Sunday, June 10, 2012

Animal Man Vol. 1: The Hunt

Cover by Travel Foreman, Lovern Kindzierski

Animal Man Vol. 1: The Hunt (2012)
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Penciller: Travel Foreman
Inker: Jeffrey Huet, Daniel Green
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

I’ve been excited to see the release of the New 52 trade paperbacks recently. I’m probably just lazy but I find reading trade paperbacks so much easier. In my quest to read as many comic book as possible, issues often get lost in the shuffle or neglected so for certain series, I purposely wait for the trade paperback releases (I’m doing that now with AvX so shh, don’t spoil me). I ended up doing this with Animal Man, though I have read the first issue and enjoyed it.

Animal Man, along with Swamp Thing, has probably been the most popular and acclaimed of the New 52 by my fellow comic book friends. It’s quite easy to see why: they are both refreshing, dark, mythic, and often terrifying books. The stakes are incredibly high and our heroes are terribly vulnerable. Both Animal Man and Swamp Thing make the reader feel as if the negative circumstances could actually happen in real life and then we would be totally boned.

It’s interesting; I’m a huge horror fan and I love gore but Animal Man Vol. 1 completely and utterly squicks me out. There were moments while reading this book that I had to put it down and just walk away from it for a bit. It’s terribly upsetting and disturbing. I think my lifelong aversion to nature and animals might have something to do with it.

Anyway, this first volume gives the reader the crucial backstory to Buddy Baker, his tense family situation, his search for identity and plenty of gore-filled, decaying, biological monsters. Man, it’s gross.

I have to say, along with being one of the most suspenseful and downright scary comics I’ve read in a long time, Animal Man is also one with a great deal of heart. Buddy Baker is not the star of the book; his entire family is, particularly his young daughter who also possesses Animal Man powers. I felt for her, especially, as Lemire demonstrates both the willful confidence and the confused terror of a small child.

Overall, Lemire’s writing is incredibly strong and rather poetic. He seamlessly bridges the mythic overtones of Animal Man’s universe with contemporary comic book dialogue. I also greatly enjoyed his ability to incorporate different voices, such as Buddy’s wife and the Rot, without losing sight of the central plot. Furthermore, the tension within the Baker family only illustrates that of the Rot versus the Green, which is done incredibly well.

I particularly enjoy a sequence in which Buddy’s son watches a Buddy Baker action movie, and tries to see the super hero in his father. Though the son could be dislikable at times, he was incredibly realistic, along with the rest of the family. Indeed, Animal Man features some of the most complex and dynamic characters I’ve encountered in a long time.

The central plot of the Rot versus the Green is also masterfully crafted. Lemire provides the reader with enough of a mythical background to grant the entire story a sense of eerie otherworldliness. Like I said earlier, however, Animal Man is one of the few comics that feel like it could alarmingly affect the real world. Or maybe I’m just paranoid.

I’m still on the fence regarding Foreman’s art. It was suitably grotesque and frankly difficult to look at in some panels. I don’t think I’ve winced this often while reading a graphic novel in a very long time. Nonetheless, I found the scratchiness and profound strangeness a little distracting. It isn’t like anything else out there right now in comics so that is to be commended. I just can’t decide if I enjoy it or not on a superficial level.

Overall, I definitely agree that Animal Man is one of the strongest books of the New 52 and this trade paperback completely exhibits this.

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