Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Animal Man 9, originally released May 2nd, 2012.
Shelby: We’re all getting pretty wrapped up in the Night of the Owls. We’ve got a lot of really talented writers and artists working on it, and with Scott Snyder at the helm, well, it’s easy to get wrapped up in it. One could almost forgive me for forgetting about some of these other story arcs DC has going on right now. I say ‘almost’ because there’s obviously no way to forgive not thinking about The Red, The Green, and The Rot. This month’s Animal Man reminds me of why that is; the title page features Buddy, traveling through the Red after dying at the hands of the Rot and literally unraveling. Organ by organ, muscle separating from bone, bone separating from other bones.
God damn, I love this title.
Issue 9 opens with Ellen Baker and her family (minus one, of course) as they continue their trip…uh, away. Ellen and her mother are arguing about Buddy when Maxine wakes up with a start and realizes she no longer feels her father’s presence. Meanwhile, Buddy has landed in the Bone Orchard, deep in the Red, and he’s a little short of memory. He meets the Shepherd, who tells Buddy he is definitely dead, and suddenly it all comes rushing back. He demands the Shepherd take him to see the totems immediately. The Shepherd laughs at such a small soul making demands, until Buddy tells him who he is, or more specifically who his daughter is. As Buddy travels through the Red, his body hasn’t been just lying around. No no, the Hunter Buddy has been on the hunt. His rotty brothers-in-arms tell him the only way to defeat Maxine is to lure her into the Rot, that she’s too strong in the land of the living. The Baker Party finally stops for the night in some shitty motel. Cliff is complaining about it (the shittiness) to Ellen, when they are interrupted by … John Constantine! Surprise! He’s here to save the day, probably!
Jeff Lemire, how do you do it? How do you balance something as mundane as a woman fighting with her mother over her husband’s profession with said husband’s soul traveling with a Pan/antelope (Pantelope) while his possessed corpse plots to kill his daughter? I almost don’t even know what to say anymore; how many more times can I say ‘It’s so good!’? This issue introduces us to a new character, The Shepherd. Naturally, I love him. I totally dig his laid-back, Rasta attitude; the personality of the character shines off the page. I also love his design, Steve Pugh has done a great job picking up where Travel Foreman left off. True, the title as a whole isn’t quite as gross looking, but it’s still plenty gross where it needs to be; only on Retcon Punch will “plenty gross where it needs to be” ever be uttered as a compliment. And of course, I L-O-V-E that the Shepherd calls Buddy “Butter Baker.”
Lot’s of questions, of course. I’m sure Buddy will end up alive again at some point, I’m just not sure how. I doubt the Hunter Buddy will keep the physical body in such fine condition, no matter how proud of it he is now. Maybe Maxine can craft her daddy a new body? I’m not really sure how all that works, but I think it was Shepherd here who helped her do it. That’s neat. And, there’s always John Constantine.
I was surprised to see him, but apparently my surprise was misplaced. Constantine first appeared in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing as a sort of occult-y advisor. I assume they became fast friends. Interesting fact: Constantine was created because the artists working on the book wanted to draw a character who looked like Sting. So there you go. I was already pretty excited for the upcoming crossover, but throwing Constantine into the mix makes me doubly extra excited. What about you, Drew? Another solid Animal Man issue for you as well?
Drew: One of the many “scoops” I got hanging around Francis Manapul’s table at the Boston Comic Con had to do with Jeff Lemire’s interest in the gem cities. Manapul and Buccelato have a very clear idea of the geography of the cities and their surrounding areas, and their enthusiasm appealed to Lemire enough for him to express a desire to have the Baker clan pass through there on their long road movie to west Texas. Manapul was pretty noncommittal to whether that interest might bear any fruit, but I believe the presence of John Constantine is a manifestation of Lemire’s interest to have the Bakers casually rumble across the DC universe (or at least the Dark group).
That road movie approach alone is enough to endear this book to me (though now I feel compelled to pick up Justice League Dark), but there’s so much going on here. I’ve liked the idea of the Red as a metaphysical space connected to all life since it was introduced way back in issue 2, and my interest only grows as Lemire expands the borders exponentially. The only time we’ve spent there was with Maxine, current Avatar of the Red, a title that affords her special privileges for traveling. As the Shepherd explains that the rest of the residents of the Red have to physically move anywhere they want to go (rattling off regions with names like the “Bone Orchard,” “Sea of Blood,” and “Flesh Desert” that make them sound both vast and horrific), a sense of reality and space began to creep in. Buddy urgently needs to reach the totems, but because he landed in the Bone Orchard, he’s going to have to travel a long way to get there.
This metaphysical journey is mirrored by the physical journey that the hunter takes with Buddy’s body. He hypothesized blindly last week as to whether Buddy’s powers would persist after he was dead, and sure enough, the Hunter is able to fly around in his brand new Buddy suit, pausing only to munch on some tasty bird heads.
That journey takes the Hunter within striking distance of Maxine, as that same sense of space that makes the Red feel real also shows that the two are in the same damn town.
Simply put, Pugh is doing amazing things with this title. He had some very big shoes to fill, but he pulls it off with grace, offering a style that is respectful of what Foreman had brought to the title, but not so much to stifle his own sensibilities. The design for the Shepherd is fantastic; pantelope is a great assessment, though I particularly love the baboon quality of his face. And I know I sound like a broken record, but his sense of space is just incredible. Watch how he tracks all of the bodies in the RV as they move through this scene (an earlier shot had established that Socks was sprawled on Cliff as the two napped — which is adorable).
Most movies don’t keep such good track of their characters, and those are real people taking up physical space on the set. Maybe it’s a pedantic point that Pugh is so aware of space, but it’s the first time I’ve ever noticed it enough to be impressed, so I think something special is going on here.
In a way, this issue is all about space. We learn that the Rot is horning its way into the Red, as little pockets of decay begin popping up without an avatar to protect it. We also learn that the Rot needs the Red, which makes sense — there’s no death without life. This necessarily creates a turf war, as the Rot can only grow (or even exist) by taking over space currently occupied by the red. Caught in between is the poor Baker family, uprooted from their home with nowhere to go (particularly now that Ellen has put her foot down on meeting up with Alec Holland). It looks like they’ll continue to traipse into mishaps (and other titles) until Maxine can fulfill her destiny. Our hero, stripped from his body, now exists in two spaces, creating a strange race against himself to return to his body before his body returns to Maxine.
That focus on space is a brilliant turn for Lemire. Writers strive to have us understand and care about their characters as they move through their stories, but striving to have us understand those motions and the space they’re moving through in addition to caring about the characters is something much more uncommon. It’s complicated trigonometry to understand the characters’ trajectories relative to each other, but Lemire and Pugh handle it with clarity and beauty. I couldn’t be more excited to see how they navigate the waters ahead.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?