The secret of the most successful horror is to both repel and attract – to present to your audience with something they can’t stand to look at, but also can’t bring themselves to tear their eyes from. Bela Legosi utilized this human paradox to both fear and desire simultaneously – and Jeff Lemire sure as hell understands it too.
Five issues in and Animal Man remains as intense an experience as when it burst out the chest of the new 52 a few months ago. Credit for this intensity is the result of a masterful interplay between Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman. Lemire structures the events in real-time, lending them an immediacy to the proceedings and generating a feeling of excitement. The emotional intensity comes from the well-developed voices of the Baker family: teenager Cliff is effectively sketched (we even get a real-world pay-off for his virtual reality habits from an earlier issue); Ellen remains the disbelief of the reader in that situation – thus grounding it in logic and reason – and Buddy is our tie to the conventional superhero universe.
The break-out star, however, is undoubtedly Maxine. The conceit established in this arc (spoiler: that Buddy’s entire superhero career was in preparation for this, that he was only ever intended to be Maxine’s protector and supporting character) is inspired. Monthly comics, at their best, are about building anticipation, and weaving future story-threads to pull the reader on. Lemire is firing on all cylinders in that respect. The reader wants to know the next step but is terrified to ask. Fear and desire again.
Travel Foreman’s art is the most obvious example of this conceit; his twitchy, razor-thin line work manages to balance the wire between beautiful and grotesque – often mining every movement of the remaining rot-soldier to full unnerving effect. The skip to Steve Pugh is jarring, a little, but it’s a minor quibble. Lovern Kindzierski repairs that breakage with her consistent and understated color choices.
And there’s the tantalizing tug of the inevitable cross-over. In this respect, and continuing our horror analogy, Animal Man is the surreal dream-like Dario Argento to Swamp Thing‘s grind-house B movie George A. Romero. Both superlative reads with distinctly different flavors. Animal Man edges it for me on a purely taste-level. I’m fascinated by the way he weaves a family superhero book, adult horror comic, road movie, and exploration of animal shamanism (!) in one book. That Lemire and Snyder are close friends only breeds further confidence in the cross-over. This dialogue between both titles gives the impression of a collaboration hammered out via delighted and fevered fan-boy conversations at 3 a.m. instead of sterile editorial mandate. Credit to DC and the young guns Lemire and Synder for making that an organic process.