The DC New 52 series has all of your favorite characters in the mix. You have the warrior of the night: Batman. You have the sun powered alien: Superman. Intergalactic Police force: Green Lantern Corps. And you have the wild man: Animal Man. Wait, who? Have you never heard of Animal Man before? Allow me to give you some history on the character.
Animal Man first appeared in 1965, but remained a very small character until 1988, when Grant Morrison revived this character to be something completely different. If you have a chance, pick up the Omnibus (pretty cheap too), that gives you Morrison’s run on the character. Morrison makes the character human. He has a family, he’s low on cash, he wants to get into the Justice League. After that, Animal Man became a Vertigo title, and then back into DC, in the times of 52 and Infinite Crisis, around 2006. It’s actually quite a surprise, that in 2011, as part of the DCU relaunch, D list hero:Animal Man was right there with his own title, written by Jeff Lemire.
So what makes Animal Man so special? Well, unlike other, if not most Superheroes, Buddy Baker had a pretty normal life. His parents didn’t die by some thug, his planet didn’t explode, he wasn’t made from clay or anything like that. He was just your average joe, trying to give his family a better life. As we learn in the pages of the New 52 Animal Man, Buddy is connected to “The Red”, or the “Life Web” as he calls it. In his mind, he can sense Animals, and use their powers, and abilities, strengths and speeds. When faced with a mad man with a gun, Buddy will get the strength of a gorilla, the speed of a gazelle, the flight of an eagle, and the endurance of an elephant, making them into a “cocktail” in the fight for justice. In Morrison’s run, after Buddy has his arm torn off by a Man-Rat, Buddy is able to use the abilities of an earthworm to grow his arm back. In Lemire’s run, Buddy gets the speed of ants and cockroaches, to catch up with a slowed down Flash!
What makes Animal Man stand out for me; is how much of a family man he is. It’s almost refreshing to see a character in the DCU not constantly brooding. Buddy loves his family, and they know he’s Animal Man, so no whacky scenes of Dad trying to play hero, and sneaking out of his house. Towards the end of Morrison’s run, a man kills Buddy’s family while he is away, and upon return, is just crushed. In fact, issues afterward, all Buddy can do is cry and try to live, but constantly breaks down. You really feel bad for the character, mostly because you actually did get to know Buddy’s family. They were charming, from his son busy watching Metallica music videos, to his wife fighting Mirror Master! It always felt like Buddy’s family, was right there with him when he would face something big. Lemire does something similar, but in a much more intense way: his family gets a front row seat to his adventure, and it’s NOT a good thing.
Towards the end of Morrison’s run, Animal Man actually tried going back in time to save his family, only to be stuck in time as a ghost. Sometimes appearing, but mostly he was stuck to watch past events of him and his family. Although this really is when Morrison’s run takes…an interesting turn of events. Buddy actually meets up with some immortals (Jason Blood, Phantom Stranger), as they try to tell him life goes on, and it really doesn’t matter what we do. That then leads Buddy into a limbo/death place for forgotten superheroes that have hope of returning to mainstream comics one day. Seriously! The end of Morrison’s run involves Buddy meeting his maker: Grant Morrison. It’s actually one of the most interesting things I have ever read in a comic book. Even if you have no desire to read anything about Animal Man, read Issue #26. It’s such an amazing issue tha really plays with your head.
Jeff Lemire hasn’t done anything quite like that, but he really has changed a lot of things for the character, including having his young daughter a central character. Lemire has done an excellent job at recreating the story of Animal Man/Buddy Baker, with out it seeming like something you’ve already read. In fact, you could even consider his run a “horror comic”. Although it may seem like a dull read at first, Lemire’s Animal Man had my attention from page one, and has not had a single issue yet that has bored me; something no other New 52 title has done. Every issue is fantastic, and I cannot recommend them enough. The trade’s for Animal Man are really worth picking up, and is a fantastic change in pace from anything else in the New 52. In the future, I hope to review these issues in depth, and continue to show my love and support, for Animal Man.