Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman bring their opening story arc of "Animal Man" to a close this month. In doing so, they firmly establish "Animal Man" as one of the break-out successes for DC's re-launch.
Looking at this issue (as well as the previous four), it's easy to see everything that Lemire and Foreman have done right. Lemire has kept the two most important ideas about the modern interpretation of the character -- his relationship with his family and the presence of the odder, creepier side of the world -- front and center throughout "Animal Man." When we'd last seen Buddy and Maxine, they were racing to rescue Ellen and Cliff, even though they were warned against going toward where one of the Rot's agents existed. It's a perfect summation of what makes "Animal Man" so great; the strong emotion that binds the Baker family together is part of what makes this so much fun. Ellen, Cliff, and Grandma aren't just pawns to be rescued, they're fully fleshed-out characters who not only fight back but mean more than just someone to be missed. Their peril provides an urgency because of their importance to the reader as well as the characters in the comic; you desperately want them to survive and somehow stop the unstoppable.
The Rot, Lemire's big enemy for "Animal Man," up until now has been a little disconcerting and nasty. It's to his credit that with this issue, the Rot manages to leap from nasty to really-dangerous status in a sequence that makes perfect sense even as it surprises us. The Rot's sudden ascendance here is a great example of how to take a villain and up their danger level to give the hero much more trouble, but in a way that is completely consistent with what you've learned up until now.
Foreman's pencils this month are still slightly variable, but there are a lot of strong, winning moments here. Buddy's hissing at Socks is hysterical, and Ellen being attacked by the Hunter is downright nasty. It's the vision that Buddy sees (courtesy the Rot) of a potential future for Maxine that is nothing short of terrifying, though; the withered limbs and sunken eye sockets are grotesque, and as for the waist down, well... let's just say that Foreman takes Lemire's script and turns it into something not easily forgotten. Former "Animal Man" artist Steve Pugh steps in for a few pages this month, and he tweaks his own style to fit well with Foreman's stripped down, minimal approach to the characters. It's a good match, and Pugh should definitely be kept on deck for any future fill-in needs.
"Animal Man" has been good month after month, but this latest installment (even with the slightly weak final line to lead into an eventual cross-over) helps solidify everything we've seen up until this point. "Animal Man" may have looked like an underdog, but it's definitely one of the top books at DC Comics now.