Animal Man and Swamp Thing have been interconnected since last September’s New 52 reboot. This connectedness has been something long and lingering. Something like a half-formed idea that escapes just before it can be fully imagined. The germ of the idea was there already some 20 years back with the founding of DC’s Vertigo line of “mature title” horror books. But even then, with the promise of the new, Buddy Baker’s Animal Man and Alec Holland’s Swamp Thing didn’t really click into place. But now, one year on from the New 52 reboot, these two heroes have really been drawn together.
With Buddy Baker and his daughter standing up for the Red, and Swampy keeping it going for the Green, both heroes have been staving off the reach of the Rot, little by little, in their own ways. In Animal Man #11, writer Jeff Lemire (we know Jeff’s been working closely with Swamp Thing writer, Scott Snyder) gives Buddy Baker his real ‘New 52’ revamp—a new power set.
The coming “Rotworld” crossover promises a deluge of Red/Green/Rot battles. (Just to catch you up, the Red is the psychic web that connects all animals, the Green, the psychic web that connects all plants, and the Rot connects all things dead and dying). To pull this off, Scott Snyder gave Alec Holland a huge power boost by making him the sole avatar of the Green, with all of its powers manifest in him directly. Similarly, Lemire brings Buddy Baker back from his purgatory in the Red, but not before giving him a bit of a makeover.
Since Buddy was technically killed, the totems of the Red deem he can’t return to his former body—not to mention the Rot already took control of his carcass last issue. The artwork in Buddy’s transformation scenes is really what makes this issue. The Red totems bring out some ‘sculptors’ who make some quick notes before thrusting Buddy into a cycle of evolution that sees him grow from something smaller than an amoeba into a new Animal Man, one with the power to partially morph into animals when utilizing their abilities.
Lemire has really turned Animal Man into a title that flirts with horror and weird science at every possible turn. While it might seem off-putting to those familiar with Grant Morrison’s more tongue-in-cheek take on Buddy Baker, Lemire’s version has grown from a somewhat irresponsible superhero with powers he barely understood to a warrior and savior for the fauna of Earth.
In this modern era of graphic storytelling, audiences want more in-depth tales that make an actual impact on the world in which these characters live. In the pre-New52 universe, even the major crossover events like “Infinite Crisis” and “Blackest Night” mostly dealt with threats to the heroes, leaving the ordinary human element out of the equation. The Rot in Animal Man and Swamp Thing represents an actual viable threat that seems grounded. Human beings are in danger once more, and actual humans are facing up to the threat. Even if they are actual humans who coincidently have superpowers. Instead of demigods flying around in the sky, the world is slowly decaying as more and more people are dying.
It helps that Alberto Ponticelli’s artwork paints a chilling picture of a world being overrun by death. Much more so than 2010’s collection Blackest Night ever conveyed, Ponticelli’s art shows a more immediate, more palpable expression of death and the decay that comes with it. His depictions of Buddy’s animal transformations are just as ugly and unbecoming as they should be.
Overall, Lemire and Ponticelli have really stepped it up with Animal Man, turning the book into one of the most critically acclaimed titles of DC’s relaunch. At the end of this month’s Swamp Thing, Buddy and his family show up to enter the “Rotworld” arc with Alec. Both Buddy and his family and the Swamp Thing will stand up to the decay and defeat it. Lemire and Snyder have been working together to make this coming arc one of the best, and it already looks promising. “Rotworld” might not only exceed expectations, it even exceed the high standards already set by Snyder’s magnificent crossover event “Night of Owls”.