Animal Man Vol. 3: Rotworld--The Red Kingdom
I enjoyed the first two volumes of Animal Man. Much as in Dial M, DC is trying to revive a character who, by his very nature, is patently ridiculous. Lemire is good at writing broody, family tension, and Animal Man plays on that a lot--being married to a superhero isn't easy. Especially when your husband is Buddy Baker, Animal Man, who can summon the power of different animals to fight crime. As you do.
Oh my gosh, this is so tacky. It's like the Wonder Twins but there's only one of him and no ring and he can't become a waterfall (which, while not much use in a fight, would be an interesting existential experience).
However, the New 52 tries to inject some darkness into this character by making him a player in this age-old match between good and evil, only here it's the Red and the Green parts of life (red being animal, green being vegetation) versus the Rot, which is pretty much what you think it is. Death, decay, destruction, despair--all those fun d-words rolled into one disgusting deposit. Lemire starts telling a Chosen One story, but it's not about Buddy: the Avatar of the Red (I honestly still have no idea what this means but it does sound pretty cool) is Buddy's four-year-old daughter, Maxine. The family goes on the run when the agents of the Rot come after them, but thankfully, they have their talking totem cat, Socks, to guide them with cryptic wisdom.
Okay, I can't lie: this is ridiculous and I have no idea why I read the first two unless I was taking cold medicine at the time, or in some other equally decision-imparing situation.
But I loved the Essex County trilogy! I really liked The Underwater Welder, even though it was bleak as Saskatchewan in winter! I have this ridiculous soft spot for Canadians. I was really hoping that Lemire could pull this off.
Alas, poor Buddy Baker, your story is a heaving, rotting mess of decayed tropes, trippy bad guys, and art that relies on cramming as much as possible into each panel so (tee-hee!) the reader doesn't realize how sloppy the art actually is. That may work when you're baking cookies, for example (peanut butter toffee coffee chocolate chip sounds pretty delicious to me!), but a comic book is not a cookie. I know the art is bad when I see a panel and think to myself, "Wow, that looks like something I drew!" To wit, a panel close-up of Buddy's face is ... smooshed, to use a very technical term.
Plus, we have to deal with Buddy making horrible decisions, Swamp Thing making horrible decisions, and the Baker family making horrible decisions. Everyone in this comic is an idiot. See, what happens is that Buddy and Swamp Thing jump into this mystical pool (I am not making this up) and climb down a ladder of bones into the heart of the Rot. But just before they can destroy it, the evil Avatar of the Rot shows up and cackles about how they fell into his trap.
As it turns out, when Buddy and Swampy entered the pool, they doomed the entire world to destruction by rot, so when they emerge from ... wherever they are ... it's a year later and everyone has turned into zombies. Okay, technically no one ever says zombies, but they're zombies. Only superheroes with connections to the Red and the Green, like Beast Boy and Black Orchid, or those with no flesh at all, like Steel, survive. Oh, and John Constantine, but I guess the rules don't apply to him. No one has any idea how to write his dialogue, which is 90% him saying "mate" or whingeing about cigarettes.
So anyway, Buddy reappears and everyone's all, "Ooh, Animal Man has come back!" but he just wants to find his family, which means another full-on charge into the lair of the enemy. Along the way, they meet up with Frankenstein's monster (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP) with his army of reanimated corpses and rescue the world's dorkiest Green Lantern, Medphyll, who is a plant-based alien with wheat stalks for hair.
There are pages and pages and PAGES of superheroes fighting, which is more like figures being tossed around panels in a chaotic frenzy. Batgirl is now literally a bat and Wonder Woman gets sliced 'n diced. It's ridiculous and boring at the same time. Then, because the DCU can't really keep operating when all of its heroes are Rot-Zombies, there is a lovely deus ex machina and everything is as it is before--kind of. Time travel, you guys: not as helpful as you would think.
And then there's the actual writing and plotting of this ... thing. With much respect and admiration to both Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder, it is not cool to pull dialogue directly from Star Wars in order to further your version of the Light Side of the Force versus the Dark Side. now with 500% more tentacles and vines! And yes, I know that Star Wars draws on a long storytelling tradition of good versus evil, of the Chosen One and the rogue and the princess, of Shakespearean daddy troubles and wise old teachers. However, some of this dialogue, in conjunction with the main concept of this world, is really obvious.
Observe: Yoda Cat (AKA Socks, which is the silliest name for a super-powerful "totem" animal ever) tells Buddy Baker, Animal Man: "Dig deeper, Buddy Baker. Let your consciousness touch the near infinite number of things that swarm this old swamp. Become one with the Red." "Stretch out with your feelings, Luke ... Let go, Luke." Yoda Cat.
Abby, Swamp Thing's girlfriend and the niece of the Avatar of the Rot, solves the problem of impending world doom by intuitively possessing knowledge of where the "Parliament" of the Rot is. Yoda Cat tells her that know one knows where it is, but she replies that she does. "Somehow, I've always known." Look, Abby, I like your haircut and the whole vine thing going on with your skin, but you are not Princess Leia.
Felix Faust to John Constantine: "Together we could rule the rotlands!" That's nice, Darth. I mean Felix. Whatever.
I know it's not a particularly unique line, but Steel shouting, "There's too many of them!" just brings back Grey Two (Y-Wing)'s words at the Battle of Endor.
Also, a proofreader would be nice. Earth's new Green Lantern, doesn't exactly have the best grasp of English grammar (although, I mean, really, I can't blame him since he's an alien. Let's blame the writers!). Buddy asks what imprisoned him and Medphyll returns, "Not what. WHOM." Look, if you're going to correct someone's grammar, please actually correct it instead of just making the problem worse. There is a really easy way to test whether you've used the correct pronoun: put it back in the original sentence. "Whom imprisoned me" simply doesn't work because we need a bloody subject pronoun! "Who imprisoned me" works! Hooray, English! Boo, writers!
Every time I read something in the DCU I'm reminded of why I prefer the Marvelverse. At least Marvel embraces the weird, the goofy, and the just plain off-the-wall WHAAAAT? and runs with it. Like, "Yeah, this guy wears spandex and has ... spider ... powers, but we're totally cool with that! That other guy works for chimichangas. You got a problem with that?"
And then you've got Mr. Strength-of-a-Hippo over here trying to save the world and his precocious daughter, but how in the name of Cthulhu am I supposed to sympathize with him when he inflicted that haircut on his son? I'm done, Buddy Baker.