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

The Story: Buddy can’t tell which he finds more repulsive—supervillains or the tabloids.

The Review: When Lemire first took over Green Arrow, I couldn’t help noticing that most of his initial steps on that title were to tear down the parts of Oliver Queen’s life already set in place.  At the time, it seemed like a way for Lemire to assert his vision and direction on the series, to show he was fully in control.  But now I’m starting to see that Lemire simply places a great deal of faith in the stories that can arise from ashes.

If you look at how his run of Animal Man started, we have somewhat similar circumstances.  Lemire very quickly established Buddy’s contentment of being father to two rambunctious kids, husband to a good-natured (if occasionally exasperated) wife, a dependable C-list superhero, and an exotic C-list actor.  Just as quickly, however, Lemire disturbed this peaceful status quo with the first appearance of the Rot and the revelation of Maxine as the Red’s avatar.  No one can deny the story that followed was a deeply compelling one, even because of its destructive power.

But tearing down the Baker family has yielded increasingly diminishing returns, especially over the last few months.  As if suffering through the greatest ordeal of his life in Rotworld wasn’t enough—and the trauma the Bakers experienced during this time would’ve broken them up to begin with—Buddy lost a child and was then severed from the remainder of his family.

That wasn’t enough pain for Lemire, apparently, because shortly afterwards, Buddy was dismissed from the Red and now, with only a burgeoning acting career as the one bright point in his life, Lemire seems set to take this away from Buddy as well.  While you do find the passion with which the public and media feed upon made-up controversies accurate, the stupidity of their suspicion that his whole Animal Man persona is just one elaborate publicity stunt (masterminded by his “people to launch him into the superstardom he now enjoys”), this does feel like an annoying distraction on top of all the other challenges he’s already burdened with.

And if stripping things away from Buddy isn’t enough, Lemire begins to cast his eye towards the other Bakers and beyond.  It’s bizarre that after going through the trouble of creating the Parliament of Totems and expanding our conception of the Red, Lemire’s now poised to deconstruct his own mythology.  You’re not quite sold on one of the Totems’ betrayals in this issue, and his alliance with the one-dimensional Brother Blood, sensible as it is, still seems sudden and poorly developed.*

Against all this destruction, the continuing changes to the Red itself by Maxine’s imagination are sprouts threatened by volcanic forces, but at least something is being built up.  While it all feels slightly out-of-place in the general grimness of this series, there’s a lot of charm to Maxine’s world of fairy tales and adventure stories, of ships sailing the Sea of Blood, captained by animal pirates: “Cap’n Longneck and the crew of the best darn livin’ vessel ever to sail the Sea of Blood…the fabled Freckled Manatee herself!”

The most noticeable quality of Pugh’s art is its sheer drama, though he tends to play it so broadly that certain moments, which you should be taking seriously, may elicit a kind of disbelieving laugh instead.*  The funny thing is, although Portela’s cartoonish figures would be more chuckle-worthy than Pugh’s, they’re so suitable to Maxine’s imaginative world that you hardly think twice about them.  Kindzierski gives all the visuals sophistication through an unusual palette of dark purples, browns, and maroons, colors you hardly see elsewhere in such rich combinations.

Conclusion: At this point, it’s hard to tell whether your discouragement with the title is due to the seemingly endless tragedy it produces, or due to its wearisome execution.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * It kind of makes you think, though, that the Red is more given to villainy than the Green.  The Hunters Three were once Totems themselves, and now we’ve got another traitor in the Parliament’s midst.

* This is perhaps more a reflection of me than anything else, but I had such a laugh when the snake-eyed Totem snapped his compatriot’s neck.  It just came so out of nowhere that I couldn’t help it.

– Have to remark on Jared K. Fletcher’s commitment to giving each of the Red characters a different voice by font: the gravelly Shepherd, the booming Longneck, the mellow Blue Bird (who, strangely enough, isn’t blue).