Animal Man 13

Alternating Currents: Animal Man 13, Drew and Patrick ROTToday, 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.

I would read the hell out of a zombie Supergirl miniWhich 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.

too sad for jokesWith 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.

HOW POWERFUL WAS SHE?In different hands, that moment may come off as overly dramatic, but Pugh sells the holy living shit out of it.

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?


17 comments on “Animal Man 13

  1. Back when Patrick and I were kicking around a concept for a zombie TV show, we had the idea to give some of the zombies their own little character arcs. They wouldn’t necessarily be anything we’d see on camera, but distinctive zombies would reappear at different points in the story, looking worse for wear at each subsequent appearance. I get that sense from the Supergirl cameos here and in Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing seems to show her first getting infected by the rot, but by the time she’s impaling Batwoman in her appearance here, she’s completely lost her lower jaw. I hope we don’t get any more connecting those two points, and are happy to just leave the adventures of zombie Supergirl in my imagination (though I certainly wouldn’t argue if we get to see her further adventures in the pages of the crossover).

    • Yeah, the little details carrying over are tons of fun. Like Shelby points out in the Swamp Thing AC, we see how Ivy hurts her arm in this issue, and we see the effect (arm blackened) in ST. And there’s nothing to connect them, they’re just fun details to pick up on.

  2. I shied away from going outside of this series for evidence, but the fact that EVERY hero dying would mean an end to essentially every title DC is publishing makes it pretty imperative that Buddy and Alec somehow Back to the Future Part II their way out of this situation. You raise an interesting point about DC’s fail-safe reset (which is still a real possibility), but I don’t think there’s any way this event could end the New 52, as it’s only being acknowledged by three B-list titles.

      • …perhaps. The fact that we haven’t seen any REALLY heavy hitters suggests that they could be more involved later on in the arc, which may have bigger repercussions. That said, many titles are embarking on arcs that will take them well into next year — I just don’t see this becoming a line-wide, Crisis-style event. I have my doubts that the DCnU will persevere, but with DC apparently doubling down with its third-wave titles (and the requisite expanding of the new Universe), I really don’t see this changing any time soon. The Justice League International Annual definitely hinted at a way for DC to return to the old continuity, but that could also be used to just reset parts of the Universe (individual titles, or even just details within those titles). Time will tell, but I doubt DC will be decending into RotWorld over the next year (especially since the crossover event isn’t even that long).

        • So, if this isn’t the begining of another line-wide undo, any ideas how Snyder and Lemire are going to get us out of this?

          There’s almost no point in talking about these two titles separately, is there?

        • I can’t really get more specific than “Red/Green Magic.” They’ve made it clear that they’re not going to pull any “It was all a dream!” or “It was an alternate reality!” bullshit, but that’s a pretty far cry from saying it can’t somehow be fixed. Maybe it has to do with the “rules” that allowed Arcane to come back — if there is a cosmic rulebook, “holding your opponent in stasis for a year” seems like kind of an unfair move.

          It could involve Booster Gold showing up or something, but I’m almost certain that this problem will be solved through the power of the Red and Green (and probably an assist from Abby — who I agree probably isn’t dead — on the Rot).

  3. Steel makes a guest star appearance in Animal Man # 13. I’m a big fan of John Henry Irons, so I’m very glad he didn’t fall into oblivion after the closure of his awesome solo series: he gained a little spot in the New 52 world, as a supporting character in Action Comics and now in Animal Man. A character like Steel written by a writer like Lemire… wonderful!

    • I’ll admit to being too new to comics to really have an attachment to any of the orphans of the New 52. I’ve never read a Wally West Flash (though I do love the TImmverse Justice League), and the closest I’ve ever come to Stephanie Brown was the “Leviathan Strikes” issue that was released before the relaunch of Batman Incorporated. This doesn’t quite qualify, but I kind of wish Tim Drake had a solo title. I can’t bring myself to get into Teen Titans, but I think he’s a great character (or was, anyway — I wasn’t a big fan of the TT 0 issue).

      • I’m excited to hear what other folks have to say, though, and am open to suggestions for great Steel/Wally/Stephanie/etc. stories I should check out.

        • I really miss Wally West–my favorite Flash. For a good Wally stories, check out the return of Barry Allen and blitz.

          I also miss Oracle–I know we have Barbara Gordon as Batgirl in the new 52, but Oracle was awesome (and one of the only disables characters in comics).

          Any sign of Adam Strange yet? He was a fun character.

    • I miss the Stephanie Brown Batgirl the most and also wish that Babs was still Oracle… Barbara back as Batgirl seems like a change nobody was calling for

      • Conversely, one character I love getting a fresh start with post-reboot is Supergirl; what a muddled character she became post-Crisis

      • You’re not the first one saying you preferred Barbara as Oracle. This is one of the most controversial narrative moves of the New 52 line, along with Green Arrow’s rejuvenation. Thank you for your reply! : )

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