By: Jeff Lemire (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

The Story: Who went and impregnated the hippos?

The Review: You get to see all kinds of outrageous, fantastical things in comics: space cowboys who sling energy from rings, men who can shrink down to sub-microscopic size and travel between the folds of parallel universes, women who charge into battle wearing nothing more than a glorified one-piece.  Yet families are something of a rarity; Buddy Baker may be the only superhero who’s managed to have something even approaching a normal family dynamic.

Emphasis on “approaching.”  Nobody can integrate superpowers and vigilantism so closely with their home life and have it come out with its normalcy completely intact.  As we saw last issue, Buddy and his fams have adapted astonishingly well to his career.  None of them finds it unusual for the man of the house to hover away to confront a deranged psychotic in the children’s ward of a hospital.  You can imagine it would take something quite dramatic to rattle these people.

Well, that something happens in this very issue, which proves nothing is more unsettling than a wide-eyed little girl with a link to the supernatural.  You’ll be most disturbed by her flippant behavior to what would cause most of her peers (and probably most of us, at that) to shriek and run off as quick as our legs can take us.  Whether it’s the fact that she finds all these animated animal cadavers so cute or that she shows only a vague curiosity at her daddy bleeding out his eyes, you quickly realize lil’ Maxine is one creepy kid.

Big brother Cliff seems strictly enthused by these events (“Let me run and get my phone…I gotta film this!”), but mother Ellen comes very close to having a mild breakdown from the wild cacophony of emotions running through her: ill-hidden horror at her daughter’s newly discovered powers, terror of what will happen if others find out (“Buddy!  This is…this is bad! They’re going to take her away!”), sullen rage at being left behind while her husband literally flies off with their daughter on a mission to save an abstract idea.

Lemire takes this opportunity to slightly tweak the nature of the Red, or morphogenetic field, or life web, or whatever.  Conceptualizing it as a tree that connects all animals together is hardly novel.  Conceptualizing it as a giant tree made of reactive cords of muscle, actually floating somewhere above the savannah of Africa?  Much more inspired.  How Maxine knows so much about it even before she goes up to hug one of its bloody roots, we can only guess at.

Foreman has successfully designed some of the most truly horrifying creatures in recent years.    Imagine large, mutilated lumps of flesh, attached with the various animal limbs that freak you out the most, bursting from the bellies of hippos.  Foreman may not have the greatest consistency where characters’ faces are concerned, but he sure brings out the most of an emotional moment; compare Maxine’s pout when Ellen tells her to get the kitty skeleton—I’m sorry, “Mrs. Pickles”—off the table, to her perfect tantrum expression at their neighbor’s rough handling of her brother.  Kindzierski does wonders with color; who knew red had so many shades until he painted entire landscapes with it?  And Jared K. Fletcher goes above and beyond in his lettering duties, using multiple scripts and sizes to give the issue an almost indie-movie cred.

Conclusion: This issue maintains its gripping spell as it takes mainstream comics to brand-new dark corners.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Lemire just loves those folksy dialects and colloquialisms: “I—I knew you freaks shouldn’t a’ been allowed to live here…”  This one I plan to use on a daily basis from now on: “Oh, sweet mercy!”

– You have to love Maxine’s super hipster outfit for her epic adventure with her dad: collared shirt, gray cardigan, hot-pink cat’s eyes sunglasses, and a neon-green backpack.  So utterly inappropriate and perfect at the same time.