When ‘Animal Man’ #8 ended, Buddy Baker (aka Animal Man) and his family were fleeing from an army of undead animals created by The Rot. Buddy told his wife to take their kids and run while he returned to hold off the advancing horde. But, in the battle with the Rot creatures, Buddy fell to the onslaught and seemed to turn into one of them!

As this issue opens, Buddy has slipped back into The Red. He’s in a dreamlike state, floating through a world of guts, bones, and blood, wondering about his existence. Meanwhile, back in the real world, it becomes clear that one of the Lords of The Rot has taken control of Buddy Baker’s body.

Inside The Red, Buddy meets a being that looks like the older brother to the faun from ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. After a brief altercation with the faun-creature, Buddy begins a long journey across the Sea of Red to meet the Totems, the lords of The Red.

Back on Earth, the demonic entity in Buddy’s body formulates a plan to draw Maxine back to him so that he can destroy her before she becomes too powerful for them to stop.

Jeff Lemire has been, for the most part, a wonderful fit for the creepy new vision of ‘Animal Man’. Even those off moments were, I believe, because Lemire had to make filler issues so that the pacing of ‘Animal Man’ stayed in sync with that of ‘Swamp Thing’. Now that those issues are done, Lemire is back on top of his game with this issue. The Rot is back to being one of the more horrifying places in the DCU that I’ve ever seen and Animal Man is back to his spiritual struggle to find his true status in the universe. The writing is tight, the dialog doesn’t waste a word, and Lemire even manages to sneak in a reference to Grant Morrison’s late ’80s run on ‘Animal Man’.

In the art department, Travel Foreman has, aside from the cover, handed penciling duties over to Steve Pugh. This is a good call from all involved since their styles, although similar, were swapping back and forth at random for the past couple of issues. Pugh’s work isn’t as light and dreamy as Foreman but it’s still gritty and gory and matches the horror of the story perfectly.

Verdict: Buy

Written by JEFF LEMIRE