Animal Man by Grant Morrison

18 Jun


Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Chas Truog

Published under VERTIGO

Collects: ANIMAL MAN issues 1-9

Reviewed by Aalok Joshi

Colossally MAJOR SPOILERS ahead…if you have decided to go and buy this book and read it, STOP RIGHT HERE! If not, well, this post gives you umpteen reasons to, including select samplings.

With the slowly and steadily growing mess that is my life pushing my insides out, I find far and few books that are as satisfying a read; driving me towards the fringes, far from the relative comfort zones of the standard Superman , Batman or Flash story and into the morass where the more seedy characters lurk…not all of them are seedy, just…odd. Places inhabited by THE QUESTION , GREEN ARROW, SWAMP THING & ANIMAL MAN.

In particular, when I was reading Batman under his current scribe Grant Morrison (I know that other people do write Batman currently, but the one Grant is writing, whichever it is becomes THE Batman book, just like there are starters, appetizers, desserts but there is always THE main course) I figured that Morrison has always brought some sort of interconnection between his titles, so his titles, whatever they are would always benefit from an individual comprehensive read, and later point out to where they fit into his whole picture. His first work for DC Comics was a portrayal of a lesser known character ANIMAL MAN.

Grant left the title after 26 issues, following which the title was passed into the able hands of Peter Milligan for 6 issues after which some other writers like Tom Veitch, Jamie Delano took over. DC collected Morrison’s run in three paperbacks titled ANIMAL MAN, ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES & DEUS EX MACHINA. Anything by Morrison is too much to complete in a single post without doing proper justice to it, unlike THE QUESTION (here) which was solely a series of exemplary one shots.

The story starts off simply enough, as Buddy Baker, the married (with children!) superhero realises that he needs to go out and be a full time superhero once more, and leave behind his past with the Forgotten heroes. He makes TV appearances and joins the JLI when he receives a call from Dr Myers at S.T.A.R. Labs regarding a break in and all the lab monkeys being fused into one creature.The investigation leads him to facing one of the forgotten heroes of yesteryear (not so much of a spoiler, it becomes evident on the cover of issue four, above) and a realization of what goes on behind the facade of animal testing for production of a vaccine for AIDS. While Buddy and B’wana Beast duke it out in B’wana’s quest to find his friend, an ape brought for Anthrax experimentation from his home on Mount Kilimanjaro; Ellen Baker with Maxine run into a group of merciless hunters. We see a lot of animal deaths in this story, but quite a few are shown off panel, which do nothing less for the horror. The story is complex, but not non linear. Disturbing, depressing but at the same time filled with hope. To illustrate, I here present a few pages (scanned by myself from the sole three single issues I own personally , issues three, four and five in addition to all the TPBs) which are disturbingly emotional to an animal lover like myself. Click to enlarge images.

The solution Buddy uses to get B’wana out of the mess is particularly intelligent, but no more spoilers. This is where it should have ended but it didn’t. What follows the four parter, according to me (and Grant too) is where the story actually begins. The story is simple enough, with a beautifully apt cover. It would be sacrilege to reveal the complete happenings of this story but I’ll say this – it has a road trip, Buddy turning vegetarian, funny animals, modern superheroes and once you read this, you’ll never laugh at those silly WB Cartoons again – especially THE ROAD RUNNER SHOW. And to top this, DC was actually publishing WB Comics at that time. The story left me heartbroken, and was a major point in my comic reading life. I have though taken the liberty of putting up the last two pages. Take a look,

The next issue is an INVASION! Crossover, that stands out quite well on it’s own. The main story involves an alliance of aliens who attempt to take over the earth, one of which are the Thanagarians. Buddy goes up against a Thanagarian “artist” in the most significant crossover ever. The story has a nice argument between Buddy and Roger, his friend cum agent when the Thanagarian ship carrying the “artist” crashes on Earth. The solution employed by Hawkman to stop the bomb is pretty simple, showing one more of Grant’s philosophies – you don’t have to be dense to be effective.

Next we see Buddy meet an obsolete, forgotten villain and tries to stop him from commiting suicide. The whole “retro” look of the issue is classic, it shows on the above cover too.

The original Mirror Master died in a Suicide Squad mission. We see an all new Mirror Master, a Scot called Evan McCulloch, who attacks Buddy’s home. The clincher is in the way he’s stopped eventually. We need to see more of this type of books around. Martian Manhunter visits in a ‘marking time’ issue where the Bakers’ residence gets repaired of the damage done by the Mirror Master.

In the final issues, we do see sequences that will possibly be very important in future storylines, like a blinking computer screen, a mysterious stalker and more.

Grant Morrison does an exemplary job on the writing. Chas Truog doesn’t display awe inspiring art but it works here. The art is effective, it wouldn’t suit one of the better known artist like Jim Lee or the Kubert brothers to have drawn this, but it got me into the story. No mention of ANIMAL MAN can be complete without giving due credit to the cover artist for a very very long run, Brian Bolland.

My Rating: 10 on 10. Run to the local comic comic book store to get this one.

This is as good as it gets. The only complaint I can have is that they could have used the cover to issue one as the trade cover, but the current one gives a better idea of the tension going on in this book. Possibly, unless I’m wrong, Grant has a lot of surprises up his sleeve and I, for one can’t bear to be right this time around. I wonder, will Jeff Lemire be able to maintain my interest? I wouldn’t expect him to fill Grant’s shoes, just do his own stuff, but….let’s see. I can go on, and on, but eleven images for one trade review? The other addicts are going to kill me.

Contains all covers, 19.95 US$

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