Post-"Flashpoint," a fifth week in the month at DC Comics has been a little painful, a virtual wasteland of comics from the publisher. It's nice to see that they've found a solution now, using that week four months a year to unleash Annuals for some of their titles. Jeff Lemire and Timothy Green II bring us "Animal Man Annual" #1 as part of that initiative and it's a perfect case of a comic that both stands on its own as well as fits well into the greater picture of the series.
Lemire uses a framing device set in the present day of "Animal Man" to have Socks, a former avatar of the Red (the energy force that Animal Man draws his power from), explain to Animal Man's daughter Maxine about the last time that the Rot rose up to fight the Red and the Green, and how a Swamp Thing and a proto-Animal Man had to defeat the Rot.
From there, Lemire quickly plunges us into 1894 Canada, in a story that manages to give us hints about how a war between the Green, Red, and Rot can turn out, as well as remind us that the Rot itself isn't evil and normally exists in harmony with the Green and the Red. With the Rot currently the villain in both "Animal Man" and "Swamp Thing," it's an important distinction to make, and a reminder that Lemire and Scott Snyder are crafting a slightly more complex story than you might see at a glance.
Because "Animal Man Annual" #1 is set in the past, it also gives Lemire freedom to end this particular story however he wishes. As a result, there's a lot of suspense in the comic; we don't know that proto-Animal Man Jacob Mullin or his family will survive, after all. We do see several similarities between Jacob and present-day Buddy, though; his relationship with his children and wife is just as present (even calling his daughter "Little Wing" in the way that Buddy does to Maxine), and his fish-out-of-water feelings for being pulled into this war also echo issues of "Animal Man." It's a good introduction to the series as a whole, and a strong story that uses its page length well.
Timothy Green II tackles the pencils for "Animal Man Annual" #1, and they're good; it's in the same vein as original series artist Travel Foreman (who provides the cover), with angular figures and some stringy lines to boot. He's just the right choice for this story; Maxine has a wonderful childlike look to her character, while the bulk of the comic set in the past has just the right mixture of period piece and horror story. The blood pouring from Jacob's eyes is not only gruesome but drawn in just the right pattern, and the creatures of the Rot are wonderfully wrong.
Readers of "Animal Man" right now will probably fixate the most on Jacob's two-page vision of the future, moments that are even in the future of "Animal Man." It's a rather horrific end to a lot of heroes, and Animal Man himself appears for an enigmatic warning about the Rot and what it will do to his own family. It's a message that is hard to ignore, and hints at bad times in the months to come for "Animal Man." Regardless, though, "Animal Man Annual" #1 is not only a good way to help fill this fifth week of the month for DC Comics, it's a good comic, period. This is a good reminder of how Annuals used to be, and hopefully we'll be getting this level of quality in the ones to come.