Few super heroes have ever occupied as unique a space as Buddy Baker. In the 80s, his series went from straightforward super hero strip to meta examination of the very nature of comics.  In the new ‘Animal Man’ #1, he once more straddles the line between heroics and the abstract. The book opens with a “magazine interview” with Animal Man, where it is established that he has stepped away from heroics in favor of campaigning for animal rights, acting in an indie film and has been embraced by college-aged anti-establishment hipsters. Cut to Buddy Baker, worrying that he came across as arrogant in the article. His supporting cast is quickly established, his loving wife, Ellen and their kids, Cliff and Maxine, who want a dog, butas Daddy explains, “If I spend too much time that close to any one animal, I start to bond with it, and it messes up my connection to the other animals. Then my powers might not work like they should.” Cliff runs in to inform Buddy that a gunman has taken an entire floor of a local hospital hostage. Cliff comments that he could accompany Buddy and film the confrontation to send to the Justice League as an audition, implying that Buddy’s past membership on the team is no longer in continuity. With Ellen’s blessing, Buddy suits up (in a new all blue ensemble) and soars to the rescue.

Upon reaching the hospital, Buddy finds out that the section taken hostage is actually the children’s ward, which of course, hits home with this doting super dad.  Things go awry at the hospital, with Animal Man disarming the gunman, but suffering a strange, and visually disturbing, side effect.  After getting checked out by a doctor, A-Man returns home, using the “weight of a bumblebee” to keep from waking anyone.  He then goes to sleep and has an incredibly horrific nightmare that foreshadows what is sure to be a terrifying storyline!  And indeed, when he wakes up, he finds something frightening has befallen someone he loves very much.

Written by Jeff LeMire with art by Travel Foreman and Dan Green, ‘Animal Man’ reads like a horror comic that just so happens to occur in a super hero universe.  The issue starts grounded in the real world, but by mid-story the book has veered into Vertigo territory.  Foreman’s stylized pencils fit the book beautifully and perfectly capture the uniqueness of the story’s tone. The use of unexpected powers, like the “weight of a bumblebee” or “bark of a dog” add freshness to his somewhat common animal-mimicking abilities, which Buddy shares with other heroes such as Vixen, giving him more individuality.  I predict this book with become a sleeper hit and should appeal to fans of Vertigo and other horror comics.  It may be too weird for fans of straight-forward spandex fisticuffs, but if you’re looking for something different, this could be the book for you!

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Travel Foreman and Dan Green
Cover by Travel Foreman