Until Deus Ex Machina most of Animal Man has been supplied in single chapters, but here we reach what’s in effect one continued story from the opening page to the end. It’s audaciously conceptual, displays an intelligence rarely applied to superhero comics now, never mind in 1989 and 1990, and for Animal Man it’s a long dark night of the soul, by turns frustrating, tragic and puzzling as he eventually meets his creator.

Grant Morrison has dropped a few moments of foreshadowing, but don’t worry if you’ve not picked up on them, he runs through them all before the end of what’s a wild journey. The starting point was Animal Man meeting aliens who adjusted his powers during Origin of the Species. They had a higher awareness while mouthing gnomic statements about a bigger purpose and tragedy to come. It arrives here during what’s an extended musing on the mechanics of superhero comics and how misguided continuity wipes are. Given how Morrison’s career progressed, it can almost be seen as a statement of intent, and the theme recurs years later in his Batman before a crowning restoration in The Mulitversity.

While Paris Cullins steps in for single chapters, the bulk of the book is drawn by Chas Truog, whose limitations define Animal Man as much as Morrison’s experimentation. It’s two creative opposites pulling at each other, Truog’s unimaginative art seemingly trying to drag Morrison’s flights of fancy back down to Earth. In the infinite worlds Morrison suggests is there one where Truog was the cover artist and Brian Bolland drew the interiors? If so, it would have looked better, but is unlikely to have been finished.

The bare of a synopsis is that while Buddy Baker is undertaking a peyote trip attempting to achieve greater understanding, there’s a tragedy at home. The consequences lead him to ever more astounding discoveries about his life until he’s given the opportunity to confront Grant Morrison to address the issues. That alone would be daring, but it’s accompanied by thoughts about writing fiction, primarily superhero comics, still valid enough to form a primer on how to write one.

This isn’t the cheery and imaginative material of the previous two volumes, but it’s even smarter, with some very funny moments, so it’s no less entertaining, and Morrison provides his own critique toward the end. Lovers of DC’s obscure characters are treated along the way, and plenty of panel borders are breached.

Some innovative comics disappoint when revisited. Subsequent writers or artists have stripmined the techniques and sometimes improved on them, and what was once fresh and exciting no longer reads as well. It doesn’t apply to Animal Man, which remains raw, intelligent and gripping. That it rates four stars despite the art says it all.

This was later repacked with some of Origin of the Species in hardcover as 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Book Two, or all Morrison’s work is combined in The Animal Man Omnibus.