"Animal Man: Volume 1 – The Hunt" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by DC Comics
Originally published as Animal Man #1 - #6
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Travel Foreman
2011, 144 Pages
Trade paperback released on May 8th, 2012
There are hundreds of characters within the DC Universe, ranging from your big names like Batman and Superman to your bottom of the barrel Z-listers like the Rainbow Raider. People like reading about the big heroes, so that's why there is like a dozen monthly Batman titles, and characters like Static Shock can't hold on to a single comic. In 2011, DC Comics performed a bold move and rebooted its entire line of books. Everything began again with a new #1 issue, and 52 titles hit the shelves every month. While the Superman and Batman families were well represented, other lesser-known characters were given an opportunity to step up with their own comics. That's where Animal Man came in.
Before the “New 52”, as it came to be called, Animal Man's only previous claim to fame was an incredible run by Grant Morrison that began in the late 1980's. Unfortunately, after those 26 issues, the character dropped into obscurity. Jeff Lemire picked him up again with the relaunch and put him into a whole new world.
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Here's the deal with Animal Man. Former Hollywood stuntman Buddy Baker found an alien spaceship (not unlike Green Lantern Hal Jordan) and got some super powers. He has the ability to tap into the “life web” and pull in the abilities of one or more animals. For example, early in the comic, he grabs the strength of an elephant, the reflexes of a fly, the speed of a cheetah, and the bark of a dog. Not a bad mix. What separated Buddy from the other heroes is that he was a family man. He has a wife and two kids at home, so going out to fight the Anti-Monitor has a different set of stakes than someone like the aforementioned Hal Jordan, who doesn't have much in the way of family.
Lemire's take on the character took this idea and turned it around. See, Buddy's kids came before and after he acquired his powers. His son Cliff is totally normal as he was born before Buddy found the spaceship. His daughter Maxine, however, was born after he became Animal Man, and she's special. Just how special is explored in this first volume, entitled The Hunt. It turns out that Buddy isn't the hero here; it's Maxine. His job is to keep her safe from the Rot, an ancient force that seeks to destroy all life, especially the Red (the entity that gives Buddy his powers which he's been calling the “life web). If all that sounds weird or complicated, it's not. Lemire drops these pieces of the story at just the right moments, so you're never overwhelmed or confused. It's very easy to dive into this.
Buddy's family life adds to the weight of the story. I look at this a little differently now that I'm a father, but I think anyone can pick up The Hunt and feel something for these characters. Buddy needs to protect his family, specifically Maxine, from harm. There are creatures out there that want to destroy them and the rest of the world, but they're going to start with Buddy’s loved ones and he's going to do everything in his power to stop them.
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Now let's get into these baddies. Picture for a second the creepiest animals in the known world. Bugs, spiders, anything that you would avoid if you came across that section in the zoo. Now throw in a few average animals like a giraffe or a rhino and literally merge these things together. That gross amalgamation is what the agents of the Rot look like. They're distorted abominations of nature and they want nothing more than to eat Animal Man and his daughter. They came into our world by bursting through the bodies of three innocent hippos at the San Diego Zoo, then they take on human forms for a limited time before they break through their skin bags and cause even more of a mess. It's absolutely disgusting and adds to the creep factor.
All of this is excellently illustrated by Travel Foreman. There were times while reading The Hunt that I had to put the book down because it was just too much to visually take in. Seeing a creature feast on the bottom half of a man while its body bulges and convulses in sick pleasure can be a lot to absorb. If this was a movie, I'd look away for a minute.
Foreman's human characters took a little bit for me to get used to. He has a unique style with them. It wasn't until I was partway through the book that I realized that they're not all beautiful, flawless people. They're average and sometimes ugly. They have blemishes and wrinkles. Animal Man specifically has a lot of weight on his shoulders and you can see it in his face.
The Hunt brings Animal Man back to the big leagues and more importantly, back to a relevant state in today's comics. Lemire has crafted a fantastic story that is filled with emotion as well as some incredibly terrifying moments. Foreman's artwork adds to the scare factor with visuals that can be unsettling at times. If you've never read an Animal Man comic before, you're not alone, but this one is a great place to start. You need no prior knowledge of the character, or even other DC Comics stories in general. This title does eventually cross over with Swamp Thing, but that part is later down the line. This is the corner of the DC Universe where horror lives and it's dark and creepy. I just wish it expands.