I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but the war between The Rot, Animal Man and Swamp Thing needs to happen post haste. Thus far, the build up to The Rot story has been better than the payoff, or the lack thereof. Swamp Thing’s face off against the queen of The Rot was anticlimactic and, as of late, Animal Man has been a series of stalling issues. Speaking of stalling, let’s talk about Animal Man Annual #1.
Let me start by saying that nothing in this issue is necessary at all. Nothing happens, there is no development of the story arc; it’s just another issue to stall us until the war comes. It’s all starting to feel like that TSOL song “Suppose They Gave War And No One Came”. I’m guessing writer Jeff Lemire, who is usually really on point, decided the first annual for his brilliant series should try to deepen the connection between The Green and The Red and The Rot. It’s an admirable attempt but with so much white noise happening before the war, this story just sinks in with the rest.
Animal Man Annual #1 opens with Buddy Baker’s daughter, now on the run from The Rot, waiting outside a hotel for her mom to get a room. The avatar of The Red, who is currently a kitten, announces he has to go to the bathroom. Even though a vindictive and murderous supernatural force called The Rot, which can possess all living things and turn them into decaying monster is specifically after the little girl, both the avatar of The Red and the girl’s grandmother are cool with her heading into the woods to let the talking cat pee. Right away I’m rolling my eyes at this.
His bathroom break all done, the cat tells Animal Man’s daughter a story about the first encounter between The Rot and the The Green and The Red. Apparently, The Rot, which has been handing out death the way porn stars hand out blow jobs, isn’t really all that bad. Sometimes the leader of The Rot gets a bug up his ass and decides to bring about world destruction, but really, he’s just misunderstood. By now, my eyes hurt from rolling so much.
The story is about a simple farmer in the 1800s whose crops and animals are dying in horrific ways. The farmer organizes a posse and they head into the dark woods to try and figure out what is killing their livestock and food. Naturally, The Rot comes calling and bloodshed ensues. Just as the farmer, the central hero to our story is about to get ripped apart; a skinny version of Swamp Thing rescues him. From there, we learn that the farmer is actually the first Animal Man or servant of The Red and the old crazy hunter everybody laughed at has now become Swamp Thing. The two join forces and beat back The Rot. The end.
It’s a cool story, with some kick ass art from Timothy Green II, but it doesn’t do anything to push Animal Man along. This doesn’t deepen the whole Red/Green/Rot angle nor does it whet our appetite for the coming war. Instead, Animal Man Annual #1 is a frustrating exercise in the continued art of delaying this war. The end of the book says the war comes in Animal Man #10. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Probably the best reason to pick this up, outside of being a collector, is Timothy Green II’s pencils. This isn’t Travel Forman level art, but I like what Green does more so than the artist that’s currently on Animal Man. Green’s faces are a little rough but his action jumps off the page and his sense of pacing is spot on. Overall, with the delicate and detailed pencils, Animal Man Annual #1 is more fun to look at than read.
(3 Story, 4 Art)