After finishing Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman's Animal Man, I had a nightmare. There was a lightning storm that kept me in and out of sleep, but I was convinced that this was the way the world was ending. This lightning storm was never going to stop and the rest of our short existence was going to be miserable.
I didn't used to be bothered by horror or gore, not in movies, comics, or books, but lately, instead of growing desensitized to it, it seems to affect me more. Another age thing, I suppose.
But a bad night's sleep has resulted in a better view of Animal Man than I'd have first shared. If a comic can affect your subconscious, you have to give it credit.
Animal Man is bizarre. Or since we're on an animal theme, bat-shit insane. I've read Lemire many, many times now but he managed to take me aback with this one. There's a scene at the beginning of Essex County where Lester, a young boy stands in a field in a cape. He leaps up and begins to fly, only to suddenly be interrupted by his uncle. It was only his imagination. And though I've found his work has gotten more and more out there, with Underwater Welder, with Trillium, I don't think I've ever seen him so efficiently sever his tether to reality as he does here.
And it's dark. If I was expecting a Ant-Man/ Dr. Doolittle superhero-talks-the-animals story, I instead got a Madeleine L'Engle/ H.P. Lovecraft existential sci-fi monster superhero.
Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, is a reluctantly ex-superhero who's a bit lost at what he wants to do with life at the moment. He can take on the abilities of any animal, but he's also a family man. It's when his daughter starts exhibiting powers that things get... weird.
To say Buddy passed his powers down to Maxine is not entirely accurate. It turns out he got them from something called The Red. Only The Red-- a life force/voice/collective-- is being threatened by The Rot, which is also after Maxine and tries in vain to disguise itself as normal beings (people and animals) before twisting inside out and growing weird eyes and teeth and tentacles. I wasn't a big fan of Foreman's art at first; he's not great at normal, but he does grotesque like nobody's business.
I tried, as I was drifting off, to make sense of all I'd just read. Did Lemire really write this?! Did it represent something? Were these the thoughts of a father afraid of passing on his own doubts and negative energy to his child and the monster that could create? (Remember, I was getting sleepy here.)
In the end, there were no answers, just lightning and a lot of tossing and turning. But yeah, this was heavier than I'd expected.