Animal Man: Volume 1 The Great Hunt
Published by DC Comics
Buddy Baker gets animal powers by tapping into the Earth’s morphogenetic field (or Red) and uses them to fight crime and sometimes act in movies. From the Red he gets elephant strength, rhino hide, cheetah speed, and bird flight which as you would imagine he uses to get the bad guys. But he also uses them in his day-to-day life. This can be grabbing the napping ability of a cat to fall asleep quickly or taking on the weight of a bumblebee to not creak the floorboards in his hallway and wake his kids.
For Buddy is that rarity amongst super heroes in that he has a living family that are part of his daily life and not an abstract motivation for vigilante justice.
His wife Ellen puts up with and supports his often half-hearted attempts at super heroics, his sarcastic son Cliff gets many of the best lines and his four-year old daughter Maxine has animal powers much like her Dad.
The story quickly drags us into Buddy’s family life and his attempt to be more of an active super hero, something we are given to feel has been difficult and far from lucrative.
On returning from saving a hospital ward of kids from a crazed gunman Buddy has a strange dream wherein he and Maxine enter the Red and encounter the Hunters Three. A trio of perverted animal Avatars who represent the Rot, an unknown force of darkness out to get Maxine.
The dream leads Buddy and Maxine on a quest into the Red to find out more about who they are and why the Rot is after them. Ellen and Cliff are left alone thinking they will be safe. That turns out not to be the case.
At first I was unsure of the art. It seemed to be excessively gory and with weird proportions and hatchy lines that obscured the characters. Travel Foreman is unique in his style but the choices of gore and form that I had misgivings about serve definite story telling roles.
When called upon to draw regular human figures and their interactions Foreman does an excellent and almost realistic job. It is when the action shifts to the Red or its opponents the Rot then things get deservedly weird or indeed horrific. Here the odd proportions show the evil, alien nature of the Rot.
Foreman also has a great kinetic sense to his art which is good at showing a sudden burst of speed or powerful blow from Animal Man or his foes. All up the art is a great fit for the tone of this book, and analysing it
Jeff Lemire is crafting a darkly excellent tale here. His grasp of the Baker family dynamics is true to life and the glimpses he gives of the underlying world of the Red and it’s Avatars leave me very intrigued.* There is obviously much more to be told here and I hope this writer and artist are given the opportunity to keep this story going.
*I stumbled across a cache of 90’s Animal Man comics back when it was still the 90’s and developed an enduring love for the character. This wasn’t the universally respected and admired Grant Morrison run that brought a D list superhero out of the void and launched a savagely imaginative Scottish writer onto a generally unsuspecting public. No this was the later dark, horrific take on the character and his family written by Jamie Delano and drawn by Steve Pugh. It left a deep impression on me and I’ve been waiting for someone to make use of this great character ever since.
Should I read it? If you think you can handle the unsettling yet excellent art then you have a dark treat waiting.
Buy it? I’ve read it twice and will do so again, and be buying the next trade.