Animal Man Annual 1

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 I do not quote the sacred text of Battlestar Galactica lightly; the war between The Rot, The Red and The Green has a history that literally (and necessarily) spans all life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?

20 comments on “Animal Man Annual 1

  1. Wouldn’t it be awesome if he did kill all the heroes in the DC Universe? And suddenly, those books just ended with no advanced notice? Just: BAM! Dead. And only people reading Animal Man had any idea what had happened.

  2. I think my chief complaint with the art is that some of the character designs get a little wonky. Maxine’s head looks huge in a lot of these images, like she’s a Lewis Carroll character.

    Also, I’ve come to expect genuine GROSS-OUT moments from my Animal Man (we’ve been getting a lot of hits for “man with face chewed off” because I posted an image of JUST SUCH A THING in our write-up of issues 5-6) and the annual seemed tame by comparison. And part of that is definitely the influence of the Green creeping in over the Red and the Rot, but I still want my innovative gore please!

    • That’s true, I did notice some of the proportions were a little off. The gore in this series reminds me of The Thing (not the new one). The half-made dog version of the Thing would totally fit in with the Rot. I bet it will be super gross once the war starts, then it will be nightmares all around.

  3. Also, I love that we get hits from people looking for info on that homeless guy in FL who was chewing on another man’s face. Who knew we were so topical?

    • That image, by the way, is still super horrifying to me. Where are the spider-versions of characters peeling the skin off their father’s face with their mandibles in the annual, huh?

  4. I really like that there are only two Hunters in the late 1800s. It makes the Rot feel as fluid and mobile as the Red and the Green. We’ve gotten the sense that the Rot is this ageless, unchanging evil, but that’s really not the case. The Red and the Green have new avatars each generation — why can’t the Rot pick up some new players every once in a while. Shelby’s absolutely right, though: now I NEED to know how the third one came to be.

  5. What if Jacob become the third Hunter? Also, did anyone else notice that the Justice League that is speared on roadsigns in the future doesn’t include Cyborg?

  6. Do you think Socks told Maxine that Jacob saw a vision of her father? Or was that just something for the readers? If she did hear that part, why do you think she didn’t react AT ALL?

  7. Man, I love that cat. He tries to be all dignified, as a totem of the Red, but then he remembers he’s a cat!

    • The best part is that he likes stuff a cat would like. And he behaves as a talking cat would. So in tune with life that he embraces the qualities of the creature whose body he inhabits. PLUS IT’S A TALKING KITTY ZOMG!

    • That’s weird, though, right? Like, he was a cat in real life. Why is it suddenly undignified for him to piss in the woods? Does being an avatar for the red mean adopting Victorian mindsets regarding bathroom stuff?

        • I had assumed as much. We learned in Swamp Thing that there have been avatars for the Green long before there were humans (so, like T-REX SWAMP THINGS), which I assume applies to the Red. Could be wrong, but a house cat seems like a weird form for a human to take apropos of nothing.

        • EVERYONE WOULD READ A SWAMP T-REX, SHELBY – YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL.

          Also, I swear there was something in an earlier issue about Socks not being a cat in life. I have nothing (read: NOTHING) to back that up with, except a vague memory.

        • But then why be a cat now? He’s here to help Maxine in the coming war, so he OPTED for something that weighs less than 20 pounds? It makes no sense. Granted, a bear or an Elephant (OR A T-REX) would be difficult to take on the ol’ RV, but he could have at least chosen a human form. Dude can’t even open a door on his own.

        • Hey, if someone told me, “you can be any animal now, k?” I would totally go with a cat. They get to sleep, like, 37 hours a day. Plus, Patrick’s right: adorable.

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