How did Buddy Baker become Animal Man in the New 52? Take a little of this, a little of that and shake it up with a little something new and you’ve got Animal Man #0. Read on.
PREVIOUSLY: Before he became Animal Man, Buddy Baker was just an affable, struggling actor with a wife and son.
REVAMPING A REVAMP’S REVAMP
Poachers scatter for their lives as ANIMAL MAN, determined defender of the life web, races after them intent on meting out a fierce punishment for their transgressions against The Red. Just one problem, though: This guy ain’t Buddy Baker. In fact, thanks to some very unnecessary goggles and an unfortunately placed parrot, he looks a lot like Koko B. Ware; turns out he’s Buddy’s immediate predecessor. Set in that magical time of “Five Years Ago,” which I imagine will be the case in most of these New 52 Zero Issues, this story gives us the revamped origin of Buddy Baker.
Arcane, agent of The Rot, is on the move; he traps and kills Buddy’s predecessor as a prelude to “the war” that’s coming, no doubt among The Rot, The Green and The Red. With its avatar defeated, The Red moves to create another Animal Man and, in the span of six months, aspiring actor Buddy’s life gets way more interesting.
Given the issue’s premise, the dialogue was necessarily expository, but Jeff Lemire does his usually excellent job of coating these explanations with an engaging patina, so we’re not left hurriedly flipping through the book just to be done with the set up.
After Buddy receives his powers there’s a two-page spread with newspaper headlines of his exploits that mention his activism, vegetarianism and an encounter with a chimp/monkey/ape, among other things. Maybe it’s just my own wishful thinking, but I choose to believe Lemire included this so super-fans like me could rationalize that a lot of Animal Man’s pre-New 52 continuity could be shoehorned into this compressed timeframe.
Throughout the character’s different incarnations, Animal Man’s origin has occupied both extremes of the weirdness continuum—from 1960s banal (spaceship blew up and the radiation gave him animal powers) to 1980s bizarre (Animal Man is literally the creation of an extra-dimensional Grant Morrison). Animal Man #0 gives us a beginning that’s somewhere between both extremes and, in this case, middle of the road is the place to be. In the new history of Buddy Baker, he’s been chosen as a kind of Animal Man pro-tem to fill the role until the true successor to the mantel can be born. To keep him from going insane, The Red has translated this all into something he can understand: Aliens gave him the powers of a superhero.
FRIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
I found the art serviceable, but except for a few instances it never reached the threshold of creepiness I’ve come to expect from “Animal Man.” Steve Pugh shines, though, in the scenes on the alien ship. Buddy’s transformation is pure body horror and the first time in the book where I sat up and took notice of the images, rather than simply letting them move me through the story.
The agents of The Rot were a particular letdown. Rather than frightening I found them to be kind of cheesy, especially Arcane, who looked like a poor man’s Crypt Keeper with as much visual menace as a demon from a late 80s “Hellblazer,” which is not much. The animamorphic representations of The Red were far creepier and one even gave off an unsettling Lovecraftian vibe.
The varied lettering styles were a nice way of conveying the inhumanity of particular speakers, but there was probably one or two too many typefaces used. With so many different styles, a visual trick intended to emphasize certain speech gets lost in a sea of fonts.
BOTTOM LINE: BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THE ISSUE WAS FAIR
Any time I write, talk or think about Animal Man it’s supremely easy for me to slide into unsupported hagiography because he’s my favorite part of the DC Universe, so I jumped into this issue with childish glee and hopes held high.
But I left a little disappointed.
There’s nothing technically wrong with the book: It’s a solid origin that reinvents the character without completely jettisoning what came before, though the art falls a little short in capturing feeling of “otherness” I’ve come to expect from the title. But, hey, we’re treated to a few panels of a “The Greatest American Hero” homage which alone earns it a bluebillion points of good will. Pick it up if you missed out getting in on “Animal Man” last year and need a good jumping-on point. Three and a half stars.