"Animal Man: Volume 2 – Animal Vs. Man" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by DC Comics
Originally Published as Animal Man #7 - #11, #0, and Animal Man Annual #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Steve Pugh, Timothy Green II, and Travel Foreman
2013, 176 Pages
Trade Paperback published on January 15th, 2013
Buddy Baker and his family are on the run. His four year old daughter Maxine has been revealed as the new avatar of The Red (the power of every breathing creature in the world) and now the forces of The Rot (the power of death and decay) are out to destroy her and take over the world. Unfortunately, Buddy falls prey to a pack of Rot-infected animals and dies. Now he must travel through The Red and make his way back to our world if he is to save his family and the rest of the world. It's just another day in the life of Animal Man.
A big focus of the second volume of Animal Man, entitled Animal Vs. Man, is the search for Alec Holland, aka Swamp Thing. Just as Maxine is the avatar for The Red, Swamp Thing is the avatar for The Green (the power of plants). The three forces cannot exist without each other, but they also keep one another in check so that a single power cannot rise above and take over the rest. This is what's currently happening with The Rot. Its avatar is strong and in its prime, while the others are still relatively new and cannot fight back to their full extent just yet. Their only hope is to team up. Despite the fact that Swamp Thing appears on the cover of this trade paperback, he doesn't actually appear within any of the issues included. He's mentioned a few times and there's a previous Swamp Thing seen in a flashback, but that's it.
Getting back to the story at hand, it's a hectic time for the Baker family. Buddy's wife, mullet-having son Cliff, daughter Maxine, and his mother-in-law are cooped up in an RV driving with no particular destination in mind. They're just looking to get away from The Rot and keep everyone safe. This is easier said than done as these creatures can zero in on Maxine regardless of where she may be. Take the tensions that would be present in any average family, then shove them into a confined space, add a super hero father, and a four-year-old with emerging godlike abilities, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
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Family is what makes Animal Man stand out. While Buddy Baker is trying to save the world and everyone else from The Rot, he's primarily focused on keeping his family from harm. That's his first priority. The rest of the population can wait. You don't see this with many other super heroes. They stop the bad guys because it's the right thing to do. Sure, occasionally a super villain will kidnap a loved one and things become personal, but that type of thing doesn't happen all that often. Instead you're stuck with a mad genius trying to take over the universe or some crackpot trying to blow it up. Animal Man features a battle for a man's family first and foremost. The world is just a casualty in that battle.
This isn't to say that the stakes aren't high. In fact, they're higher than anything faced by Batman or Superman since the DC reboot started, outside of maybe Darkseid. Animal Man is facing a threat that can turn any creature into a rabid zombie-like being, aimed solely at the destruction of any living thing on the planet. That's not something you can just punch really hard and be done with it. Buddy actually rips one of their heads off and the noggin just grows legs like a spider and continues to taunt him.
Steve Pugh takes over art duties for the main chapters of Animal Vs. Man, but he's joined by Timothy Green II and Travel Foreman for the Annual and issue #0 respectively. These fit into the flow of the story very well, with the Annual providing a moment to catch your breath amidst all the action and issue #0 jumping back to show Buddy's origin as Animal Man. Having different artists handle these sections works very well, although the styles are not so different that they are jarring when reading.
Pugh's artwork is very clean with characters that look downright flawless. This is a stark comparison to Foreman's pencils in the first volume where the characters are a little more rough around the edges. Both artists excel at the horror in the comic though. There is a level of madness that comes with some of the creatures depicted within these pages, akin to something out of a Lovecraft story. Between the harsh flesh-and-bone terrain of The Red and the decaying servants of The Rot, there is all kinds of blood and gore to go around, and it's beautifully illustrated. There is a panel in this book in which Animal Man literally kicks the head off a zombie bunny. If that doesn't make you want to buy this comic, I don't know what will.
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The Red itself is a really cool place and I love the design for it. Animals roam the land, but they often do so without their skin. There's a scene where Buddy is crossing an ocean and a whale leaps out of the water nearby, its bone and muscle visible in a red splash. Buddy's raft is made of skeletons.
Speaking of Buddy, he gets a bit of an upgrade towards the end of the trade paperback. Instead of just using the abilities of the animals he taps into via the Life Web, he now partially transforms into them. Pugh brings this to life in a way that looks almost painful. Buddy never shows it, but going from having long falcon-like wings to having a rhino horn has got to hurt. This change makes Animal Man look gruesome and far more intimidating than he did before.
Animal Man continues to be a scary little corner of horror within the DC Universe. Buddy is facing down forces that could eat Superman alive and he's one of just two people that could hope to put a stop to them. The Rot is not a typical super villain. Everything in this world dies, so it's a necessary part of our existence. It can infect almost anything for that reason. The idea that it is trying to grow and become more powerful is terrifying. It's far scarier than any zombie apocalypse. This isn't the world ending. It's the world dying.