I thought Animal Man was supposed to be one of the good New 52 books, one of the best comics DC is currently publishing? It's probably the comic I see cited most often in the comments that occasionally attach themselves to pieces I write at Robot 6, or under articles on various blogs about some dumb editorial decision DC has made; you know, things like, "Ugh, DC is the worst, Animal Man is the only book I'm still reading" or "That it, I'm dropping everything but Animal Man" or "Wow, I guess I can drop Batwoman too now, so Animal Man is my last DC comic."
And yet this comic is sort of awful. Granted, I started the series with volume 3 instead of volume 1 (my only previous encounter with New 52 Animal Man being this summer's annual), but what I found wanting about it had absolutely nothing to do with not being able to follow the plot or recognize and understand the characters and their conflicts (all of which were pretty similar to how I remember them from 1990s Vertigo stories); Lemire and Snyder do a fine job of making this volume stand on its own and serve as an easy enough entry point.
Rather, I just found the whole endeavor repetitive (of older, better comics I read as a teenager), and bloodless and cold. It was plain old generic superhero comics, without any interesting or fresh ideas boiling under the surface; the art was occasionally very creepy and weird, and kept my eyes from drifting up from the page to the carpet or wall paper, but it was inconsistent (seven artists were involved in the volume), and rarely inspired enough to make up for the overall deficiencies of the comic.
Steve Pugh's "Rot Queen Maxine" is scary as fuck. Good job, Steve Pugh!
This volume contains eight issues of Animal Man and two of Swamp Thing; despite the 200-page contents, a sizable chunk of the narrative seems to be missing, as the two DC-to-Vertigo-and-back heroes are separated when arriving in Rotworld and go on separate quests that converge; we see the start and climax of both, but Swamp Thing is otherwise MIA, returning with a bunch of characters that weren't introduced and with a deus ex machina not mentioned int his volume until it appears (Given the title, I suspect there's a volume of Swamp Thing out there with the sub-title "Rotworld: The Green Kingdom," but if issues of this aren't reprinted there as well, I have a hard time imagining how complete that story must read).
Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, is on the run with his family: Wife Ellen, be-mulleted teenage son Cliff, power-sprouting young daughter Maxine, and his mother-in-law. Both she and Ellen are pretty unhappy with Buddy about all the dangerous craziness he brings into their lives, an unhappiness that ultimately culminates with Ellen leaving him. I read issues written by Jamie Delano featuring these very conflicts and events, some of which were drawn by artists Steve Pugh, who drew the lion's share of this volume, increasing the sense of deja vu (The greatest change is that Animal Man's costume is quite different, and he looks like a minor X-Men character. While these issues were being published, there are Animal Man collections written by one of the most popular writers to work with DC in the last twenty years for sale on bookstore shelves, and short cartoons featuring Animal Man on Cartoon Network; he looks completely different. Synergy!).
What they are running from are agents of The Rot, which is the equivalent of The Red, the mystical lifeforce web that binds all animals that Animal Man draws his powers from, and The Green (Replace "animals" with "plants" and "Animal Man" with "Swamp Thing"). Cliff has been injured and seems to be near death, and while the adults argue about how best to help him, ultimately Buddy convinces them they have to stop the problem at its root, by visiting the swamp with a talking cat and allying themselves with Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane, both of whom have slightly different haircuts, but seem to be otherwise immediately recognizable as their mid-nineties Vertigo selves.
The two character with books bearing their names dive into a fetid pool that is a portal into The Rot, and something something, Arcane is the Avatar of The Rot, they end up in a post-apocalyptic, possible, so-sure-to-be-immediately-reversed-this-might-as-well-be-an-Elseworlds-world future in which The Rot has conquered the world, save for a handful of heroes in need of Animal Man and Swamp Thing's leadership to win the day.
In this respect, it reads a lot like (what I've read of) Age of Ultron or sections of Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's "Rock of Ages" storyline; there are no consequences, and thus no import, to anything that happens (In fact, a reset button is pushed by cosmic forces near the end, sending the characters back in time to prevent Rotworld from ever coming to pass.
But what it reminded me most of was Jeph Loeb's "Hush" story arc in Batman: A series of cameos, strung together like beads. Many of these are indeed cool, several are completely out-of-left-field (Would Medphyll be in many readers' list of The Top Ten Green Lanterns Most Likely To Appear In a crossover...?*). That is at least one virtue to the parade of Geoff Johns-like guest-star reveals; many of them are relatively minor characters, fan-favorites (as in, like, one fan likes them a whole lot) that probably don't appear as often as they should.
They get a chance to shine, and some cool stuff happens, like Frankenstein joining The Green Lantern Corps.
|Black Orchid can morph her hands into big scary monster claws, just like her namesake flower|
Together they pick up some more allies, like Frankenstein and his Patchwork Horde, an army of sewn together cavalry on sewn-together horses that the Rot can't rot and the aforementioned Medphyll, and fight some villains, like Blackbriar Thorn and Gorilla Grodd and his gorilla army (which Mallah and The Brain are in).
|Pugh's cover to Animal Man #13, I think, featuring an awesome Rotworld Hawkman|
A lot of them die horribly, but who cares? It reboots at the end, as is clear from the pages.
In order to win the day, they have to get the Batman robot-thing up into the clouds, where it will make it green Fix Stuff juice, that will fix stuff. Because this is an Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover, it falls on them to get it up into the sky, by having Swamp Thing grow wings made of plants (?) and fly it, while Animal Man fights Arcane atop it.
|Artist Andrew Belanger takes over for the climax, because that's when you wanna see a different artist come in. I'm no botanist, so I don't know how much metal a pair of leaf wings can carry|
And then, back in the past, Cliff dies, which is actually more funny and sigh-inducing than tragic, given the fact that Grant Morrison, the writer who salvaged Animal Man from DC trivia obscurity and made him a character capable of supporting his own book (and serving as a pillar for DC's adult reader Vertigo imprint), a writer whose work apparently so inspired both Lemire and Snyder that they are here near-constantly echoing and quoting aspects of characters Morrison wrote, whether from Morrison's runs or from those that preceded or followed Morrison, did a whole story arc decrying cheap shock tactics like killing off Buddy Baker's family as pretty shitty things for writers to do.
I liked seeing so many characters I like—particularly Steel, whose presence isn't what I would have hoped in a rebooted DCU—and much of the artwork is fine, but it all felt quite soulless, like a plot for a comic book with a first-draft of a script that got illustrated, before the writers could work in any real drama, or any fresh, big, new ideas that can justify the otherwise generic Heroes Go To a Shitty Possible Future Then Avert It storyline.
If those Internet comment leavers are right, and this is the best DC Comic, than the publisher is in much greater creative trouble than I could have imagined.
Luckily, Internet comment-leavers are never, ever right about anything.**
*On the other hand, he has appeared in Swamp Thing before, so, again, we have that repetitive, recycling element.
**Um, except for all you guys who leave comments on EDILW, of course. You guys are the best. You've discerning taste in writing-about-comics, you smell divine and, is that a new shirt? Or did you lose weight? Something looks different about you.