Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Animal Man 13, originally released October 3rd, 2012. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage.
Drew: Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder are confident that they can surprise readers. They have every right to be — Swamp Thing 12 (which they co-wrote) saw the shocking reveal that Rotworld is not a place but a time — and that confidence lends their writing an assured sense of purpose. Their ability to surprise has made both Animal Man and Swamp Thing thrilling reads in their first year, and has leant the crossover a sense that anything could happen. Sure enough, Animal Man 13 is rich in surprises, but it also paints Lemire into a difficult narrative corner — to such a degree that I can’t help but see it as a cocksure statement that he can write his way out of anything. It would be annoying if I didn’t have every bit of confidence that he can.
The issue begins with Buddy landing in Rotworld, where he’s immediately attacked by a zombified, soulless Hawkman (apparently, Lemire heard that Liefeld had been writing him — amirite?). Alec is rescued by Steel, Black Orchid, and Beast Boy. They’re shocked to learn that he’s Buddy Baker, who they explain has been missing for a year. They quickly whisk him off to the last bastion of the Red in San Diego, an oasis the totems sacrificed themselves to create. Buddy sees some old friends — the shepherd, Constantine — but learns the devastating news that his family is dead. Buddy demands what we’re all thinking — this must be an alternate reality or a horrible dream or something — but is told in no uncertain terms that, no, this is reality.
And with that, Lemire sets the stakes, but they’re difficult stakes to swallow. This is an armageddon-level event unfolding here, and we see scores of our favorite heroes (and the Ravagers) zombified remains attacking each other.
Which is to say, I don’t really believe that the status quo couldn’t be returned at the end of this arc, even though I have NO IDEA how Lemire and Snyder are going to pull it off. It’s nice to be assured that this isn’t just a dream, but it seems likely that there will be some loophole that allows Buddy and Alec to return to the present to set things right.
Speaking of the present day, the Rotworld action is intercut with the “before Rotworld” action of the rest of the Baker family. Ellen and Maxine have returned to the hotel to find that Cliff is missing. They find him on a dark country road, but he’s too far-gone, and manages to infect Ellen with the Rot.
This is another ballsy element Lemire seems to be taunting us with. We already know the fate of Buddy’s entire family, which runs the risk of robbing these sequences of their drama. But of course, with Lemire, exactly what happens takes a backseat to how it happens. Knowing what happens down the line doesn’t deflate any of the fear and determination we see in Ellen when she needs to find her son, or any of the abject terror we see in Maxine when her only remaining parent is in mortal peril.
With the focus on the characters, Lemire could tell me exactly what is about to happen, and I’d want to read it, but it’s still an incredibly ballsy move to move forward with two stories we already know the ending to. I suppose I only “know” the ending as much as I do any comic book (hero saves the day, order is restored), but the suggestion that things really have changed permanently is so audacious, Lemire seems to be putting them front and center.
It helps that Lemire has Steve Pugh to really sell those character moments. We tend to focus on his dazzling horror sequences, but his character work here is stellar. I was particularly moved as Buddy raced from denial to bargaining to anger after learning that his family is dead.
Perhaps my favorite part about this issue is that, in removing narrative surprise from the equation, Lemire has promised that he will be focusing on the characters to deliver a compelling story. I was never concerned that he wouldn’t, but I could see why that danger may have been present in a crossover event like Rotworld. What do you think, Patrick, is this narrative gambit distracting, or liberating?
Patrick: I want to play devil’s advocate for a second. What if what we’re seeing is the real, unavoidable future? That’s John Constantine’s take on it here, and it’s a sentiment echoed by the Parliament of Trees over in Swamp Thing 13. I’m reminded of the advertising for Flashpoint, which frequently bragged “Not a dream, not an imaginary story, not an elseworld.” You mention that is seems like Lemire and Snyder have written themselves into a corner – which is definitely true – but maybe they’re not the only creators in this corner.
I mean, the Justice League is coming apart at the seams, the Guardians have turned on their lanterns, and the Rot has destroyed MOST LIFE on the planet. And to make matters even more distressing, there’s a magical pixie dancing around the universe with a mysterious magical box. Where are we headed here? The alarmist voice in the back of my head is starting to whisper “the un-retconning is neigh.” And that’s the voice that’s obsessed with continuity, the voice that notices that every fucking issues still says “New 52” on it, as though that’s a specific (and perhaps isolated) event. If DC wanted to detonate their little reboot experiment and start again, they could do a lot worse than a confluence of events designed by Scott Snyder, Jeff Lemire and Geoff Johns (noted world-crumbler).
So to answer your question directly: I find it distracting. One of the things I loved about Animal Man was its self-contained narrative. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Swamp Thing was dealing with a common enemy, and I was more than happy to pick up both series as companions to each other. What fun! And as the scope of this Rotworld thing ballooned, I was more than happy to go along with it. And I am absolutely thrilled to see this transformed DC Universe, but it changes the way I think about the work. For example, let’s talk about that awesome Hawkman appearance:
Lemire’s making a specific choice in sending the Rotified Hawkman after Buddy Baker. This could have easily been one of the Hunters Three instead of Hawkman. In fact, a Hunter would have made the attack more intimate, as Buddy’s dealt with them threatening his family in the past. Undead Carter Hall is the aggressor for our benefit (that is, the benefit of the savvy comic reader). It used to be that all the tools I needed to understand (and love) this series fell between the front and back covers. It doesn’t make it bad, but I think it’s worth pointing out that this series has joined the fraternity of comics that only the well-initiated will be able to grasp.
I was happy to see Timothy Green’s pencils returning for the “Before Rotworld” portions of the issue. As demonstrated in the Annual, Green has an uncanny ability to intimate the clean, grotesque styles of Travel Foreman and Steve Pugh. He’s also got a stellar eye for staging. Watch how well Green uses his “camera” in this sequence (apologies, I know Drew already posted one of these panels).
The third panel has a level, almost proscenium presentation, but the camera swings up for a high angle when Ellen hopefully steps out of the van. On the opposite page, the tables of turned and all the images are captured from low angles, emphasizing how devastating this turn of events is. It’s cinematic, and gives the family drama a lot of added weight.
Oh, and regardless of how reticent I may be to see all these other superheros in this issue, Lemire was kind enough to deploy that goofy Shepherd character. I love that guy.
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?