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Comics Today's Date:

THE NEW 52, Week 2:
Animal Man #1

You do have to hand it to DC with their New 52 initiative: they're throwing just about everything against the wall to see what sticks. Once literally a "Forgotten Hero," and in recent years brought into events as a paradoxically central fringe character, Animal Man would not seem to be high on the list for name recognition to the casual reader.

But once upon a time, Animal Man helped plant the seeds for the Vertigo Universe, a character whose political activism was both groundbreaking in comics and sensible in character. Even if you didn't agree with him, you could understand his point of view. Then there was that whole breaking the fourth wall thing, the beginning of Grant Morrison's exploration of a sentient DC Universe.

That's just my nostalgia talking. Let's take a look at Animal Man #1 as it appeared on the stands this week. Written by Jeff Lemire with art by Travel Foreman (some inks by Dan Green), the book straddles what old readers expect out of a Vertigo title (even though it isn't) and an idea of what should grab new readers.

To get everyone up to speed, Lemire begins by interviewing Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, in a text piece. A nice nod to the first series' interaction with Morrison, it allows for a little meta-commentary while establishing Animal Man as an "indie" superhero.

In fact, his existence in the New 52 seems a slap in the face to the mainstream superheroes who have been revamped without their marriages. No deals with Mephisto are necessary; being married with a family while having admittedly strange superpowers provides fodder for plenty of storytelling conflict.

Lemire explores some consequences of those powers on family life even before the story's villains make themselves known. Buddy's daughter Maxine wants a pet, but Buddy is understandably wary of unconsciously locking into the morphic field of one animal. If you thought Animal Man seemed a silly character, look out for the incredible Captain Cocker Spaniel!

Lest you think this is cutesy sitcom, Lemire soon turns dark. Resolving a hostage situation at a hospital, Buddy finds his connection to the animal kingdom causing his eyes to bleed, then causing nightmares horrifically delineated by Foreman. I'll also say this for the New 52; it's delivered a fair share of good cliffhangers.

This book seems like a good fit for Lemire's voice, and Foreman's art carries an edge that will make it stand out for the reader who claims not to like superheroes, but secretly does. It's also clearly a horror book, with moments that will remind old fans of the later days of Animal Man in Vertigo.

Definitely not for all tastes, but solid, Animal Man #1 stakes a claim for those who like their books a little dark and twisted, but with a chewy moral center.

Derek McCaw

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