Newer readers to comics might not know that the character of Animal Man, before shifting over to Vertigo, was firmly rooted in the DC Universe. Long forgotten until Grant Morrison and Chas Truog revived the character, not only did “Animal Man” have tie-ins and crossovers with “Invasion!” and “Time Masters,” but he even ran around in “Justice League Europe” for a time. So while his return to the DC Universe in “52” was a pleasant surprise, it was in many ways a return to form for the character.
Jeff Lemire’s script reminds me a great deal of those Morrison and Truog “Animal Man” issues, balancing superheroics with strange, dark elements that are a little out of the ordinary. And as a big fan of those earlier comics, I think this is absolutely the right track to take for this new series.
The book opens with a magazine interview; it’s a quick way for Lemire to give new readers Buddy Baker’s backstory, as well as information on his personality and what he’s up to now. It’s an effective information dump without feeling boring, and it lets Lemire jump us from there to a much more dangerous minefield: the family kitchen right before dinner time.
Buddy Baker has one of the best families in comics, so it’s great to see them front and center as part of the new “Animal Man.” Buddy and Ellen’s relationship still feels realistic; some friendly sparring the way that long-time couples do, but still a lot of love and support as the underlying core. The family is definitely integral to this story, too; what seems at first like a simple plea for a pet turns out to have far greater significance with the overall first issue.
And when the bizarre starts showing up, well, Lemire’s picked imagery that isn’t run-of-the-mill superhero stuff. While some of the stranger moments are definitely leading somewhere, I appreciate that Lemire isn’t giving us answers to everything right off the bat; there are some elements here that remain both a mystery and wonderfully gross. (My Animal Man, what lovely eyes you have.)
Travel Foreman’s pencils here are all over the place, for better and for worse. I’m not crazy about most of his real-world drawings right now; his characters are drawn sparsely and with such a thin line that it feels like there’s too much negative space on the page, even when the negative space is merely existing in-between the lines of their faces. The opening two-page sequence in the kitchen in particular has an incredibly pinch-faced Ellen, and Maxine in places seems a little too doe-eyed. On the other hand, when Animal Man plunges into the Red… now we’re talking. Foreman might not handle the real world sequences in a manner to my taste, but when it comes to the mystical and horrific, he knocks it right out of the park. Even the real-world elements plunged into this new landscape look great (like poor Cliff), and it gives me a lot of hope for the issues to come that we can find some sort of artistic balance between the two halves of the comic.
The art might be uneven in “Animal Man” #1, but the script is dynamite. Lemire’s been a rising star at DC Comics lately, and the “Animal Man” re-launch shows that their trust is not misplaced. (Now can we just get the old outfit back? I always liked it much more than the blue and white number.)