This second issue of Animal Man cements this comic as one of my favorite new series in the relaunch of DC Comics. Jeff Lemire caught my attention with his creative work on Superboy, and I think he’s hitting it out of the park with Animal Man. He writes Animal Man as a sort of shamanic figure whose “morphogenetic field” is analogous to the spirit world. The tone of this comic is more than a little creepy, and artist Travel Foreman’s style is a perfect fit for this superhero comic that is equal parts horror and mystical journey. The last time I read an Animal Man comic this good was Grant Morrison’s take on the character shortly after the last major reboot, and it’s oddly appropriate that Buddy Baker is getting another well written series in DC’s latest reboot.
This issue opens on a full page spread of Buddy Baker’s daughter Maxine as she uses her new found powers to reanimate dead animals. It seems like Maxine has manifested her father’s powers at an early age, and she’s displaying these abilities in a very creepy way by bringing the rotting skeletons of deceased pets back to life. Of course, Buddy and his wife Ellen are shocked and appalled by this behavior, and they try to get Maxine to put the animal corpses back underground where they belong. The narrative gets even more creepy as Maxine starts talking about “The Red Place”, which seems to be knowledge that came to her from nowhere, and Buddy suddenly develops a blood red tattoo over his entire body.
Foreman’s full page spread of “The Red Place” tattooed on Buddy’s chest is an awesome drawing, and his illustrations would make this comic worth the price of admission on their own if Lemire’s writing didn’t deliver (fortunately, it does). Lemire transitions to the Baker family’s kitchen in the next scene, and we see that Maxine feeds a reanimated skeleton and Ellen desperately tries to scrub the tatoos off her husband’s body. The most important element of Animal Man is probably the idea that he’s a devoted family man, and Lemire does a great job of portraying the family dynamic in the Baker household.
What I found extremely interesting about this comic was Lemire’s choice to go with a mystical story line that makes Animal Man less of a traditional superhero and more of a shaman. Maxine is somehow struck by knowledge of “The Red Place”, and she creepily insists to her father that they have to go to this strange place. The Red Place, which Maxine says is inside “The Old Tree”, is a clear reference to the idea of the spirit world, or the dreamtime. It’s a clever conceit to use a concept primarily seen in Animist religions in an Animal Man comic. The Old Tree is also a clear reference to the axis mundi. The axis mundi is a mythological concept that represents the center of the world where you can travel between the higher and lower planes of existence. In several mythologies around the world, the axis mundi is represented by a tree. Norse mythology calls it Yggdrasil, the world tree, and it’s clear that Lemire’s “Old Tree” is a reference to this idea of a cosmic tree that stands at the center of existence.
Foreman’s depictions of Animal Man journeying to The Old Tree with his daughter Maxine blew me away. His depiction of the tree’s blood red roots which invisibly extend throughout Earth was impressive. When they arrive at the tree, I was struck by Foreman’s ability to make the gigantic tree look both beautiful and horrifying. Maxine and Animal Man enter the Old Tree, and they’re transported to The Red Place. Here, Foreman gives us an amazing double page spread of this strange spirit world. Foreman’s illustration of Animal Man as he is peeled out of our universe and into the higher realm of The Red Place is undeniably awesome, and it’s this kind of psychedelic imagery that has me sold on this series.
I’m extremely impressed with the work Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman are doing on Animal Man so far. Lemire’s idea of portraying Animal Man as a shamanic figure who explores the spirit world of Animist religions is extremely appealing to me. Foreman’s art is also a perfect match for this decision to show Animal Man exploring the creepy “Red Place”. This comic probably isn’t for everyone, but if you like weird and crazy in your superhero comics, then you’ll love Animal Man. This comic is a blend of a horror story and a mystical journey, and I think it’s becoming clear that it’s one of the most creative and original series in the DCnU.