Today, Shelby and (guest writer) The Freakin’ Animal Man are discussing Animal Man 0, originally released September 5, 2012. Animal Man 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Shelby: In the comments for the Swamp Thing 0 write-up, we talk briefly about respect. One of the successes of Swamp Thing is that Scott Snyder manages to create his own story while still being respectful towards the stories previous writers have told. Swamp Thing 0 takes the flaming-lab-in-the-swamp origin and folds it neatly into the Rotworld story Snyder wants to tell. Jeff Lemire has done the same thing with Animal Man 0; he maintains the classic Animal Man origin story (powers from aliens), and merely shows us the other side of the story, that it was the Red this whole time! That is smart story-telling.
Five years ago, the avatar of the Red was a guy in the Congo, protecting local fauna from poachers. He bites off more than he can chew (no pun intended) when his current quarry turns out to be Anton Arcane, who makes short work of our hero. The Totems are not happy with this turn of events. A four-horned creature, whom I shall call “Horn-Face,” calls for swift retribution against the Rot. Cooler heads prevail as Socks suggests they simply call the tailors to make a new temporary avatar to tide them over. You see, the next avatar of the Red hasn’t even been conceived yet. A third Totem, whom I shall refer to as “Giraffesnake,” suggests they just use one of the people set to be the parents of the next avatar; that way, they can protect the youngster until it’s ready.
Enter Buddy Baker, currently employed as the title role in “Chicken Thief 3.” Now, I know what you’re thinking; how can there exist 3 movies about a man who steals chickens? Turns out, the Chicken Thief franchise seems to be about a man dressed up as a chicken who steals things. Awesome. ANYWAY, Buddy is on this way home when he sees an alien ship crash in a field. He is taken aboard the ship, and horrible experiments are performed on him. Except, not really: it’s just the Totems, making the required changes to Buddy in a way his mind can comprehend. Buddy wakes up and finds his costume standing by. He figures out what he can do, and flies home to begin his life as a costumed superhero. Even this early in his empowered career, Ellen worries about him, especially after she discovers she is pregnant with their second child. Meanwhile, Anton Arcane watches and waits…
This issue is a delightful, disgusting bit of fun, as usual. We’ve talked in the past about how much we love seeing the Tailors in action, and this issue is no exception. There’s just something so fantastic about these creatures making a new suit, except they’re using flesh and sinew and bone. Steve Pugh really shines with the art, especially the remaking Buddy scene. He’s literally spread out on the table, having his insides rearranged; it’s super gross and I love it.
The updated version of Buddy’s origins as Animal Man are perfectly appropriate. Alien abduction doesn’t hold water like it used to, and I’m so impressed that Lemire found a way to align Buddy’s origin with Rotworld and still keep it mostly intact. The fact that superheroes have become such old hat in Buddy’s world that this is the most plausible way to help him understand what is happening to him is hilarious.
There’s a lot of humor in this issue, the funniest part obviously being Buddy’s role in Chicken Thief 3. Firstly, a movie concept as horrible as Chicken Thief 3 is funny on it’s own. But to see the man who would eventually channel the powers of the Animal Kingdom don a chicken suit and run around is beyond delightful. The best part about this issue, though, is to still be able to see Buddy as a family man. Sure, he’s enchanted with the superhero life, and loves running around and saving people, but he is very clearly still driven by the need to be husband to Ellen and father to Cliff. Being the “everyman” of the DCU has always been part of Buddy’s story, and Lemire has done an incredible job maintaining that.
What about you, Freakin’ A? I assume you are far more of an expert on the subject of Animal Man’s history than I, what do you think of this slightly more current version of Buddy’s origins as Animal Man? What are your thoughts on the entirety of Lemire’s run on this title?
Freakin’ Animal Man: Thank you Miss Shelby, and if you’re looking for Animal Man history, you came to the right guy. Lemire obviously knows his stuff; he has been completely faithful to the character’s history, while adding his own hand to Buddy’s mythos. Like Snyder’s Swamp Thing (I really don’t get how Lemire and Snyder work so well together, it’s frightening), this concept of Issue #0 is perfectly embraced by Lemire. From watching zookeepers decay into evil plague monsters to having nightmares of your daughter eating your face off, we almost forget that before this, Animal Man was many times a joke of a character. Lemire takes this opportunity to fill that gap nicely.
Where Swamp Thing blossomed in the olden days under the sweet verses of Alan Moore’s somber and serious tones, Animal Man was built on the twisted, yet occasionally lighthearted, scripts of Grant Morrison. What made Animal Man special for his time in the later half of the 80’s was his dedication to the characteristics of the silver age heroics in an era dedicated to edginess and pushing the envelope. I knew opening this issue up, I needed to see that in Animal Man #0, and that’s what we got.
I saw four major factors that made this the perfect Issue #0. One: Return of the aliens. These pesky aliens have been crucial to Buddy’s story, and Lemire just changed them to fit his story. The change makes sense in the context of this story and retains that dash of that vintage comic flair. Two: The dialogue. I always worry when a character loses track of its roots. If Batman can’t throw a pun my way once and a while, I worry the writer isn’t being very true to the character. Buddy originated from a simpler age, a time when aliens simply appeared, experimented on him, and he accepted it. In a modern world, he’d be traumatized, have to deal with his experience, and prove himself to not be insane. In one page, we see Lemire do the character justice as he quickly accepts the circumstances, grabs his suit and — without further question — just becomes Animal Man.
It’s silly and ridiculously simple: and in this case it’s perfect. Three: Lemire humor. Okay: Arcane is going nuts; the world is coming to an end; the Bakers are probably going to die – there may not be time for comic relief in present-day Animal Man stories (aside from Cliff’s existence). So Lemire crammed a good laugh into this issue with the previously mentioned Chicken Thief 3. It’s as stupid as can be, but after seeing tentacles slithering out of Martin Lawrence’s face several issues ago, it’s nothing short of hilarious. If nothing else, it adds to the tapestry of failure our everyman Buddy Baker experienced before he finds his place in the world. Lemire has truly built a complete world, and with this origin story, we get the final piece in the puzzle before the destined-to-be-incredible Rotworld saga. Unlike many series out now (Stormwatch, Legion of Super-Heroes, etc) we have all the necessary information in our hands. We don’t have questions anymore, you can ease back and let the comic take you for a ride.
The fourth and final aspect that desperately needs to be addressed is Mr. Steve Pugh. When you take a look at the collected Animal Man Volume 1 of the New 52, you see all that amazing artwork by Travel Foreman. Those are some intimidating shoes to fill. Pugh stepped up and despite many-a doubt, boldly put said shoes on and has taken the art in his own direction. Writing is important, but it’s the colors, shapes and sizes of each panel that really give Animal Man its pace. Before and after the “origin” story, the pages are red, covered in violence or the sanctum of totems. As usual for Animal Man, this upsets the eye and forces attention. The origin is calm and what could be interpreted as normal. As the scene progresses everything is still calm up until aliens abduct him and we see that all too familiar disturbing site: Buddy’s insides laid out, unavoidable to the eye. It’s there to remind you we are still very much in this new series despite Chicken Thief and campy dialogue. The point I’m trying to make is each choice in each line, each shadow, each color feels deliberate and I personally saw my interpretation of each choice Pugh made.
I guess the point I’m trying to say is that yes, I’m Animal Man, and yes you bet there’s bias, but Lemire and Pugh have made a team only to be rivaled by their friends Snyder, Capullo, and Kano. This is one of the best, if not the best (again, biased) series in the New 52, and this issue should make it clear it’s not going anywhere. You can take that to the freakin’ bank.
Freakin’ Animal Man is a superhero with too much time on his hands. If he’s not saving the day from animal zombies, he’s reviewing comics and pretending to be vegetarian. You can read more of his material at @FreaknAnimalMan on the Twitter.
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