Jun 23 2011 6:20pm

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe: Animal Man

Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: ANIMAL MAN!

The Concept and Characters: Animal Man is far better known as the character who broke Grant Morrison into the mainstream American comic book market than as a superhero in his own right. The fact is that Morrison’s 26-issue run on Animal Man redefined the character and, in many ways, redefined the superhero genre, adding an explicit metafictional dimension to the relationship between character and creator.

Before Morrison’s late-1980s revamp of Buddy Baker, a.k.a. Animal Man, the character was just another silly Silver Age character with pseudo-scientific powers who never made much of an impact on the comic book scene. Animal Man could replicate animal powers (but not transform into animals), and ended up hanging around with other obscure DC characters as part of a sort-of-team called “The Forgotten Heroes” who would sometimes pal around with Superman when they got a chance.

Morrison humanized Buddy Baker, gave him a family, and turned his stories into an engaging commentary on the very nature of comic book narrative. No one since Morrison has been able to do anything particularly interesting with the character, even though the series lasted for years after Morrison’s departure, and Animal Man has popped up in books like 52 (in scenes written by Morrison himself), Countdown to Adventure, and The Last Days of Animal Man.

I haven’t yet seen much information about the specific direction of this relaunched Animal Man series, other than its reported emphasis on Buddy Baker’s family as supporting characters, but I suspect that it will try to do a variation on the suburban superhero storytelling Morrison was so successful at, probably without the metafictional flourishes.

The Creative Team: Writer Jeff Lemire is a master of what I have called “rural noir,” and from his earliest work (like the graphic novel Lost Dogs which will hopefully see a reprint edition sometime soon) through his evocative Essex County Trilogy through his more mainstream work at Vertigo and on DC’s excellent Superboy series, he has shown great capacity for detailing the internal lives of characters set against a bleak landscape. I also know him to be a big fan of Grant Morrison’s work. If anyone other than Morrison can pull off Animal Man, suburban superhero, I think it might be Jeff Lemire.

Artist Travel Foreman has consistently produced interesting work for Marvel over the past half-decade. His style changes to suit his material, but in recent years he’s shifted away from a semi-clean-yet-illustrative line towards a more expressionistic type of figure drawing. His work on the Ares miniseries doesn’t resemble what he did by the end of his Immortal Iron Fist run, just a few years later. I like Foreman’s work a lot, but his more recent work seems less commercial than his earlier approach. I like less commercial usually, especially when “commercial” at DC tends to mean, “draws like Jim Lee.” For an odd, probably quirky, series like Animal Man, Foreman’s a good choice.

Recommendation: Buy it. Even with all the question marks around this series, like “How far into weirdness will Lemire take this series?” and “Which version of Travel Foreman will show up?” and “How much Morrison will be felt beneath this comic?” Animal Man has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the relaunch. It has a strong creative team, a character who has almost no recognition outside of hardcore comic book circles, and it will most likely have a look and tone that will be distinctly different than most of the other DC relaunches. I have high hopes for this series.

Tim Callahan writes about comics for, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Dave Thompson
1. DKT
Just wanted to say I'm really enjoying these posts. I feel a bit clueless about the reboot in general (and was always more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy, even though I haven't bought much from either line in years), but I'm actually kind of curious about how all this will work out, or if it'll just be a fad.

So thanks for all the hard work. Looking forward to reading more.
Chuk Goodin
2. Chuk
I only know Lemire as the Essex County guy. Seems like him doing a DC super-hero title is so crazy it just might work...
Scott Laz
3. Scott Laz
Thanks for these posts. For several of the new series, I'm not sure about the background of the creative teams, but don't want to overlook anything potentially interesting. Generally, I was hoping for more new/young creators than it looks like we're getting, considering that this is supposed to be a move to revitalize the line. (Bringing in Scott Lobdell and Rob Liefeld isn't exactly breaking new ground...)

Agreed that "Animal Man" is one of the few "must gets."
Scott Laz
4. John R. Ellis
Ah, yes. The series where Grant Morrison decided that it'd be better to not experiment medically on animals, because "some humans invented bombs, therefore medical experimentation on animals should NEVER happen. Because animals don't make bombs, yet ALL humans are guilty of evil bomb making."

I could never quite figure the logic of that one out.
Scott Laz
5. Sciteach
Just as long as it isnt a remake of that show from the 80s: Manimal.
rob mcCathy
6. roblewmac
John r DC between Animal-man and Swamp thing DC has done some strange tree hugging
Scott Laz
7. Ricardo Amaral
Peter Milligan's brief run was also amazing, let's not forget it.
Chad Whitley
8. ChadWhitley
I'll echo the sentiments of others here, but I'm really digging this series. As a long-time DC fan, I decided what relaunch titles I would get about three days after the announcements were made, but it has been nice to get a more thorough analysis of the various books and creative teams.

And (bonus!), I've actually decided to drop Green Lantern (not a big Sinestro fan) and pick up Animal Man instead, based on your recommendation. So thanks!
Scott Laz
9. dustin44444
Jamie Delano had a beautiful run on Animal Man a while after Morrison. He explored politics, religion, feminism, environmentalism and a host of other social and cultural issues. They were great comics, a fantastic read! Unfortunately it's never been collected into trade.
I mention this because Lemire has stated that Delano's work on Animal Man, more than Morrison's, was his inspiration for writing this new series.

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