Underground Film Journal

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Animal Man Vol. 1

By Mike Everleth ⋅ April 19, 2006

Animal Man Vol. 1

There seems to be an entire crop of comic book writers, mostly British and mostly at DC, who got big in comics just as I was getting out of them, i.e. the late ’80s and early ’90s. These include both Warren Ellis and even Neil Gaiman, plus of course Grant Morrison. I’m starting to get caught up a little with these guys lately, thanks to a very nice graphic novel collection at my local library, and the experience has been a little bit of a mixed bag.

Previous to reading this first Animal Man collection (issues 1-9) and aside from owning Morrison’s St. Swithin’s Day one-shot, I don’t think I’ve read anything else by him. I’ve been certainly aware of his work, from his apparently legendary JLA and Doom Patrol runs to his current highly-praised Seven Soldiers of Victory project. I’m also interested in checking out his surreal Invisibles series, which I’m going to have to dig around the library and see what they have.

But Animal Man is what got Morrison going here in the U.S., so it was–for the most part–a good place to start. Originally created in the 1960s, Animal Man has one of the lamest secret origins ever: An exploding spaceship grants movie stuntman Buddy Baker the ability to absorb the ability of any nearby animal. That’s pretty lazy writing, but granted at the time probably nobody thought Buddy would last more than one short story.

Very smartly, Morrison pretty much ignores the inane origin and gets right into his own concept for the character. Rather than being a traditional superhero, Animal Man is slowly transformed into a crusading animal activist after unintentionally getting involved with a secret lab that performs horrific experiments on apes. It’s an idea that works great for the first third of this collection (issues 1-5). While things go horribly wrong in the last four chapters, none of it is Morrison’s fault.

Animal Man #6-9 gets unfortunately bogged down by some moronic DC company-wide crossover event called “Invasion” that absolutely ruins Morrison’s otherwise stellar story pacing and character development. It’s idiotic so-called “events” like this that have been dragging down the American superhero comic market, a strategy that makes me almost not recommend an otherwise stellar comic collection.

Morrison tries gamely to make the most out of a bad situation. The semi-crossover with Hawkman in issue #6 is expected, I suppose, but it comes so inorganically out of what’s happened in the previous five issues that it’s pretty much a drag to read. Then, in the first half of the book, Buddy prays about joining the Justice League, that when he finally does become a member it must happen in one of the other “Invasion” books. Why have something so major happen “off-screen”? Plus, by that point being a Justice League member is almost antithetical to what Morrison’s trying to do with the book it seems stupid for him to even have him join.

At least the good news is that this collection has introduced me to Morrison’s writing, which is really interesting at this very early stage of his career. I’m going to keep my eye out for more of it.

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