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Recap / Swamp Thing Volume 2 Issue 53 The Garden Of Earthly Delights

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"Take it easy? While my city is dying because it insists on the letter of the law over love and justice?"
— Batman

As the Swamp Thing besieges Gotham with vegetation, cutting off the highways in and out of the city, its residents react in various ways. Gangs take advantage of the chaos by looting and releasing animals from the zoo. Vagrants and others on society's margins have an outdoor love-in. Some residents barricade themselves indoors with guns, whereas others party in the street. As well, some Gothamites, knowingly or otherwise, sample the Swamp Thing's tubers growing throughout the city. With Mayor Skowcroft refusing to give in and release Abby, Jim Gordon summons the Batman.

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Lex Luthor, in his ten-minute consultation, assures the DDI that the Swamp Thing is indeed destructible. Citing Woodrue's report, he states that the creature's mind is attuned to the Earth's vegetation, enabling him to escape into the undergrowth when threatened. Luthor's experts suggest disrupting the Swamp Thing's wavelength by firing a communications scrambler at him, thereby altering his electromagnetic frequency and preventing him from leaving his body. Luthor takes his leave with forty-five seconds to spare so the DDI can "sign and mail [his] check."

Chester Williams and Wallace Monroe meet as they prepare to enter Gotham by foot, through the jungle that now covers the highways. For Chester, the draw is the prospect of collecting more psychedelic tubers, whereas for Wallace it's the Swamp Thing's words about humankind destroying the planet.

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That same night, Batman drives out to confront the Swamp Thing, appealing to his reason and asking him to undo the damage to Gotham. When the creature says he won't do so unless the city releases his wife, the Dark Knight gets out of the Batmobile and sprays him with herbicide. The Swamp Thing makes a big show of reacting in pain as his body falls apart, but soon re-emerges in multiple bodies simultaneously, then disarms Batman and beats him up. An hour later, the Swamp Thing erupts, as a giant head, through the floor of the mayor's office, announces that he's defeated Batman, and says the city has until dawn to free Abby, or he'll "remove Gotham City from your maps."

Despite this, a growing number of residents support the Swamp Thing, for environmentalist or other reasons, and some, including Chester, rush out to greet him with love, which he gratefully reciprocates. Later, Chester tells his new friend Wallace about the tubers and his theory that they can reveal whether someone's good or evil. Wallace says he already knows what he is, and recounts his past employment with a negligent nuclear waste-dumping firm, and what that did to his pregnant wife, Treasure, after which he ran off in guilt. He reveals that the baby was stillborn, and that Treasure's in hospital without long to live. Breaking down in tears, Wallace says he wants to see her again, but has no idea how he can help her. Moved, Chester gives him his remaining piece of tuber, for her to try.

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At dawn, Batman, bruised but otherwise unharmed, joins Gordon, Bullock and members of the National Guard outdoors, waiting for the Swamp Thing's response. Noting how powerful the creature is now, the Caped Crusader suggests that Gotham should release Abby. When Gordon reacts in surprise, Batman asks him rhetorically what harm Abby has actually done. A swarm of biting insects interrupts their conversation. The superhero deduces that the Swamp Thing must have increased the flowers' pollen count in order to attract them. Gordon suggests in turn that this may mean the creature's run out of plant life to exploit; however, Batman points out there's still the botanical gardens, which contain, among other species, redwood trees.

With that, the authorities look up in horror to see a gigantic, enraged Swamp Thing consisting entirely of redwoods. The creature tells everyone that he can still do much worse unless he gets his wife back. In particular, he hints that the human intestinal tract contains flora. Once again, he leaves, upon which the giant redwood body collapses. Batman demands an immediate audience with the mayor.

Mayor Skowcroft insists that the city can't let Abby go after all the damage her lover has done. The furious Batman insists that, given the Swamp Thing's warning about intestinal flora, there'll be much more, likely irreversible and fatal, damage to come unless the authorities either release Abby or immediately evacuate the city. When the mayor nevertheless insists that they can't allow for exceptions to the law Abby's broken, Batman has this to say:

In that case I suggest you start rounding up all the other non-human beings who may be having relationships outside their species. [...] Let me see... You'll possibly have to arrest Hawkman... And Metamorpho... And there's also Starfire, from the Titans. Her race evolved from cats, I believe... The Martian Manhunter, obviously... Captain Atom... And then of course there's What's-His-Name... The one who lives in Metropolis.

Conceding his point, the mayor phones Washington and obtains a presidential pardon for Abby, then dispatches Batman to give the Swamp Thing the news and tell him to be outside the courthouse in an hour, at which time Abby will be returned to him. "But if you ever do this to my city again," he says, "then I'll kill you." Amused, the Swamp Thing humours him by conceding that he "might."

The creature, in a show of good faith, allows the vegetation to decompose, and the media report that the city should soon be more or less back to normal. Meanwhile, however, DDI operatives load their weapons with napalm as Wicker holds a communications scrambler.

An hour later, as a crowd of his supporters looks on, the Swamp Thing materializes outside the courthouse just as Abby emerges from it. They run toward each other in joy, but as soon as the Swamp Thing comes to a stop and embraces her, a DDI sniper hits him with the communications scrambler. Disoriented, he finds he can't leave his body. Sensing something worse coming, he tells Abby to get away from him. Sure enough, within seconds another sniper nails him with napalm. As he burns to a crisp before the horrified and grieving crowd—including Abby, whom Batman restrains from running to him—he recalls Alec Holland's death, and—too late—the Parliament of Trees' warning about power and anger.

Meanwhile, a DDI operative tells Wicker that their monitors have detected no trace of "abnormal electromagnetic activity within a thousand miles [...] He didn't get out. We got him."

Tropes

  • The Atoner: Wallace Monroe wants to make up somehow for his role in the damage his company has done to the environment, and for running out on his wife in guilt over the damage it did to her.
  • Body Horror: Batman graphically spells out the consequences if the Swamp Thing were to make good on his threat of stimulating Gothamites' intestinal flora:
    Try to imagine it, Mr. Mayor: Strong shoots and writhing tendrils working their way out of your stomach, creeping up your throat, filling your mouth...
  • Boom, Headshot!: The first DDI sniper hits the Swamp Thing with the communications scrambler, right in the back of the head, on the first try.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Subverted. For his confrontation with the Swamp Thing, Batman fits the Batmobile with circular buzz saws and arms himself with herbicide. In doing so, however, he's prepared to fight the creature as he'd last encountered him, namely, as a "mere" human/plant hybrid with Super Strength. Batman isn't prepared to fight what the Swamp Thing now knows himself to be: a plant god with the power to grow new bodies...and control several of them simultaneously.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: By manipulating multiple bodies at once, the Swamp Thing easily disarms and beats Batman.
  • Drugs Are Bad: City authorities warn people not to ingest the Swamp Thing's tubers, and to get anyone who has done so to a hospital immediately, as they can cause "terrifying visions." While the reader knows from Windfall that this is a possibility, in this issue the only person shown on-panel under the influence—Officer Bickmeyer—seems to be having a pleasant trip.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: When Gordon speculates that the Swamp Thing is running out of plant matter to manipulate, Batman mentions the Gotham Botanical Gardens, which include all kinds of plants. As Batman lists off a few examples, a low stomping sound is heard in the background. Just as Batman finishes his list of examples with the word "Redwoods...", there's a cut to a 200-foot tall Swamp Thing made of intertwined redwood trunks approaching the city center.
  • Gang Bangers: Young gang members from Gotham's Manchester district take advantage of the chaos by releasing animals from the zoo in the Coventry area. One gang-banger then boasts about it on TV:
    Hey Coventry, listen up. You're in trouble, maan. We set a swamp juju on your American Nazi Party ass.
  • Green Thumb: Like Woodrue, the Swamp Thing uses his ability to stimulate plant growth as a weapon against humans, citing their mistreatment of the environment as a justification. Unlike Woodrue, he refrains from employing this power in a lethal way, although he does threaten to do so.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Once again, the Swamp Thing disregards the Parliament of Trees' warning against power and anger, later recalling it one last time when it's too late.
  • Ineffectual Death Threats: Batman tells the Swamp Thing he'll kill him if he ever messes with Gotham again. The creature merely smirks and says, "Yes...Yes...I do believe...that you might."
  • Internal Homage: To the final pages of "Loose Ends", as the remainders of Sunderland stalk Swamp Thing through a gun-sight, coupled with the clacking of a Newton's cradle.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Just before his burning body collapses, the Swamp Thing thinks, "Abby, I love..." Subverted; he isn't actually dead.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Batman points out the absurdity of taking this trope all the way, at least insofar as it involves consensual relationships with sapient non-humans.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Discussed, with regard to the Swamp Thing, during Luthor's consultation with the DDI.
    Wicker: He controls vegetation. He can travel anywhere, instantly. [...] Plus, he's totally invulnerable.
    Luthor: Mr. Wicker, believe me, you don't know from invulnerable. I know from invulnerable...and this refugee from a canned sweet-corn label isn't it.
  • Not So Invincible After All / Our Hero Is Dead: The issue ends with the Swamp Thing's apparent death at the DDI's hands.
  • Oh, Crap!
    • Seeing his opponent grow multiple bodies simultaneously, Batman responds with a quiet "Uh-oh."
    • The mayor gets one when Batman points out that if they enforce the law on Abby's relationship with Swamp Thing, the government would have to arrest all the other non-humans... such as Superman. The look on the mayor's face is priceless.
  • Popularity Power: Inverted. The Swamp Thing takes on Batman, then as now DC's biggest-selling character by far, and wins easily.
  • Pride Before a Fall: After overrunning Gotham with vegetation and defeating Batman, on the cusp of winning Abby's release, the Swamp Thing thinks, "I have changed their world...And their greatest legends...could not stand against me."
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Batman insists at first, along with Mayor Skowcroft and Commissioner Gordon, that Gotham must uphold the law and extradite Abby to Houma to stand trial for "crimes against nature." He changes his mind not only because of his defeat at the Swamp Thing's hand but also because he realizes that Abby's relationship with her lover is one of true love and, in and of itself, hurts no one. Batman then takes Abby's side and urges her release.
  • Shout-Out
    • The issue title references the Hieronymus Bosch triptych which depicts Paradise and Hell. Gordon's reflections on the Swamp Thing's siege support this allusion:
    You see, he's given Gotham a taste of some sort of savage Eden. Some people out there are acting as if it's a natural-born paradise...but all I can see is a green hell.
    • Mayor Skowcroft alludes to Ronald Reagan's notorious 1981 claim that trees cause pollution. Reagan's actual words were, "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do."
    • Luthor, as noted above under Nigh-Invulnerability, dismisses the Swamp Thing as a "refugee from a canned sweet-corn label." This is an allusion to the General Mills Mascot, the Jolly Green Giant, who represents the company's Green Giant line of frozen and canned vegetables.
    • The scene in which the adorable, innocent six-year-old Kirstin Hobermann greets the Swamp Thing with flowers, whereupon he hoists her on his shoulders to cheers and hugs from the crowd, is an allusion to, and subversion of, the scene from Frankenstein in which the monster inadvertently kills the little girl with whom he's been playing at tossing flowers. Chester lampshades this allusion when fondly recalling the incident in Issue 63.
    • The TV reporter covering Abby's release from jail resembles the sensationalist talk show host and journalist Geraldo Rivera.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Subverted. The issue spells out in detail Luthor's strategy for taking out the Swamp Thing. The DDI follows it to the letter...and it apparently works just as planned. Double subverted, in that the strategy doesn't actually kill the Swamp Thing, but prevents him from inhabiting Earth vegetation until he learns how to modify his bioelectric wavelength.
  • Urban Legends: Despite all that's happened to their city in the past two issues, some Gothamites believe that the Swamp Thing is a "creation of the media."
  • Wham Episode: Swamp Thing is apparently killed when Sunderland's allies disrupt his ability to connect to the Green, and then napalm him. He isn't actually killed; his bioelectric link with the Earth has been severed.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Despite knowing, from their previous encounters, that the Swamp Thing is "intelligent and reasonable," Batman has no qualms about killing him. Apparently the Caped Crusader's personal Thou Shalt Not Kill rule only applies to human foes.
    • Subverted afterward, when Batman mulls over what it was Abby and Swamp Thing did wrong with their relationship, and points out that in their world, interspecies romances are everywhere, and that persecuting Abby and Swamp Thing for it wasn't right.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The people of Gotham are divided as to whether the Swamp Thing is a dangerous, savage criminal out to destroy their city, or a noble champion of the environment, deserving of support.
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