Animal Man #1

Animal Man #1

A

Strangely, I’ve seen some people decry DC’s bold relaunch as not bold enough. “It’s business as usual, just renumbered” that criticism goes. Actually, that’s a pretty popular train of thought, and it’s also wrong. Animal Man #1 makes it clear that business has changed.

Written by Jeff Lemire and with art from Travel Foreman, this series already has a couple major assets in its corner. In particular, I’m a big big fan of Lemire, whose Sweet Tooth is bar none one of the most exciting, well-crafted books on the stands today. Lemire recently took a turn in the superhero world with an 11-issue run on Superboy which, while very good, didn’t quite match the heights of his indie work, notably The Essex County Trilogy. Animal Man provides a chance for Lemire to merge those two worlds. It’s a book about familial relationships with superhero elements on the fringes. Also, perhaps surprisingly, it’s a pretty solid horror story.

As this first issue begins, Animal Man — also known as Buddy Baker — is enjoying something of a resurgence. He’s a spokesperson for animal rights whose image has caught on with young liberal thinkers (they like to ape his logo on their bootlegged t-shirts). He’s an up-and-coming movie star who landed the leading role in cutting-edge director Ryan Daranovsky’s Tights, a film about a superhero past his prime. He’s also, kind of, a costumed adventurer, although as he tells a magazine reporter in the interview that opens this book, “I realized I could make more of a difference educating people on animal rights than I could by punching out a super villain.”

No, Buddy’s conflicts these days relate more to family dynamics than evildoers. His wife can’t make up her mind if she wants Buddy to put on his costume or stay at home; she also wishes he made a little more money from being a cultural icon. His daughter wants a dog, but that would interfere with his powers. His son wants to follow in his dad’s superhero footsteps, though of course that’s too dangerous. Lemire does a great job making the supporting cast come alive (probably his greatest strength on Superboy), and as a result the Baker family feels real. As Essex County showed, families are where Lemire really shines, and it’s a really solid move on DC’s part to let him work that magic here. Many of their heroes are being thrust back into the bachelor lifestyle — Clark Kent and Barry Allen most notably — but Buddy Baker gets to be a realistic family man living in a normal, conflict-addled nuclear family.

Of course, this is a DC comic book, and the supernatural world isn’t done with Buddy yet. A rare heroic episode at a hospital finds Buddy more in touch with his powers than ever, but also seemingly tapping into something horrible. Afterwards, visions of some monstrous antagonists suggest that his whole’s family’s in danger; indeed, it may be one of them who causes that danger. What’s happening here seems to tie in to Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing, which wouldn’t be all that surprising given that both books are part of the “DC Dark” line. Lemire sets up a surprisingly horrific story, and the art of Travel Foreman should bring us right out of our skin.

Let’s talk about that art. It’s certainly unorthodox, and it took me a few pages to adjust to Foreman’s thin, somewhat abrasive style. Of course, the book opens on a domestic scene; by the time we get to the horror stuff, the pencils totally pop. The same can be said for the superhero scenes; Foreman’s found a really interesting way to graphically represent Buddy’s powers, not an easy task. I can’t imagine this art is what everyone wants out of a comic book, but I’m on board. Anyone familiar with Lemire’s own drawings should be open to Foreman’s style anyway — that plus Lemire’s sharp writing gives the book an indie edge. I do have to say, the colors from Lovern Kindzierski don’t totally work for me except in the excellent black-and-white scene; they seem a little too monotone, but maybe that’s just something I need to adjust to.

To anyone unsure of the virtues of DC’s reboot, I make this proclamation: read Animal Man #1 and tell me this book doesn’t feel fresh and interesting. I can understand if it’s not your cup of tea, but you have to admit it’s not really like anything we’ve seen before. Jeff Lemire has proven time and again that he can work magic in a number of genres, and it speaks highly of DC that they’re letting him craft something totally unique and wholly compelling here.

Pull list verdict: KEEP IT.

tags: animal man, Jeff Lemire, the new 52, travel foreman

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