Even though DC’s New 52 have not been out quite a year yet but we are already getting Annuals and one of the first is Animal Man Annual which touts a team-up of Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Now if you haven’t been following the title or its previous incarnation under the Vertigo Imprint, you may not know that the character of Buddy Baker aka Animal Man was retconned to become an avatar of “The Red”, an elemental force of nature which is the counterpart to Swamp Thing being an avatar of “The Green” and all plant life. While this was originally established in the Vertigo run it has been rebooted for the New 52 with Buddy discovering that “The Red” is the source of his powers and he is the latest in a long line of avatars. His daughter exhibits even greater powers than Buddy with the ability to bring dead animals to life. The series has dealt thus far with Buddy’s revelation of his true origin and powers.
Buddy also discovers that there is a third elemental force known as “The Rot”, a malignant force that is held in control by the other two forces but has now grown immensely powerful. As Buddy travels to locate Swamp Thing, his daughter is told a story by a resurrected cat…himself a former Avatar of the Red…about a prior meeting of the Avatars of the Red and The Green over a hundred years ago. This is your actual Animal and Swamp Thing team-up. Essentially writer Jeff Lemire pulls a bait and switch leading readers to believe Buddy Baker is teaming with the Alec Holland Swamp Thing. Instead we get a tale from the 1800s as folks in a small Canadian town are dealing with the mysterious deaths of their livestock. The Jacob Mullin the Avatar of the Red is unaware of either of the other elemental factions. It is up to that era’s Swamp Thing to educate him in the long history and how two of the forces are always there to balance out the third but occasionally one grows too powerful and can threaten the entire world.
I’ve enjoyed Animal Man a great deal and it has gotten universal rave reviews from critics. But I’ve been wondering if it’s really that good, or am I enjoying it because it is so heavily influenced by Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing in the mid-1980s? I think it’s a bit of both. Lemire’s take on Animal Man is likely viewed as fresh and original by many comic fans today. After all, you’d have to be well into your late 30’s or early 40’s to have read Swamp Thing back during Moore’s groundbreaking run. So while I can’t give Lemire a lot of points for originality, I do like the direction of the book as a title that’s off the grid of the standard superhero fare and has strong supernatural roots. The annual does its job of establishing the lineage of the Red, The Rot, and The Green. The art of Timothy Green II and Jospeh Silver hits the right note between traditional comic art and sinewy gore. It’s not the blockbuster, special story you might want from an annual but it was entertaining.