Today, Drew and Peter are discussing Animal Man 12, originally released August 1st, 2012. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage. Not caught up on Animal Man? No problem! Get up to speed with our video Cram Session. Also, we’re covering Swamp Thing #12, head over to get analysis on the second half of this story.
Drew: One of my biggest pet peeves in comics is the assumption that “bigger is better” when it comes to threats the hero is facing. I understand the sentiment — if saving one person is good, saving one million must be a million times as cool — but in practice, it often turns the risks into abstract hypotheticals. Such abstractions lose the human connection that is so easily established by a single person in danger. In comics, a single loved-one in danger is just as cliched as when it’s the whole city, but when handled well — as in Animal Man 12 — the payoff is much greater.
I can appreciate why it’s so difficult to do well; setting up the relationship between a hero and a loved one takes up valuable space, and may require such relationships to be long-gestating. At the same time, falling back on the same loved ones again and again (Lois Lane, I’m looking at you) runs the risk of becoming old-hat. It’s a fine line, but writer Jeff Lemire has found it with seeming ease in Animal Man, as Buddy’s quest to find Swamp Thing gains the urgency of saving his only son.
Plot-wise, the story couldn’t be more straightforward — Buddy is seeking Alec’s help to defeat the Rot before it kills his son — but it hinges on a relationship that has been cleverly developed in the margins of the title. We’ve focused so much on Buddy’s relationship to Maxine and Ellen, it’s easy to forget how much we’ve seen of Cliff over the past 11 issues, and while we like to make fun of his bad attitude and worse haircut, I’ve actually developed a kind of fondness for him. It’s a very clever trick Lemire pulls, surprising us with the importance of what has been the least central relationship in Buddy’s life, yet somehow making it feel as urgent as if Maxine were the one lying in bed, murmuring about Rotworld.
Of course, Cliff gets up to more than just murmuring in this issue; he makes a sleep-walky break for it, meeting up with some mysterious Rot figure.
Is that Anton Arcane? He’s the only real named baddie the Rot has, and Cliff name-dropped him at the end of issue 11, so it seems like a good bet. I don’t know what those weird tentacles he appears to have might be, but I’m sure they’re horrible.
That Cliff’s condition drives the Bakers’ actions this issue is certainly compelling, but it doesn’t stop Lemire (and guest writer Scott Snyder) from giving us the kind of expansive prophecies of world-wide horrors that have come to typify the Rotworld titles. This particular prophecy is given a fresh sense of terror by allowing us to see it through Maxine’s eyes.
Having a four-year-old reflect these horrors back at us is a clever move, one that grounds what might otherwise become an abstraction in the very real reactions of a child. It’s truly heartbreaking when Maxine turns to her mother, wishing to go home. She’s seen a lot of awful things since this all started (hell, she even died), but staring into Arcane’s gaping maw was more than even she could handle.
Artist Steve Pugh really pulls out all of the stops here, continuing to work in the murky, shadowy style of this book. He’s slowly evolved the character design of the Baker children, making the Bakers look a bit more like each other, which enhances the drama ever so slightly. He also fills every panel with atmospheric details. I was particularly fond of the tree stumps and animal carcasses that litter the portal to the Rot, which he adds without drawing attention to them.
Lovern Kindzierski’s matte colors further deemphasize those details, relegating them to the background, implying that death simply a matter of course in Rot country. It’s a clever choice (though it may simply be to draw attention to the characters in the scene) that somehow makes the portal even more foreboding.
Almost a year into this title, and we’re only to the prologue of its final chapter. This has been a long haul, but that invested time is already starting to pay off in surprising ways. I’ve already mentioned the Buddy/Cliff relationship, but Lemire and Snyder also give us a meaningful moment between Buddy and his mother-in-law, a woman who has never been his biggest fan. She acknowledges as much, but then puts her faith in Buddy’s love for his family, which once again just gooses the already high stakes ever so slightly.
Oh, I could gush about this title all day. It’s always been great, and the addition of Snyder to the mix only makes me more excited for Rotworld (seriously, this writing team seems specifically designed to amp me up). I haven’t even mentioned some key moments — which incidentally have awesome art — but I’ll leave that to you, Peter. It goes without saying that this issue is awesome, but I’m curious to hear about your favorite parts.
Peter: This is by far, the most beautiful comic book that I have seen in a long time. Every page is gorgeous. I cannot say enough about the art in this issue. Between the pencils, the colors, and the layouts, the art really brings this issue out.
One of my favourite pages is actually the one with the least amount of detail and color.
The simplicity of this page is really quite beautiful. The blackness really accentuates the color that we do get. In both this book and Swamp Thing, the panel outlines have been playing an important role. These panels take a simplistic approach, but the subtle change from red to purple signifies the move from the living world to the dead world. Also, the move from complete blackness to a panel dominated by Buddy and Alec, while only starting as a purple spec is great too.
I love that each page is one large picture with smaller panels inserted on top of it. God, I could go on and on about this issue’s art. It fits the story perfectly, and flawlessly combines the stories laid out in Swamp Thing as well as Animal Man.
During our review of Animal Man 11, I made a comment that I thought Cliff had a connection to the Rot. Obviously something happened with his encounter with RotBuddy, but I still hold that he might have an natural connection as well. I would not be surprised if we see Cliff fighting against Buddy and Alec in the Rotworld. Probably under the control of Anton, so there is a family connection for everybody.
I am very anxious to see the ladies kick some serious butt as well. We know that Abigail can hand out ass kickings, but now we will hopefully get to see our Little Wing grow some teeth and beat the shit out of some Rot monsters.
Obviously Drew and I cannot say enough good things about this book. Animal Man and Swamp Thing are two of the best comic books in print right now. This is what a comic book should be. Evolve or Die.
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?