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 Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.