After reading a rash of comics filled with familiar characters, it was exciting to pick up a trade about a character I knew absolutely nothing about. That’s not an exaggeration, either. Before I began reading “the shelf”, I didn’t even know there was a superhero called Animal Man.
What can I say? I was a noob.
I went into the story with few expectations, and as such was extremely impressed with what I read.
It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. After all, this collection, the first nine issues of the rebooted Animal Man, were written by Grant Morrison, a writer I was already familiar with (see Batman: Gothic). His stories tend to follow their own path, rather than the typical linear, single-perspective stories of so many other comics. He also has a certain way with words, filling his comics with so much more meaning and subtext than most.
I was surprised to see just how allegorical his stories could be, though, specifically when reading issue #5, “The Coyote Gospel”. “Gospel” focuses on a coyote named Crafty (a play on Warner Bros. Wile E. Coyote. I know, right?) who has been damned by God to live on Earth, incapable of dying, to ensure that the animal world will live in harmony. At one point, the comic diverts to a single panel, portraying a buzzard pecking at Crafty’s exposed entrails:
This image is a direct reference to the Greek myth of Prometheus who, after angering Zeus, was tied to a mountain and had his liver devoured by an eagle every day, only to have it grow back each night. I enjoyed the mythological connection of this story, as well as the skill with which Morrison is able to connect a centuries-old story to a contemporary cartoon. It’s not something I can imagine many writers being able to pull off.
Morrison’s portrayal of Animal Man himself was just as brilliant. A married father of two, Animal Man (a.k.a. Buddy Baker) wants back into the superhero game, and these stories chronicle his earliest attempts at rejoining the world-saving elite. Morrison doesn’t make him a carbon copy of any other hero though; no, he gives Baker his own set of morals and ideas of what’s right and wrong.
The best example being Buddy’s stance on animal rights.
You must admit, he makes a pretty damn compelling argument in the above panel.
It’s impressive that Morrison was able to find a perfect balance between including these moments to allow the reader some insight into Animal Man’s feelings and beliefs without turning the entire comic into a pamphlet for PETA. His arguments are logical and well-spoken, making them far more persuasive than had they been fanatical and consumed each and every page.
After all, of course Animal Man would be all for protecting animals. he can literally feel their pain, and this ability to empathize with his fellow creatures is certainly going to create a stronger bond to those animals than the average person might have.
What’s great is that Morrison doesn’t come right out and say all of this. Instead, he assumes his reader is marginally intelligent and lets them connect the pieces themselves. I’m personally a big fan of this method of storytelling, as it allows for more reflection and interpretation than if the story had simply been, “No it’s like this and I’m going to explain in exhaustive detail why…”.
Animal Man was a great read, and I heartily believe Morrison’s writing is the primary reason for that. I’m excited that the Omnibus collection of his entire 26-issue run is coming up on “the shelf”, so I’ll get to see how the character further develops, and what other thought-provoking stories Morrison will come up with.
I do sort of hope Crafty somehow makes a triumphant return, but I highly doubt it.