Review: Animal Man Vol. 2: Animal Vs Man / Author: Jeff Lemire / Artist: Steve Pugh / Publisher: DC Comics / Release Date: January 2013
Ah, poor Buddy Baker, AKA The Animal Man. A straight forward, rather dumb superhero up until Grant Morrison got his hands on him in the ‘80s. Morrison completely repurposed the character’s backstory, turning it from a run-of-the-mill origin story into something more mystical and epic. Animal Man got bumped to the mature readers label Vertigo, and evolved beyond the ‘man with animal powers’ premise to an ongoing story about ecological disaster and animal rights. The book got cancelled in 1995 and came back last year as part of the rebooted DC universe.
The reboot kicked out much of the allegory and focused on the mystic side of matters. As established in the previous series, Buddy Baker and his daughter are now champions of the side of nature which involves animals, known as The Red. Alongside the supernatural force that represents plants and trees, known as The Green, they fight a third force, The Rot, which is all about death and decay. Animal Man Vol. 2: Animal Vs Man deals with the lead characters coming to terms with a life of danger and adventure; unlike your typical hero book, Buddy has a family to consider, and his wife is not very pleased that they all seem to be on the run from powerful supernatural forces.
The problem with the book is that, though the protagonists have a compelling backstory and world, all of the inbuilt tensions seem dull. We know that Buddy’s son will misbehave, that the wife will argue, that the daughter will do something creepy, etc. Worse still, a lot of the more mystic elements are simply a retread of early stories from The Swamp Thing. That said, there is a lot of potential here; the trinity of elemental forces coupled with DC’s growing dedication to creating an underlying paranormal world in its mainstream comic books has potential, but nothing as yet realised.
The artwork is solid, messy and visceral. Steve Pugh knocks it out of the park when it comes to conveying a dark world of blood and violence. The pacing is good but Jeff Lemire is clearly taking his time with this tale and we’ve yet to see any real surprises. If you’ve never heard of Animal Man, then this new series of books are a great way to catch up with this odd character. Old fans may be disappointed, however.