A hero is only interesting if we can see him sweat. This is the idea behind the recently concluded Batman film series reboot spearheaded by Christopher Nolan, and one that has been showing up in comic books as far back as Alan Moore’s famous superhero deconstruction, The Watchmen. It is also part of the idea behind DC’s New 52. In the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, we had smarmy, super dickery Superman and Batman who were protected from evil by sheer unexplained awesomeness, and as various writers took on the characters, infinite dimensions were established underneath the DC moniker, until they decided to just say, “screw it all,” and start over.
Now, we have new, modern incarnations of classic DC superheroes, and they seem to inspiring Marvel to pursue a similar route with its titles.
Among DC’s new incarnations is Animal Man, and of course, Jeff Lemire is willing to let good ol’ Buddy Baker sweat and sweat and sweat some more. Lemire and artist, Travel Foreman, give Animal Man an almost horror-film dynamic. Foreman’s art particularly ratchets up the creepy, especially as we enter the realm of “The Red” which he draws in a surrealist and distorted manner. There are all sorts of mutated forms, peculiar facial designs, dark, ominous shades of red surrounding our protagonist, and he is certainly not above distorting our perception of Buddy Baker. Throughout the series, Baker undergoes a variety of shapes, a fair amount of which are rather unappealing to the eye. In one panel, we see him as the caring father, movie star type that he is, illustrated as a handsome, tall, blonde man, and in the next, he is the mutated, mutilated-looking protector of The Red.
The story itself does not really beckon to horror film fair. At first, as Lemire introduces to the concept of The Rot, a force of death and an adversary of The Green and Red (the forces of plant and animal life, respectively), the story takes it cues from the disturbing notes one might find in a monster film, but the story expands from there, progresses and pans out on its universe, revealing the Baker family’s role in the this whole convoluted balance of natural life forces. Eventually, we learn that it’s Baker’s daughter, Maxine or Little Wing as he calls her at her request, is the true avatar of The Red, effectively regulating the title hero to secondary status, as we will soon also see that she has already has a staggering amount of power compared to her father. It’s an interesting dynamic, one that has only begun to be explored. On one hand, we have an elementary school student who could whoop her superhero father’s ass if so inclined, and on the other, we have the same elementary school (who happens to have chosen her alias from the best Jimi Hendrix song) student who still needs her father’s protection … because she is an elementary school student.
And it’s this dynamic that makes the “Rotworld,” the current story arch for both Swamp Thing and Animal Man, work.
To catch you up in the vaguest manner possible, Baker and his family have met up with Alec Holland and his lady friend, Abigail Arcane, whose father, Anton Arcane, is the recently resurrected avatar of The Rot, which wants to destroy the world. Baker and Holland, being bold masculine types, decide to take the fight to Arcane, himself, and enter The Rot together. This was, of course, the bad guy’s plan all along because it always is. You see, time does not function in The Rot as it does on Earth, so while Animal Man and Swamp Thing are toiling away in The Rot, Anton Arcane escapes and wrecks everything back on the surface. By the time the two heroes get out of The Rot, having accomplished nothing, everything sucks and everyone they love is dead, but we, the readers, have yet to see the apocalypse.
Instead, we see the horrific aftermath, which has various Red and Green powered heroes fighting against the prevailing forces of The Rot, getting flashbacks periodically to the time leading up to the Rotworld.
So yeah, there’s all that …
And all of that is to say that this splits Animal Man and Little Wing up. We have Buddy in the future, believing that his family has perished, that he has failed, and that his daughter has been captured by evil, and we have Maxine in the past, trying to survive without the protection of her father. We have a nebulous idea of what becomes of Maxine in the future but none of the specifics. We know also that she has the strength to overcome the task at hand but lacks the guidance that comes from a good father figure. Thus returns the horror film analogy made earlier. There’s a sense of unease in these issue. Lemire cuts back and forth between Buddy’s struggles in the post-apocalyptic future and Maxine’s struggle in the pre-apocalypse past, examining what both are missing from one another. We know the outcome on one end while the end of the other still eludes us, yet both manage to frighten.
Rest assured, the heroes will continue sweating. The question is, will they ever stop?
~ The Black Ness Monster ~