Written by Joel T. Lewis
I am rapidly discovering that I should have been following Tom King’s run on Batman a lot earlier. There are 3 things that I love that compelled me to continue reading the Batman series after the conclusion of ‘The Button’, first the name of the issue was ‘The Brave and the Mold’, second the throwback subtitle ‘The Strangest Team-Up in History’ on the cover which harkened back to the playful silliness of older comics, and the fact that Swamp Thing guest stars in this issue. Swampy, puns, and nostalgia are already worth the price of admission, but what I found between the covers of this issue was spectacular.
The Batman and Swamp Thing team-up to discover who killed Lloyd Bernard McGinn, the biological father of Alec Holland who became the Swamp Thing. This issue was just a delight, especially for a Swamp Thing fan like me. The first page depicts McGinn’s murder and the man bears more than a passing resemblance to Comic Creator and patron saint of Swamp Thing, Alan Moore. This may be in reference to Moore’s recent retirement from comic bookery which was announced last year, or perhaps it was just meant as a tribute to the man who made Swamp Thing the iconic character he is today, but an easter egg of that magnitude from the very first panel was enough to make me instantly fall in love with this comic. But the hits kept coming as Batman and Swampy have a conversation in the library of Wayne Manor with Alfred rushing around to clean up after the Swamp Creature, they good-cop/bad-cop the villain Kite-Man (which is a level of silly I never expected from modern DC), and trade comedic pauses in the Batcave and Batmobile. For some reason the brilliance of pairing Batman and Swamp Thing up had never occurred to me before, but for two characters defined by such unique stoic philosophies to work together makes for some unexpected humor and camaraderie that was really entertaining.
But this issue really shines through its artwork and its exploration of fatherhood and loss. Coming off the poignant conclusion of ‘The Button’ storyline Batman’s determination to uncover who murdered Alec Holland’s father carries a greater weight as he admires Swamp Thing’s projected acceptance of the circular nature of life and death. Reliving the grief that made him Batman Bruce is almost relieved to see that Swamp Thing (a mysterious stoic much like himself) is handling the loss so well. Batman seems grateful and encouraged by the distraction of a new case and Swamp Thing’s philosophical explanation of life’s transition from state to state comforts him more than he lets on. That is until the final pages where Batman and Swamp Thing confront McGinn’s murderer, a mohawked villain called Headhunter. Swamp Thing’s measured posture melts away in this final confrontation and he consumes Headhunter in a mournful rage born out of regret and pain that he had kept well-hidden underneath his mossy exterior. Batman is devastated and calls out in confusion as Swamp Thing sends root, branch, and bloom through Headhunter’s insides. Batman’s sense of betrayal is twofold here: first Swamp Thing used him to get close to his father’s killer and second, Swamp Thing’s inability to cope with the grief means that the circular philosophy of life and death that he spoke of before wasn't true. Bruce was holding onto that green world logic to protect him from the pain of losing his father a second time and without that he collapses under his grief and anger.
This poignant issue is brought to dazzling life by artist Mitch Gerads whose take on Swamp Thing is one of my favorites. The intricate detail and beauty through mulch that Gerads achieves is sensational. One of my favorite touches is that while Bruce and Swamp Thing talk in the library of Wayne Manor, Swamp Thing sprouts a delicate vegetable tea cup out of his hand and sips from tea he produces out of thin air. This and the gruesome beauty of his killing of Headhunter make this issue a must have for fans of Swamp Thing artwork.
As Bruce continues to cope with the last words of Thomas Wayne after seeing the pain Swamp Thing goes through one can't help but wonder if the caped crusader can continue his one-man war on crime as before. Batman has come to a crossroads and I cannot wait to see what Tom King has in store for him next! Until next time, Geek On!