By: Jeff Lemire (writer), Travel Foreman & Steve Pugh (artists), Jeff Huet (inker), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

The Story: This is one parade of animals I can live without.

The Review: Like anything else, serial fiction has its upsides and downsides.  On the upside, there’s a lot to be said for a story that has enough time on its hands to explore any direction it darn well pleases and develop its characters as far as they can go.  The problem is for a story to go on for that long, the main character has to stick around for a good, long while, which means their survival in any kind of dangerous situation is practically assured.

That makes writing your traditional superhero comics a bit tricky, to say the least.  While the goal is to challenge their powers by placing them in some kind of peril, for the most part, you’re never all that concerned anything drastic will happen to them.  But then, Animal Man is hardly your traditional superhero comic.  From the onset, Lemire has imbued this title with a constant, sweaty tension, allowing danger to lurk on every page.

To begin with, our hero is much lower on the power scale than his League counterparts.  We saw last issue how ineffective, even at its most potent, his skill set is against the Hunters Three, and here, separated from direct contact with the Red, Buddy proves even less effective against just one of the Hunters.  Yet from the looks of things, it doesn’t seem like there are many on Earth who can handle these flesh-feeding terrors, except those with powers over flesh themselves.

Enter Maxine, who once again demonstrates how powerful she can be as a true avatar of the Red.  But there are downsides to having all that power contained within an otherwise normal little girl, with all her attendant naivety and impulsiveness.  Though Maxine manages to dispose of the Hunter attacking her family, she uses the very method the Hunter planned for all along, allowing it to breach the Red and begin its takeover, one that once again sends the Bakers hauling.

But how long can they run?  The Hunter spreads his Rot through the living nearly as fast and effectively as Sethe and William Arcane through the dead, and it’s not likely the Bakers can stay ahead forever in their RV.  And now they have to look after not only the unpredictable Maxine, but Ellen’s mama also.  It’s easy to foresee the older woman giving into fear and betraying her family in the end, especially since she never approved of this hero stuff in the first place.

Even if that doesn’t break the family apart, you can also see turmoil between mother and father Baker as the danger only increases and the family becomes desperate.  Ellen shows a fine display of bravery this issue as she supports her husband in battle in any way she can, even after she nearly gets chomped on by an avatar of the Rot, but we saw last issue that her loving courage can be pressured, and cracks will eventually appear.  We’ll see if she can see this nightmare through to the end with her husband and daughter.

Foreman is definitely delivering the most viscerally horrific comic on the stands right now.  Many an artist has tried to draw disfigured, swelling, mutilated flesh, but no one does so with as much convincing queasiness as Foreman.  When the Hunter stings Buddy in the face and injects him with its skin-mutating pus, you can almost feel how gross and painful the experience must be.  Beyond these grosseries, Foreman also draws truly creepy scenes, like Buddy’s vision of a corrupted Maxine-as-flesh-eating-spider.

Conclusion: It troubles your mind and stomach for all the right reasons.  This series continues to hold you in its grip as it gradually progresses to the inevitable crossover with Swamp Thing, the very idea of which grows more exciting with every issue.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I like that in the middle of this chaos, Ellen’s mom finds the time to change out of her bathrobe into more flee-worthy clothes.

– I’m sorry, Cliff—your ridiculous haircut makes it impossible for me to take you seriously, no matter how many tears you shed.