Review–Animal Man, a different kind of superhero

Review by C.J. Bunce

(With spoilers)

One of the promises by the editors of the DC Comics New 52 was that any new reader, young or old, could pick up any #1 of the new issues and be able to delve right in, without any prior knowledge of the characters.  This was a good opportunity for me to browse the racks for something different, something I might not normally check out.  So I picked up a copy of Animal Man #1. It’s a good example of a new title that gives you enough back story and dangles a bit of things to come to get a reader hooked.

What the first DC 52 issues demonstrate is that Marvel Comics should do the same thing.  Every time I check out a random issue of Spider-man, Thor, or Captain America, I either get the feel that I have read this character so many times before there is nothing new here, or that the issue is in the middle of some complicated Marvel Universe event that I would need to buy every tangent title before I could figure out what is happening.  But back to Animal Man.

Issue #1 begins with a New Yorker magazine type interview with Buddy Baker, a washed-up ex-stunt man turned superhero turned animal rights activist turned movie actor who recently acted a part like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, mirroring the phase of life Buddy is in.

Buddy appears to be near some life changing turning point, is involved in a lot of self-reflection, and by all accounts is teetering at the edge of some midlife crisis.  Buddy has a wife of several years, and kids, and hasn’t engaged in much of the superhero biz for a while.  But he hasn’t hung up his super suit just yet.

Like Mr. Incredible at the beginning of The Incredibles, Buddy decides to go out on a mission, but afterward gets indications that his powers are affecting him in a bad way.

At home, his daughter has a room full of stuffed animals and she just wants to adopt a pet dog.  And we get to learn why Buddy is a superhero after all.  And we get indications that this series may not only be about Animal Man–a family member may have inherited some of his super abilities.

The story unfolds nicely, written by Jeff Lemire.  But whereas I like Travel Foreman’s panels with Buddy in superhero mode, his dialogue panels with the family in conversation are very minimalistic and seem like filler pages included to get us to the next big story point.  Some of it may relate to the equally minimalist colors used.  And the cover is just wrong–it makes Animal Man look like he is in some kind of gory bloodbath.  What the image reflects is his tie-in to the lives of animals throughout the world.  The color is important, it just has a strange vibe compared to the actual story.

I like the idea of a superhero family tale in the DC universe like that used in The Incredibles.  I like Buddy’s powers–he seems to be one of the Wonder Twins from The Superfriends tv show who could take on the abilities of any animal when needed to save the day.

As a non-Justice League, non-main DCU character title, Animal Man has gotten off to a nice start.


  1. Animal Man is the best New 52 series (along with Swamp Thing).
    What makes Animal Man so special is the way Lemire deconstructs the superhero mythology. For example:
    1) Superheroes tend to monopolize the attention of the reader, while Animal Man is constantly upstaged by the supporting characters of the series.
    2) Superhero comics usually don’t give much importance to the private life of their main character (they tend to focus only on the “costume on” part); in Animal Man, on the contrary, the private life of Buddy is the main theme of the series. In fact, it is rather infrequent to see Buddy with his costume on.
    3) Buddy is not perfect, and is not perceived as perfect by other people: in fact, in the 11th issue, when he tells his wife “It’s going to be okay”, she replies “Don’t give me anything of that superhero crap, Buddy.” That cut and thrust perfectly enlightens the philosophy of the series.

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