Friday, 18 May 2012

Animal Man Jeff Lemire Travel Foreman review

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year, you will know that last year, DC re-set all their titles back to issue 1, effectively beginning every characters' story afresh. The first collected trade books of these re-boots are now beginning to hit stores. Although most of my comic book reading has evolved to largely independent publishers and non-superhero yarns, there have been a couple of books I've wanted to check out due to buzz, curiosity, and the people involved. And so it came to pass that on Free Comic Book Day I saw a shiny, gleaming copy of Animal Man by Jeff Lemire at the till, side by side with a shiny, gleaming copy of the new Justice League hardback. I'd already be meaning to get Animal Man, having read  much praise for the series, so the decision, though momentarily wavering, was made.

Having had no previous exposure to Animal Man, the opening page interview with Buddy Baker on the release of his new film is a great narrative device, giving the reader information about his superhero career, his powers, his family and a feel for the character himself. It's a technique that's been used before, but it's really effective here as it quickly establishes an introduction, origin story, and to an extent, character development, allowing us to get on with the story. The first panel of the comic then shows Bucky holding a magazine and reading the article we've just been reading and pondering aloud to his wife about how he comes across. It's a neat and clever little piece of comicery.

For Buddy, super-heroing is something he did largely in the past and occassionally returns to when need demands it- it's not the main facet of his identity and you get the sense he's exploring his interests and options. Problems begin to arise when a routine confrontation of a traumatised man at the hospital leaves him bleeding from his eyes, with no apparent cause. Later that night, Bucky wakes up after a disturbing nightmare to find his young daughter, Maxine, in the garden playing with the re-animated skeletons and half-rotting corpses of neighbourhood pets. Maxine appears to have inherited some derivative of her father's powers and when Bucky starts to bleed profusely from his eyes again, with the blood trailing down on his chest to form a tattoo of a map, she insists they both follow it  to it's destination- The Red Place. They must travel to the Red Place and get to the Old Tree before nameless others to save it  from dying, because 'if the tree dies. . . everything dies.'

Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman have been praised highly for this series and rightly so. Lemire has dived head on into this book, addressing  two main 'hero' issues- a child who inherits the parents powers in some form, and a supes' family in peril due to his abilities. The only reason people complain about superhero books is that they often have weak, regurgitated plots, but Lemire combines conventional attributes of the genre with a fresh and original outlook to create something rather excellent. It's a superhero book that reads more like a horror, focusing on a unique power set and its extended reprecussions. And because Buddy's powers (he can draw on the characteristics of a particular animal and gain it temporarily for himself) connect him to animals and their life forces, the larger themes of nature, the environment and the circle of life develop organically without ever feeling stilted or forced.
The Rot and the Hunters Three have a Sandman-esqe feel

I've never come across Travel Foreman's work before, so I don't know if this is his usual drawing style, but it's perfectly visceral here, capturing the creepy, weird , squirmy feel of the story. Animal Man is a great example of what a first volume in a series should be- a well-plotted, original story, with strong action and narrative elements and solid characterisation. There are enough ends tied up to leave you satisfied, but more than enough to keep you interested: the ending sees Buddy looking to seek out Swamp Thing (nature, plants, 'the green'), and on the basis of this I'll definitely be picking that up. I believe even Batman makes an appearance. What more can you ask of a book?

Aside: I promise to stop subjecting people to my awful photo-taking talent as soon as my scanner is fixed. Which may be a while. Badly taken pictures have a charm in this age of apps and filters and airbrushing, right? No? Ah, well.

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