disconnect when it comes to conveying the emotions. The artist is comfortable depicting the typical calm and agitated extremes, but the artwork fails to provide much in between.

Given the somewhat on the nose scripting of these sequences, it stands to reason that Pugh wasn't particularly inspired, but a more instinctive artwork would have definitely helped the reader through some of the panels packed with information that is either already familiar or bordering on cliche. Perhaps the most accomplished page is the one where Ellen and Maxine say goodbye to Buddy, while Abby does the say to Alec. Otherwise, the issue is little more than a slow-paced beginning of the multiple part narrative that counts on the reader to continue following each title month after month.

The other part of the prologue, published in "Swamp Thing", is a much more interesting affair. Lacking the focus on character dynamics, the issue advances the plot to its logical end, and brings forth the Rotworld. Again, the credits box lists Snyder and Lemire as co-writers, but Marco Rudy's artwork, and the continued use of unusual panel layouts remind the reader that he's reading the "Swamp Thing" part of the crossover.

Rudy's artwork is otherwise uneven and realized with the help of two inkers besides the penciller, leading to rushed lines that don't benefit from the heavy blacks. Val Staples' strong colors try to provide a unifying element, with the resulting nightmarish presentation at least feeling coherent. Where the issue stumbles is in the frequent cutaways to the Ellen, Maxine, Socks and Abby. Some of the transitions are better than the others, but the sequence works in moving them away from guarding the portal, and hinting at their role in the upcoming issues.

This lines up with the most final twist, imparted to the characters by Anton Arcane, regarding the world that Swamp Thing and Buddy Baker are returning to. The issue definitely picks up once Swamp Thing's nemesis shows up, with an explanation for his return that uses the crossover in a logical way.

From the visual perspective, the repeated motif of Buddy and Alec falling through the Rot feels somewhat perfunctory, and doesn't really work beyond communicated the basic idea that these characters are getting swallowed up in the netherworld way out of their debt. Swamp Thing's initial confidence is the relative weakness of their adversaries is thereby shattered, but from a purely graphic point, the two subsequent pages featuring Abby feel much more accomplished.

In the end, the publisher teases the real beginning of "Rotworld" in October, following each title's ill timed #0 issues. At this point, it seems like the "Swamp Thing"/"Animal Man" crossover was planned before the editorial decided on featuring a line wide prologue issue to mark the first anniversary of the "New 52" relaunch. Still, the cut away will work as an opportunity to give the "Swamp Thing" creative team time to catch up on the deadlines, which will go a long way to provide a more unified aesthetic when it comes to the crossover.

As advertised in the Prologue cliffhanger, both title will launch their own Rotworld storyarcs, with "The Green Kingdom" running alongside "The Red Kingdom", presumably before reuniting again to have the protagonists deal away with the threat together. On the strength of these two issues, "Rotworld" looks to be every bit as a natural extension of both series, and not the dreaded artificial crossover that has derailed so many of otherwise fully functioning titles.

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