"Animal Man" #13 kicks off the meat of the "Rotworld" crossover with "Swamp Thing." The tale started in the annuals for each title and by the end of that introduction, Animal Man and Swamp Thing were sent back to separate dystopian locations. Following zero month, Buddy Baker is thrust into a world where the Rot has won and the Red is incredibly weak. He scrambles to catch up to speed while elsewhere -- and presumably elsewhen -- his family comes under attack from the Rot.
There is a lot of world building done very quickly in this issue. There is some necessary exposition, but the focus is truly on this new landscape where the Red has been almost entirely defeated. Steve Pugh brings this hyper-Cronenbergian future to life with an almost H.R. Giger flair. The result is a world that looks real but feels haphazard and worrisome. The tone is set and this will inform the rest of the tale with truth and consistency.
The other half of the issue revolves around the Baker family and their struggle with a possessed Cliff. This sequence is a drastic counterpart to the main story set in a broken future. The art style switch to Timothy Green II works well for a more intimate feel. The colors from Lovern Kindzierski also work hard on both sides of the issue to deliver a separate tone depending on the depth of the scene.
While the tone and world building are excellent, the only fault of this issue is a lack of narrative drive. The Bakers get enough to grapple with but Buddy is left with the beginning of a journey into a true heart of darkness and he spends most of the issue catching up on what he's missed. The guides of Steel, Beast Boy and Black Orchid work hard to catch him up and point out how the new world order operates. The problem is, there's not enough time for Buddy's reaction, which will inform the next step of proceedings. It leaves the issue feeling lighter than the ominous art from Pugh might have you believe.
One expositional double splash shows a plethora of superheroes succumbing to the Rot as it takes over. This delivery method works well to show us how brutal and effective the enemy is. However, I couldn't help but wonder at the choices of heroes shown meeting their demise. In my head, Batman was the noticeable exception and that's probably because no one wants to see Batman bested. So the question must be asked, is he still lurking in this dystopian future and waiting to strike? I kind of hope so. A Deus Ex Batmanica is always welcome.
"Animal Man" #13 is one gorgeous cog in a major crossover machine. It prods a toe forward and delivers plenty of character moments to chew on. The concept is intriguing but it's clear this is only one instalment in a larger story. It is nice to see a writer use a dual art team for an excellent storytelling effect. There is definitely enough here to come back for the next issue.