Animal Man #3/Swamp Thing #3

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I really like the guy who owns my local comic shop, but almost any time the subject of Animal Man comes up he feels compelled to tell me that he doesn’t like the rebooted title; instead, he feels like it’s the same book he read 20 years ago. Not only do I find this odd because I’ve told him multiple times that it’s my favorite book of the New 52 (is he trying to talk himself out of a sale?), but I also think that assertion’s quantifiably incorrect. From the very first page of Animal Man #1, I felt as though I was looking at a type of book I’d never seen before. If any comic embodies the spirit of bold new direction championed by DC’s reboot, it’s this one.

Coming right up on Animal Man‘s heels in my pile of favorites is Swamp Thing. While this book isn’t quite as atypical as Animal Man — at least not yet — it’s still a very good comic. And what’s interesting (and rewarding!) about the two is how well they play together. It’s easier to see because they come out on the same week, but these two books are working to construct a pretty epic plot centered on the conflict between the forces of life (the Red, the Green) and the forces of death (the Black). This is cool stuff, and those who read both books get to come at the story from two sides.

Reading this week’s installments of each book, it struck me that what really makes these comics work are their respective artists. No doubt writers Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder are top-tier talent, and those of us who read their pre-superhero work know how lucky we are to have them on such a major mainstream project. But it’s pencillers Travel Foreman and Yanick Paquette who create the atmosphere so essential to these books’ success.

Over in Swamp Thing, Paquette’s using thick, fluid pencil lines to illustrate the morass of the Louisiana bayou where our heroes make their home. He pulls off some impressively horrific visuals that totally sell the supernatural nature of the comic, and his inventive panel layouts make for gorgeous spreads that few artists working in monthly books can pull off. As it turns out, Swamp Thing #3 also features guest art from Victor Ibanez; I didn’t even notice two different pencillers worked on the issue until I got to the credits page, which is probably a good sign. A large part of that continuity can be attributed to colorist Nathan Fairbairn, who I hope gets an Eisner nomination for his beautiful work here. Ibanez is no slouch, though; he delivers what I’d consider to be this issue’s creepiest visual, of a doctor coughing up his own cancerous lung. That page is totally unsettling and disgusting — in other words, it does its job!

And man, Travel Foreman in Animal Man — this is why I think my local comics guy is crazy. I have never, ever seen a mainstream monthly book that looks like this. It’s not just Foreman, of course; colorist Lovern Kindzierski also contributes to the book’s bold visuals. I was a little critical of Kindzierski’s work in my review of the first issue, stating that I found it a bit too monochromatic. I think that problem’s disappeared, or at least my complaints about it have — three issues in I’m definitely on board with the visuals of this book 100%. Foreman’s got some kind of imagination; it seems like he puts more bizarre, Dada-style distorted characters into these pages than he does regular-looking ones, and that’s just fine by me. I absolutely love his visualizations of this issue’s enemies, the Hunters Three, and especially how he depicts the Red’s version of the Parliament of Trees, where “all the past Animal Men live.” The giant dude with six horns coming out of his head is totally bitchin’. If I could afford it, I’d absolutely buy the two-page spread at the front of this issue, where Animal Man meets his progenitors for the first time. It’s a great mix of creepy, powerful and beautiful. Just awesome.

I suppose I should say something about the stories in these books too. In Swamp Thing, Alec Holland gets (re)acquainted with Abigail Arcane, once the Swamp Thing’s lover. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to a strange young boy named William who’s got a powerful connection to the Black. Snyder gives William an impressive introduction, shrouding the character in an eerie tone from the first page — although we don’t even see the kid ’til page two, which makes it all the creepier! I really like this character, and Snyder makes a strong impression on (presumably) his first long-term introduction to the Swamp Thing mythos.

Over in Animal Man, Jeff Lemire gets to some mythos-building too. This issue looks like it’s heading in one direction — Buddy Baker’s the avatar of the Red just as Alec Holland is of the Green — but then it takes a nice (and welcome) twist. For a second there I was really worried Alec and Buddy were basically going to end up being the same kind of character, but fortunately Animal Man sidesteps that issue rather nicely. In doing so, it constructs a very cool, deep mythology around not just Buddy but his whole family — one that even seems connected to some classic Jack Kirby concepts! I’ve said time and again that Animal Man‘s biggest strength is its grounding in the Baker family, and it seems Lemire knows that as well. I think my favorite member of the Baker clan is actually Ellen, who provides the book with both a common-sense voice and a nice injection of humor.

Though certainly Animal Man and Swamp Thing can be enjoyed separately, Lemire and Snyder are crafting an intricate tale here that will surely hold a bigger payoff for those who read both. Without a doubt these are two of the books I most look forward to reading every month, and I’m glad that DC saw fit to assign such talent to them.

tags: animal man, Jeff Lemire, scott snyder, swamp thing, travel foreman, victor ibanez, yanick paquette

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