DC Comics
Animal Man #2
By Zak Edwards
October 5, 2011 - 23:23

Writer(s): Jeff Lemire
Penciller(s): Travel Foreman
Colourist(s): Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer(s): Jared K. Fletcher
Cover Artist(s): Travel Foreman
$2.99 US

Jeff Lemire fans were certainly blessed last month, with three books penned by the Canadian writer/artist.  And in even better news: this is going to be a regular thing, Jeff Lemire is writing three monthly books and another graphic novel from Top Shelf is due next year.  This week, both Sweet Tooth and Animal Man have been released and are stellar examples of the writer’s capabilities.  Animal Man’s first issue was extremely well received last month, including here (follow the link on the right), and Lemire follows up with another stellar issue.  Filled with horror, just look at the cover, and an unclear amount of red stuff, both as an abstract concept and something pouring out of protagonist Buddy baker’s eyes, Animal Man’s second issue proves the initial issue was just the beginning.  As (hopefully) evidenced, this series is probably not the best idea for younger comic reader (again, just look at the cover), so perhaps keeping this away from eyes not used to seeing blood pour from other people’s may be an idea to consider.

The second issue picks up right where the first left off: Buddy’s daughter has found some friends in the form of animal skeletons she resurrected in the backyard, to the rightful horror of the rest of her family.  Family drama ensues and then, just like the last issue, the proverbial fan is hit by a variety things that are primarily the colour red.  Lemire has talked about loving the old Vertigo line of superhero comics, around the time the world last saw an Animal Man comic, and the level of horror and general strange stuff going on is certainly reminiscent of those good ol’ days at Vertigo.  But despite all the craziness, Lemire keeps the series grounded in family dynamics and drama in incredible ways.  Even as most of the issue has Buddy and his daughter traveling back to the world he accidently stumbled into last issue in dream sequences, the moments of Buddy and his wife trying to be parents are wonderfully written and feel like the bulk of the ‘meat’ of the story.  Yes, the major plot is between Buddy’s quest with his daughter, in which she becomes the more powerful and more connected person of Animal Man’s strange power set, but the weight is in the family.  I talked about this last time, so I won’t dwell on this, but the book’s grounding feels extremely important for both the book and in a different way of approaching the superhero genre.  Not to say the quest for the Red isn’t itself engaging.  Maxine’s growing power, and ability to navigate the landscape of vein and muscle tissue of the world Buddy and her seem to draw their power from, is thought-provoking and steeped in multiple symbolic levels in itself that feels dramatically different.  The story’s approach to the whole life web as something strange and horrific rather than strange and beautiful, which is the approach everyone else goes for (Final Fantasy and Avatar are pretty immediate examples of that), is making things so interesting.  Here nature is powerful and immediate, not bear cubs playing with each other, but the veins and sticky innards that keep things running.  The imagery is powerful, and the enemies that spring from it, with their associations with  bloating, rot and disease, are equally disturbing.  Lemire has a tale worthy of that old Vertigo stuff: it’s fresh and exciting, just what the reboot was supposed to do.  Now if only everyone else followed suit...

While not being initially sold on his art, Travel Foreman has grown on me as an artist faster than any other.  Usually there is something fundamental I don’t enjoy about an artist’s style, and Foreman’s took a little getting used to.  Yet, in the span of a single issue, I have come to love his art.  Even looking back at the first issue, the book is beautifully illustrated, I’m not sure what the deal was with my past self.  His simple backgrounds and sparse style breathe, nothing ever feels cluttered, yet there are little details that can pop out because of his restraint.  All the family drama, with the children bickering or leaving with shovel’s for some unknown reason, are funny and tense within the same panel.  Serious situations, like the neighbour hurting Buddy’s son cliff, have the little dead animals reacting with hisses.  The moments are strange, employing a sort of visual chaos and black humour that isn’t very certain in intent, but makes the scenes just that little bit more enjoyable because of Foreman’s visuals.  And all the disgusting pictures he has to draw this issue, from bloated Hippos to landscapes of veins and tendons, are done with a degree of almost beauty.  From cover to cover, Foreman delivers an amazing looking book, it makes me want more of his work.

Grade: A    If this wasn’t at the top of a list for DC’s reboot, it should be there now.

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