Animal Man is proving to be one of the most interesting titles in the New 52. Jeff Lemire is writing Animal Man as less of a superhero and more of a shaman who traverses the spirit world and communes with totemic entities. On top of Lemire’s interesting take on Animal Man as a shamanic figure, Travel Foreman’s art is truly outstanding. This series is just the kind of original and idiosyncratic take on a superhero that I was hoping for in DC’s relaunch, and I can’t recommend it enough.
I was blown away by Foreman’s art on the very first page. He illustrates Animal Man and his daughter Maxine descending into “The Red”, a sort of spirit world that is the source of Animal Man’s morphogenetic field, and this drawing is just crazy awesome. Foreman has Animal Man’s head turning inside out in this grotesque fashion as he and his daughter fall into The Red. On the next page, Foreman has a bigger and even more detailed image of Animal Man’s every fiber being morphed and transformed by his journey into The Red. These images are stunning and psychedelic, and I would honestly buy this comic just for these disturbingly weird, masterfully drawn depictions of Animal Man as he’s transformed by a trip into the beyond.
After the first two trippy pages of their initiation into The Red, we see a double page spread of Animal Man and Maxine confronting these giant, chimeric “Animal Men”. These Animal Men are humanoid beings with all different sorts of animal parts incorporated into their bodies. They say that they are “the totems…all the former avatars of The Red”. The Red, which is described as “the life web that connects all living things” is extremely similar to the concept of the spirit world that you’ll find in animist religions. Animal Man and his daughter enter The Red and commune with self proclaimed “totems” and this is all but indistinguishable from a shaman communicating with spirits in the spirit world. The Red could also be compared to the Dreamtime of the Australian Aborigines. Lemire’s idea to borrow from animist religions in an Animal Man comic is very clever, and the mystical approach to this character is one that I find interesting.
I also found it interesting that these totemic Animal Men reveal that Buddy Baker is not the true avatar of The Red…his daughter Maxine is the real avatar of The Red. The concept of taking the protagonist of the comic and turning him into a second fiddle to his own daughter, who will probably be much more connected to The Red and perhaps much more powerful as well, is a compelling twist on the narrative of this series. I don’t want to spoil the plot of this issue too much, but the way that the Animal Men reveal Buddy Baker’s nature as a less important custodian of the avatar of The Red through a retcon of his origin was a cool twist on the way he got his powers. This new retcon of Animal Man’s secret origin (a crashed UFO blew up and gave him animal powers!) makes a little more sense of an origin story that you could easily call nonsensical.
While Animal Man is in The Red and learning from the totemic Animal Men spirits that his daughter Maxine is the next avatar of this spirit world, his wife is attacked by these terrifying monsters called “The Other”. Again, Foreman’s illustrations of these monsters are impressive. They are these horrifying mish mashes of organs that look like walking and talking cancers, and the disgusting detail that Foreman gives these creatures really hammers home their terrifying nature. It was easy for me to get sucked into the story as Ellen Baker and her son Cliff run away from these scary cancer-people that are trying to eat them.
Overall, I’m finding this comic to be extremely enjoyable. Lemire isn’t writing this as a-by-the-numbers superhero book. He’s writing Animal Man as this shamanic superhero who communes with totemic beings in the spirit world of The Red, and I think the idea of using concepts from animist religion in a comic about a guy who has animal powers is ingenious. In addition to Lemire’s fantastic writing, Foreman’s art is amazing, and there’s not much I could say about his work that would do justice to the levels of awesomeness he’s emitting. This series is exactly what I wanted to see from a DC relaunch…it’s weird, it’s out there, and it fires on all cylinders of craziness to deliver a story that is a fusion of a superheroic and a mythic narrative. You should read this series if you like your superhero comics with a dash of the mystical and a heaping of awesome art.