Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man stands out as one of the strongest books from the early days of the New 52. The story follows the titular Animal Man, a.k.a. Buddy Baker, a former stuntman, turned father, turned superhero, turned animal rights activist. His powers were granted when aliens experimented on him and gave Buddy Baker access to a morphogenetic field entwined with all animal life on Earth from which he can draw many abilities: the reflexes of a fly, the strength of a rhinoceros, and many more.
As he’s introduced, much of Buddy’s superheroing has taken a backseat to being a devoted father and husband, dealing with family finances more than street criminals. That all changes when his four year old daughter, Maxine, starts showing powers of her own as she raises the skeletal remains of the neighborhood’s pets from the dead. Animal Man soon learns that his and Maxine’s abilities are related. They are connected to the morphogenetic field, also known as the Red. It’s not long before Buddy’s family finds itself the target of three hideous creatures called “the Hunters Three.” They are agents of the Rot, the web of carrion and decay and will stop at nothing to claim Maxine as their own.
So the hunt begins as Buddy Baker’s family finds itself running from the monsters of the Rot. This book hits a wonderful stride akin to Poltergeist or Evil Dead as the Baker family tries to retain normalcy against the disgusting fleshy monsters that relentlessly pursue them. The writing behind this book is top notch, Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Green Arrow) lends his talents perfectly as he creates a realistic dynamic between the Bakers. The high contrast between down to Earth familial affairs and indescribably monsters makes the threat of the Hunters Three all too real. Animal Man’s wife, Ellen Baker, stands out especially. She’s a character who does not get enough credit as she faces down the Hunters on her own. Travel Foreman (The Immortal Iron Fist) is uncanny as he draws for most of this series. His animal monsters are sickly chimeras with bulging eyeballs, protruding twisted teeth, bellies about to burst, and flesh twisted like clay. His art makes this book as he bounces back between realistic humans to freakish monstrosities in a heartbeat.
The few failings that befall this story are things such as Foreman’s occasional issues with drawing humans. The quality varies as sometimes it’s realistic and other times they start looking more like monsters. That’s a definite problem in a story with people turning into unearthly beasts (how shan’t be spoiled here) that can confuse readers. The story’s bookends leave a bit much to be desired. The first issue is a strong introduction to Buddy Baker’s life and trials, but is soon swept aside when the Rot arrives. Meanwhile, the last issue of this story is also a let down. It’s interesting, but no more than a side story with little to do with any of the events happening around it.
Still, Animal Man: The Hunt is an exciting and terrifying story. It’s packed with surreal and terrifying monsters that go beyond comprehension while still making a real and personal drama that hits very close to home, almost literally! It’s a fantastic superhero tale, a chilling horror story, and fine buy.