I have something of an annual tradition whenever Free Comic Book Day rolls around; I try, amongst the copious purchases of cheap series’ I love, to grab a book from a title I’ve never read before. Last year it was Daredevil, and after I picked up Shadowland I was hooked, going back and checking out Bendis and Brubaker’s runs before it which led to Diggle and Waid’s more recently.
This year it was going to be Moon Knight, but something else grabbed my eye instead – Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man, touted as a fantastic and darkly psychological exploration into DC’s new continuity and featuring a front cover with a man covered in what looked like aggressive blood vessels in the shape of lungs. I’ve heard nothing but praise for it, and figured it might be worth a look.
The story follows Buddy Baker, former Canadian superhero and current film star in Tights, the superhero biopic about his post-crimefighting days. Having established a comfortable family life for himself with a wife and two kids, Buddy seems like his days as an animal-powered superhuman are over.
That is, until his daughter makes a whole bunch of dead animals reanimate on their lawn, a trio of human-eating monsters invade Canada, and Buddy learns his tiny female offspring may well be more powerful than he is. It sounds pretty dry from that description, but I don’t want to give too much away; this book relies a lot of sudden plot twists and visual elements coming out of nowhere, and if I go into too much more detail it’ll ruin a lot of the book for you.
This review will end up being pretty short, but not because the story sucks – far from it. I’ve never partaken of Lemire’s writing or Travel Foreman’s artistry, but they both pack a massive punch for non-JLA DC superheroes with this installment. I get the sense that Buddy would work better on his own, rather than part of a super-team, and the adventures he’d have with his family members add an extra element of familial inclusion with a dark twist that appears towards the end. It sets up an interesting dynamic for future installments.
Foreman’s art is grisly, gut-wrenching and somewhat bare-bones, but in a really good way. It doesn’t have the complex texturing of Jim Lee or Ivan Reis but it’s still highly effective at creating visual WHAM, especially during the sections where Buddy is metamorphosed inside the Red and appears as several different, grotesquely malformed versions of himself. For me, the best piece of artwork was near the end of the second act where one of the aforementioned monster trio eats a person, and holds half the body up like the detritus of a meal or the crusts of a sandwich. It really has to be seen to be believed, although I’d recommend those with weak constitutions have a bucket handy.
The dialogue is also well written, and thankfully avoids the slightly stupid stereotypical-ness I usually see with Canadian-based dialogue that features lots of “eh?” and references to how backwards they are compared to America. Thankfully, like the Scott Pilgrim series, Animal Man avoids this. I think so far the best snarker in-story is Buddy’s son, who looks set to have many wonderful teenage one-liners that don’t make you think Allan Heinberg is writing this thing.
Overall, I was impressed by Animal Man. I’m definitely keen to explore the later volumes once they’re released, and I feel great that my tradition of a new series every Free Comic Book Day has once again given me a story worth following. But you wanna know the best part?
Towards the end of the story [SPOILER ALERT] a character informs Buddy that they should visit Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing currently being written by Scott Snyder.
I smell a wonderful crossoverrrrr!
BEST QUOTE: “The movie stuff has been fun, but that interview kind of made me feel, I don’t know…like a has-been or something. Like I’m embarrassed at being Animal Man. Ah, hell, maybe I’m thinking too much. Maybe I just need to punch someone.” – Buddy Baker