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

The Story: No rest stops on this family trip—we’re on the lam from killer beasts, remember?

The Review: Practically every superhero comic on the stands bears some kind of peril within.  When our heroes are fighting to save their cities or fellow man, they’re also fighting to save themselves.  Theirs is a high-stakes business, where failure often means the loss of their lives.  What makes the danger in Animal Man feel so much more potent and real is the fact that Buddy’s not the only one at risk here; it’s his whole family that is being threatened.

More than anything else, the constant risk to the Bakers maintains the series’ choking tension.  It gives the Rot not one, but several targets to lurk after, so any time a Baker goes off anywhere on his or her own, your wariness increases for their sake.  When Buddy leaves Cliff to his own devices in this nowhere, desert town, everything takes on an ever-so-slightly sinister aspect, as if you expect at any moment some stranger’s good-natured smile will burst out with fangs and seize the boy in his grip.  No doubt this paranoia got instilled into you by the Hunters’ body-snatching tricks from previous issues.

Besides the multitude of physical dangers in play, perhaps there are even greater ones closing in on the Bakers’ spiritual well-being.  The tension within the family grows more intense with each harrowing episode.  Ellen’s mom finally airs her feelings about the whole situation, and while telling her daughter that Buddy “was trouble from the moment you first started dating” seems a bit unfair, she has a point.  Lemire has crafted a bit of a double-edged sword in creating such a strong family unit for this series, because it does make you think how insane it is to even attempt to do your superhero thing if you have loved ones to fear for.

Yet Buddy seems oblivious to the problems eating away at his own family.  You can’t deny that he’s tops in the “cool dad” department (“Cliff, we gotta go…that was the Justice League, they need us!”), but when it comes to the more deeply-rooted issues, he’s a bit too lax.  It’s not just that he dismissively asks, “What’s her problem?” when Ellen’s mom storms out.  By this point, Buddy’s had two dreams of impending doom, and while he reacts with appropriate dismay at the evil portents for Maxine, he doesn’t quite seem as attuned to the equally dark signs for Cliff.  Remember Cliff’s spilt guts in #1?  Doesn’t it seem foreboding that here, in Buddy’s vision of the “future,” you see a grown-up Maxine, a geriatric yet spry Buddy and Ellen, yet no Cliff?

Pugh has a fleshier, more conventional look to his work than Foreman’s inimitable style, but it can’t be said that he’s Foreman’s inferior in any way.  There’s a delicacy to Foreman’s art that almost has a Japanese aesthetic in its use of negative space, inviting tranquility and calm into the story before disrupting it with whatever imagery of horror he chooses to throw in.  Pugh puts greater focus on the characters, giving great depth and realism to their expressions; they certainly seem more convincing and human than they have ever been.

Conclusion: An important expository issue in the sense that it sets up the type of family drama we can expect from the story from here on in, as well as the losses at stake should things turn out for the worse.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I found Ellen’s irritation at Cliff’s buying all junk food particularly funny because I kept thinking, Look, the moment you let him have a mullet before high school was the same moment he knew he could get away with anything.