This issue is less about teasing and taunting the world of Buddy Baker than actually delivering the story, advancing from the anxious cliffhanger last issue delivered. Buddy Baker — Animal Man — and his daughter, Maxine, share a connection to the world and all living animals on it. Jeff Lemire shows how the two are connected to one another and the Red, or Morphogenetic field, or Life Web.
Something is wrong with the Red and it is reaching out to Maxine for help. Maxine sees things Buddy can’t and sets the rest of her family on edge. That edge is where this book runs.
Lemire wonderfully depicts the bond the Baker family shares, as Buddy tries to make light of the situation with his wife, Ellen. Cliff (Buddy’s son, and Maxine’s older brother) has the initial reaction of wanting to snap some photos of the craziness unfolding around the family, and Ellen just tries to hold it all together. While she was fine with Buddy being involved in weirdness, Maxine’s involvement sets Ellen on edge, much like any parent would be when they realize their child is growing into areas they can neither protect the child from nor anticipate the results of. With nearly every other relationship in the DC Universe dissolved due to relaunch, it’s refreshing to see the Baker family tighter than ever, even as their lives are weirder than ever.
Travel Foreman’s art is edgy and rough, filled with the power of the Red, but rushed and incomplete. Foreman draws the Bakers with such verve that they feel like those neighbors down the street, that family on that hit television show, or maybe even your out-of-town relatives. Buddy, Ellen, Cliff, and Maxine are as real as real can be, which means the Red and all the chaos it is unleashing must be real, too. Foreman certainly tries to help us complete that illusion as his animals are near textbook renderings that don’t leave much room for interpretation. Unfortunately, much of the background imagery seems to be secondary to the Bakers and their four-legged and feathered friends. A number of backgrounds seem traced, but not detailed nor given depth and just fall flat on the page. That’s fine, I suppose, as the mundane houses of suburban San Diego are nowhere near as integral to the story as the Red.
This is, thematically, a descendant of Grant Morrison’s, Peter Milligan’s, Tom Veitch’s, and Jamie Delano’s “Animal Man.” There are subtexts of superhero adventures here, but the primary action requires Animal Man to be more of an adventurer than a superhero. That adventure is anything but predictable. Lemire and Foreman give us a story that’s disturbing and crazy, but memorable and exciting.