Grant Morrison Trade Post: Animal Man Volumes 1-3

animal man vol 1 morrison Animal Man (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Tom Grummett
Collects Animal Man #1-9

After reading Sin City: Booze, Broads and Bullets, I figured I’d stick with some my shelf for further reading selections and decided it’s time to give one of my favorite comics of all time another read. Like a lot of the more progressive comics I love, I discovered Grant Morrison’s Animal Man while interning or working at Wizard. I’d read a few Morrison comics before that, specifically JLA, but hadn’t gotten into his crazier stuff. Morrison has a reputation as being weird for weird’s sake, but I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, some of his stuff is just bonkers, but as far as I’m concerned he’s just trying to go to new places in the medium. I totally get it if that’s not for you, especially if you were a big time Animal Man fan before this run which took the character and did a lot of crazy stuff with him, but I dig it.

The run follows the adventures of Buddy Baker, a man who can copy the abilities of any animal in his immediate vicinity after an alien spaceship blew up in his face. At least, that’s how it works in the beginning. Buddy’s married, has two kids and doesn’t bother with a secret identity. He also develops into a vegetarian concerned with animal rights, which makes sense when you consider his power set.

The first four issues of the series mainly focus on Animal Man trying to figure out why B’Wanna Beast is running around making disturbing animal hybrids and wrecking STAR Labs facilities. These four issues really set the stage for the series as a whole in some respects. We see the relationship between Buddy and his wife Ellen which is super realistic and one of the best superhero relationships around. Meanwhile, Morrison puts Animal Man through some standard superhero paces — fighting another hero, meeting Superman, etc. — but he puts a different spin on them. Buddy can and does throw down, but he soon finds out that it’s not the only way to solve a problem which definitely carries throughout the series.

After that initial arc, we’re treated to a series of killer single issues. #5 takes a meta approach to Looney Tunes cartoons, #6 is one of (if not THE) best Invasion tie-in, #7 finds Buddy dealing with an old villain called The Red Mask, #8 has Mirror Master invading Buddy and Ellen’s home and #9 brings in Martian Manhunter and the JLI tech team to secure the house. #5-7 are actually three of my all time favorite single issues stories because of the unique ways they look at the material and superheroes in general.

On a quick note, I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but there’s a crowd-scene skater kid in #2 with an Anthrax T-shirt and then an issue or two later we find out that the scientists were experimenting with the drug of the same name. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but reading so many Morrison comics with little hints and nods like this have primed me to look for those kinds of connections which makes for a fun reading experience. I also noticed that Ellen’s drawing a spaceship heading towards a planet in #1 that I assume refers to something, but can’t figure out what. I thought it might have been from Invasion, but that doesn’t check out.

animal man origin of sepcies Animal Man: Origin Of Species (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Tom Grummett
Collects Animal Man #10-17, Secret Origins #39

One of the major aspects of Morrison’s run that a lot of people talk about is the meta nature of the story which ends with Animal Man actually meeting his writer, Morrison. The first volume doesn’t get into those ideas hardly at all, though #5 does prime that pump to an extent. All of that really starts coming to the surface in Origin Of Species which finds Buddy meeting the aliens who actually created him. Meanwhile, Dr. Hightwater and Psycho Pirate first enter the story, two characters who continue to break the fourth wall, revealing that some of these characters know that they are actually comic book characters. We also start seeing scenes that will make a lot more sense at the end of the next volume.

On the superhero side of things, Animal Man keeps meeting more heroesincluding Vixen, who he has a lot more in common with than just powers. A lot of this material was revisited in Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League Of America volume called Second Coming. There’s also a pretty moving issue featuring future Aquaman co-star Dolphin and a few of the Sea Devils trying to put a stop to a gross dolphin killing ritual in Denmark. The abused animal stuff gets offset by a fun adventure with the Justice League Europe before getting back into some pretty awful things done to apes.

It’s interesting looking back at these comics from the 80s that tackled some of the real world’s horrors, especially as perpetrated on animals. These are the kinds of things you might have seen on Dateline or 20/20, but they weren’t in your comics until Morrison and creators like him went out on a limb with a potentially off-putting social perspective. They might be too in-your-face for some people and I don’t agree with everything presented in the issues, but I appreciate and respect him for going there and DC for allowing him to do these crazy things with their characters. At the same time I get that some readers just want to read about superheroes punching each other, so this probably isn’t the best comic for them.

animal man deus ex machina Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Paris Cullins
Collects Animal Man #18-26

And then things get really weird. Buddy and Highwater take peyote in the desert. Characters die. Villains help heroes. Costumes change. Revenge is had. Time is traveled. Limbo is visited. And Grant Morrison has a chat with Animal Man. I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but I will say that this comic is both one of my favorite regular-guy-as-superhero stories as well as the best commentary-on-comics books around. The whole last conversation between Buddy and Grant should be required reading for everyone who gets bent out of shape about their favorite characters getting turned into something they don’t like. In addition to all that it’s a wonderfully plotted, long-form story that has end-of-run elements seeded going way back. Plus, above all else, it actually makes me feel things when I read it, even this second time around.

The beauty of a story like this is that it came at a time when DC Comics was allowing their creators to not only take risks with long-lasting characters, but also tell wild stories that hadn’t been done before (at least in Corporate Comics). Basically, Morrison was allowed to tell the story he wanted to tell while utilizing elements of the larger universe when they made sense. Characters weren’t just showing up to show up or boost sales, but because they made sense. Heck, Morrison got to take this idea to even crazier levels by using The Psycho Pirate and Limbo as ways to play around with pre-Crisis and alternate reality versions of the DC characters.

A lot of people have noticed connections between Morrison’s DC works. There’s quite a few to be found in these pages. First off, Animal Man is the first place he wrote the Justice League specifically characters like Superman and Martian Manhunter who he would go on to pen later on. More obviously, he created this new version of Animal Man and then returned to the character with 52 almost two decades later. Morrison also dealt with multiple realities and whatnot in Final Crisis and Superman Beyond, which also featured Limbo, Merry Man and Ace The Bat Hound all of which appear in these books.

I enjoyed reading Animal Man so much this time around that I decided to do a long-term read/re-read of his other DC Comics work I have in my collection. I don’t have Arkham Asylum, Batman: Gothic or the third and fourth JLA deluxe books but I’ve got just about everything else. I’m not only looking forward to enjoying those stories again, but also getting a better feel for the connections.

Ex Libris Trade Post: Sin City Booze, Broads & Bullets

sin city booze, broads and bullets Sin City was the first trade paperback I went into my comic book shop and purchased. I’d picked up trades with gift certificates to book stores like Barnes & Noble or our local book store Thackery’s. One week, though, my comic load was super light, I saw that stark red, black and white cover with Marv are beaten up and decided to give it a shot. I want to says I’d read Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns by that point and had read plenty about him and Sin City in Wizard so it seemed like a good purchase.

I remember being quite taken with the kinetic black and white pages therein along with the hyper-everything, violence, language, characters, actions, cars, driving, etc. I realize in hindsight that Sin City comics — I went on to get all seven trades — were my main entryway into the world of hardboiled crime fiction. I realize now that some of those characters and comics would seem ridiculous outside the pages of Sin City, but I still think they fit perfectly when surrounded by Miller’s perfectly suited pencils and inks.

Anyway, with the second film on the way, I decided to dig into my trade collection once again and pull out a few lesser known Sin City offerings starting with the short story and one-shot collection Booze, Broads and Bullets. I should note here that I have the normal sized trades put out by Dark Horse in the 90s, not the digest versions that appeared around the time of the first film. I’m not a huge fan of that smaller format, especially when it comes to an artist like Miller whose pages deserve to be put on as big of a screen as possible.

This book works as a kind of sampler for all things Sin City. It’s got tough guys Marv and Dwight, deadly little Miho and verbose killers Klump and Shlubb. More than that, though, these tales give the reader a feel for the terrible kind of place Basin City really is, the kind of place where you can be driving along, meet a beautiful woman, hook up with her in the tar pits and wind up getting murdered because she’s an assassin and has mistake you for her mark. It also sets up the way Miller builds these stories in a way that just throws the reader in. There were times where I wasn’t sure if I was reading a well known character or a new one. Dwight’s a hard one to keep tabs on thanks not only to Miller’s less-than-clear style (which perfectly first this series) but also that pesky surgery of his.

Because of all this, I realized while reading through this collection that it’s actually a great place to start for new Sin City readers. Along with everything I mentioned above, it also teaches the reader to keep their eyes peeled for recurring characters. Instead of telling the reader when a story takes place, Miller uses characters as a kind of timeline. Is Marv in this story? Then it must take place before (most of) the first volume which was later named The Hard Goodbye. I haven’t really dug into it yet, but I believe there are even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-like moments where we’re seeing the same scene in different stories from different angles based on which characters we’re following that time around, which is something found in the larger narrative as well.

Ex Libris Trade Post: The Highwaymen

highwaymen I’ve been reading comics for about 22 years now and, for the most part, that time has been spent reading and absorbing new material, either newly released or new-to-me. When I was actively collecting single issues, it never even occurred to me to go back, dig out a bunch of my carefully organized collection and give them another read. It wasn’t until college that the idea popped in my head and I gave series’ like JSA and 100 Bullets another look.

Around that same time, I got more fully into the idea of collecting trade paperbacks. Since then, the trade has taken over as my main delivery system for comics and I feel like I’ve built a pretty solid library of objectively good comics mixed with some personal favorites. But like my comic collection, I’ve been mainly adding to the trade library without using it as a source of material. Well, apparently I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately what with my recent return to the first volume of The Runaways and a few other ongoing reading projects, so the newly minted Ex Libris titles seemed appropriate.

One of the less well known trades in my collection is a WildStorm/DC joint called The Highwaymen co-written by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman with art by Lee Garbett that collects the five issue miniseries of the same name that bowed in 2007. I was reminded of this series I discovered back in my Wizard days as it was coming out when I listened to Kevin Smith and Bernardin’s Batman Forever commentary on a pair of Fat Man on Batman episodes. I dug it at the time and added it to my library when I scored a copy of the trade from somebody’s comps later on down the line. I remembered it as a cool, taut thrill ride set a few decades in the future with some funny moments and a bit of sci-fi.

And I was dead on. The book kicks off with a shadowy government group accidentally setting off a long dormant protocol that alerts a man named McQueen to a threat he’s tasked with stopping along with his former partner Able Monroe. The duo used to be known as The Highwaymen, a pair of black ops guys who became famous. They’ve got to find a young woman named Grace and keep her alive because she’s actually one of the last survivors of government experiments shut down by Bill Clinton when he was president.

I had as good a time reading this book the second time as I remember having when it debuted seven years ago. Garbett does a killer job conveying the huge Bernardin and Freeman-penned action scenes in the book which cover everything from basic gun fights and driving sequences to cyborgs and cars driving out of planes. He also does a lot with facial expressions that convey the quieter moments of the book. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t usually like car stuff in comics but Garbett does a great job making them seem as visceral as they do on the big screen.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed this comic book in the same way that I love a great, fun action movie from the 80s or 90s. There’s an over-the-top nature to it, but it still always feels grounded, even when it literally leaves the surface, which is no easy balance to achieve. This one not only gets a thumb’s up, but will be going right back on the shelf.