It’s nowhere near that bad, of course (and also the Swamp Thing would be in much more dire need of saving, if you ask me). But the final page of Animal Man #5 (DC) does indicate a certain emptiness at the core—it’s a story in need either of a character, or of some graspability to the evil forces that drive it. Well, they’re against life. And because they block life, Buddy doesn’t get to be Animal Man very much, only a guy running away from his own melting face, while his daughter, set up to be the more effective superpower, does not yet have the personality to handle it. Or maybe it’s just that both enemy and friendly forces are too amorphous, bloating up or cooking down all characters they occupy into formlessness, with the rot for now winning over the red (how’s that for a sound shift?).
The still glorious art meanwhile has solidified, away from the sketchiness of the beginnings to something more hard-edged, moving closer to the almost art nouveau tracings of Swamp Thing. It does feel less free, but even the inconsistencies are interesting and invite reading for content. Like the house in the country that has served the family as a base for the last two issues and first made me groan because of its unreal appearance, like a first computer rendering not yet completely filled out—it really has proved a diaphanous setting for unreal happenings, so that kind of fits. And thumbing back through the completed arc it even seems as if one could, by way of an academic exercise, read Buddy’s surface treatment, the untidy cross hatches versus the more orderly and compact blots of shadow, as indications of how close to his life force he is in a given panel. But still…
There is no real reason for disappointment. Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman have transitioned into long-haul mode, where they can introduce guest artists in ways that don’t hurt (the last few pages this time, and seemingly most of the next issue), and while the lack of character so far is sad, they now have a family on the run and hopefully much time to explore everybody in a little more detail. And maybe Buddy will even get to be Animal Man again.
Only they should get the Swamp Thing crossover done with soon. It’s getting old before it happens.