|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.