In “Animal Man” #8, Jeff Lemire drops a bomb on the readers certain to be a major game changer for Buddy Baker and his family. I’m sure that doesn’t really come as a big surprise, but the shocker happens in the first five pages!
From there, Lemire does the only thing he can to outshine the early-issue shocker: he puts Buddy Baker deeper in an unwinnable situation. I’m not going to spoil the outcome, but whether you do or don’t see it coming, the final scene of this comic still packs a punch. Leading up that scene, however, Lemire delivers a case study in the life of a prototypical family rocked by the type of weirdness that would only appear in a title published under “The Dark” banner from DC Comics. Buddy, Ellen, Cliff, Maxine and Ellen’s mother, Mary Frazier, all seem like people you might meet at the grocery store, at the office or even at church. The believable nature of the tight cast of characters makes this story all the more creepy as they react in a real manner to the horror that surrounds them.
That horror has a tag-team penciling duo delivering hideous visuals of the Rot-infested animals attacking the Bakers and the unfortunate townsfolk caught in between. Travel Foreman’s heavily-shaded, thin-lined art opens the issue. Foreman spares the grisly details of the scene (which in itself is a noteworthy rarity for DC) but does not ratchet back the emotional impact. The lack of disgusting detail is played for impact and it matches the shock and rage of the characters in those first five pages. Steve Pugh taps in for the remainder of the book and brings all sorts of detail as Rot-revived evil critters are rent asunder, kicked in the dead noggin or further mutilated through various methods. Pugh’s art is thicker than Foreman’s and his characters are more solid. The artist change-up is well timed to the narrative, flowing nicely one artist to the next with absolutely no drop in quality, but the change in styles is noticeable.
Fans are always going to rush to compare any Animal Man story to Grant Morrison’s run, but this book deserves to be taken on its own merits and it has plenty. Lemire has put “Animal Man” on tips of comic readers’ tongues and in their hands with his edgy, dark tale, but it is the reaction of the family to the threat surrounding them that makes this comic sparkle. Buddy Baker is facing an unknown, scary threat: one that he is determined to spare his wife and children from, but it isn’t a simple threat that can be defeated with a punch. Animal Man is out of his league, but still fighting.