Saturday, April 7, 2012

CBR Grant Morrison's Animal Man


Time for another comic book review!

This time, it's Animal Man's turn!
We already saw him before, I mentioned his storyline in an Adam Strange comics recently.

Let's see the comic that put this underdog superhero back on the map, in....

Comic title: Animal Man
Art by Chas Truog, Tom Grummett & Dough Hazlewood
Cover Art by Brian Bolland
Story by Grant Morrison

Published by DC Comics
From 1988/1991
Lineup Animal Man
Format: Trade paperback, collecting the first nine issue of Animal Man. 

Back in the 80s, after the big "Crisis" that reshaped and rebooted the whole DC Universe, DC had their creators redefine their characters for a new generation, like we saw with Batman: Year One and other related relaunches. Some others were having fun with new books, introducing new characters and playing with the format as we saw before.

Following the success of Alan Moore's Watchmen, that revamped the whole comic book medium,  younger and innovative talents were brought from outside the US.
For example, another author from the UK, famous writer Neil Gaiman got to reimagine The Sandman.
Amongst this new blood brought aboard was Grant Morrison, who has become over the years one of the greatest writers to work at DC, revamping characters, making deep and interesting stories, a true master story teller.

While Alan Moore explored the themes of life and nature through an old forgotten DC propriety with Swamp Thing, Morrison did the exact same thing for the animal kingdom and animal rights with another long forgotten Silver Age hero, Animal Man!

Who is Animal Man??
Originally a B (or even C) List hero, A.M. was revamped in the late 80s alongside various older DC character. He stayed mostly the same and kept his stories for the most part intact. At least, that's the status quo at the start of the book, soon enough, he starts questioning the way his powers work or come from...

After being exposed to some alien saucer that crash landed on earth, Buddy Baker developed some strange super powers.
Buddy was now able to "channel" the natural abilities of the animals in his environment.
He had a superhero costume made up for him and started playing vigilante around. Never as popular or strong as, say, Superman or Batman, he mostly stayed on the sidelines. (until the Crisis that is...)

Buddy lives happily with his wife Ellen and son and daughter, Cliff and Maxine respectively (9 and 5 years old children), in the suburbs.

At the start of this series, Buddy decides he now wants to be a "real" serious superhero.
He quickly joins the JLI, the Justice League Europe-branch (out of panel) and hires his neighbour and friend to serve as agent and starts taking "superhero" jobs....

The series depicts this "everyday man" Animal Man struggle with both a superhero life and these very strange powers he has.

It's more of a meta-series about an average Joe living in a world/universe populated by super powered creatures and alien creatures.
On his first job for STAR Labs, he is quickly confronted to mutation, hi-tech technology, old obscure DC Comics characters , monsters, etc..

The series plays a lot with comic book conventions and tropes, analyzing them and having fun with them. During these first story arcs it's pretty realistic grounded.

It's sort of a series that takes itself quite seriously in tone, but plays along with the usual ridiculous concepts you find in comics.
The "Wile E. Coyote" issue comes to mind, but I won't spoil it here. Let's just say it shows in a gruesome and sad "reality filter" how cartoons work. A pretty fun issue for sure.

The real stars of the show here are Buddy mostly outside his superhero persona (thinking about his Animal Man identity) and his family. Buddy doesn't have a proper "secret identity", everyone who knows who Buddy Baker is can find Animal Man's private home.
Ellen and the kids are quite featured prominently during most storylines. Buddy's relationship with them, their relationship with "Animal Man". (Cliff gets bullied at school for being the son of A.M.)

There's a lot of DC "guest stars", as Buddy lives in the larger DCU. References are made to the entire canon of the DC of that era.
B'wana Beast is brought back from the Silver Age as well in a more realistic fashion (his animal-mixing powers used for horror and shock here!), Thanagarians, Martian Manhunter, Flash's villain Mirror Master, etc.

Buddy starts to question his way of life, due to his connection with the animal kingdom. And become the first vegetarian superhero, one who fights for animal rights and causes. (like Morrison himself)
He also starts questioning and having some trouble with his own strange abilities (after a DC Comics event - Invasion - that is avoided here but alluded, easy to get without spending time upon)

During these reflective and contemplative calmer issues, he also runs into an old retired Golden Age villain (in Death of the Red Mask), which touches the same kind of subjects Watchmen does. The whole issues even seems like a big Watchmen allusion/homage, playing with the presence of violence nowadays, comics in the old days, "grey"zones of moral, simpler times. (lots of shoutouts to find, visually, same kind of breakdowns, layouts,..)

All in all, a very simple comic to read and access, and both deep and both meaningful and experimental.

Overall, it's a fantastic book!
A great entry point into the DC Universe and a powerful analysis of it from a more "common man" point of view.

Most stories contained in this book are self-contained per issues, besides the on-going overall plot of the first bunch of issues. The series was originally imagined as a 4-issue mini-series, before actually being turned into an on-going due to the fantastic sales, and it kind of shows.

This is the first of a three-volumes collection collecting Morrison's run. He wrote the first 26 issues of Animal Man (of a ~90 issues run) from '88 to 1990.

Chas Truog and Doug Hazlewood's art is quite stunning and I simply adore Brian Bolland covers, which defined the series universe and mature tone even before opening the first page of these stories.

All in all, it's a must HAVE!
Worth and necessary to anyone's library!

I give it:

  3 / 3 Plastic-trophies!

1 comment:

  1. I need to pick up that book! Can't go wrong with Morrison!