Saturday, 31 December 2011

The New 52 - Animal Man

First of all, I have to admit that I wasn't going to pick up Animal Man when it was first announced as one of the New 52.

I should also warn you that there are likely to be an awful lot of "I remember whens..." in these 'New 52' posts.

Have I mentioned that I've been collecting comics for over thirty years? If there was any justice then that would elicit applause in the same was "I'm 75 years old" does from a TV studio audience. Oh put your hands down all those of you that have been reading for longer, its not a competition. I'm just warning you that some of these reviews will elicit distant and/or recent memories of mine such as..

Of course, I was around for the first Animal Man series in the late 80s. Grant Morrison, Chas Truog. Good times. Morrison built on what we already knew about Buddy Baker and gave us a much more domestic super-hero albeit with a surreal, post-modern twist. Morrison left the book, but I stuck around to read the successive runs by Peter Milligan and Tom Veitch before dropping the title.

Subsequent appearances in 52, Countdown to Adventure and the Animal Man mini-series from a couple of years ago, all followed Morrison's lead of keeping Buddy's family (wife Ellen and kids Cliff and Maxine) at the heart of his story.

Given how much a love the Bakers as characters this really should have been a must-buy, but I was trying not to get carried away with the DC52 books so I didn't add it to my standing order.

Then the reviews came in...and I held off. Then the reviews came in for #2. And I panicked, rang my local comic shop and asked them to put the first two issues away for me.

And I'm so glad I did.

Writer Jeff Lemire does an amazing job:. After using a magazine article to bring us up to scratch with where Animal Man is at the moment he then perfectly captures Buddy's self-obsessed insecurity as a potentially has-been hero. Ellen is a wife and mother trying to keep the family organised with little help from her partner who is more concerned with his media image at the moment. Meanwhile, Maxine wants a pet dog.

It could be so easy to let this characterisation fall into cliche, but we're not talking a couple on the edge of breaking up, this is a family that gets a little snarky from time to time like most of our families do. And Lemire portrays is beautifully.

Events proceed and Buddy finds himself undergoing an unexpected physical change and Maxine has filled the pet-shaped gap in her life be reanimating dead pets from around the neighbourhood. Buddy & Maxine go on a quest to find out whats happening to them both, travelling to the Parliament of Limbs, while Ellen & Cliff have to stay at home, wait for news and dead-pet sit. Maxine has unlocked powers even greater than her father's and is the Avatar of the Red, the force that connects all animal life. The Red is under threat from the Rot, a force of decay which is targeting Maxine and has assigned its agents, the Hunters Three, to capture her.

These fleshy creatures (a bit Brundelfly meets Yuzna's Society for you film fans) are amongst the most repulsive things I've ever seen in a comic book, and that only adds to the dread as they close in on their prey. This is where artist Travel Foreman's contribution to the book makes its most impact. This volume of Animal Man is more of a horror book than a super-hero one, and Foreman's work here provides a horrifying visual to Lemire's concepts. The Hunters (in all their forms), Buddy's journey into the Red and the Parliament of Limbs themselves are all stunningly rendered.

However, its not just in the horrific that Foreman excels. His does great work with the Bakers: the tender moments between Buddy and Ellen, Maxine trying to get her father's attention and a Cliff full of energy. Even the scenes featuring the Maxine's dead pets are quite sweet.

Or maybe its just me.

Anyway, the creative team have done a great job of keeping up the pace and moving things along. I'm certainly hooked and will be sticking around for the foreseeable future. This book really reminds me of the pre-Vertigo horror books DC used to create, and I'm definitely reminded of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. All in all this is one of my favourites amongst the DC 52, and I can't recommend it highly enough!

Next Time on Bouillabaise Yum Yum: Demon Knights.

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