This week, my favorite comic was Animal Man. I picked it up because I heard it was a bit of a horror story, and I have fond memories of Buddy Baker from 52. I can say honestly that this comic is the best I’ve read in a good long while, and I’ll be a bit surprised if anything else in the DCNü manages to top it.
This is not a kid’s book. The imagery is intense and the story is horrifying. I have suggested to some that they not read this one before going to bed. I’m not prone to nightmares from comics, books or movies, but I was concerned for my sanity after reading this.
Consider yourself warned.
“It’s Like Getting Hit In The Head With A Shovel…
…in a good way.” That’s how a friend of mine described this issue. I can’t disagree. Buddy Baker is Animal Man, part-time actor, part-time stuntman and part-time superhero. He’s drifting through the world, anchored only by his wife and kids. He’s tied in to the “life web” that allows him to take on the abilities of animals. He can borrow flight from a bird, the thick hide of a rhino or even the bark of a dog, which he uses to freak out his opponents.
He is, in short, lost. He doesn’t know that, but his wife Ellen has an inkling. They live in the suburbs with their kids, Cliff and Maxine. His daughter wants a puppy. His son wants his dad in the Justice League. Ellen wants him to make some money. Buddy wants his family.
The beauty of the dynamic is that it’s believable. I can identify with Buddy. His career is stalled, and he’s sometimes too short with his kids, but he’s a decent guy. Within a few pages, Buddy was real to me. No other comic this week (or this year) has managed that. Jeff Lemire writes like no one I’ve read in a while, seemingly without effort. Every word is placed just so, and every one counts.
When Cliff shows up saying that there is a hostage situation at the hospital, Buddy goes to help. Cliff wants to go with, but the family has rules against that. Ellen wants him to stay home. Maxine wants a puppy. Buddy wants to know if he has a clean uniform.
That page alone was genius. Everything we need to know is encapsulated in the brief exchange. Ellen wants him to be happy, but doesn’t want him to be in danger. Cliff wants Dad to be famous. Buddy wants to help, but wants his family to be happy. Maxine still wants a puppy.
At the hospital, Buddy faces off with a man who recently lost his daughter. He’s holding the children’s ward hostage, until the hospital gives her back to him. She’s dead, of course. He’s gone ’round the bend. The whole incident gets Buddy thinking about how much he needs his own family, about how he wouldn’t know what to do if he lost one of them.
The fight is brief. The aftereffects are enormous. Buddy feels stronger than he has before, his powers seem enhanced somehow. After the fight, he’s bleeding. For no identifiable reason. Creepy…
At home, there are dreams. Surreal, strange dreams. Horrible dreams. And then, well, the last page is too good to spoil. It hits you in the head. With a shovel.
The story is paced well. It doesn’t rely on you knowing anything about the old continuity. It is horrifying without relying on gore. It is made of andymantium, the rarest of comic book metals. Okay, that isn’t technically true. The book is made of paper.
The dream sequence is beautifully surreal. The art is strange, but not in a bad way. It’s clear enough that we’re viewing a dream, but it’s realistic enough that we wonder if the dream is a portent. Travel Foreman’s pencils gave the book a wonderful shape.
Mostly, though, it’s the characterizations that make this book. I can’t deeply relate to Bruce Wayne. I’ve never been a billionaire, or witnessed my parents shot in front of me. I can’t deeply relate to Superman, I can’t fly. I’ve never been given a power ring by a dying purple alien. Most heroes, while cool, don’t have that moment where you say: “I get that. I know how that feels.”
Animal Man is full of those moments.
The art is a bit over-inked. Dan Green did a fine job overall, but sometimes, I don’t need cross hatching. It never pulled me out of the experience, but I noticed it on the second read through. That’s it.
I said on twitter that “Animal Man is, upon second reading, the creepiest, most disturbing comic I’ve ever read.” I stand by that assessment. If you like horror comics, read this one. It’s good enough that I’m now picking up Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. based solely on Lemire’s writing.