By: Jeff Lemire (story), Alberto Ponticelli (pencils), Wayne Faucher (inks), Lovern Kindzierski (colors)

The Story: I’m not sure you want a makeover from two yellow Coneheads in leotards.

The Review: To be perfectly frank, Animal Man has been in desperate need of a major upgrade in power set for a while.  Lemire made that clear every time he had Buddy face off against the Rot, only to quickly find himself overwhelmed, outmuscled, and just downright ineffective.  Granted, he’ll probably never be capable of his daughter’s feats, but you’d think at such a critical time, he should have more options than channeling the strength of a gorilla, or whatever.

So when the Totems offered to give Buddy a newer, better body last issue, it was about time.  At first glance, however, we don’t see any radical changes.  He certainly doesn’t look any different, though he says he feels “stronger…more pure…”  The Royal Tailors give him “limited species-shifting abilities,” and we see a bit of that here, as he transmogrifies in and out of several half-man, half-animal forms, similar to his bolstered powers in the Red.  But it’s not totally clear how this mere shapeshifting ability is more beneficial than his normal channeling powers.

His defeat of his Rot-infested doppelganger doesn’t serve as the most dramatic display of the new and improved Animal Man either.  So what exactly has he gained from his evolution?  Perhaps it’s too soon to tell.  As one of the Hunters tells him, this is only the beginning of the Rot’s campaign, and it doesn’t make sense for Buddy to show the limits of his powers now.  At any rate, we get a hint or two of what’s to come; one Totem states that Buddy’s new body must be a “more durable one…”

Evolution seems an apt description of what happens to Buddy this issue, as he goes through a spiritual process of stepping up each level of the animal kingdom to regain his humanity.  Unlike his compatriot, Scott Snyder, Lemire doesn’t often engage in “writerly” sort of pieces, but when he does, he can be very beautifully understated.  Buddy’s narration of his rebirth has the rhythm and sound of a tone poem, particularly with Jared K. Fletcher’s artful arranging of the lines:

I twist and pull and grow and

I am a reptile…a salamander.

My eyelids stick together but

I force them to open and

gaze into the void around me…

and I know terror.

What’s heartwarming about him going through this ordeal is he does it all for the sake of his family, and for Cliff in particular.  What’s frightening is that it may all be for naught.  Cliff looks unscathed when his dad and Socks show up, but remember that he was alone with not-Buddy for quite a while.  Anyone care to guess if what went down between them has something to do with not-Buddy’s claim to Buddy, “Now we’ve taken sssooo much more”?

This is the most reality-oriented work Ponticelli has ever done, by which I mean his figures look like actual humans in a credible, real-world setting.  For those of you who have only seen his Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. work, what you see here is both startlingly different and surprisingly convincing.  His light pencil-work evokes Travel Foreman; indeed, the first few pages look uncannily Foreman-like.  And I’m happy to see Faucher, Ponticelli’s best inker, servicing those pencils with the same strength and delicacy here as in Frankenstein.

Conclusion: Not the most punchy ending to an arc, but Lemire’s solid writing, with strong guest art from Ponticelli, make this a quietly gripping one.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: Now having Socks along makes sense.  Although he proves more intimidating than actually useful in a scrap.