Sunday, June 17, 2012

CBR Animal Man 3: Deus Ex Machina


And finally, time for the third and final book of Grant Morrison's Animal Man!
It's all coming down to this conclusion, what is going to happen to Buddy? What are the strange shadows lurking around that he's been seeing since the beginning of the story? And what is beyond the gutters of these panels?!

Don't miss out my previous Animal Man-related reviews!

Comic title: Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina 
Art by Chas Truog, Paris Cullins, Dough Hazlewood, Steve Montano and Mark Farmer
Cover Art by Brian Bolland
Story by Grant Morrison
Published by DC/Vertigo Comics

From 1990, 2003
Lineup Animal Man
Format: Trade paperback, collecting Animal Man issues #18-26.

This is it, guys!
The final volume of Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man!

For these last adventures, Morrison brings our hero Buddy Baker closer to the truth, in closing tales spiraling outta the comic book panels!

While the first volume was mostly an introduction to our cast of characters, who was Animal Man, his status quo, etc. Volume 2 was then a slow decent into the weird, often alternating traditional superhero stories with exploration of the medium.
This one is clearly the climax of the series, so be sure to check those out first!

Warning! Spoilers ahead!

Behind the curtains...

Our "minor" superhero Animal Man his visited by Professor James Highwater, a theoretical physicist who, like Buddy, has been seeing lately strange hints about what is hiding being "reality".
They both take a little trip to a Navajo reservation for some revelations through hallucinations which takes them near the bottom of the comic book pages.
Buddy finally understands his ties to the morphogenetic field. He was reconstructed by those aliens after the accident with the alien spaceship blew up in his face. Now tied to this field where all molecules originate from, he does not need to be near animals to access their abilities. He is simply always connected to life's essence 24/7.

But that is far from the being the last of his revelations. In a sort of out-of-body experience, he also meets the original pre-CRISIS Animal Man. And starts to grasp at the fact he only seems to be a fictional character... while he sees the reader for just a second.

Back in black!

Was all that just part of the hallucinations?

Anyway, still partly shocked from these, our environmentalist hero is met with horror at home.
His wife Ellen and their children Maxine and Cliff are found dead in the kitchen!

The Bakers have been under the surveillance of a mysterious figure as of late appearing around randomly. He's done his best to protect his family from the weirdness of his life...but that wasn't enough.
And it appears his family has been assassinated not by a supervillain but a common ordinary hired killer.
Mirror Master call Buddy and tells him it was simple businessmen who couldn't stand his activism in the way. He comes up with names and our hero dons a new darker costume and hunts down those people responsible for the murder one by one.

But in the end, after having make them pay, he is no happier...
So in true-comic book fashion, our sad deconstructed hero comes up with a new plan! He will travel through time and save them before it's too late!
After getting a time machine from "Time Master" Rip Hunter - whom he doesn't remember ever meeting, though it did happen before the CRISIS - the machine malfunctions and sends him through the run of this series.
Buddy is revealed to be the mysterious figure we've met 14 issues earlier.
He tries to warn his family, but can't communicate with them... Until his sent back to his childhood and then ends up in the 1960s and meets other DC characters Phantom Stranger, Jason Blood (Etrigan, the Demon), The Immortal Man & Vandal Savage.

Deconstruction of a medium...

Buddy ends up in comic book limbo for having gotten the series out of the rails.
There he meets various characters that aren't being used in books actually.
Various characters erased from the timeline.
In comic book limbo he is greeted by forgotten characters that aren't actually been doing a thing lately before Buddy brought them on the pages. Including Merryman of the Inferior Five.
Buddy discovers he had actually been there himself until he was brought back for Morrison's series. Though he has no memories of it obviously, "it" being something abstract.
Characters and other incarnations end up there when editors write them out of comics.
(Various characters have actually been brought back since then, such as Max Mercury, Mister Freeze,..)

Buddy ends up in Scotland, to meet his current creator.
He discovers the man responsible for everything that has happened to him recently his a writer, Grant Morrison.

Deus Ex Machina

Our 4-toned colored character meets Morrison in a final issue, the culmination of 2 years-worth of plot and storylines.
The series wraps up in this gray-ysh, colorless representation of the reality. After all, this isn't Morrison himself but a representation, an avatar of his voice.
While Buddy battles some random characters for our entertainment in the background, Grant Morrison wraps up the themes. This has been a series about defenseless victims actually. Be it animal rights, animal testing, the difficulty Cliff was living through at school, the near-rape Ellen almost suffered through...

And these "god-like" super beings, the comic book characters are just as defenseless in the hands of the creative teams. They're used for the enjoyment of the readers, tarnished. They live in a simplified version of our world, an exaggeration of it with capacity for good and bad just the same. The books have been turning grim and gritty, darker, more violent for the entertainment of a modern audience.

Grant explains how Buddy might as well start eating meat soon, he was made a vegan because Morrison himself was and projected it into his character. Buddy doesn't have a thing to say.
He was but one writer amongst many (thus explained his "different voice" on the pages of the JLI).
Grant thanks the editor, the art team, the faithful readers and asks us to excuse his sometimes-preachy tone.
And while this cynical fictional Grant Morrison bids farewell to us, some "good" closes the book.

Deus Ex Machina
Which is a writing device, literally the gods coming down from above and providing a happy ending at the closing of a story, Morrison is wise enough to reward our character/the readers with his family back. Was it all a dream....?

Overall, one of Grant Morrison's definitive most important oeuvres.
The series would continue long after Morrison's run, of course.
But it still is one of DC's most important and significant books. The series also helped launch and develop the Vertigo Comics in-print. Animal Man would be published as issues under that label much later, but the trade paperbacks would start under that brand as early as the '91. Vertigo started as a branch for more mature proprieties before evolving into today's "creators owned-characters" only in-print.

Animal Man helped thin the walls between creator and creation, thus bringing characters and readers closer as well.
It made Buddy Baker an identifiable likable character. Buddy always did the best he could, even without always understanding exactly was was going on. Like us in today's world.
Only, he was able to glance at that mysterious ominous "one" pulling the strings.

While the first volume contains more "classic" modern-day super hero adventures, the second volume started to take some political questions. About animal rights, cruelty to animals, the way people threat defenseless animals.
Finally, this third volume is the more metafictional/existential one. In which the medium is fully explored and toyed with.

The point in which Psycho-Pirate starts remembering the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS is only the beginning in which the crazy villain brings back the allusions to multiple Earths from his memory (which allow fictional characters from erased stories to come back, like Ultraman).

Buddy is just a character in a book, but never before as one acted like an actual living and breathing real person.

I give it:

  3 / 3 Plastic-trophies!