In 1988, the comics industry changed forever. Now that might seem like hyperbole, and it probably is, at least a little. However, in that year, one of the most fascinating and unique comic series in the medium debuted. It was also the big break for one of the most enduring creators in the industry. This week, we take a look at Animal Man Volume 1 from DC Comics.
The end of the ’80s were an interesting time in the comics industry. Following Alan Moore’s groundbreaking run on Swamp Thing, publishers- DC Comics especially- were more willing to take a chance on more unusual takes on their characters. This meant giving a chance to a young Scottish writer on a largely forgotten scifi character, beginning an almost two and a half year run on Animal Man by Grant Morrison, Chas Truog, Doug Hazelwood, Tatjana Wood, and John Costanza.
After years of inactivity, Buddy Baker decides to give this full-time hero thing another try. He initially falls flat on his face, but soon finds himself pulled into adventures defending the animal kingdom, while also dealing with more metaphysical threats and exploring ideas like vegetarianism, animal rights, quantum physics, free will and more. In the first volume, Buddy faces an angry warrior, animal testing, a cartoon character given Earth life, and an alien invasion.
Morrison instantly goes for the weird here, and it works. Though the series is known for being a part of the British Invasion that would lead to the creation of Vertigo, when it started it simply a weird take on superheroes. They would take common superhero tropes and turn them on their head, resulting in some incredibly interesting ideas and out there plots. The opening story is an excellent read, though it does have issues- such as using a “white savior” archetype as a sympathetic antagonist without acknowledging the extremely problematic nature of his existence.
Truog and Hazelwood create a distinct look for the series that matches the comics of the day, but has a weird edge to it that feels slightly off. They make sure that Buddy is physically distinct from his contemporaries, and creates an environment around Buddy that’s grounded. That world around him makes the weird and horrifying stand out as it starts to creep into his life.
The series found its place in the DC universe- its own corner where Morrison and team could go wild. It also laid the groundwork for them to take the reins with DC’s flagship books such as JLA, Batman and Action Comics. Without Animal Man, the comics world would look completely different.
So is Animal Man worth checking out? Absolutely. It’s weird and silly, and has elements that haven’t aged well (at best), but it’s at least worth checking out to see Morrison grow into who they would later become.
Animal Man Vol. 1 is available in print and digital editions from DC Comics.