Lemire opens the story with Socks, the former avatar of the Red, sharing an epic story of the fight against the Rot with Maxine “Little Wing” Baker. The story immediately follows the story told in Animal Man #9.
There are a lot of reasons to like this story, mostly because Lemire has created a comfortable extension of the Animal Man world that honors the past while adding new dimension to it. Lemire offers a philosophical look at what makes Animal Man important to the Earth without becoming clichéd or sappy.
Looking back on a previous avatar of the Red’s experience of fighting the Rot, a story set in late 19th century Canada allows Lemire to tell the story with a frontiersman-like appeal that serves the story well. His straightforward storytelling cuts to the heart of what makes this title so appealing – it focuses on a particular respect for nature and humankind’s’ role in preservation, which was a way of life at that time.
This holds especially true when the story of Jacob Mullin, protector of the Red, becomes aware of the Rot and his role in protecting the Red. Adding to this appeal is the introduction of Swamp Thing, formerly the Indian trapper Old Jack Crow.
Taking a search party into the frontier to investigate a pestilence of the Rot, the Hunters Two attempt to destroy Jacob and his group. Lemire does a nice job of letting the action move the plot along a solid, linear path as Swamp Thing saves the day and helps Jacob become aware of his unknown role as a protector of the Red.
All of this action echoes the previous issues of Animal Man to date, allowing Lemire to fill the reader in on the more intricate and philosophical aspects of how the Red, the Green, and the Rot must remain in balance. There are a lot of ways writers can make these sort of stories overly didactic and preachy.
Lemire keeps an even tone that focuses more on the story and history of the Red as the battle against the Rot in the present is about to heat up. While his dialogue remains a work in progress, Lemire is a great storyteller that knows how to hook readers and keep them immersed in the story.
Timothy Green’s pencils are inked nicely by Joseph Silver, providing a strong sense of visual terror at appropriate times while keeping a nice sense of organic feel for the landscapes and nature filling it. Colorist Lovern Kindzierski does a fantastic job being the glue that unites the artwork and storytelling.
Overall, this annual does a great job expanding the Animal Man canon while helping propel the future of the title by creating a strong degree of anticipation for the ultimate showdown with the Rot.
I grade Lemire’s writing an A- and give the artwork a solid A because of the outstanding colors and characterization to the storytelling.