For how often I’m around plants, it’s pretty astonishing how little thought I give to them. They’re pleasant, no doubt about that. Nothing eases worry and stress quite as much as a hike on the local trail or a visit to the nearest National Park or Forest, and the right landscaping can make any building or piece of property feel more welcoming. But I’ve never had much of a green thumb and haven’t considered the science behind plants since finishing my last bio course in college.
All of which makes Alec Holland such an interesting character to me. In Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, the new Young Adult graphic novel by The Raven Cycle author Maggie Stiefvater and comic artist Morgan Beem, Alec spends pretty much every waking minute thinking about plants, much to the consternation of his twin brother, Walker.
Oh yes, in Twin Branches, Alec is a twin…and a teenager. But he’s still wicked smart. He’s still mixing things up with Abby Arcane and hanging out in the swamp, much like he does in other non-YA comics you may have read. And he’s still destined to undergo a frightening transformation. What else can you expect from this exciting new graphic novel? Let’s break it down and find out!
Could this cover have been any color other than green? Considering we’re talking about Swamp Thing, the answer is probably no, but I still appreciate the richness of the tone and the leaf-shaped textures used in the background. It gives the cover a swamp-like feel without it being a literal drawing of a swamp. Also, the design of the two brothers in profile is a nice representation of that fact that while they’re identical twins, there’s a very big difference between these two guys.
Tell Me a Story:
Walker and Alec Holland are identical twins, but aside from their looks, they couldn’t be more different. Walker is outgoing, social and popular, while Alec is quiet, introverted and would much prefer spending a Friday night at the science lab than the latest house party. However, despite their differences, the two boys are nearly inseparable. Spending their last summer before college with their cousins in rural Virginia, the brothers find their relationship straining as Alec becomes increasingly focused on the botany project he’s been working on—transferring the memory of one plant to another and determining if it may have human benefits. Walker, on the other hand, just wants to spend the summer having fun with his brother.
Of course, this being YA, the entire thing gets complicated further when Alec meets Abby, a fellow science geek from the neighborhood who understands him in a way Walker doesn’t. And this also being Swamp Thing, its only a matter of time before some weird stuff starts happening…and it seems to have something to do with Alec’s experiment. Could it truly be the scientific breakthrough that the teenage botany whiz hopes it will be? Or is it opening the door to something far more frightening?
Let’s Talk Art:
Swamp Thing comics frequently cross over into horror and as a result, Swamp Thing artists are usually horror artists. Beem, despite clearly having the capability to draw horror, chooses to take a different approach in Twin Branches. Even when things turn truly frightening, there’s a warmth to her line art and to collaborator Jeremy Lawson’s colors. The dark, ominous shadows utilized frequently whenever Alec Holland makes an appearance in other comics are nowhere to been seen here, instead replaced by frequent use of blue and green pastels. The result is a story that gets dark and creepy in places, but never too terrifying. If you’re not a horror fan, there’s really nothing to be afraid of here.
Beem’s characters are stylized, but expressive. With the Holland brothers, she takes a more angular approach in their design, giving both long noses and nearly pointed chins. She also gives them vastly different hairstyles, which makes telling the two of them apart pretty simple, despite their identical appearance. Her atypical design of Abby, who is a young woman of color here, is also to be applauded. Her sleepy eyes, baggy t-shirts and naturally curly hair give her a casual, straightforward look that’s still attractive. It’s easy to see why someone like Alec would be drawn to her.
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches takes something of a minimalist approach with its dialog. What’s here never comes off as superfluous or excessive. This does take a little time to get used to, especially considering how many characters the book introduces, but it doesn’t take too long to get into the rhythm of it and overall, it keeps the pace brisk and moving. Despite its nearly 200 pages, Twin Branches still manages to be a quick read (though don’t be surprised if you find yourself slowing down to absorb all the awesome art!). I particularly liked the banter between both Alec and Walker, and between the brothers and their troublemaking, but good-hearted cousins, Dalton and Jolie. (Note to Stiefvater, if you wanted to write a spinoff comic just about them, I would happily read it. And maybe start a reddit board about them. And write fanfic. Just sayin’.)
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Twin Branches’ lively dialog is interspersed with some pretty fascinating lessons on the biology of plants. Alec really doesn’t understand people all that well, but he absolutely knows plants and I’m not ashamed to admit that I learned a few things from this book. Like the facts that plants have a sort of memory. Did you know that? I didn’t think so.
Perfect Food Pairing:
Is it wrong to say this book would be perfect to read while munching on a fresh, leafy-green salad? It’s entirely possible Alec wouldn’t like that, but Swamp Thing: Twin Branches made me think more about plants than I have in ages, so when thinking of a perfect food pairing, that’s immediately where my mind goes. Romaine lettuce, arugula, tomatoes, shaved carrots, cucumbers... Maybe a nice vinaigrette. That would be perfect, though I suppose eat it at your own risk, just in case Swamp Thing ends up coming for you.
Voted Most Likely:
If, much like its protagonist, Swamp Thing: Twin Branches was graduating from high school, it’s a shoo-in for being voted “Most Likely to Win a Nobel Prize.” Alec is absolutely brilliant for someone just entering college. His experiment in transferring memories between plants is PhD level and his knowledge of biology far transcends mine. While Twin Branches is definitely not a textbook, it’s not afraid to teach you a thing or two about the complex world of plants in between its freak-out moments and touching story about brothers growing apart.
One Perfect Page:
I absolutely love this. The final page of a flashback where Walker unsuccessfully tries to motivate Alec to talk to a girl who’s been smiling at him, it perfectly sums up both the major differences between the two brothers along with the frustration Alec feels at his inability to be more like Walker. The heartbreaking thing about Alec’s social anxiety is that it’s clear that he’s trying. He doesn’t want to be a drag on his brother, his family and their friends, but he really can’t help it. He just doesn’t relate to most teens and adults he meets and in response, he seeks the comfort of what he does understand—plants.
Tim Beedle may work and live on Earth, but he prefers to spend his free time in the worlds created by Philip Pullman, Garth Nix and Philip Reeve. His favorite superhero is Batman, which he knows is everyone else’s favorite too, so he’s really trying hard to get into a slightly less popular one. Keep tabs on how it's going by following him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.
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