Rotworld is in full tilt so far, but it’s time to take a little break for an extended flashback. With all the updates to continuity Swamp Thing experienced lately, we’ve yet to learn one very important thing: how did Alec Holland and the Arcane family meet? We’ll learn all that and more in SWAMP THING ANNUAL #1.

SWAMP THING ANNUAL #1 uses the current events of Rotworld as a framing device, with the Parliament of Trees telling Swamp Thing about an event in the past where Alec Holland met both Abigail and Anton Arcane, which he doesn’t remember for reasons revealed in the flashback. The actual point where they give this story is set right after the events of this next week’s issue of Swamp Thing. But barely any details about what happened in that issue are spoiled here, just that indeed Alec finds out that Abigail died.

The way the flashback works is that Anton Arcane asked a younger Alec Holland to visit the Arcane’s home in the Eastern European village standing at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. The cover story is that – as one can clearly witness just by visiting it – the village and surrounding countryside are entirely devoid of vegetation, and its inhabitants deformed, by soviet nuclear tests. Of course this is merely a ruse to hide the heavy influence of the Rot in the area, and Arcane has no intention of allowing the Green’s next great champion leave.

It’s worth noting that this village was a leftover from all the way back in the pre-Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing, though at that point there was no such connection to the Rot, and Arcane was merely an alchemical scientist. I’ve learned since my original reading of that era that Moore rebooted Swamp Thing’s origin story when he began work on it, meaning that while this previous era remains important for establishing certain things about the franchise, it can be skipped entirely because nothing in it is vital to understanding the modern comic.

While at the village and experimenting with a mysterious rot-based flower found in it, Holland meets a younger Abigail Arcane. The two hit it off right away, which serves to further tighten the thematic connection these two share. And then every gets mind wiped. It’s all explained in the annual.

The annual uses a different artist for the scenes set in the past, which uses a more simplified style. It’s good enough, though it defaults to the standard panel divisions, instead of the amazing layouts of the regular book that incorporates design elements into the formatting itself. It’s a minor gripe, but it makes the division of past and present more obvious.

So is this annual worth reading? Absolutely, especially given how much history it fills in for our characters. If you’re interested in the events of the present, however, it’s not exactly essential. So far as I can tell, it doesn’t tell us anything we need to know to understand Rotworld. That is, unless something in later issues reference this.

If you’re a fan of Swamp Thing, read it. If you’re just a fan of Animal Man who’s reading the Swamp Thing issues to get the complete story of Rotworld, then you can probably skip it. But you’re missing out on a great story.

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