The New 52’s “Animal Man” has a horror-title vibe, quite different from its zany, colorful origins during Grant Morrison’s run. Animal Man will meet up with Swamp Thing in the upcoming storyline, a convergence that feels like a good match. This incarnation of the title really reminds me of early Vertigo, back when the line focused on horror. This new “Animal Man” looks like the lovechild of Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” and early Jamie Delano-authored “Hellblazer.” The imagery of “Animal Man” #11 has the wild visceral funkiness of “Swamp Thing,” but with cluttered bones and blood instead of thick vegetation. Writer Jeff Lemire is clearly taking the idea of “Nature red in tooth and claw” seriously.
Most of Lemire’s script for “Animal Man” #11 is a canvas for a fleshy beatdown between Buddy and The Rot. It’s straight-up gore and action with a weeping woman and child thrown in to motivate the hero. Lemire’s dialogue alternates between snappily funny for Cliff’s lines and melodramatic for Buddy and Ellen’s lines.
Amid all the fists and carnage, Lemire writes two animal transformation pages that are set apart quite deliberately from the rest of the issue. Colors, writing and pencils are all very different in this double-page spread, easily the prettiest part of the issue. Penciller Alberto Ponticelli draws some lovely animals for these silent, well-balanced pages. As Buddy re-transforms closer to his human body, the background crackles with flame-like intrusions into the black silence and blue-boxed thoughts. Meanwhile, colorist Lovern Kindzierski is capable of some remarkable color effects — a salamander’s spots seem to glow and a bird’s black plumage appears iridescent.
The rest of Ponticelli’s pencils for “Animal Man” #11 are very ugly, but intentionally so. It’s a skilled ugliness. Ponticelli is good with gore, guts and bodily distortion. ]Kindzierski lays down colors like piss-yellow, fleshy peach and sickly pale lavender next to each other in what appears to being a deliberate effort to disgust the reader through hue alone. No one and nothing looks attractive here. At the end of the issue, when the Rot is pushed back temporarily, Kindzierski transitions into a cool palette that feels like a balm to eyes terrorized by radioactive fluorescent pink skies and mauve body parts. It is a bravura but stomach-turning performance.
Letterer Jared K. Fletcher creates distinctive text styles for multiple different characters, including Socks the cat and various baddies. Moreover, the text boxes are also tailored to character. One Rot agent speaks in ragged capital letters with text boxes that look chewed on by zombies. It’s delightful. I haven’t seen lettering this individualized since Todd Klein’s run on “Sandman.”
Wayne Faucher’s inks preserve detail, but his shading feels messy and ropey on top of Ponticelli’s delicate linework. Messiness and heaviness suit “Animal Man”s grim tone, though, so that may be the point.
The last page has an attention-grabbing, asymmetrical panel structure that drops into a clean whiteness that envelops the cliffhanger ending. “Animal Man” #11 is a nicely done — if unsettling — issue from the entire creative team.