By: Jeff Lemire (story), Timothy Green (pencils), Joseph Silver (inks), Lovern Kindzierski (colors)

The Story: Socks has a very “unique” idea of what makes a good children’s story, to say the least.

The Review: Most of the annuals we see tend to use the showcase format, offering short pieces by a variety of writers and artists, a mixture of exercises by creative veterans and samples from potential new talent.  Then there’s the other kind of annual: the self-contained interlude, a story which wedges itself between arcs and has some importance in its own right, but with a higher price point which limits how important it can actually be.

Lemire manages this tricky balance by giving you some details which help you understand the bigger story of the “Rise of the Rot,” but which aren’t so crucial that anyone who didn’t buy into the annual would be left out when they picked up their next monthly issue of Animal Man.  And there is no better narrative tool to accomplish all this than the flashback.  Diving into the past avoids any substantial interference with the ongoing action, but it could yield enough revelations to make the reading worthwhile.

A big point that both Scott Snyder and Lemire have hinted at before is the Rot’s place in the natural order of things.  Though horrifying and unnatural in appearance, a former Swamp Thing makes it clear that the Rot has as much right to the world as the Red or the Green, and that in fact, the Rot is not always the enemy: “There were times in history when…the Green became too wild…or when the Red began to take over…and the other two elements had to correct things…”  This can only mean destruction of the Rot is not an option, another complication in this conflict.

Obviously, Jacob Mullin, with his love of family, the daughter he affectionately calls “Little Wing,” and his status as a minor agent of the Red, is an analogue for Buddy, but whether the events that happen to the Mullins is intended to foreshadow the fate of the Bakers, we don’t know.  On the one hand, it could mean an extension of power for Buddy, as Jacob demonstrates an even purer control over the Red than our hero ever did.  On the other, it also could mean the Bakers must accept casualties by their involvement in this war.

Even more discouraging is Jacob’s “vision” of the war to come, receiving a message from his future counterpart, a wearier, tougher Buddy.  This hypothetical Animal Man has no good tidings to offer, but it doesn’t seem possible that Lemire could be telling us to give up hope.  It feels more like Lemire wants us to be prepared for losses; no matter how endearing the Bakers are as a family, that can’t get in the way of the story’s demands.  And this all ties into the reason why Socks tells Maxine this tale anyway; she’s taken a lot of the grisly events around her a bit flippantly, and it’s important she grow more aware of the scope of what’s happening.

Green at first seems like he’s mimicking Travel Foreman in the delicate, etchy style of his lines, but he lacks Foreman’s confidence, resulting in less shapely and proportioned figures, which almost disappear into Kindzierski’s colors due to Silver’s weak inking.  Overall, the creatures of the Rot look gruesome, but they don’t inspire the gut-wrenching sense of fear and eeriness that Foreman (or Yanick Paquette, for that matter) deliver, taking away some of the issue’s impact.

Conclusion: While it’s not quite substantial enough to be considered a must-read, there’s enough new information here to be worth your time, though the art is not quite as potent as it should be.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Note how among the Justice League cadavers Jacob sees in the post-apocalyptic future, Aquaman’s isn’t included (and neither is Cyborg’s).  Guess we know where they stand.