Heading into the next six months of the crossover with "Swamp Thing", Jeff Lemire wraps up his current arc, the three parter "Extinction is Forever". The series' new regular artist, Steve Pugh is temporarily replaced by Alberto Ponticelli, Lemire's former collaborator on "Frankenstein". Inker Wayne Faucher and colorist Lovern Kindzierski do a commendable job in maintaining the violent, organic style, with Ponticelli's scratchier, more kinetic lines largely subdued.
As conceived by the title's "New 52" original artist Travel Foreman, Lemire's "Animal Man" is a visceral urban fantasy, alternating between body horror and the mythological touches linking the title to "Swamp Thing". The two titles have teased the crossover centered around their mutual enemies for most of the year, with Lemire setting up John Constantine as the new supporting character. Ultimately, the writer shied away from the idea of having Constantine help Buddy out with learning to control his new powers, mirroring his original role in "the Swamp Thing".
The venerable Vertigo character's presence ultimately boiled down to a guest appearance of the "Justice League Dark", which did little more than drag out the middle part of "Extinction is Forever". Following the conclusion of the introductory arc, "Animal Man" has in many ways felt like it has been searching for a clear direction. The Baker family were continually on the move, still threatened by the Rot and it's agents, with the title clearly caught in the transitory period between the unveiling of the Lemire/Foreman revamp, and the imminent crossover with "Swamp Thing".
The writer has used the current three-parter to put a firmer focus on Buddy and his role in the world where he's assigned to be the father of the messianic child. Yet, despite her role as the Avatar of the Red, Maxine is still a 4-year old girl, Buddy is still her protector, which the Totems finally acknowledge by further defining his appearance and abilities. Despite the innovation, Lemire is at all times aware that he is working on Grant Morrison's concepts, with #11 designed specifically as another attempt to further define his take on what was once little more than a gimmicky Silver Age superhero.
He acknowledges the debt by referring to the yellow aliens that originally gave Buddy his abilities as "the tailors", a direct nod to Morrison's metafictional ideas from "Seven Soldiers". Both Lemire and Ponticelli's previous collaboration was the writer's final issue of "Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.", featuring the version of the character Morrison introduced in the latter. More importantly, the creative team's story tied in to "Animal Man", which again made Ponticelli a logical choice to fill in for Pugh.
Having dealt out with one of the Hunter's Three, Animal Man has once again protected his family, but at a cost that will be further elaborated on in the next issue's "Rotworld: Prologue". Ponticelli's he seems like a good choice for future fill-ins, if he can handle the workload concurrent with his regular "Frankenstein" assignment. The artist's own style seems most apparent in the way he draws Ellen and Cliff, but it's hard to find fault with the editorial for suggesting that the title be inked and colored in a way that preserves the consistency with the preceding issues.
Scott Snyder concludes the mini-arc featuring the return of Swamp Thing's arch-foe Anton Arcane with the issue featuring the art of Marco Rudy, one of the title's regular artists. The Brazilian artist features some atmospheric, thickly inked panels, with some inspired layouts, but the result still pales compared to the last issue. Having only the first part of the story gorgeously illustrated by the fan favorite Francesco Francavilla impacts was always going to impact badly on the title.
#11 likewise lacks any kind of framing device, and presents merely little more than a fight scene, that wouldn't feel out of place in the 1990s "Spawn". With Snyder collaborating with the longtime Image penciller on "Batman", it comes as no surprise that his returning the Swamp Thing from the Vertigo milieu would try to capitalize on some of the lessons from the longtime premiere superhero horror title. A more traditional take enables the creative team to try to escape from the long shadow Alan Moore left on the title. Scott Snyder, Yanique Paquette and Marco Rudy aren't trying to spark the interest in DC's non-traditional characters.
The return of the Arcane seems almost like a return to basics, while still honoring the mark the industry's most celebrated writer first left on the title. And where Moore, and later Veitch, used the Swamp Thing as a platform for looking at the wider DC universe from a post modern perspective, so far Snyder shies away from shining the light on such neglected DC properties like the space heroes and its western characters. As this issue shows, they are more than content in giving equal space to the original Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson creations. The idea seems to be recreating the property from the most iconic of the previous versions, and judging by the audience response, it has been very successful.
Every issue is nicely paced and reasonably entertaining, while covering the same apocalyptic territory as "the Animal Man". Yet, some of the complexity and charm of the characters seems to have been lost in the shuffle, as despite the prophecies regarding both Alec and Abby, their "New 52" incarnations seem two-dimensional and less than appealing. On the face of it, by positing Abby as a short-haired motorcycle riding girl with a shotgun, the creative team discards all of the work Moore did in transforming the damsel in distress into a three dimensional, strong yet feminine character. Similarly, seeing the antler sprouting Swamp Thing without the use of his advanced powers again seems to simplify the character to bring him back closer in line with the original version.
What little chemistry remains behind between these characters still largely relies on the reader's previously established affection. Seeing Abby blasting at Arcane's Un-Men with the murky, haphazard character designs, while Alec returns to charge at the villain spouting one-liners like "The swamp is my place." followed by "But I'll be happy to put you back in the dirt.", largely necessitates the reader more interested in the plot points than the character development of these characters that have gradually turned into another couple of superheroes with decades of continuity and false starts behind them.
With the "New 52", DC has successfully grouped the book with "Animal Man" and at this point, expects the readers to care for the wider story first and foremost. The war against Rot is a sufficiently interesting story to justify the next six months of joint exploration, but the real test will be how both of these titles survive telling their own stories afterwards. Time will tell if market that welcome them a year ago will be so considerate six months from now, particularly given that both titles have already experienced severe problems with on the artistic side, with even the original penciller's replacements unable to stick to the monthly schedule.