DC’s Animal Man is ending in March with issue #29. Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman will be drawing the issue. Let us all have a moment of silence to commemorate the passing of this title.
Now that that’s over, let’s get to the real meat of things. No, the book wasn’t cancelled. But it was ended. The difference between the two is that books usually get cancelled when sales are at an all-time low. Sales usually end up this way due to people being unwilling to try new or obscure things. Let’s face it, as fun as reading the adventures of Justice League is every month, the obscure characters are infinitely more interesting because there’s more room to work with them. There are either no set parameters or very small ones. What this leads to is an experimental, organic growth of said character’s mythology and personality. You can’t do that with the Justice League.
It’s a testament to DC’s willingness to experiment that Animal Man lasted as long as it did. Let’s see: 29 main issues, 2 annuals and a zero issue. That’s 32 issues for a character with a less than sizable fan-base. Sure, Grant Morrison did a run at the height of his own popularity, but that was way back in the late 80s when experimenting was a more openly accepted thing. Buddy Baker fans are like Buddy Baker’s family in the comics, a small and connected group with a deep appreciation for the work being done.
DC has taken a lot of grief for cancelling books that are great but it’s the nature of the beast, and the beast is hungry. Hungry for monetary gain. A brilliant title like Dial H or Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. can’t reach those critically high numbers required to keep them afloat. DC as a company eats up those dollars on a week by week basis. With so many options to choose from out there, the obscurer publications get left in the dust. Again, it’s the nature of the beast. But then again, this wasn’t actually canceled. It was ended on mutual agreement. Although it still has implications for the future of small franchises.
What this means for DC’s dark line of comics (although the groupings barely exist anymore, just loosely connected threads here and there) is that the books under that grouping are now suddenly in danger. Superman may never get axed but Swamp Thing or Phantom Stranger might. The supernatural side of DC has, in this author’s opinion, always been one of their strongest elements next to straight-up super-heroics. The advent of Vertigo in the 90s and the fact that magic was so well-defined (it even had a rule-set) in the DC universe and its adult imprint meant that magic really stood for something. It managed to give DC something to call their own when Marvel had utter domination over the cosmic side of things.
Even in the New 52, DC is trying to recapture that same feeling of post-goth weirdness, post-Sandman existentialist philosophy with realist touches and a tinge of daydreaming thrown in. In essence, it’s a version of that Vertigo spirit that’s younger and still hasn’t found its footing yet. Without given the proper time to develop, this dark Vertigo-esque line of DC’s that they desperately try to promote is going to flounder and get rushed out as fast as possible.
So with Animal Man ending on a mutual agreement between Lemire and DC, I can assuredly say you should fear for the rest of the dark line of the books but you should also be optimistic for it. If more stories end on a creator’s terms, this will allow them to tell the full story they wanted to tell. The perfect, set-in-stone ending. So DC, it’s your prerogative on whether or not you keep the dark line alive, but continue to let creators do things on their terms. It doesn’t make the pill go away, but it sweetens it a little for the rest of us.