Comic Book Review: ANIMAL MAN #1

The New 52 take on Animal Man returns him to Grant Morrison’s vision. And that’s not so bad.

Having read all of the first week New 52 books (except Hawk & Dove. I’ve tried, but I don’t think I can get through it), I remain baffled by just what DC Comics is trying to accomplish. Some of the new books are quite good, some are absolutely horrible, but there seems to be no unified theory behind them all - except to throw a #1 on the cover.

Take Animal Man #1. As far as I can tell there is no reason this comic needs to be part of a rebooted DC Universe; with a few tiny changes (mostly to the age of his kids), Animal Man #1 could have just as easily been released three months ago. In fact this new comic seems to mostly return Buddy Baker to a Grant Morrison-esque status quo. Which is interesting, because there’s some violence and thematic stuff in this issue that probably would have only been viable in Vertigo back in the day. In 2011 Buddy’s son having his intestines hanging out (in a dream, but still…) gets to happen in an all-ages mainstream book.

It’s a good book. It’s smart to bring Animal Man back to that Grant Morrison version, as that was always the most interesting take on the character. Buddy was a second rate superhero at the best of times, and his powers are weirdly low-key - he can manifest the abilities of any animal. In Morrison’s version Buddy was mostly retired, living at home with his wife and kids, and an animal rights activist. Over the  course of the run he became aware that he was a comic book character, and even met Grant Morrison - it was one of those seminal post-modern events of recent comic book history.

The new Buddy Baker is essentially exactly the same. His son, Cliff, even has the weird 80s mullet he had in Morrison’s run. The big difference this time is that Animal Man has just finished shooting his first starring role in a movie (he had previously been a stunt man) that sounds a lot like a superhero version of The Wrestler.

New writer Jeff Lemire gets to the heart of what works about Animal Man - his humanity. The big threat in this first issue is a combination of Buddy’s restlessness and a man who takes a children’s cancer ward hostage, unable to cope with the recent death of his daughter (he thinks the doctors are hiding her from him). Lemire comes from an indie comics background, and his Essex County Trilogy is very much character-oriented, and he brings that to Animal Man. Travel Foreman’s art reminds of the early Vertigo books, especially the inks (which he did with Dan Green).

This is a strong start for a new (but familiar) run on the character; taking it separate from the New 52 hoopla this is just a quality comic. One foot in superheroics with another foot in horror (the issue ends on a delightfully disturbing image), Lemire’s spin on Animal Man will hopefully be one of the titles to make it out of what is sure to be the New 52 bloodbath in a couple of months.