Another week, another comic from DC’s new 52 to try out. This time, I’m giving Animal Man a shot.
Not that I originally was going to. I’ve read Animal Man in the past- both during Grant Morrison’s character-establishing run and later with Jamie Delano’s horror-tinted tenure. I even enjoyed his role in the weekly 52 series from a few years ago. Part of Animal Man’s appeal has been the quirky narrative the writers have always sustained, as well as the “grounded” nature of his abilities (well, until 52, when he received an upgrade and was able to draw on any animal in the universe, which is a cool concept) and his family dynamic. Especially now, as an older man, I like the idea that Animal Man is a family guy that has super powers and tries to balance both.
So when I saw that Animal Man was a part of DC’s new reboot / relaunch / whatever, I was vaguely apprehensive. One of DC’s changes to their line was to reintegrate the Vertigo range into their main comic book continuity. The DC Vertigo series (such as Hellblazer and Swamp Thing) have always, I felt, worked best under their own banner, where they got to play in a more mature, separate sandbox and not be sucked in to things such as banal company-wide crossovers. And initially, I wasn’t crazy about the cover. I love the idea of it- there is something strikingly surreal about Animal Man having the roots of what I imagine is the mythical Tree of Life into his head / back, and symbolically placing him above the animals- but the artwork looked a bit murky to me. It really grew on me, however. After hearing some good things about the series, I decided to pick up the first issue.
So, was it worth it?
I’d give it a resounding Yes.
In the way that I found Stormwatch to be a refreshing take on science fiction for DC, Animal Man slowly drifts into the horror realm, and it is awesome. Jeff Lemire’s expertly paced script gives us an overview of Buddy Baker’s life (the opening newspaper-style interview page was a brilliant touch), establishing his current state as not only a hero, but pop culture icon, animal rights activist, and now indie movie star. We are privy to a household scene featuring everyday family’s problems, such as his daughter wanting a dog and his son wanting to film him in action to send to the Justice League (humorously, for an audition tape). After Buddy deals with a hostage situation, things begin to shift towards the dark and mysterious; why was Buddy’s body reacting to his accessing his powers so boldly? What is the meaning of the disturbing dream he has? Who was the Hunters Three? And just how is Maxine able to do that?
Animal Man #1 beautifully lays the framework for the premiere storyline. It leaves you craving the next installment, but it also does something more. It gives depth to Buddy’s relationship with his family. It provides a potentially heartbreaking conflict with his daughter. There is a strong human element running through this story, tied up in Baker’s familly, and it forms the core of this series. As a family man myself, I find this incredibly appealing, and I was impressed with Lemire’s skills to make this work so well in just one issue.
Despite my initial hesitation regarding the cover, I found Travel Foreman’s interior artwork to be solid in most parts. There are some spots I found murky or plain odd. The full-page shot of Animal Man taking flight looks awkward; his head doesn’t look proportionate to the rest of his body. Later on, the inking on his face when his eyes are bleeding looks murky thanks to the crosshatching, which is slightly distracting given the overall powerful scene. However, the standout piece has to be the dream sequence, which looks deliciously surreal and, frankly, beautiful in black, white, and red. Baker’s transformation into nerve endings is a creepy touch and the revelation of the Hunters is great.
With a stunning debut issue, Animal Man has done its job and hooked me as a monthly reader. If the series maintains this level of quality, it will be one of the best series to come out of DC’s New 52. Highly recommended.