Review: Animal Man #2

What if William S. Burroughs created a comic book?  That's Buddy Baker's life now.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Animal Man #1

Ever wonder what it would be like if William Burroughs had written a comic book?

While maybe not on that plane exactly, that’s the feeling I get reading Animal Man. Of all the reinventions, Animal Man is one of the most interesting and issue #2 continues the trend of telling a linear story seasoned with elements ranging from the bizarre to the disturbing. Animal Man is also challenging, the art and the story blend together in such a way as to create a heightened reality that might not be for everybody. You have to examine everything together, if you focus on how angular the art is or how bizarre the story becomes you’ll miss the bigger picture and Animal Man will seem like a mess.

Something is coming, something terrible, something that will force Animal Man and his daughter to travel to a mystical area called The Red Place. Within the first three pages of issue 2, we learn that Animal Man’s daughter can reanimate dead animals, even if they’re just skeletons, and we watch as vein like tattoos appear on Animal Man’s body, including what looks like blood from his eyes. Writer Jeff Lemire is clearly having great fun telling a story and filling it with disturbing asides. Watching the daughter try and feed the animated corpses sitting on the kitchen table, or the bloated hippos at the zoo whose stomachs expand with a demon that takes over three zoo keepers, or the nosey neighbor whose hand is changed into a chicken hand, it’s all smart and creepy fun. The coming of The Red is Lemire taking an intellectual approach to a horror comic.

I was impressed with how the story never strays from the core of Animal Man’s family. After seeing her daughter’s power and learning that her superhero husband will be taking the daughter to the Red Place in order to try and stop the end of all life, her mother's response is very visceral. Lemire captures the mixed emotions, the horror and fear of her daughter’s power, the anger she feels at her husband for passing his power to their youngest and overall the love and need to protect all she has that is being dwarfed by things she can’t comprehend. Animal Man #2 has powerful drama wrapped within a horror comic wrapped within a superhero story. This is a  multi-layered artistic expression, the kind that elevates comics into the realm of literature.

Travel Foreman’s art is the lifeblood that keeps the story moving. It’s surreal and angular, it has the feel of both a child’s whimsical storybook and yet the gravitas of a Burroughs novel that’s soaked in heroin. Foreman and Lemire are using their gifts in perfect harmony to lift the Animal Man world just slightly to the side of a normal one. It’s not completely outside of the DCU, but it’s just a bit off. Alone, the writing and art wouldn’t work, they have to come together this way to create this world to tell this story.

Foreman uses almost no backgrounds outside of color and he wields the power of shading in a gifted way. He sneaks everything up on you. When his human forms, violent creatures, and plain backgrounds come together you see how the rest of the world is fuzzy compared to this one. It’s really a major achievement for a comic book. I also enjoy how Foreman uses colors in the background to help elevate the emotion of scene. The only book that compares to this one right now is Swamp Thing and I’m hoping the red monster there is connected to the Red of Animal Man. These two books coming together would be a real triumph for comic fans. The combination of art, literature and comic book ideals doesn’t come together any better than this.