The twisted bones of Animal Man #3

One of the New 52 on the outskirts of attention has been Animal Man. The line depicts the story of a man who can harness the powers of various animals at will – using it to fight crime and defeat villains.

The relaunch of Animal Man begins a bit confusingly. The character and his powers are clear enoguh, but we feel a bit thrown in the middle of things. This changes in the second issue, when the challenge begins to coalesce.

This is clearly not a story about Animal Man’s crime-fighting days.Those days are over, a mere preamble to what will happen next. It is the third issue which finally makes clear the conflict of the upcoming tale.

Animal Man is not the hero of the story. His powers, his heroism were simply trailing for something bigger, guardianship of his daughter Maxine, who is the true ‘Avatar’ of ‘the red’, a basic universal force which represents the biological world of the flesh, an accompaniment to the ‘green’, which represents the life force of plants.

The girl is drawn, with her father to ‘The Heart, a resting place for former avatars. A battle is about to begin against a force they call The Other.

What the other is, where it comes from, is still a bit of a mystery, but their nature is becoming clearer, and it is insidious and horrifying. The creatures that represent The Other can inhabit flesh, and within it become hungry for it, being forced to consume their own hosts.

The depiction of the creatures is gruesome, ugly. The artist here is unafraid to create extremely ugly panels to make clear the terrible nature of The Other, but it’s not just them. The entire story is gruesome and the stakes are terribly high. When the characters are in The Red, their forms, especially Animal Man’s is allowed to shift and twist with his emotions. When he is frightened and feeling lost, his body loses cohesion, his organs become visible, and his face is an unrecognizable twist of meat, only returning to his form, when the unfrightened Maxine lends him her strength and conviction. When he becomes angry, he twists again, but this time into a knotted, muscled form of rage and power. 

These are not things that happened to him within the boundaries of his Animal Man powers previously, and the raw illustration style, which at first turned me off from the comic in its first issues, shows itself as a necessary component. This story could not be told pretty. It’s an ugly story, and needs to look the part.

I’ll refrain from calling it a ‘horror’ comic, as it does not seem to want to be one at its core. It’s still a super hero tale, focusing on the themes of identity, humanity, and overcoming villainy, as most good super hero stories do, but it is grotesque, and it is a tale of horrible things, things we never want to imagine exist.

Much worse than robots from space or ancient evil sorcerers – this enemy simply wants to consume the essence of all life, that part of the universe that allows life to thrive, and our hero, a four-year old girl is going to have to stop them.

Animal Man #3 can be picked up wherever you get your comics, including the comiXology store.