Review: Animal Man #3

The nightmarish visuals continue in this really freaky DC book.  It just keeps gettin' weirder.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Animal Man #3

"It just hasn’t gotten weird enough for me."

That’s a quote from Hunter S. Thompson. A quote I think Mr. Thompson would have retracted if he had started following the new Animal Man. This series is plenty weird, it’s also highly intelligent and way off of the beaten path, artistically speaking. Sadly, that will probably lead to the series’ end, but for now Animal Man continues as one of the best of the New 52. Most of the “revamps” within DC have consisted of new costumes or unappealing attitude shifts. Superman has become a dick, Batman has new armor, Wonder Woman has no pants, etc. It’s really been the smaller characters given a new lease on life. The two prime examples being Swamp Thing and Animal Man. Interestingly, those two characters seem to be on a collision course.

Animal Man #3 continues the trippy journey of Animal Man and his daughter Maxine into the realm of The Red, a plain of existence where all the all the spirits of the living and dead within the animal world are connected. Maxine has visited this place in her dreams; she’s an Avatar of The Red, a conductor for that power in a war against The Rot. Writer Jeff Lemire manages to rework the origin of Animal Man gently, allowing for his part in the DC Universe to become more complex. Apparently the Totems, the amalgamated powers of all the animal men before, created the aliens that gave Animal Man his powers so that his mind could comprehend what happened. In reality his true mission was to create and protect Maxine, the true power for The Red.

Meanwhile, three demons of The Rot have stepped up to make things worse. One is after Animal Man’s family on Earth; the other two demons attack Animal Man and his daughter in The Red. It’s a battle Animal Man can’t win, only Maxine can but she has no idea how. As always, the great godlike powers can’t do much more than be cryptic. What makes all of these elements is how committed Jeff Lemire is the idea. This isn’t just an issue that’s part of a story arc, this is another chapter that pushes the story along. You can’t read Animal Man #3 without the first two issues and that’s very unusual. There are no handy recaps, no “last Issue” boxes to clear things up; this is a story you have to follow from the beginning. Freeing himself of those restraints allows Lemire to open up the creative energies and really make Animal Man something special.

With all of the weirdness and oddity happening, Lemire never loses the root of the entire story. Family. This is about a man trying to protect his family, a man who has always had an edge to every battle because of his powers who is now helpless to do anything. The battle with the demons of The Rot is less about action and more about the heartbreak of Animal Man realizing how inadequate he is for this war and his feelings of failure as a father. Lemire is dealing with powerful emotions as well as rewriting a legacy and he does it flawlessly.

Bringing all of this together is the art from Travel Foreman. I can’t think of a more visually appealing book on shelves right now. Foreman isn’t drawing comics here; he’s creating other-wordly expressions that bring life to a bizarre story. This is part horror comic, part creepy children’s book drawings and part acid trip. There’s a flow to the art here that is organic, which works perfectly with the themes and subtext of the story. Each drawing is something you can stare at for several minutes before moving on. Foreman doesn’t just help tell the story; he is as much a part of Animal Man as Lemire is. It’s one of the best examples of symbiotic harmony I’ve seen in comic books ever. Animal Man is becoming one of those comics that raise the bar for the entire medium.