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

The Story: Over the mountains and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…

The Review: Animal Man’s cult popularity comes less from anything inherently cool about his powers or himself, but more from the way writers have used him for highly experimental, even radical, storytelling.  When you think of Animal Man, you tend not to think of his iconography or mythos, but rather the fact that he once starred in one of Grant Morrison’s delightfully bizarre works.  What you know of him as a character is far less concrete.

Lemire has been filling the gaps in that area since this series started, and done it quite poetically too, though he poaches off Swamp Thing’s continuity for some of it.  You especially can’t help seeing the resemblances in this issue: humans acting as avatars of the Red, returning to the Red once their work is done to become Totems in the “Parliament of Limbs.”  Here, just as in Scott Snyder’s sister title, the Red has found its greatest avatar of all to fight its greatest enemy of all.

We’ve seen hints of how far Maxine’s power can go, particularly in reanimating the corpses of several small animals.  But now we really get a sense of the difference between her, a true avatar of the Red, and Buddy, a mere “agent,” as the Totems called him last issue.  Buddy’s ability to channel the powers of animals makes for some entertaining action, but Maxine wields power over flesh itself, as she shows when she heals her daddy’s wounds, molding his skin like clay.

Now we understand why Maxine is such a prize.  The Hunters Three, for all their twisted anatomy, are still entities of flesh, former Red avatars who succumbed to the sway of the Rot.  Should they capture Buddy’s daughter and turn her to their side as they themselves were, the world will have to deal with a four-year-old girl with control over both life and death.

Pretty heavy stuff, and considering the Hunters can’t be conventionally killed, and Buddy and Maxine’s powers don’t have the same potency in the real world as they do in the Red, it almost seems a bit unfair to let them loose to face the enemy alone.  Luckily, they get the company of one Ignatius (or Socks, depending on who you ask—“I like Socks better!”), a tabby cat who once served as an avatar and decides to abandon his retirement as Totem to advise our heroes.

Meanwhile, we get a more typical horror story in Ellen and Cliff’s attempts to escape the clutches of their sadistic pursuer, which has a bit of a Terminator 2 feel to it.  Ellen definitely channels Sarah Connor in this issue as she single-handedly faces down their foe armed only with a hunting rifle and a whole lot of love.  Love’s about all that’s keeping her in the game, as she reveals the real vulnerability she’s been hiding all this time: “I always said if [Buddy] brought any of this stuff back home with him, that’d be the end of it.  But what can I do?  I love him.”

Foreman continues to deliver sharp-looking art that handles both the unearthly and the ordinary with great deftness.  He draws some of the most convincingly homely, recognizable faces I’ve seen, like Ellen’s mousy-haired, bifocaled, pear-shaped mother.  But he also draws some wildly imaginative figures, like the strangely lovely (if largely inhuman) forms of the Totems, making you wonder why the Hunters abandoned them for the grotesque shapes they have now.

Conclusion: The best scary stories are the ones that keep you wanting more in spite of your fear, and Animal Man certainly has that quality going for it.  Even better, it looks like Lemire and Foreman are just getting to the good stuff.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Ugh—I hate that Cliff has a smartphone already.  Honestly, parents, don’t let your kids get into that stuff until they graduate high school.  Take it from someone who took phones from students in classrooms on a semi-daily basis because they were texting instead of reading a memoir about the holocaust.