"Animal Man" #9 starts the second arc for Jeff Lemire's revival of the fan favorite character and this issue is all about setting the path for the quest ahead. We glimpse Buddy Baker's current state of being and understand the mammoth road that lies open ahead of him. There are some great little Baker family moments and the villain of the piece also gets enough room to showcase what a powerful foe they will be. This issue does well at continuing the narrative while also showing the next steps to come and luring us in further.
Knowing "Animal Man" is on a collision course to crossover with Scott Snyder's "Swamp Thing" makes it feel so organic that this issue looks and feels like an homage to the classic Alan Moore "Swamp Thing." Lemire paces the issue through interactions and lets the art breathe where it need to. He also doesn't shy away from writing captions like, "I reach down and touch the putrefaction…and through this fetid communion I find my way home." Lemire writes some incredible lines but doesn't overdepend on them or go too purple. This is metered just right.
Baker's quest continues here and we see there is so much he so clearly doesn't yet know about or understand. It is this new uncertainty -- and the way Lemire and Pugh fill it out to seem so mammoth -- that makes this book such an engrossing affair. These pages show us new realms and no time or budget is spared in making this phantasmagorical wonderland as impressive as it possibly can be. Multiple pages will demand you to stop in amazement. The depth and creativity on display is captivating.
Steve Pugh is so clearly the right artist for this issue and the title as a whole. When it comes to scale of might and levels of disgust, Pugh shows here he is the master. He knows how to go big and bold and yet his quieter and smaller scenes also bring his A--game. Even the things you have never seen before feel as though you know they are exactly as they should be. Lovern Kindzierski's colors are astounding as they lend a moody and human hue to everything. There is a lot of red here and Kindzierski makes it palatable and even welcoming to the eye in parts.
"Animal Man" #9 isn't an issue to stand alone. It requires a fair degree of what has come before and mostly it is a promise of what is to come and yet with all that it still entertains as its own monthly installment. There are more than enough moments -- artistic, dialogue and narrative -- to satisfy any fan of the title. "Animal Man" aims to go even more epic than the first arc. We must all be happy with such ambition, especially when there is even more skill behind the play.