Monday, October 3, 2011

Animal Man #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Penciler: Travel Foreman
Inkers: Travel Foreman and Dan Green
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

Thematically, Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man picks up where Grant Morrison’s Animal Man left off, pretty much.

At the end of the Morrison run, the writer himself showed up in the story to bring his hero’s family back from the dead and leave him on a happy note—just because he could, and as a conscious change of pace from all those “grim and gritty” superhero comics that used to be all the rage in 1990.

In Lemire’s story, some time has passed since then, and some Animal Man adventures have, too, but overall, it still seems to be the same (mostly) happy protagonist Buddy Baker and his (mostly) happy wife and kids that Morrison left behind. Okay, Buddy’s appearances as Animal Man have become rarer, and although he’s something of a cult hero who gets interviewed by The Believer and play (mostly) himself in cult films by cult directors—such as one Mr. Ryan Daranovsky—, he doesn’t really have a job and leaves the money-making to his wife, but hey—who needs to make a lot of money when you’re (mostly) happy, right?

As the story goes on, that “(mostly)” grows like a cancer. You can pick it up between the lines of the interview on page 1, and after overwhelming Buddy in his dreams, it breaks into his reality in full force—and with bone-chilling effect on the reader—on the final page. Lemire and Foreman and Green and Kindzierski and Fletcher’s Animal Man is at least as much a horror book as it is a superhero book, but the connective tissue that holds it all together is the authentic characters and the subtle drama of their mostly happy suburban life.

It’s not quite clear yet where this story is going, but what’s clear is that the creators control it fully. Lemire knows how to walk that fine line between leaving things too vague and making them too obvious that makes or breaks this type of book. In Foreman, he seems to have found the perfect collaborator. It’s been a few years since I last saw Foreman’s art, and he’s grown by leaps and bounds since then. His everyday scenes of a family talking in the kitchen are as breathtaking as his elaborate nightmare scenarios—also thanks to Lovern Kindzierski, whose colors, or sometimes lack thereof, are crucial in bringing both to life.

In many ways, Animal Man goes back to the classic Vertigo formula here, offering a truly creepy and unsettling post-superhero story grounded by authentic characterization. But it’s certainly been a while since it was done so well. This debut issue is a tour de force by everyone involved.

Grade: B

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