Or – “Buddy Baker’s Triumphant Return!”

Animal Man is one of those books that I remember fondly, even if nobody else seems to care any longer.  Much like Justice League International, Animal Man’s book was key to DC’s 1980s post-Crisis universe, and the book not only cemented Buddy Baker as a DC/Vertigo mainstay, it made Americans realize for the first time what this ‘Grant Morrison’ cat was all about.  Given the pure, concentrated awesome of that run of A Man, I found myself looking forward to this book, hoping that it would be a hidden gem of the relaunched DCU…   But will disappointment be in my future?

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Penciler: Travel Foreman
Inker: Travel Foreman & Dan Green
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, on Animal Man:  Buddy Baker.  Father, family man, superhero.  Back in the day, he was given powers by aliens (maybe) that allowed him to transfer the abilities of any animal to himself.  Later, he discovered that the aliens may have possibly been agents of a greater power, found himself rebuilt from the ground up more than once, and even met his maker in the way that only a comic book character can, but through it all the basics of his life stayed the same.  Even when his powers didn’t work properly, he was just a normal, Midwestern guy whose life was anything BUT normal.  In the new DCU, will this remain the same?

Oh My God, It’s A Sequel!

Before Grant Morrison, Buddy Baker was pretty much a cypher, but in the late 80’s, he was revamped and relaunched as a vegetarian, activist hero who was even occasionally a bit embarrassed by his ‘day job’ as a superhero.  Writer Jeff Lemire is someone that I’ve tangentially been aware of, but from the first page of this book, he has me hooked, opening things up with a one page text piece featuring a magazine interview that deftly and cleverly sets the tone for what’s to come.  Animal Man is, at this point, a veteran hero, a respected character who has taken his stuntman gig and turned it into his first starring role, and who has become a hipster icon.  I like the concept of a superhero as activist, and Lemire immediately grounds it with scenes of the Baker family at home.  Ellen is quietly tolerant of her husband’s lifestyle, little Maxine wants a puppy, and Cliff is still kind of a punky kid.  When the news reports of a man holding a local pediatrics ward hostage, it’s Animal Man to the rescue!

Oh My God, It’s An Interesting Sequel!

The issue spends a lot of time in Animal Man’s head, and I’m particularly impressed with how strong all the characters are.  Buddy’s thoughts as he takes down the gunman are particularly well-done, as the thought of injured children makes him think of what might happen to his own kids before he returns to the job at hand.  Things get weird with his powers, though, and when he makes it back home, things get weird with his dreams, as Cliff finds himself dreaming of great powers and “The Red,” the source of his animal abilities in the old Vertigo iteration of the series.  The story ends with a horrifying image (Maxine REALLY wants a pet, and she’s the daughter of the Animal Man, which seemingly has given her powers of her own) and a mystery that seems to imply that this book will be (at least initially) in the vein of the old Animal Man series, leaving me pleasantly surprised.

The Verdict: Oh My God, It’s GOOD!

Travel Foreman is another name that I’ve only heard of in solicits (didn’t he used to draw Fathom?) but I find myself enjoying the visuals throughout this issue, especially the dream imagery, combining a ‘sketchy’ sort of style with truly excellent coloring and art design.  I’m sad to report that this book and Batwing were the only #1’s not to do a day-of-sale sellout at Gatekeeper Hobbies (Huntoon & Gage, Topeka!  Ask us about the Forgotten Heroes!) which is a real shame, as it’s a particularly well-done reinterpretation of a mostly-forgotten portion of DC history.  There have been some big changes in the universe, but the basics of Animal Man remain recognizable, while setting out into well-drawn and well-writtten new territory.  I’m not entirely sure what all is in store for Buddy Baker and his costumed antics, but I’m on board for the long haul here, as Animal Man #1 impresses the heck out of me and earns 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Some people are already posting death-watches for some of the lower-tier titles in the New 52 (a particularly self-defeating process, if you ask me) but in my opinion, this one deserves a long run and a wide audience…

Rating: ★★★★½

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: With the merging of the DC and Vertigo universes post-Flashpoint, is DC watering down their concepts by also continuing to publish the Vertigo books?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Kirby
    September 8, 2011 at 7:11 pm — Reply

    I don’t think Vertigo is being watered down as much, because the majority of its titles are now creater owned, and can do things that a DC proper title won’t let them do. With John Constantine back in the DCU, it does provide a nice balance of asshole schemer who can interact with Superman, and having Hellblazer allows an aged version of that character to up and bugger off, and do things DC editors would wince at. Actually allowing everyone to have their cake and eat it too.

    • September 9, 2011 at 10:25 am — Reply

      But Constantine also used to age in real time. Be tough to do that as part of mainstream DCU.

      Also, would that potentially mean that mainstream DCU Zatanna smoked pot? :)

  2. S.Earl
    September 8, 2011 at 7:16 pm — Reply

    I don’t believe Travel Foreman drew Fathom (wasn’t that Tyler Kirkland?) but he did follow Trevor Hairsine on Cla$$War and did some GORGEOUS art on the 00s Iron Fist book when Aja wasn’t around.

  3. TaZ
    September 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm — Reply

    I just got through reading the issue and I guess this is the natural reaction of someone that didn’t follow Animal Man during his Vertigo run….WHAT THE HELL?????

    Just absolutely plain WEIRD!

    Can’t wait for Issue #2.

  4. September 8, 2011 at 9:01 pm — Reply

    Great review but I’m wondering why you didn’t just give it 5 stars. I highly enjoyed the book and am looking forward to #2.

    • September 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm — Reply

      Great review but I’m wondering why you didn’t just give it 5 stars. I highly enjoyed the book and am looking forward to #2.

      It should be noted that I’m very discerning and persnickety about 5 star reviews. This one was quite good, but there was a lot here that was essentially prelude, as Lemire had to make sure that we got the basic setup and premise down. It was very well done, but didn’t quite hit 5 star status for me. Still, mileage varies for everyone, and it should be noted that 4.5 is still a pretty damned impressive comic book achievement, and this stands as my favorite read so far of the New 52. (‘Course, I haven’t gotten to all of them yet, including Batgirl, Static Shock and Men Of War, so… Make of it what you will.

  5. ~wyntermute~
    September 8, 2011 at 9:53 pm — Reply

    I didn’t read the Vertigo books either, and judging by the sound of things… :( I’m just not really that into “weird” comics. I don’t like my ‘entertainment’ to make me uncomfortable and woogy (no, that’s not a real word). For example, a friend of mine tried to get me to read his collection of Alan Moore-era Swamp Thing trade paperbacks, and I lasted a whole… Um… I didn’t last very long. >_<

  6. Randallw
    September 8, 2011 at 11:41 pm — Reply

    I thought the art style was just perfect considering the dream and the last page.

  7. September 9, 2011 at 4:09 am — Reply

    So far my favorite of the bunch, but then i’ve always preferred the Vertigo books. Loved the “dream” part, with the style shift, his character, and the gunman at the hospital, how it wasn’t just a “bad guy to beat”. Really hope this one doesn’t get cancelled, that would depress me a lot.

  8. September 9, 2011 at 5:44 am — Reply

    I was anxiously anticipating the review for this book, primarily because I wanted my geek love of it to be affirmed by a tried and true pro and I wasn’t disappointed. Everything you noted was exactly what made me love this first issue and I think the fact that DC has Lemire helming this book shows how serious they are about it (his Sweet Tooth over at Vertigo is superb). Foreman’s art fits the character and this book like a glove and I was genuinely surprised and excited by the ending. This is probably the only new 52 book I’m going to bother following after issue 1.

  9. Russ Catt
    September 9, 2011 at 8:54 am — Reply

    I picked up all the Animal Man issues after it was cancelled in the 90’s and it totally sucked me back into comics.
    I am so happy to see Buddy back in his own title!

    I’m really not sure what will happen to Vertigo now that two of their “progenitor characters” are appearing in the mainline DCU.
    I was really hoping to hear discussion of this during DC’s San Diego panels but everyone was conspicuously silent.
    I hope the Constantine of Justice League Dark is kept separate from his Vertigo identity. I like what is happening in the Hellblazer title and want that to continue unimpeded.

    This issue was really good and its tackling the plot line I always wanted to see in the first series.
    Can’t wait for the next one!

    • September 9, 2011 at 11:16 am — Reply

      I’m really not sure what will happen to Vertigo now that two of their “progenitor characters” are appearing in the mainline DCU.

      Technically, it’s three, as Constantine is in JL: Dark. From the solicits, though, the Hellblazer ongoing is continuing. Considering that all three of the progenitors (Swamp Thing, Animal Man and JC: Hellblazer) are back in the DCU where they originated anyway, I’d wager that Vertigo is just going to keep doing their Vertigo thing…

  10. Jimmy
    September 9, 2011 at 10:09 am — Reply

    One thing I don’t know if anyone pointed out: Lemire has already written himself into the comic, as the writer of that newspaper article. I’m curious if he’s going to introduce similar metatextual plot points to Grant Morrison’s famous Animal Man run, or if it was just sort of a nod to Morrison

  11. Frank
    September 9, 2011 at 11:54 am — Reply

    I enjoyed this comic,

  12. Cudd
    September 10, 2011 at 10:00 am — Reply

    Loved the heck out of this comic! Cool art style and creepy ending left me wanting more, lots more. Can’t wait to see issue #2.

  13. brenton8090
    September 11, 2011 at 8:18 am — Reply

    This is one of my favorites so far. Love the art style, no pesky wonderings about where in the timeline this takes place, intriguing story, and real, relatable characters. Love the scene with Buddy’s family. This book is one of my must read’s in the New DC.

  14. September 11, 2011 at 10:03 am — Reply

    Great review. One of the few “new 52” Im picking up when its time for the first trade. Can’t get the single issues where in the Northen most part of Europe.

  15. Damascus
    September 12, 2011 at 12:28 am — Reply

    I really enjoyed this issue. I guess I’m the only one though that absolutely HATED the art style. It looked like a person drawing a substandard webcomic entirely on MS Paint. (This may be just me, but I thought that his son looked like an idiot with that mullet, it seemed so early ’90s to me.) I did like the black and white dream sequence and the more I read it, the more I was able to disregard my distaste for the art and get into the story. It’s really lucky that I love the character though, if I’d have just flipped the book open for a second I would have laughed and dropped it right back on the shelf.

    I liked the Darren Aronofsky reference in the article, where it was obviously a complete take-off of his movie “The Wrestler”. I also really dug the same things Matthew did about the character’s thoughts during the book and the family dynamic really works. The way he and his wife communicate seems very real to me; weighted comments that are dropped and the fact that Buddy picks up that there’s more to what was said that the literal words. Also his use of the weight of a bumblebee to walk lighter and the ability to nap that he borrowed from a cat were great too, little uses of powers that I would want to do all the time if I had those abilities.

    One thing that’s probably nothing but nobody mentioned it and I was just wondering, on the page where Buddy’s eyes were bleeding, in the bottom panel, in the doorway is a person with a hood up over their head and what looks like a pinkish halo around her head. It just seemed really out of place and didn’t look like the doctors/patients/police which were clearly defined on the page. The person shows up right as Buddy’s eyes are bleeding, and from what I hear Morrison’s books were filled with hidden bits here and there and like Jimmy said, Lemire wrote himself into the book, I just wondered if the person might be something.

    • Damascus
      September 12, 2011 at 12:32 am — Reply

      I did highly enjoy the book, even despite my criticisms, and since my only problem was with the art, and I know that art is entirely subjective so my ultimate score for a book like this would be a 4 out of 5 stars. The story seems to be strong enough and setting up enough that I want to read more that it really goes a long way against my problems with the art. (I also leave the possibility open that if it had been a much more polished looking art style, I may have missed the point of the book entirely.)

      And last side note, I think I meant to say “homage” when referring to the “Wrestler” bit, just in case anyone thought I was using “take-off” as a negative term.

    • Damascus
      September 13, 2011 at 2:51 am — Reply

      I just read the new Batwing #1 and on page 17 in the top panel, that same person with the hood and the pinkish hue behind them is standing right there! I’d swear it’s the same and not a coincidence. Tell me somebody else is seeing this. I haven’t gotten through all the new ones that are out yet, and Batgirl didn’t have this person in it, the only person with a hood was Mirror him/herself, although I definitely feel that it’s a man.

      • Damascus
        September 13, 2011 at 2:51 am — Reply

        And I’ll add, that I feel the person I’m seeing with the hood in both Animal Man and Batwing is a female.

  16. brenton8090
    September 13, 2011 at 4:48 am — Reply

    It’s the hooded lady from Flashpoint #5. She’s in all 52 books. I think she’s teasing whatever DC’s big event will be. Hopefully it’ll be confined to Justice League, but she isn’t confined, so I can’t imagine the story will be.

  17. Justin Wawrzonek
    October 4, 2011 at 7:53 am — Reply

    Thanks for the review Matthew. I actually had no desire to pick this up (I know next to nothing about animal man), but after seeing your review I grabbed it and it is easily my favorite book in the new 52. Can’t wait for issue #2.

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