Warning: The following contains spoilers for Swamp Thing: Green Hell, on sale now from DC Comics.
The creative team of Jeff Lemire and Doug Mahnke serve up a post-apocalyptic world in Swamp Thing: Green Hell where the Rot, the Green, and the Red have conspired to eradicate humanity for the ecological destruction they’ve created. Humanity must call on the last person they want to deal with who has become the subject of ghost stories they scare their children with–Old Man Constantine. Only one issue in, the creators are handling this quite differently from the “Old Man Logan” stories, and their efforts promise to challenge Marvel for the best “Old Man” story.
In Green Hell, the world has flooded and the vestiges of humanity have fled to the mountain peaks. Surviving through scavenging, this is a world without heroes. If there was a Justice League, they are long gone. Instead, humanity is forced to turn to the only one remaining from the era of heroes: John Constantine, who resurrects the long-dead Swamp Thing to fight for humanity against the Parliament of the Trees.
The Old Hero genre received an adrenaline shot with Marvel’s original “Old Man Logan” (by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Morry Hollowell, and VC’s Cory Petit) a storyline that began in Wolverine #66 and ran for eight issues. This told the tale of a Wolverine at the end of his life who is constantly tormented by the Hulk gangs that roam the dystopian Wastelands. In a cross-country trek with a blind and elderly Hawkeye, Logan encounters aged versions of Emma Frost, the Red Skull, and others. The story ends with Logan confronting a twisted version of an amoral Bruce Banner after his family is slaughtered.
The two stories begin in a similar fashion: both communities are under threat by marauding raiders and both face green-hued vicious monsters. Old Man Constantine is tucked away in a lighthouse overlooking the mountain peak retreat of one of the last remaining communities. Both former heroes have retreated from the conflict, with Logan sheltering with his family and Constantine isolating himself.
While “Old Man Logan” has been celebrated since its release, DCs The Dark Knight Returns (by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley) established the key distinctive elements of the genre when it was released in 1986: a superhero entering the later years of life, a world barely recognizable, heroes who have become shadows of their former selves, and surprising flips of morality in both heroes and villains. While Marvel has taken their own approach to this type of story, it’s arguable whether or not their stories have achieved the level of success that Miller’s original Old Man Batman has enjoyed.
For the last few years, comics have introduced even more elderly hero stories. Marvel has released stories based in their Wasteland era that have introduced older versions of Hawkeye, Peter Quill, and others, while DC’s animated Batman Beyond series featured an elderly Bruce Wayne. Additionally, this is not the first an elderly Constantine has appeared, as the character was seen hounded his younger self in recent years.
Perhaps the interest in Old Hero stories reflects the age of the average comic book reader. As they grow older, comic book heroes navigating their sunset years serve as a way to explore that imminent time. Or, perhaps it’s the need to see heroes not as timeless but as restrained by time as we are ourselves, and placing them in the later years of life allows us to reflect on the long-term consequences of their actions.
DC knows how to deliver some of the best stories in the Old Hero genre, but the bar has been raised thanks to stories like “Old Man Logan.” However, Swamp Thing: Green Hell is a step in the right direction. Only one issue in, the stakes of this new story have already been raised to a frightening level. The promise of being the best Old Hero story yet is definitely felt in the first issue, and proves that this story of elderly heroes has the potential to be the best of the best.
from Ultimate Comic Blog