Animal Man #1
“The Hunt, Part One: Warning From the Red”
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Pencils/Cover artist: Travel Foreman
Inks: Foreman & Dan Green
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I’m still making my way through the first wave of DC’s New 52 comics, but thus far, it’s Animal Man that’s emerged as my favorite of the bunch, as the best-crafted new title. Writer Jeff Lemire crafts a story that challenges the reader, that explores nature through unnatural ideas, but it’s all kept grounded by a convincing cast of characters, relatable people we should all easily be able to recognize in our own lives and in ourselves. Lemire’s story reads like something Alan Moore would’ve written during his tenure on Swamp Thing in the 1980s. Fans of the Vertigo incarnation of Animal Man will find something weird and wonderful here that reminds them of the property’s time as a surreal, mature-readers’ title, and those used to more conventional super-hero fare will discover something new yet familiar at the same time. Lemire’s offbeat yet down-to-earth story is matched perfectly by Travel Foreman’s artwork, which boasts an equally dichotomous tone, capturing the bizarre and grotesque elements as clearly and adeptly as the everyday ones. Animal Man is not to be missed and could like emerge as the critical darling of the entire New 52 line.
Buddy Baker’s life in San Diego is pretty darn good these days. He has a loving family, and the one-time stuntman-turned-superhero is embarking a promising new career as an actor. He’s also managed to spread his message about animal rights across the country. When he hears about a hostage situation near his home, he welcomes the chance to do some good with his animal-based powers, but the incident gives rise to a symptom that foreshadows dark days ahead. And those challenging times are connected to his daughter and her connection to the same life web from which Buddy derives his powers.
Foreman’s probably best known for his work on Marvel’s The Immortal Iron Fist in recent years, and while his work on that title was attractive, Animal Man represents a major leap forward in his art and style. The visuals in this comic book look like a cross between the styles of Paul Pope and Mike Allred, but despite the slightly weird (in a good way) look, there’s also a strong sense of realism that maintains a grounded tone no matter what mind-bending, distorted concepts weave their way through the narrative. I like the softness he brings to Buddy’s face, which makes for an interesting contrast to the twisted, misshapen visage of the gunman in the middle of the issue. Foreman chooses reflect how they men feel in the shapes of the characters’ faces. Buddy is content with life, and that shows in his smooth features, whereas the grieving, tortured and desperate father looks like he’s almost melting or decomposing. Foreman also demonstrates he can illustrated animals well and accurately, which is a requisite for a comic entitled Animal Man. The artist is also to be commended for the organic, grotesque designs for the monsters at the end of the issue, from the giant Mr. Woofers to the Hunters Three. They’re appropriately unsettling.
Lovern Kindzierski’s muted color palette makes for an interesting balance with the believable, realistic suburban world in which the title character exists. Even when things are going well for Buddy and family at the beginning of the issue, the faded pastel tones serve as a cue that something’s off. He also adds some warmth and texture to the characters’ skin tone. When things get really weird in the story, the colors get brighter and bolder; they’re meant to be more shocking against the muted backdrop. I also especially appreciated the black-and-white landscape of the dream world in which the hero finds himself at the end of the issue, and the use of red against that backdrop is even more striking.
Lemire’s script is a thoroughly accessible one, and one reason for the ease with which new and old readers alike will be able to immerse themselves in this comic book is the first page. An excerpt from a recent magazine interview given by the title character is a simple but effective idea, but on top of that, it’s incredibly well written. It doesn’t read like exposition (even though that’s its purpose). It reads like a real interview, like a real magazine feature. Furthermore, it looks like a page from a real magazine. The composition and fonts are quite convincing. Too often, comics take sloppy shortcuts when it comes to depicting clippings from print media, and I was delighted to see the creators on this project pay attention to detail in that regard.
As a husband and father, I found it incredibly easy to relate to Buddy. Lemire’s stated he’s really writing what he knows as a family man himself in this book, and it shows. Tying the surreal threat and plot of the opening story arc to his family further reinforces that grounded tone, and it makes me more vested in the plot and the fate of the characters. I also appreciated that the first antagonist we see in this comic isn’t any kind of monster, but rather an understandably broken man. He’s not evil, he doesn’t merit punishment, and I appreciated that Animal Man fulfils the dual role of protector to those the man threatens and a Good Samaritan who wants the gunman to get the help he needs and deserves.
The central theme of this issue — and a defining characteristic for this interpretation of Animal Man — is compassion. Buddy Baker is compassion given form. He cares for the crazed individual who puts sick children at risk because he sees sickness in him as well, not malevolence. Buddy’s a symbol of compassion for animals. He’s all about caring for others, but he’s still presented as a regular guy. He’s not sainted, and he doesn’t sacrifice who he is or his other roles to exercise that compassion. Perhaps the point of the opening story will be about sacrifice, or about a challenge in which compassion has no place. I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. 9/10
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