Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Steve Pugh
The shine is off the apple; The New 52 isn’t really new anymore. Now that the dust has settled, and books are beyond their initial launching arc… It’s time we really start sorting the curd from the whey. Lucky for all of us, Animal Man is curd-ee-licious. Issue #9 launches a new arc, “Extinction Is Forever”, written by continual series scribe Jeff Lemire. Art chores are no longer in the funky pen of Travel Foreman though. The far more detailed Steve Pugh sets to leap from what was done before him, but still find his own unique voice. The book is sharp, quick, intelligent, and not the least bit “weird for weird’s sake”. Amongst the pile of DC schlock hitting the stands these days, Animal Man (and it’s sister book Swamp Thing) is one prize winning pooch of a book.
For those uninitiated, Animal Man follows the misadventures of one Buddy Baker, and his family. Buddy has the ability to mimic the special abilities of any animal around him. Be it the ability to fly if he’s around birds, or grow back an arm that gets lopped off, by way of an earthworm. Lemire has taken the concept of the “family book” to a much bigger and broader scope than the previous famous Animal Man writer, one Grant Morrison, by integrating Buddy’s family into the very fabric of the stories. You see, Buddy has 2 children. A spunky punk of a son, and his little princess Maxine. At the start of the book, we learn that Maxine is more than meets the eye. Seems she is the avatar of the Red—the clandestine and godly group that rule all flesh—and her pappy is just around to make sure she’s alive and kicking.
The core concept of the book—and of issue 9—deals with the ongoing battle between the Red and the Rot. The Rot, also the villains of Swamp Thing, are the undead embodiment of all that that goes schrulmp in the night. They feast on the living, and revel in death and decay. You can obviously tell why they might want to dispatch of lil’ Animal Girl before she masters her power set. Since the very first book of the reboot, Animal Man has been a book on the run. Issue 9 starts a new arc where Buddy’s body has been inhabited by a demon of the Rot. Inside his mind though, Baker is on a walkabout to rectify the situation. Meanwhile the rest of the family hauls ass in their Winny, trying to flea from the baddies, and eventually meet us with Swamp Thing. They do this because of a Totem God inhabiting a wild kitty cat that’s taking a shining to Maxine. Despite how funny that reads, trust me, Lemire is entirely on point.
The best thing I could say about the book is that Lemire has studied the Vertigo greats. Back when Grant Morrison was still not a living comic god, and goths all flocked to Neil Gaiman’s better-than-the-hipsters-
Lemire’s scripts are written with a ‘horror comic’ sensibility, but are littered in surreal landscapes, heady concepts, and pretty decent family drama. There is no fear to spend a few pages with ‘normal folks’ who are just trying to get a mental hold on all that has happened. A brilliant exchange between Mrs. Baker and her mother anchors this book in such a beautiful way. If your family was on the lamb from zombie demons who wear townsfolk like cheap suits… you might be a little on edge too.
Steve Pugh’s artwork is a brilliantly rendered set of the macabre. Riffing on the visual cues left by his predecessor, he likes to pepper his pages with truly visceral concepts. Swirling piles of flesh and goop combined with never-ending nets of veins, and teeth create the uneasy tone the book aims for. While Pugh’s panel lay-outs aren’t as striking as Foreman’s were, he’s given a pass for being able to better capture the heft and weight of his figures. While not every face is drawn with an acceptable emotion (in one particular panel I couldn’t tell if Buddy Baker was crying, screaming, or laughing), the body language Pugh captures helps root the book solidly. Plus this is really his first foray into the ongoing shoes of the job. As a first outing? He hits a solid triple in my book.
Animal Man #9 is a well-crafted tale of suspense. One that is a breath of fresh air, given some of the current dreck hitting the stands. Lemire is firing on all cylinders with his slow-burning chase plot. Pugh is getting his sea legs quickly—delivering a fine visual upgrade to the more sparse stylings of the former artist on the book. Amongst the “New 52” of DC, no one gave much promise to Animal Man. Yet with cold, calculating menace, they were able to keep this book on the tip of the tongue of every mature reader. Now go do yourself a favor… eat a steak before it turns into a zombie-steak and consumes you. Unless you live out west, Buddy Baker is a bit indisposed at the moment.