Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Animal Man 10, originally released June 6th, 2012.
Patrick: For a guy whose soul is trapped in the physical manifestation of animal life, Buddy Baker’s actually having a pretty good time. What could have been a dire slog through dense dense mythology is transformed into a pretty kickin’ adventure thanks to some warrior dog-men, a wise-crackin’ goat pal and humor ahoy. Coming in off the death of Animal Man, this is exactly what this series need to keep from teetering off into the abyss.
Animal Man 10 splits its time pretty evenly between Buddy’s adventures in the Rot and the rest of the Baker Clan’s run-in with some clairvoyant superheroes. Let’s start with the Bakers because – somehow – that’s the stranger story. Last we saw Ellen and Cliff, she was approached by John Constantine. It appears he effectively lured them into a hotel room. Constantine’s not alone: he brought Zatana and Lady Xanadu with him. Cliff’s pretty stoked to see these magical people, but Constantine brushes him off and makes him wait outside. Unfortunately, this gives the Hunter in Buddy’s body the opportunity to get his grubby, rotting hands on Cliff. In the hotel room, Lady Xanadu relays a vision she had: Maxine and her mother in a ruined city, running from agents of the Rot. Ellen’s just about to blow them off when Xanadu drops the bomb-shell: Ellen is responsible for the disastrous state the Baker ladies will find themselves in. Outraged (and probably a little terrified) the Bakers get in the RV and drive off. Without Cliff.
Meanwhile, Buddy and his goat-buddy traverse the Red. They do battle with some little Rotlings that get in their way and eventually vanquish them with the help from the Warrior Class (they appear to be winged dog men? Christ the Red is cool). As they continue on their journey, Goaty explains that the Rot has taken on the form of a more literal kingdom (with grotesque castles and the like) to catch the tremprament of their new leader: Maxine. Which prompts the question: just how powerful is Maxine? She is “all-powerful,” which kinda throws Buddy for a loop. When they reach the Totems of Animal life, Buddy learns that his family is in danger and he demands to be returned to his body. They can’t do that – remember, there’s a goddamned Hunter in that body. So they do the only logical thing: the build a NEW BODY FOR BUDDY.
I read an interview with Damon Lindelof today where he said that Jeff Lemire is one of the few comic book writers that effectively leverage humor in his work. Not necessarily in terms of jokes, but just light-hearted or humorous moments. This issue’s got that in spades. Not only do we have this consistently hilarious goat-man calling Buddy “Butter,” Ellen mixes up the names of her meta-human visitors, calling Lady Xanadu “Zandaloo.” That’s adorable, and totally understandable. There’s also this great exchange between Cliff and John Constantine:
Not a joke, per se, but just the perfect way to keep all of this incredibly dark business grounded. Even the gnarly Rot-monsters in this issue are sorta cute and funny. Still totally disgusting, but come on: a flying brain-stem connected to blood-shot eyes getting squished by a goat-man’s hooves? Hilarious.
It’s a nice break – there’s been a lot of grim shit in this series so far. Specifically, last week’s Animal Man Annual mostly delivered ominous mythology. Which is all well and good, and goes a long way toward establishing stakes that matter and blah blah blah. I like these characters and I feel for their relationships: this issue was a good reminder of why.
There are also some rad character designs in here. The kind of hyper-animals that comprise the totem are all really interesting mixes of animals with totally bizarre proportions and features. One of them appears to have two sets of antelope horns. It sounds like it should be clumsy as hell, but the effect is actually quite imposing. I’m also blown away my the simple heroic design on the Warrior Class. Dog-headed men with wings. They’re simple and evocative of nobility and loyalty, and their tribal costumes and weapon make them even more mysterious and cool.
Before she storms out, John Constantine tells Ellen that she needs to reach out to the Big Green Guy. Understandably, she assumes he’s referring to Swamp Thing. But Johnny’s talking about… someone (or something) else entirely. Drew, you have any guesses? My first impulse was to say “Hulk,” but then I reminded myself that that would basically be impossible. Also thematically irrelevant.
Minor complaint (also the only complaint I have here): Why does Zatana have to cast spells by speaking backwards? I know it’s always been that way, but it’s just silly. You think she ever needs to stop the action to write out a short sentence so she can read it backwards? Or maybe she’s just one of those people that can just visualize it and pull it off on the fly. And maybe it’s one of those things that isn’t that hard once you commit a little time to figuring it out. REGARDLESS, it seems like a pretty low-rent way to use magic. I mean, Dimitri Martin can improvise long palindromes, and the most he’ll ever get for it is a knowing chuckle.
Drew: And just like that, John Constantine has captured my heart and mind. Cliff’s been acting like a petulant wiener in spite of his terrible haircut since issue 1 — it’s about time somebody put him in his place. He probably didn’t deserve to be abducted by the living embodiment of death incarnate in the skin of his father, but he definitely deserved an off-the-cuff zinger and the condescending “the grownups are talking” tone he got from Constantine.
So what do we think Rot-Buddy’s “top secret” plan for Cliff is, anyway? Based on the ultra-creepy way he lures Cliff over and gains his confidence, I figured Cliff was going to subtly direct the family into some kind of trap. Instead, Cliff goes missing, suggesting that the Hunter just grabbed him and is planning on using him as bait. That’s fine, it’s just much less interesting, and ultimately doesn’t require Buddy’s skin — if he’s just going to nab the kid, it really doesn’t matter what he looks like.
I suppose the latter plan is what allows him to be so overtly creepy, which was a total treat. Steve Pugh has picked up the best elements of what made Travel Foreman so integral to this series, sinking scenes in bold, jagged shadows. Combine that with Pugh’s knack for expressive faces and innovative character design, and the art in this book is as beautiful as it is strange — unlike anything else we’re reading.
Also unique to this title: the sense that literally anything could happen. Sure, a Justice League Dark cameo is unexpected, but we have literally no idea what the Red (or the Rot) is capable of. This leaves the issue pregnant with possibility, but also makes interpreting any of its developments nigh on impossible. We’ve already seen Maxine form a new body when hers was broken by the Rot — do we think that’s what’s going to happen with Buddy, or will it be something else entirely? Where is Cliff? Who is the “big green guy” Constantine was referring to?
I have no confidence in my abilities to guess even the possibilities for any of these, let alone what the answers might be. Take, for example, that “big green guy” comment: Beast Boy would make sense, given his power-set, but he’s no longer green (a change, coincidentally, made to highlight his connection to the Red), and I don’t think anyone would ever call him “big.” The only character I can think of, then, is the Martian Manhunter, who is big and green and powerful enough to be helpful in any situation, but that just doesn’t feel right. When the only ideas I can think of are obviously wrong, it’s time to admit I have absolutely no idea what the answer might be.
That sense of possibility is invigorating, and only makes me excited for the next issue. Alas, it looks like our time with John Constantine’s sass-mouth has come to an end, but never mind that, Cliff is in danger! The end of this issue promises Animal Man vs. Animal Man next month, which seems poised to answer another inscrutable question: what’s twice as cool as one Animal Man?
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?