Animal Man by Grant Morrison Book One

Animal Man by Grant Morrison Book One
Alternative editions:
Animal Man by Grant Morrison Book One review
Alternative editions:
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: DC Black Label - 978-1-4012-9908-8
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2020
  • UPC: 9781401299088
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Conceptual, Superhero

Previously available in hardcover as the first 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, this compiles the first half of Grant Morrison’s groundbreaking resurrection of a long forgotten hero as a means of exploring layers of reality.

Anyone coming to this having heard about the reputation, but having never previously read Animal Man is advised to stick with it, as the opening four chapter story may have contained groundbreaking elements in 1989, but hasn’t aged well. Move beyond, though, and Morrison provides a succession of enjoyable single chapter stories featuring a superhero who uncharacteristically stumbles to victory. Increasingly good are the interludes of Buddy Baker’s suburban home life with his wife and two children having to cope with the consequences of a superhero who doesn’t bother with a secret identity.

The elephant in the room is the art of Chas Truog. That he draws almost all the content makes him the editor’s dream of an artist who can reliably turn in 22 pages every month, but that value doesn’t consider what the pages look like, which is remorselessly plain with misproportioned people. He draws what’s needed, but doesn’t have the imagination to step beyond. His plus points are an adaptability and storytelling clarity, which is useful the longer the series continues. Tom Grummett is equally clear, and improved on the second of his outings here in which Morrison makes some sense of Animal Man’s ridiculous origin.

After an ordinary opening salvo Morrison plays a trump card with ‘The Coyote Gospel’ in which the violence of Warner Brothers cartoons is reconstituted as real world suffering. Animal Man is basically a passive observer of continuing brutality as Morrison surprises again and again, eventually introducing the defining theme of his time on Animal Man. Just what constitutes reality? It’s exhilarating, horrific, sad and still a tremendous read, while Truog copes with the needed switch of styles.

From then on, it’s winners all the way. For a few episodes Morrison settles on the contrast of family life with superheroics, still hardly commonplace, treating the family realistically, and if initially lecturing about his animal protection agenda, it’s wrapped in continually creative stories making good use of the wider DC universe. However, he then starts tinkering with Animal’s ridiculous 1960s origin, pulling it to pieces and reconstituting it. Once convenient random nonsense when having a hero with animal powers was the priority, Morrison’s revised version accounts for tinkering with reality and as a side dish also explains the animal based powers of B’wana Beast and Vixen.

The back cover blurb calls Morrison one of the greatest storytellers of his generation, the sort of publisher’s hyperbole typically applied to any random collection of superhero material. In this case, though, there’s more than enough proof inside that he is, and as compulsively weird as these stories are in places, there’s stranger to come in Book Two as Morrison really delves into his theme. The art, though, is a millstone.

When first reprinted these stories were spread over plain Animal Man and Origin of the Species, and they also appear in the all-encompassing Animal Man Omnibus. There hasn’t been a paperback continuation in this format, but the 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Book Two contains the remainder of the run.