My journey this fall through the weird worlds of Vertigo has taken me to some strange corners of the comics world and I couldn’t be happier about it. This time around I tackled another volume in the proto-Vertigo post-Grant Morrison Animal Man saga and also made my way through a series based on Scottish mythology that was fun and bloody.
I’ve mentioned my general plans for this year’s Halloween Scene and even discussed my history with Vertigo, so now it’s time to jump into the actual reviews! The first three books I tackled are the entire run of House Of Mystery, the fourth volume of Animal Man and the modern day vampire tale Blood + Water!
Alright, let’s kick off this week celebrating 1988 with an ad for one of the all-time best comic books around: Animal Man! Shot from the first issue of DC Comics’ C.O.P.S. comic, this ad drawn by the amazing Brian Bolland let the world know that Buddy Baker was back in business under the watchful eye of some guy named Grant Morrison. As you can see, this is a differently colored version of the cover for the first issue that also features a few animal changes and a different background, but the same tag line and title treatment.
Now, I was five years old in 1988 so I didn’t experience this book at the time, but as I mentioned when I reviewed all three volumes of Morrison’s run, this is the kind of comic that every comic fan should read because it shows you exactly how to do a mind-bending story with an established hero that both celebrates the good and pokes a bit of fun at the bad. When I went into this week thinking of cool things from 1988 to write and post about, I didn’t actually realize that Animal Man debuted then, but quickly found the ad and knew it was a theme that would work well!
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.
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.
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.
If you asked me what the best show on TV is, I’d probably say something like Mad Men, but the truth is that my favorite shows just happened to return recently. And no, it’s not Downton Abbey, though that is a great show. My favorite shows on TV, heck my favorite television concept right now, is Cartoon Network’s DC Nation. If you’re unfamiliar, this is an hour of TV that runs at 10AM on Saturdays and Sundays that’s made up of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Young Justice and a series of shorts based on various interpretations of DC’s stable of heroes. As a gigantic and longtime fan of DC Comics, this hour is tailor made for me, luckily, it’s also made up of high quality shows that absorb me more than plenty of other shows on this season.
Green Lantern: TAS follows Hal Jordan, Kilowog and their artificial intelligence Aya running around the galaxy fighting threats, many of which are based on Geoff Johns’ run on the Green Lantern comics, it’s spinoffs and events. I’m not exactly sure how the seasons break down, especially since Cartoon Network decided to put DC Nation on hold for like three months, but currently, this group is trying to figure out how to stop the Manhunters and their boss The Anti-Monitor. Since returning, this search knocked Hal into an alternate dimension that was all steampunk-y and brought the gang to the home of the Blue Lanterns.
The fun thing about Green Lantern: TAS is that all of this material seems new even though it’s heavily based on comics I’ve read. That’s partly because unlike Batman or Spider-Man, there haven’t already been plenty of iterations of these characters and what they’ve done. It also helps that a lot of the material they’re mining comes from the last few years and doesn’t go way back to the Silver Age. I mean, you’re not watching huge-headed Hector Hammond in CGI on every episode, but instead focusing on the space cop elements of the book that I love so much. My only complaint? Not enough Green Lanterns. I think we’re building towards something big that will involve all the colors of the Lantern rainbow fighting Anti-Monitor and the Manhunters. Did you guys see the episode with Ch’p on Oa? How awesome was that? More Ch’p!
I actually talked to Young Justice creators Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti about the cartoon back when I was still working at ToyFare. They were cagey about a lot of the details because the show hadn’t debuted just yet, but I could tell they were really ambitious about this project. I had no idea at the time how ambitious though, even though they explained to me how each episode had a date and time stamp that would also coincide with the tie-in comic. Maybe it’s my cynical nature, but I still thought, “Okay, we’ll see.” And boy, did they show me.
My wife and I started watching the series, the premise of which has the Justice League using a team of young heroes to go on covert missions against villains all the while dealing with their youth. The first season, which was fantastic, was followed up by the second which is shockingly amazing. Between season there’s been a five year jump in continuity, some of the biggest members of the Justice League are missing, an alien alliance has a giant metaphorical gun pointed at the planet and all kinds of changes have gone on in the Young Justice world.
The beauty of a series like Young Justice is that, unlike a lot of other superhero cartoons, it doesn’t just repackage existing stories, but instead builds its own stories using the ones that have come before it and compiling something new and possibly better. There’s a clear reference in the season’s subtitle to the 80s crossover event Invasion, but they also pull from classic Justice League comics — I freaked out when Despero showed up last weekend — and even the fantastic Blue Beetle series from a few years back. It’s really like they took the whole chronology of the DCU, put various elements on notecards and then threw them all over the room to get rid of the order and then put them back in a way that made sense in service of their story.
Another aspect of this series that I really like is how you really have to either keep up or just sit back and enjoy the ride. There is a mountain of story so far in this season, a mountain I have trouble remembering for the most part. I wonder how kids keep up with it or if they have any trouble. I’m able to rely on my existing DC knowledge to fill in some of the gaps, but it’s all new to them. They’re better at absorbing information than adults are, so maybe it’s not a problem for them. The cast of characters is pretty huge at this point and the second season not only introduced plenty more, but also had a few characters switch up their superhero identities. I love not knowing what all is going on and trying to remember if we’ve had certain things explained or if they’re going to come to us eventually. I’m patient, so I don’t mind waiting for the slow burn.
DC Nation also has a ton of excellent shorts that I adore. The only one that gets on my nerves is that weird British thumb ting that uses kids voices, that’s just not in my wheelhouse. But, I’ll take a few of those every season just to get to a Plastic Man, Animal Man, Amethyst, Thunder & Lightning (Black Lightning’s daughters), Anime Batman, Super Best Friends Forever (shown above) and a ton of others. I’d actually love to see Cartoon Network get behind something like SBFF or Thunder and Lightning and give it a full series of episodes. I’m sure the idea of building a whole series around female superheroes worries CN execs, but I think there could be a real future there.
With Teen Titans Go and Beware The Batman getting added to the DC Nation block, I’m even more excited about where DC Nation is going. I’m not sure if those two shows will bolster the block to two hours instead of one or if the new shows will replace the old and trade off when new seasons are ready. I’m super happy with DC’s animated situation right now between DCN and the straight-to-DVD movies they keep nailing (a bunch just got added to Netflix Instant, so I’m going to get caught up!). Can’t wait to see where things go from here.
This one’s kind of a double whammy with a DC Peter Cannon Thunderbolt poster over Jackie Collins’ right shoulder and an Animal Man promo poster below that. As per usual, though, I had a bitch of a time trying to find the Animal Man poster and gave up. I did succeed in getting the Thunderbolt one though.I remember this book coming out and have the first issue (probably form a multipack or grab bag or something) but don’t know a lot about the storyline. I did just read an article with Thunderbolt creator Pete Morisi in Comic Book Artist #9 from TwoMorrows which I highly recommend picking up as it focuses on Charlton Comics specifically. The episode of Roseanne is from season five and is called “First Cousin, Twice Removed” in which Collins plays Roseanne’s cousin who tells Darlene she can move out to New York to go to art school if she wants. This gets Darlene and David to apply to art schools in NY and Chicago, neither of them get into NY, but Darlene gets accepted to Chicago. I should be embarrassed of my intense Roseanne knowledge, but I am not.