Review by Frank Plowright
Book One closed with Grant Morrison reworking Animal Man’s origin, random even by the standards of the 1960s, into something that made sense of aliens and their presence of Earth. It tied Buddy Baker’s talent of being able to mimic the abilities of nearby wildlife into the morphogenetic field theory, and this picks up with Animal Man at least knowing who he is in once sense. Metaphysically, though, he still has a fair way to go.
Morrison doesn’t head there immediately, instead offering a chapter of foreshadowing and a couple more smart superhero stories, although hectoring on animal rights issues, something he puts his hands up to near the end. It’s when Buddy goes on a peyote trip that the bigger picture is partially revealed to him, as he comes to believe he’s just a character in a story. While that’s happening tragedy occurs at home.
As before, almost the entire book is drawn by Chas Truog, and there can surely have been no greater polarity in creative vision between writer and artist. While Morrison is straining at the boundaries of what superhero comics can be, Truog is unshakeably drawing everything the way it’s always been. Nothing wrong here, no need for change, move along. Truog tells the story clearly, but so unimaginatively, and his people look strange. In the infinite worlds of infinite possibilities that Morrison eventually entrenched at DC there’s one where the art sparkles as much as the script on Animal Man.
A tragedy having occurred, Animal Man uses what he’s learned, and the possibilities Morrison’s dropped during earlier stories, to attempt to reverse the tragedy. It leads to a musing on where characters go once they’ve been erased from the continuity and whether greater imagination would be preferable to the easy option of rebooting. As he sifted such ideas it prompted the way forward for significant later moments at DC, not least on Batman, before the crowning glory of The Multiversity.
Eventually Animal Man ends up meeting his creator, a conceit not unique, but never before played out this satisfactorily. Morrison explains the needs of superhero drama to an Animal Man barely comprehending how the darkness of his life is merely entertainment, nor how he’ll outlive his creator. Morrison’s surprisingly self-deprecating, noting himself incapable of ending with a bang, when in fact the approach is a bigger than seen in 99.9% of previous superhero stories.
While at the time Morrison’s work on Doom Patrol drew greater acclaim and attention, it no longer reads as well, possibly because surreality is simple enough to emulate. Morrison literally invests Animal Man with himself, and that’s far harder to pull off satisfyingly.
If this collection’s too pricey, the same material is available in earlier paperbacks Origin of the Species and Deus Ex Machina, or if money’s no object there’s the Animal Man Omnibus, but make sure you head for the 2022 DC Black Label version as the earlier printing has production problems. That the Omnibus has been reissued doesn’t bode well for this material following the first volume into paperback.