Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing the Animal Man Annual 1, originally released May 30th, 2012.
Patrick: All good modern-epics have have nearly bottomless backstories: histories that stretch on further than any of the characters can remember. “This has all happened before and it will happen again.” I do not quote the sacred text of Battlestar Galactica lightly; the war between The Rot, The Red and The Green has a history that literally (and necessarily) spans all life on Earth. Ever. We’ve gotten glimpses of this history in Animal Man and Swamp Thing, but this is the first time we’ve gotten an extended look at one of the previous incursions by The Rot. We don’t get the whole picture, but we do get some remarkable personal insight.
The bulk of this issue is a story that Socks the cat tells to Maxine while the family is on the road and Buddy-less. Socks’ story chronicles the heroics of the town of Stone Lake, Manitoba as they defend themselves against an ominous “disease.” Our hero? Farmer and father of two, Jacob Mullin. Jacob leaves his family and heads into the woods with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to root out the source of the sickness. It’s unclear exactly what they’re expecting, but everyone on the sickness-hunting team is packin’ heat. Guns end up being little comfort when the Hunters Two (only two?) attack the our plucky band of heroes. Jacob bleeds from his eyes (which, while that is exactly what happened to Buddy in Animal Man #1, is ineffective against the Hunters) until he is narrowly rescued by Swamp Thing.
Once Jacob and Swampy get a chance to chill out away from danger, Swamps reveals himself to be Jack Crow, a former neighbor of the Mullins. Swamp Thing offers Jacob some kind of hallucinagenic potato and they both relive Crow’s transformation to Swamp Thing. Jacob also realizes his own role as the avatar of the Re: he’s a 19th century Animal Man. But he doesn’t snap out of the trance has quickly has Swampy thought he would. Jacob sees a bleak-ass vision of the future: a ruined metropolis, littered with the corpses of DC’s finest. The only living soul is Buddy Baker, who tells him how futile it is to fight the Rot.
Jacob comes to, and snaps into action: he races toward town and his family. Channeling his animal powers, and with Jack “Swamp Thing” Crow in tow, Jacob makes short work of the Rot-creatures that have overrun the town. The bad news is that these creatures include the bodies of his Jacob’s wife and daughter. Jacob is momentarily devastated, but realizes he might not be too late to save his son. These instincts pay off, as Jacob shows up about a second before the Hunters Two and uses his powers to rip the flesh off the offending creatures. But the victory is hollow – the cost in lives-lost was too great.
We’re dealing with the Annual here – so there’s understandably a lot to deal with. Let’s start with Jacob’s vision of the future.
The Animal Men see a lot of visions of the future. And we’re starting to see that there is a lot this shit that’s actually coming to pass. This set of visions contains one OMINOUSLY accurate visit from Buddy, and the other is a leveled cityscape. Now, I’m not saying that I think DC’s entire stable of heroes is going to die in the pages of Animal Man – I’M NOT RETARDED. But the image is striking, and the truth implied letting Jacob come face-to-face with the modern Animal Man is unsettling.
I’m also moved by how this issue portrays Maxine. She’s just a kid on a fun adventure with her talking kitty friend. But she finds the saga of Animal Man Jacob Mullins to be too sad – just like Jacob, she thinks the cost in lives is just too high. Socks is only trying to prepare THE AVATAR OF ANIMAL LIFE for the war to end all wars. I mean, for crying out loud: the kid just wants to hear a story with scary monsters.
We’ve got some new art here: penciler Timothy Green II tries his hand at the Animal Man style. This is one of the few series that demands a very specific style, distinct from the normal superhero comic stuff. Part of that is the insane amount of gore that SIMPLY HAS TO populate every page. But the grotesque is extended to the character designs and even the backgrounds. I’m not so sold on it – the dark arabesque flourishes here seem insincere. Foreman and Pugh manage to communicate so much more mystery and messiness with the same style, it’s sorta disappointing to see it applied so slapdash here. There’s also occasionally a weird aura around characters – like, a literal field of color. It’s not actually happening in the characters’ reality, nor is it representative of something, so I gotta ask: schmuh?
So Shelby, how’d the over-sized issue of Animal-Man-with-very-little-Animal-Man-in-it treat you? I really enjoy getting this much background color in a one-shot, and not being robbed of a forward-moving issue to boot. Even if Ballad of Jacob Mullins feels only tangentially related to the perils of our real heroes, at least we only have another week to wait before getting back into the fray.
Shelby: I, too, enjoyed this issue. There is definitely a “I know what you’re going to say, but I like to hear you say it,” sort of vibe to this story. I get it, the balance of the three powers, sometimes they fight, etc. Doesn’t change the fact that this is a nice story with some horrifying art. I was interested in the idea of the Red or the Green being the out-of-control party, and the Rot being partially responsible for stopping them. I understand that all three are necessary, but it’s so easy to see the Rot as the villain ALWAYS. Can you imagine Swamp Thing teaming up with the Hunters 2-3 to bring down the power hungry avatar of the Red? The Hunters don’t strike me as looking out for the greater good.
And what about that Hunters 2 business? Where did the other one come from? They’ve referred to themselves as “brothers” in the past, I believe, so how do they just get a new one? God, can you imagine how gross the process of becoming a Hunter of the Rot would be? I would read THE HELL out of that story, and probably not sleep for days after.
I disagree with you on the art of this title, I think it is dead-on perfect. Green has taken the loose pencil style we see with Foreman and Pugh and added some very innovative, Yanick Paquette-like panel layouts. It’s a great way to lead into the Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover, for which I know I am very impatiently awaiting. Check out this full spread of Socks as he starts his story; the log they are sitting on branches out into the dead vines that break up the panels on the page.
It’s like we’re seeing the story from Maxine’s audio viewpoint; it unfolds from her imagination as Socks tells the tale.It’s a neat little trick, and really visually interesting. Plus, look at how disgusting that cow’s tongue is: awesome. As far as the auras go, I didn’t notice them until you pointed them out, and even then I had to go looking hard to find them; I think it’s just Green’s way of making the characters stand out more against the background. Clearly it didn’t bug me.
It’s a little weird to barely see the character the title is named for. Even still, Lemire has enriched our understanding of the universe he has created. Considering this universe expands across all of eternity, we can always use a little enrichment. I was already looking forward to Animal Man next week, now I am REALLY looking forward to it. My money is on Lemire killing off every other hero in the DC Universe.
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?