By: Jeff Lemire (story), Steve Pugh (art), Lovern Kindzierski (colors)

The Story: The Bone Orchard, huh?  Sounds like just the place to build a vacation condo.

The Review: Besides the craft of his storytelling, another reason why Lemire is so appealing as a writer is his obvious enthusiasm for what he writes.  The guy just loves his comics, as he proves in the opening page of this issue by inserting a neat little tribute to another great Animal Man writer, Grant Morrison:  “Then the dream got really strange…I met my maker…He was this skinny, intense, Scottish guy who claimed I was just a character that he wrote in a comic book.”

So far, Lemire hasn’t shown the sheer weirdness and conceptual abstraction that made Morrison’s Animal Man so distinctive, but Lemire has offered some memorable fantasy all his own.  Each time we visit the Red, it appears a little more alien, yet eerily familiar, a place where everything you recognize gets turned inside out—often quite literally.  If you didn’t know better, you’d imagine this is what the Rot looks like: a plain of blood, bones, and flesh.

But actually, in this issue we learn that perhaps the Rot and the Red aren’t as so diametrically opposed as we believe.  We haven’t experienced much of the Rot except as mindless antagonists, but here we get to delve a bit into the mind of the one of the Hunters Three, who despite his casual treatment of living beings claims that “We do not hate life.  We need life.  We feed off life.  For without life, there can be no rot.”  That being the case, though, we have to question what the end game will be should the Rot succeed in destroying both Red and Green.

That question can stand to be shelved for a while, however; the Bakers have more pressing concerns. After getting mauled by the Hunter, Buddy appears in the Bone Orchard, and according to the Shepherd of the Orchard, “An’ if yer here, then you bet yer butt yer dead.”  Obviously, our hero still has some work ahead of him, so we can expect he will not only figure his way out of this pickle, but he’ll come out a more powerful agent of the Red for it.

In the meantime, Ellen has to look out for the family by herself, a task that grows more complicated as everyone in the family wants to go a different way.  Part of the problem is Ellen can’t decide how far her loyalty to Buddy should go.  Last issue, even she got so unstrung by the sight of her daughter getting ravened then reforming her body that it seemed she couldn’t take this crazy lifestyle anymore.  Here, she insists she’s not “running away from Buddy,” but she also expresses a rather naïve belief that “He just needs to figure this out and stop it so that things can be normal again.”  So whom can she turn to for help in this crazy mess without her husband around?  Enter a certain British occultist who happens to be yet another Vertigo classic Lemire obviously loves.  A pretty surprising and exciting reveal—and putting Ellen in good hands.

Pugh does fine work in all the domestic scenes, though he doesn’t have the quiet intensity Travel Foreman did.  Where Pugh really shines is in the fantastical elements, where his clean depth of detail makes it even easier to appreciate the creepy environment of the Rot and Red than Foreman’s sketchy lines.  I don’t know whether he thought of it himself, but the breaching whales (where all you can see are their muscle, plasma, and skeletal parts) in the Sea of Blood is not only eerily beautiful, but a reminder that all animals share this unity of flesh.

Conclusion: Solid and gripping, though the issue doesn’t really carry you too far into the storyline.  It’s really about time Buddy became the great hero he’s mean to be, though it appears he’ll have to go through a purifying death journey to do it.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Lemire sure knows how to make the most out of a body-snatching plot.  You can’t help being a bit creeped out watching his possessed body snatch a bird out of midair and devour it alive.

– “I can’t believe we gotta stay in this dump.  Couldn’t we spring for something with a pool?”  Trust the family adolescent to have a comical lack of perspective on the situation.

– If Constantine’s appearance in this book means a crossover between Justice League Dark and Animal Man is forthcoming, then I definitely have to pick up the former title again once Lemire takes over.