Animal Man is hardly a household name. So obscure a hero that he was part of a team called “The Forgotten Heroes,” Animal Man remained on the fringe until the late 80s, when Grant Morrison started the first Animal Man series. Since then, Animal Man has been a somewhat popular hero in recent years, though recently was often seen in the company of Starfire and Adam Strange. Now with a new series by Jeff Lemire and Travel Forman with Dan Green assisting on inks, Animal Man strikes out on his own once more in a bold new direction; Animal Man #1 delivers a book that is both super heroic and horrifying in nature, and it’s a quite a good read, albeit a little unsettling.
The book starts out with an interview, revealing that Animal Man is now a public hero, an animal activist and recently, a movie star. Despite all this, his primary concern is his family and there are a few scenes with Buddy at home. Things start to get weird when he is called into action to stop a man who has taken hostages at the local hospital.
The plot is intriguing and Jeff Lemire seems quite at home with Buddy Baker (AKA Animal Man) and his family, but just as at ease in making things crazy for Animal Man. The story reads like a typical super hero tale and does a good job of introducing Animal Man as well as his wife and kids and the premise. But just as you think it’s a normal super hero book, things get really strange, and start to become pretty terribly horrendous. The source of all the problems seems to be coming from Buddy’s daughter Maxine, who is manifesting strange powers of her own.
Travel Foreman’s art is striking, for good or for worse is entirely going to be at the discretion of the reader. I’ve heard from people who hated it and some who loved it. I’m somewhere in between. The art seems a little distorted and is definitely weird—especially in the opening scenes with Animal Man with his family. I liked it at first, but it’s so different I felt the style was a little difficult to overcome at times. For example, there’s one scene in the hospital where Buddy is being examined where he looks like he has scars and pock marks on his face instead of lines of expression. But getting to the final pages where Animal Man has a nightmare, the art’s twistedness suits the moment perfectly and sets the tone for this horror series. If this is what we’re in store for, I can certainly get over the awkwardness which scenes of normality display. Though Foreman does work on the inking, Dan Green assists and the ink work compliments the overall art well.
I have mixed feelings on Animal Man’s new costume. It definitely suits Animal Man’s new role as a public figure, but I miss the goggles. It looks like Animal Man being Buddy Baker is public knowledge, so maybe he doesn’t feel the need to hide his face any longer. Touching on other fashion issues briefly, Animal Man’s son has a mullet, which in 2011 is a little disconcerting. Do kids still have mullets these days?
Lemire keeps the plot moving and the story at a brisk pace. Although the opening interview is unconventional, it covers a lot of ground and gets the ball rolling well and the following action keeps up throughout. The last page is truly frightening and sets the stage for the rest of the series, which looks like will map out a troubled time for the Baker family.
Despite some initial trepidation on Travel Foreman’s art, I came out of Animal Man #1 liking what I saw and the overall tone of the series. I’m a big fan of Lemire, so I definitely plan to stick around for at least a few more issues as I want to see where this is going. I also like Animal Man a lot and think this new take on the character suits him well. Even more than Swamp Thing #1, Animal Man #1 is a good mix of super hero escapades with chilling and disturbing elements seeped in. It’s like Vertigo PG-13.
So give Animal Man #1 a try and see what you think. There’s a great story, some art that is certainly unique, and in that regard standout among the DC New 52 books so far. Whether or not you’ll like it is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. But even if you’ve never read an Animal Man story before, Animal Man #1 gives a great intro to the character, hits the ground running, and hooks you with a lasting impression. If #1 is any indication, there are some great adventures ahead, and this is definitely a book in the DCnU to read.