Yesterday writer Jeff Lemire announced on his blog that “Animal Man” was coming to end in March and that the titular character would be joining “Justice League of Canada” when he starts writing the series in 2014. The Canadian cartoonist also revealed that he will be sharing art duties on “Animal Man” #29, the series’ final issue, with original series artist Travel Foreman, a collaborator Lemire says was vital to the title’s early acclaim.
Lemire told CBR News exclusively that the cancellation of “Animal Man” made the end of his solo run with Buddy and the Baker family an easier pill to swallow and promised a bittersweet end to the series. He also teased details about what’s to come in the current “Evolve or Die!” arc, how seamlessly Animal Man transitions to joining the Justice League and why drawing Buddy, Maxine and Swamp Thing in “Animal Man” #29 is a great way to say goodbye.
CBR News: Big, big news yesterday. You announced that you are leaving “Animal Man” and the series is coming to an end. Did your other projects, including the just announced weekly “Future’s End,” pull you away or were you simply done with the story you wanted to tell with Buddy and his family?
Jeff Lemire: It’s bittersweet because I have obviously put a lot of myself into the series and I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done on it. At the same time, after I finished the script for “Animal Man” #29, it really felt like the end of the story that I’ve been telling since the first issue. It felt like the right time for me to leave and it also really, to be honest, felt like the end of the story for the Bakers, as well. I felt that it was a really good conclusion to their story so I proposed that we move Animal Man to “Justice League of Canada,” that way I could continue writing his adventures there.
I have been telling this story of the Baker family since “Animal Man” #1 and I’ve pulled them apart and put them back together and you can only do that trick so many times before you start repeating yourself. I knew if I wanted to keep telling stories with Animal Man, I needed to switch things up and for me that was me putting him into a more of a superhero setting and making him part of a team and doing all of these things to change the dynamics around him so I can tell fresh stories with the character. It really felt like the natural thing to do — move him over to the Justice League Canada team — and like I said, “Animal Man” #29 just felt like a perfect end to the Baker story. And DC agreed.
“Animal Man” has always been more of a horror book than a superhero book but for me, it goes back to those basic types of conflict we learn about in high school English class, specifically man against self. How important was Buddy’s internal struggle with being a superhero to your run on “Animal Man?”
His story was definitely one of becoming a hero and coming to terms with his responsibilities as a parent, as a husband, as a hero — and finding a place for each of those in his life in a way that didn’t tear the others apart. I think that’s what we’ll see, without spoiling my ending, this balance in his life. To me, his family life will be separate. He’ll have found a way to keep them safe and separate from the craziness of being a superhero. It was a perfect chance then for me to take that a step further and make him a part of the bigger superhero community by having him join Justice League and have that be separate from Ellen and Maxine, that’s really where I’m taking him.
Like you said, Buddy struggles to be a superhero and when he finally enjoys heroic moments, he struggles as a father and a husband. Is his transition into the Justice League seamless or do his struggles continue?
It’s a funny thing because “Animal Man” was such a family-oriented book. To me, when I write a superhero team, I try to write it like a family, too — often a dysfunctional family, but still a family. Buddy comes in playing different roles to different characters. Again, I can’t spoil who else is on the team just yet but it’s really just a different family dynamic for him and he really fits in well. He’s a father figure to a couple of characters and almost like a brother to another character. There’s a real friendship forming with an unexpected superhero that I’m having a blast writing. It really does feel like a great fit for him right now.
Essentially, you’ve told two big stories in “Animal Man” — the “Rotworld” crossover with Scott Snyder’s “Swamp Thing” and the current Brother Blood arc. Do these long-term story arcs allow for a different brand of storytelling and a deeper exploration of character than one-and-done, supervillain of the month stories?
I think it suited this character but it’s kind of a double-edged sword. It does really let you get in depth into the different characters of the book and really explore them but at the same time, you run the risk of testing the readers’ patience sometimes. If you go too long on things, you don’t keep the book fresh. That’s a lesson that I learned over the course of “Animal Man.” I need to find a bit more balance there. I’ve applied that to my projects since like “Green Arrow.” The arcs are much shorter. There is still a large, overarching story but it’s told in much shorter sections with new villains and new characters introduced all of the time to keep it a little bit fresher.
There was definitely a learning curve there. “Animal Man” was the longest ongoing project ever for me as a writer. There are a lot of things that I am very proud of but there are some things that I would probably go back and do a little differently. Again, you can’t do that so you just apply those lessons to your next project. And keep going forward.
In the next issue of your current arc, which features Brother Blood as the new avatar of the Red, Buddy is jettisoned to the Seed Planet and the solicited cover teases that he channels his inner Doomsday to battle his opponent there. Can you give us a tease of what’s to come to close this current story?
At the end of “Animal Man” #26, Buddy is pulled away to another planet at the far reaches of space and there is a big change that happens to him physically there. And he gets a new sort of mission statement for him as a hero, which informs a lot of stuff that is going to happen to him, not only in the last two issues of “Animal Man” but with the character moving forward into “Justice League of Canada.” It’s tough to not spoil too much if I say any more but there is a definite shift coming for him.
During your run on “Animal Man,” you worked with some very unique artistic talents namely, Travel Foreman, Steve Pugh and most recently Rafael Albuquerque. As an artist yourself, can you talk about these collaborations and what these artists brought to the series?
There is no denying that when Travel was on the book for the early issues, we had something special going on. Like you said, he is a unique talent with a really unique imagination that really helped me to set the tone for that book and let it stand out from all of the other New 52 books that were launched and really gave it a chance to survive.
He’s actually coming back for the final issue. He’s drawing part of the final issue and the other announcement is that I will be drawing the rest of that final issue. It’s pretty cool to be working with him on that.
Steve was obviously amazing. I loved working with Steve. And then to get to do some stuff with Rafael at the end was a real thrill because we’d been friends for a while and we really wanted to do something together but with him doing “American Vampire” and me doing everything else, we really didn’t have a chance. When this opportunity came up to do the last five or six issues of “Animal Man,” it was a perfect fit.
Have you been practicing your Buddy Baker/Animal Man expecting that you would draw him one day or was this just something that felt right with the series coming to an end?
It’s pretty common request at conventions and signings that I draw Animal Man but I never thought that I would have time to do an issue. When it started, I was doing “Sweet Tooth” every month and now I’m doing “Trillium” every month. But when it became clear that this would be the last issue, and after I wrote the script, it really felt like it would be a great way to say goodbye to the characters. I managed to write a script that manages to squeeze everyone from “Animal Man” #1 on to the last issue, so I get to draw everyone including Swamp Thing. I really wanted to draw him. It was fun to take a break from my creator-owned stuff for a couple of weeks and draw all of those characters.
Buddy is a pretty regular looking guy, an Average Joe. Did you manage to find something with him that you could connect with to give him the Lemire treatment?
He was actually the toughest because he is so average looking. He was the toughest to find a hook. Maxine was very easy for me to draw. I really enjoy drawing kids. I started with her and moved on from there. The monsters and Swamp Thing and everything else were a blast but Buddy was a bit tricky but I think I managed to Lemire-ize him, as well. [Laughs]
I asked you this when “Sweet Tooth” was coming to a close, but is there a happy ending to “Animal Man?”
I’m not telling you that. [Laughs] Everything in “Animal Man” is bittersweet. Whenever something good happens, there is always a bit of horror and sadness lurking. You can expect that to continue. [Laughs]
You’ve written many of your own creations but like you said, this is your longest run with an existing character. Is it a bit easier to say goodbye with the book ending rather than seeing someone else writing Buddy?
Yeah, it really is. I think I would have had a really hard time no matter who was writing him after me. I would have had a really hard time with that because I am so invested with him. And obviously, somebody will write Animal Man again other than me, someday, but at least there will be a bit of a gap so that I can disconnect. It would have been really hard.
Are you surprised by the connection between you, the character and the readers of “Animal Man”? He is a D-lister or, at best, a C-lister and yet you have really connected with him, and readers have responded accordingly.
I’m not surprised because I feel like it was the perfect book for me at the perfect time. It was a perfect fit for me coming into the New 52 that played to all of my strengths. On top of that, we had Travel Foreman, who was just doing such unusual work on the series that didn’t look like anything else. The combination of me being able to work on the right character and the crazy stuff Travel was doing really made the book stand out so I knew it had a chance.
Yes, Animal Man is technically a D or C-list character but he’s always had a cult following that separated him from other characters thanks to Grant Morrison’s stuff and onward. There has always been a bit of something special about him. And there will be long after I’m done with him. Someone else will come on and do something really interesting with him, as well. I don’t know what it is but he just always stands out.
“Animal Man” #29, by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman, will be released in March 2014.