It’d be pretty cool to have a superhero for a Dad. I know a lot of people get all mushy and say “My Dad is my hero,” but let’s be honest, if the dude can’t fly/lift a truck/inherit the powers of a jackrabbit, he’s not much of a hero.
I think the most heroic thing I ever saw my Dad do was stoically fix his dislocated toe on a water park net bridge. I’m still a little impressed, but I’m not exactly bragging to Superman about that one. “What’s that, Supes? Oh you saved a WHOLE civilization from being colonized by Braniac? That’s pretty cool. One time my Dad dislocated his toe on a playground built for children, and he didn’t even cry.”
Although it is many things, Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman/Steve Pugh is first and foremost a family comic book. To clarify, that does not mean a comic book for families. Animal Man is loaded with a level of horror and disturbing images that almost seems impossible for a modern Big 2 publisher. I mean, how the hell is the artist of a superhero comic going to shock readers in 2012?
Again, all of this Animal Man in the world of The Walking Dead style story works because at its core, Animal Man is about the family of Buddy Baker. His wife Ellen, his newly animal-powered daughter Maxine, and his mullet-in-the-modern-era son Cliff are the centre than cannot hold the superhero. Which ultimately is perfect; as superheroes go, Buddy Baker has always been one of the least convincing.
Rotting Concept of Superhero With Animal Powers
On the surface level, Animal Man is one of those C-list heroes with a powerset that a charming eight-year-old might have devised. “He has the powers of EVERY SINGLE animal in the WORLD. But not all at once. Only if he’s close to them. Or, well, he’s kind of close. He doesn’t have to be touching them or anything. And he can fly most of the time because birds are always flying around.”
Not that say, Superman, is any more inherently believable, but longevity alone helps with some suspension of disbelief there. With Animal Man, the story can’t just be “Buddy absorbs the powers of a Rhino. He becomes strong and fast and stops a villainous bank robber.”
At its best (see: Morrison, Grant), Animal Man has been used to explore the boundaries of the comic book medium as well as the sanity of the heroes within. Buddy Baker is an adult male with a wife and kids. What the hell is he doing wearing sexy spandex and flying around San Diego?
It’s this dynamic that drives Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man as Buddy’s family (Maxine in particular) is drawn deep into the Rot’s war against Buddy’s newfound Red. Much like Swamp Thing has always spoken of his connection to The Green, Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire’s big new 52 revelation has been that Animal Man is connected to The Red, and that a third player, The Rot, is looking to overtake us all.
So, for most of Animal Man 1-12, we have Buddy’s family on the run, in an RV, being chased by zombie-vampire-cannibal monsters (did I mention The Walking Dead yet? This is DC’s version.). All the while, Buddy and Maxine learn more about The Red and the Parliament of Limbs. And of course, issue after issue inches us closer to DC’s ongoing crossover, Rotworld.
Best Moment of Animal Man 1-12
The most enjoyable single moment of any issue here occurs in issue #7. Cliff sees some cute teenage girls and tries to brag that his Dad is the one and only Animal Man (one of the unimpressed girls is even wearing an “Evolve or Die” Animal Man t-shirt). Things clearly aren’t going well for Cliff until Buddy swoops in and, in a mock bravado, says “There are you are! Cliff we gotta go… That was the Justice League and they need us.” It’s a funny, sweet, touching family moment, the kind that showcases this book at its best.
As a comic about a superhero with a real, American family, Animal Man is at its finest when the responsibilities and sheer audacity of heroism combat being a husband and father.
Nothing perfects this challenge more clearly than Animal Man #6, easily the standout issue of the run and one of the only perfect comics in the entire DC New 52.
Issue number six twists some conventional expectations and presents a movie Buddy has starred in (remember, he’s an actor) called “Tights.” The whole film has large, blatant overtones with what’s actually happening in Buddy’s life as Animal Man, but it’s also very poignant and touching. I rooted harder and felt more deeply for “Red Thunder,” the movie heroes alter ego, than I have for Animal Man this entire run. The issue also closes with a perfect familial interaction that really showcases just how far Lemire can nail it out of the park when he’s firing.
What Does Issue #0 Tell Us About Animal Man’s Future?
Unlike a number of the new 52 zero issues, Animal Man #0 actually takes us back to the start and gives us the origin of Buddy Baker as Animal Man. It’s not exactly shockingly new information, as Lemire has clearly indicated this is his new 52 origin for Animal Man for almost all 12 issues, but it’s a fine read nonetheless. Much like Animal Man Annual #1, the zero issue showcases the long history of the Red, The Rot, and The Green, with Arcane getting some action on the Rot side of things.
Although issue zero mostly just sets the stage for Rotworld, it does present the interesting dilemma of what to do with Buddy Baker if he actually gives up the tights. Issue #0 yet again presents Animal Man as sort of a fluke, as a necessarily accidental set of powers. What if those powers were taken from Buddy and Maxine truly took over? Not sure we’d have much of an Animal Man, but it will be interesting to see how Lemire and company play this.
The final takeaway I got from Animal Man #0 is a reminder just how weird a Rotworld crossover is between Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how the lines are connected, and I appreciate the new levels Snyder and Lemire have added to the DC Universe. But isn’t the whole appeal of these lines, the whole reason they’ve been so critically acclaimed and respected, because they were, in their heyday, the exact sort of comic that was immune to things like promotional crossovers?
The problem I have with Rotworld as crossover, and the prologue issue #12 is most endemic of this, is that it encourages Lemire to avoid taking any risks. Issue #12 is lethargic superhero trope at its most complacent.
I can’t sit here and say that repulses me because if I’m being honest I kind of like standard superhero trope at its most complacent. I mean, hell, I really enjoyed reading Secret Wars (and Secret War for the record). But unless October’s new issue changes things up dramatically, can’t we all kind of see how Rotworld plays out? If not plot specfics, we at least know that each issue is going to slowly tread water, so it can pass plot back and forth between the two comics, and hopefully rake up more sales, and ultimately, finally come to a big dramatic “is Arcane really dead?!” conclusion. I hope I’m wrong here, but I’m not holding my breath for any more issues like Animal Man #6 anytime soon until Rotworld closes out.