With the long awaited “Rotworld” crossover between the Animal Man and Swamp Thing books on the horizon, Jeff Lemire and Timothy Green II used the first Animal Man Annual to tease readers with a team up between two previous avatars of The Green and The Red. “Endless Rot” expanded on the mythology of both worlds, showing how the two elements, along with The Rot, naturally work together to maintain balance in the world, and what happens when that balance is threatened when one side grows too powerful. Lemire’s story also drew a strong line connecting the past to the present day while portending possible tragedy for Buddy Baker and his family. It all made for a solid, thematically important chapter in the ongoing Animal Man saga.
When The Bakers make a pit stop on their way to meet Alec Holland, former Red Avatar Socks tells young Maxine Baker the story of Jacob Mullin, a Canadian farmer who became an avatar of The Red in 1894. Like Buddy Baker, Mullin was leading a normal life with a wife and two kids until an illness began to spread through the crops and livestock his people depended on. While searching for the cause of the blight with a small group of Mounties and volunteers, Mullin’s true destiny revealed itself, forcing him into a dark world that would upset the balance of his own existence.
Much like the excellent one shot story that showcased Buddy’s independent film “Tights” in Issue Six, Lemire used Mullin’s tale to draw comparisons to Buddy’s life and to show the kind of losses he might have to suffer in the near future. He has foreshadowed death so hard since the beginning of his run, it’s going to feel like a bit of a cop out if everyone comes out alive. I only say a bit because The Bakers have become so relatable and likeable under Lemire’s pen, I definitely want to see them survive the war against The Rot. I didn’t feel the same connection with Jacob Mullin and his family though. Mullin was a typical, one-dimensional hero type; selfless and serious, reluctant yet inevitably accepting of his fate. His wife and two kids existed mostly to move his own journey forward, and to provide a parallel to Buddy Baker and his family. Still, there was a humanity to Lemire’s story, as he showed how a person has a naturally strong instinct to protect their family, and how those who are tied closer to The Red and The Green don’t quite understand how that is a strength. The real strength of the Annual came from the informative interaction between Mullin and that era’s Swamp Thing, as well as the compact, action packed storytelling. Lemire’s saga may have been running for ten months, but he managed to tell a similar tale in less than forty pages here. What the comic lacked in personality, it made up for in action and gore, all rendered with great skill by Timothy Green II, Inker Joseph Silver, and Colorist Lovern Kindzierski.
Written by Jeff Lemire, Penciled by Timothy Green II, Inked by Joseph Silver, Colored by Lovern Kindzierski, Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, Cover by Travel Foreman, Edited by Kate Stewart and Joey Cavalieri
Green II’s style fit well with the look that Travel Foreman and Steve Pugh established in the main Animal Man series. His and Silver’s linework had a thin, clean, yet somewhat unsettled style, and his monsters were suitably gross and creepy. That goes for the late 19th Century version of Swamp Thing as well. Unlike the tall and strong type most readers are probably accustomed to, this version looked small, fragile, and a little creepy, like he was at the end of his life. Kindzierski’s simple coloring complimented the illustrations well, especially in the graphic night sequence that pushed the boundaries of the comics’ Teen Plus Rating to its breaking point.
While “Endless Rot” was a solid, action packed one-and-done story, it lacked the personality and heart that has made the monthly Animal Man comic so good. Plot wise it’s probably inessential to the larger saga that Lemire is building, but it’s worth checking out to see the history of The Red and The Green filled in a bit more.