"Rotworld" wraps up this week, with both "Animal Man" and "Swamp Thing" getting their own distinct, separate epilogues. In "Animal Man" #18, Jeff Lemire and Steve Pugh return to the scenario that Animal Man was spirited away from quite a few months ago, as he's given a second chance to save his family.
What I appreciated about Lemire's script for "Animal Man" #18 (and the conclusion of "Rotworld" in general) is that while it would have been easy to make the jump backwards in time result in an "everything is fixed, happiness all around" wrap-up, Lemire doesn't go down that route. I think he understood that it would have felt a little too easy, a bit too much of a safe conclusion. What he presents instead is a rough and rocky final battle between Animal Man and the Rot, one where not everyone will remain intact when the dust settles.
Lemire has several surprises for us in this comic; not just for Buddy Baker and the rest of his family, but connected characters as well. There's a small tie-in to "Justice League Dark" as readers learn more about a project that's been mentioned there, and it's a fun way that this piece of information gets revealed. I think that's in no small part why "Animal Man" #18 works so well; it keeps you jumping even as everything clicks into place in a manner that feels logical and satisfying. In its final pages, Lemire also clearly sets up problems for "Animal Man" #19 and beyond; it's a dark and unpleasant moment, but one that based on everything we've had up until now won't get swept under the carpet. It's an uncomfortable subject matter but for now I have faith that Lemire will do it justice.
I'm especially glad to see Pugh drawing this issue. With the Rot presumably gone from the pages of "Animal Man" after this issue, it's nice to get his take on the grotesque constructs one final time. Pugh's good at that sort of thing, after all; who else can draw something that looks like a cross between a mammoth slug and a brain and make it off-putting while somehow feel real? The big hulking monsters of the Rot that have Buddy's family captive, though, are the real show-stoppers. They feel like a mixture between movie monster and nightmare, and seeing Maxine in their claws has all the right amount of danger and fear embedded into the art.
"Animal Man" #18 feels satisfying to me; it's been a big build-up after all, and Lemire couldn't have a story that lasted so long feel rushed or simple when the final piece was put into place. I think he's succeeded admirably here, and I'm already looking forward to whatever Lemire and Pugh do in the pages of "Animal Man" next. It's a sad conclusion, but one that will play out with good dramatic effect in the months to come.