Saturday, February 4, 2012

Animal Man#1

Cover by Travel Foreman, Lovern Kindzierski

Animal Man#1 (September 7, 2011)
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Penciller: Travel Foreman
Inker: Travel Foreman, Dan Green
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

I’ve been told to read the New 52 re-launch of Animal Man for quite a while now. Apparently since I love Snyder’s Swamp Thing so much, I will also love this as they are loosely connected.

After reading Animal Man #1, I have to say that this assessment is correct so far.

Overall, I have been lukewarm about DC’s New 52 but at the same time, I have to admit that Swamp Thing and Animal Man are two of the smartest, most sophisticated comics out there currently. Like Snyder’s Swamp Thing, Lemire’s Animal Man isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of super powers, horror and legitimate family tension. 

Rather than simply focusing on Buddy Baker’s own personal issues at having the Animal Man super powers, Lemire paints a picture of the tensions that would arise in a family with a super hero father. Of course, it could have been very easy to rely on stereotypical family strife: the malcontented and overworked mother, the attention-thirsty children, the father focusing only on himself and his career. Lemire skirts these tropes but also manages to draw on subtle differences and character traits to make them feel rather fresh.

Furthermore, Buddy is a character that is at odds with his Animal Man persona in a different way from other characters. He isn’t resentful of it like Alec in Swamp Thing nor does he view it as a necessary cross to bear like Batman. Rather, his tension lies in the fact that he simply isn’t sure what to do with himself career wise: should he remain a superhero, should he return to acting and furthermore, how will his family survive on these jobs? Buddy’s issues are realistic and his reactions to them are as well. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the Animal Man persona and logo have been adopted by young environmental activists and pasted all over t-shirts. I always enjoy it when comic books portray super heroes as existing within a very real world where their actions are not isolated or ignored by pop culture at large.

Aside from a succinct introduction of Buddy (neatly and cleverly done in an opening magazine interview), the storyline of Animal Man #1 featured a rather dark hostage situation involving children and Buddy’s own struggles with the righteousness of his actions. Luckily, he did not become too maudlin. There was also a disturbing dream sequence in which the dark nature mythos of Swamp Thing was hinted at and tested Buddy’s resolve. The conclusion was also eerie and rather gruesome. By drawing in Buddy’s family into this new macabre tension, Lemire gave Animal Man #1 a sense of urgency different than Swamp Thing. To be perfectly frank, Baker appears to have a lot more to lose than Alec.

The art and coloring by Foreman and Kindzierski, respectively, were very fresh and quite unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time. While the artwork had a modern feel to it, it still maintained a sense of ordinariness that was at odds with the creepy dream sequence and unease of Buddy’s powers. Furthermore, the dream sequence was particularly breathtaking and unnerving without being over-the-top. I highly recommend checking out this issue if only for that sequence and the gruesome cliffhanger conclusion.


  1. It's awesome to see that you read my favorite installment to the New 52.

    I actually was having a women in comics debate with a friend just the other day and was using this comic in particular as an example. In a nut shell, we were discussing the notion that writers may be overly concerned on writing "strong female characters" in a literal sense, as in making them punch as hard as Superman or detective as well as Batman. When my friend brought up the devil's advocate that male characters are written the same way I brought up Buddy.

    I'm sure you noticed in this book that Animal Man's powers are pretty lame. They've always been. You should check out 52 by the way, Buddy ends up lost in space with Star Fire and essentially useless the entire time as you'll find there is a surprising deficiency of animals in the Orion cluster. Anyway, Buddy is still a very well fleshed out character in that his appeal comes from his care and love for his family. Super powers only really serve to amp up the drama.

    I can't recall a female character in the same boat. Buddy literally has no A class power, but his overall strength would suffer should he have one. I don't think writers are comfortable with writing a female like this, and that could be because they feel that they need to compensate for the history and lack of representation in the industry. But the consequence is that "strong in a literal sense" becomes very noticeable, and can make things look gimmicky.

    What do you think, I figured you would be able to weigh in on this more than I could.

    1. Well, I think the female characters that could be like Buddy are more secondary characters rather than central heroes. Pepper Potts, for example, is loyal, dedicated and caring but she's technically not a super hero. Though I think at one point she had Iron Man armor or some powers. I don't know.

      The only central-ish female character I can think of is Renee Montoya (The Question) who really assumed the role of a male character. She does not have any super powers but instead is dedicated to her job and her drive to fight crime. As far as I'm aware of, she has no family to speak of and while she is strong, she isn't Superman or Batman.

      I think writers do overcompensate with female characters mainly out of a loss of how to portray them as genuine. Granted, we're not reading comics for realism necessarily so it is a somewhat forgivable offense.

      I guess I have no answer. I do have to admit that the other day, I realized that I have absolutely NO favorite female characters from the Marvel Universe. I was listing my favorite characters from Marve and realized they are all men. I wonder what that's about. The writing in Marvel is definitely stronger but I find that there are a lot more interesting, dynamic and fun female characters in DC. I mean, just there I have Batgirl/Oracle, Huntress, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Catwoman. In Marvel, I have... Storm? I guess. Black Widow? I got nothing.

    2. I never gave it that much thought, but I'm in the same boat when it comes to female Marvel characters, Storm is cool and there's Rouge to a lesser extent, but that's all. Based on what you said about writers struggling how to portray women genuinely, I wonder if this has to do with the Marvel formula, which I'm sure you are well aware is giving their heroes realistic and relatable troubles. Prime examples being DC's Superman who is an invincible handsome man from another planet and Marvel's Spiderman who is a dorky teenager trying to win the heart of the girl next door while struggling to balance school and a career.

      What actually further comes to mind are those gross over interpretations of the day Spiderman first discovers his powers in the feature film, and wakes up to find his room covered in webs and he tries desperately to clean everything up before Aunt May comes in? What I'm saying is that if that indeed is a metaphor for something, it came from a guy on a level that he couldn't quite reproduce the same for a female character as he lacks the experience to relate.

      In other words, I wonder if the level of intimacy the Marvel characters are portrayed with is what ultimately neglects the female cast? "Write what you know" is something that can easily lead you to ignore what you don't, a problem that isn't exactly present should you rely entirely on imagination... unless someone at DC goes to work every day dressed like a bat. But if that's the case, a simple solution would be for Marvel to entrust some new IP to new female writers, an idea in the same vein as the plethora of "the comic book industry is over reliant on nostalgia" articles on the web.

      I'm just saying, Kerry, that might be something to mention around the office eh?

    3. I just need to write "Ghost Shark" and have it star strong, believable female writers.

      And "writing what you know" is such a cop-out because female writers have written AWESOME storylines starring male characters (Gail Simone writing Deadpool comes to mind). I just honestly suspect that DC knows how to portray amazing female characters a lot more realistically and dynamically than Marvel for whatever reason. Maybe because Marvel does favor the "super heroes are regular people" trope that they just exaggerate the sexism inherent in a so-called boys' club that is the super hero world. But that's just my overreaching and ridiculous reasoning for the lack of strong female characters in Marvel. In truth, DC wins this round.