New 52 Review: Animal Man #1

Buddy Baker may be the only superhero in the DCU who was allowed to remain married, but domesticity isn't bliss.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Animal Man #1

It seems as though you can gauge the importance of a comic book character by whether or not they are allowed to be married.  Superman and the Flash have had their marriages eliminated because apparently telling stories about their dating life is crucial to maintaining their popularity (hell, the one red-headed Flash that was married with children has apparently been tossed out of existence). However, Animal Man is free to not only have a wife, but two children in a relatively happy home.  Except for when his eyes start to randomly bleed.

Animal Man #1, by writer Jeff Lemire and artist Travel Foreman, aim to show us that family life can be just as fertile a ground for superhero storytelling as random girlfriend swap-outs by giving us a foreboding first outing that ends with a really creepy revelation.  It's all in the setting of the relatively well-adjusted nuclear Baker family – Buddy Baker, who splits his time between parenting, superheroing, acting and animal rights activism, his wife Ellen, his son Cliff and his daughter Maxine.  They have normal people problems – like some money issues, the girl whining for a dog, the boy having a horrendously awful mullet for some reason – but they also have weird problems, like they can't have a dog because it messes up Buddy's super powers to channel the abilities of any animal, be it bumblebee or rhinoceros, and that Buddy has to miss dinner to go deal with a hostage situation at the hospital because he feels like an interview he gave about his weird pop culture status as a bootleg T-shirt popularity made him seem like a has-been. 

Lemire has plenty to play around with, but when Buddy's eyes go bloody after stopping the crime, you know this ain't goin' anywhere fun.  Bleeding eyes is never a sign of good fortune.  Horrible nightmares about your children's intestines and rivers of blood aren't, either.  Good lord, this is a horror book disguised as a superhero book!  Brace yourselves. 

Foreman's penciling takes some getting used to, as the style isn't all that visually appealing, but when he goes for broke in the nightmare sequences, you can see it's not really supposed to be a warm and inviting look.  He's plenty good at creeping you right the hell out.

If you've also read Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing #1, and if you have a passing familiarity with the concepts of The Red and The Green (some kind of life-force source for animals and plants, respectively), you can see that there's something funky going on with The Red that may tie these two books together.  If you haven't, well, hey, it's a new #1, what's stopping you?  That's the whole point of the New 52 thing.  Check everything out and see what clicks for you.

There's certainly a talented and twisted imagination at work here, and if the creepy stuff is your thing, you'll probably enjoy Animal Man #1.    It's never really been mine, but your mileage may vary.