Or – “For Freakier Imagery, You’d Probably Have To Get Rodrigo Plastered.”
The return of Animal Man to regular monthly storytelling has also led to a return of the 90’s Vertigo sensibilities, as A-Man is stuck in the middle of an invasion by forces of ‘The Rot’, while simultaneously finding his morphogenic powers to be related to another nebulous concept, The Red. What does The Red do?
Give Matthew nightmares, mostly…
Previously, on Animal Man: Strange doin’s is afoot at the Baker household… When his animal-morphogenetic powers started acting up, Buddy “Animal Man” Baker was disturbed, but the real horror began when his daughter Maxine begin exhibiting powers of her own, bringing her beloved dead pets back (albeit in skeletal form.) Buddy soon found that Maxine’s growing abilities and his own power problems seemed to stem from the same source, and set off with his daughter to explore The Red, a metaphysical realm that seems to be all about the connections between meat beings. At the same time, a local zoo has become the center of an infestation of something wicked, and evil mutated agents of something called The Rot are loose in Buddy’s home town, with evil intentions…
WHY DOES TRAVEL FOREMAN HATE ME?
The first two pages of the issue are a particularly amazing/disturbing convocation of art, as Buddy and Maxine enter The Red together. She’s smiling and laughing, while her father’s head seemingly melts and reforms in a horrifying mass of flesh. (If you want to know what I think it looks like, google ‘Teratoma.’ Better yet, don’t, especially if you’re of a sensitive constitution.) Maxine helps to pull Daddy back together, but things don’t get any less horrifying as we see the rapidly-discorporating forms of The Rot walking the streets… Although, as Buddy meets the former Animal Men (shades of Swamp Thing’s wonderful ‘Parliament of Trees’ concept), they refer to his powers as an extension of the life web, a connective something-or-other throughout all living things, a thing that they also refer to explicitly in dialogue as The Source. (I capitalized it because I think the intent is to make us think of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World concept of The Source, especially given the prominence of Darkseid in the relaunched Justice League comic. It would be pretty awesome if DC is able to tie together all their various concepts by using Kirby’s primal energy field, especially since they’ve been trying to do this for about 15 years anyway. See also: Genesis ((The 1994 limited series, not the book of the bible (((AHHH!!! TRIPLE PARENTHESES! SOMEBODY CALL AN EDITOR!!!!))). )).)
THERE’S SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMIN’…
Jeff Lemire cleverly reframes a couple of different Animal Man origins into one, revealing that the aliens who empowered him weren’t truly alien, but avatars of The Red, and that his purpose was NOT to put on a suit and fight crime, but to father their REAL avatar. Maxine’s destiny? To spearhead an epic battle, nothing less than the war for life itself. Battle erupts simultaneously in The Red (Buddy versus monsters) and the real world (Buddy’s wife and son versus OTHER monsters), and I have to say I’m impressed with Lemire’s characterization of Ellen as she is faced with horrible misshapen things. If I have any complaint about this issue, it’s that the synthesization of Morrison’s A-Man and the later wacky melty Vertigo concepts feels a little too familiar, as though we’re seeing two existing stories melded into one rather than a brand-new one being created, but the issue ends with a strong cliffhanger, and I really do want to see how it all ends….
THE VERDICT: GYAAAH!
The visuals this issue are wild, they are imaginative, but most of all, they are creepy as $&@*. Every page seems to be filled to the gills with the hybrid children of Heironymous Bosch and H.R. Giger, in ways that I haven’t seen since the heydey of Vertigo back in the mid-90’s. I’ve long maintained that the #3 issues of the New 52 are going to be the ones that are make-or-break for these titles, and Animal Man #3 (for all the vague notions that parts of this are retellings) is up to the challenge, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. It’s not as strong as the debut issue, but things have to get darker before we get any signs of dawn, and it gets the job done.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: If they do choose to build everything on the spine that is the Fourth World, are they genius or cheese sandwich?