In the constant back and forth between Swamp Thing and Animal Man, in the volley and serve as both heroes take on The Rot, I have to give this month’s edge to Animal Man. As I wrote in my Swamp Thing #9 review, the most recent issue lacked the punch I wanted for the confrontation between Swamp Thing and Queen Of The Rot. With Animal Man #9, writer Jeff Lemire decides to extend the confrontation and take another issue to set up the pieces. Last issue, Lemire failed to hold my interest in his endeavor to draw out the battle, but with issue 9, my faith returns.
Life just keeps getting worse for Buddy Baker and his family. First, Buddy’s body has been possessed by The Rot, his family is still on the lam trying to protect their daughter Maxine, a avatar for The Red and Buddy’s spirit, currently forced from his body, is in The Red trying to get back to himself before his possessed form kills his daughter. Get all that? Don’t worry; Lemire keeps all three storylines running smoothly. What works so well here is how the two supernatural arcs are humanized and balanced by the family story.
Buddy’s wife is trying to hold her family together amidst the malevolent evil that’s chasing her daughter, while her superhero husband is leaving to fight this evil and a bitching mother. It would be so much easier for her to leave, to disconnect from Buddy and attempt a safer life. Lemire writes her character in such a way that you feel that desire and applaud her for not giving into it. As disturbing as the possessed Buddy Baker storyline is and as fantastical as the quest of Buddy’s spirit to return to himself, the anchor is the family. Lemire has driven that point home since Animal Man #1 and it continues to work for him.
The supernatural stuff is potent as well. The possessed Buddy is just a twisted mass of vile evil and repulsion. This isn’t a villain you secretly root for; this is just something that sucks. The Rot is so smug and so cowardly that I can’t wait to watch them get stomped down. On the flipside, the journey through the underlands of The Red that Buddy’s spirit undertakes really plies the fantasy genre. A mythical talisman leads Buddy through sights that are bizarre and brings him to his final test in order to see the elders of The Red. In one issue you get drama, horror and fantasy.
I’m getting used to new artist Steve Pugh. While still not a fan of how Pugh draws human forms, his fantasy stuff is cool as is the horror work. He has a sense of what’s disturbing and bizarre and when he nails it, it’s amazing. The inside out whale, The Red’s talisman, even a lot of the background work is exceptional here. Pugh had some big shoes to fill and while he will never be Travel Forman, he does a solid job on his own merit.
(5 Story, 3 Art)