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

The Story: Let this issue be a wake-up call to permissive, indulgent parents everywhere.

The Review: This may sound a tad hypocritical coming from someone who loves Young Justice so much, but I find the concept of kids getting caught up in the increasingly violent world of superheroics, frankly, rather disturbing.  Much as the Fantastic Four’s Franklin and Valeria try to emphasize the cuteness of the idea, I think that in any real life scenario, we’d get a result more along the lines of what happened to Red Arrow’s daughter in James Robinson’s Cry for Justice.

If you never considered this troubling problem before, you’ll almost certainly start thinking about it after this issue.  Maxine’s childlike confidence and legendary status may have lulled you into thinking nothing can really touch her, but here we see, in graphic fashion, that at the end of the day, she’s still a little kid with vulnerable flesh.  Lemire may like his warm, corny father-son moments, but he’ll let a four-year-old girl get mercilessly ravened by various animals when the story demands it.  The moment is an immediate punch in your gut, telling you once and for all that this series is not messing around with this horror stuff.

You don’t even have the comfort of feeling better when Maxine saves herself from bodily death, since it requires her to jump through some grisly body-snatching and body-disposing hoops to get it done.  Rather than charm you, her toothy smile and peppy, “It didn’t hurt at all.  It kind of felt good,” simply gives you the willies.  The only thing separating her on the creepy factor from the Children of the Corn is her obvious love and loyalty to her family, but her reckless and naïve behavior means we can’t count on those qualities alone to mean she won’t doom them all.

Considering how truly shudder-inducing the scene is, it’s no wonder Ellen’s ma goes into hysterics, and even Cliff and Ellen can’t disguise their shock and fear from what they witness.  Last time I mentioned how, among other things, it’s the Baker family unit that’s truly being threatened in this series, and you can begin to see the cracks in it right now.  Besides Buddy, pretty much no one in the family—except for the honorable Socks—can really understand where Maxine is coming from, so we’ll have to see if they can handle the life she must live now.

It may very well be that the non-members of the Red will be all the support Maxine gets from here on out, since Animal Man, always with the hero’s conscience, leaves his family to save innocents from the Rot.  Given his horrible track record in this series so far (seriously, when was the last time he had a real “win”?), it shouldn’t surprise you that his one-man attempt to rescue a town lands him in even hotter water than before.  That last page is as much a nail in the coffin as you can get.

If I had to choose between the artists on this title, I’d have to go with Foreman.  The lightness of his lines gives some much-needed breathing space to the art, a chance for you to mentally take a pause from the stimulating horror on the page.  Pugh’s bolder, more soapy style affords no such rest.  This should in no way imply that his art is inferior, but his work doesn’t go down as easily as Foreman’s with this kind of material, so Foreman’s departure will be keenly felt.

Conclusion: The scary moments never stop on this title, and the odds just get worse and worse for our heroes—which, if anything, makes you more invested than ever in their fates.  Even if Lemire somehow delivers the worst-written issue ever next time, you’ll still be in for the long haul.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – At this rate, Ellen’s mother is going to die of a heart attack before the Rot gets her.  Just how many personal horrors can a retiree take?

– This issue is proof positive that my secret fear and loathing of birds is entirely warranted.