Animal Man doesn’t get to play hero the way the rest of the DC Universe does. In fact, his new series seems to begin decades after the rest of the reboot. While there are hints all over the other books I’ve read so far that super-beings are relatively new, Animal Man starts with a magazine interview with Buddy Baker (Animal Man) about his role in a movie. It is a nice way to give us all the background we need for the character, but it immediately sets this title apart from the rest of the reboot. There are references in the “interview” to how Buddy hasn’t been an active superhero for awhile, like “My superhero ‘career’ hadn’t really been going anywhere in the last couple of years.”
This implies that this takes place years after Justice League #1 (which seems to take place a considerable time after Action #1) in that Justice League #1 has the first heroes meeting for the first time and for Buddy to have started and given up a “career” in it, there would have to be time for those heroes to become established before other heroes could consider a “career” in it. Not only that, but Justice League #1 and Action #1 portray a world where super-beings aren’t trusted and are actively feared. For him to have a career in super-heroing, then give that up to become an animal-rights activist and then to have a starring role in an “indie” movie as a “washed-up superhero”, this comic has to take place a decade after the rest, I’d think maybe even later. Strange that this would be one of the ones released the first week of the “New 52.”
I’ve been a fan of Animal Man since his debut in Strange Adventures #180. Or at least since I read the issue when I was a kid. I picked up quite a few issues of the classic DC Science Fiction titles like Strange Adventures and My Greatest Adventure and Mystery in Space at our local flea market. The comic shop in Chester, NJ used to get a table at the local flea market every Sunday and I’d go with my dad. Under the tables, there were dozens of long boxes sitting on the ground and every comic in those boxes was 10 cents each. My dad would give me $10 to buy comics each week. I’d pour through those boxes getting comics no-one wanted: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown, Doom Patrol, House of Mystery and tons of others from the previous decade of the 1960s including the three titles I mentioned above. I’d take my 100 or so comics (sometimes I got more, sometimes I bought less because I got a few more expensive comics) home from the flea market, sit on our enormous brown sectional sofa, stack the comics beside me and spend the rest of the day reading
Animal Man was an occasional story in Strange Adventures and I was always excited to find a new one. Since I wasn’t getting or reading the comics in any particular order (it didn’t really matter back then as most stories were self-contained) I would sometimes have several Animal Man stories at once. Back then, he was a fairly standard hero and he eventually faded from comics, not to reappear until Crisis on Infinite Earths when DC dredged up every character that had ever graced its pages. Since Crisis, Animal Man hasn’t been a “normal” hero. Like the Doom Patrol, they decided weird was the way to go, not that that’s a huge surprise when you know that his first author post-Crisis was Grant Morrison.
The Grant Morrison take on Animal man has infused every incarnation since and this new version of the character is no different. The magical field that covers the planet called “The Red” is back from Animal Man’s Vertigo days and now there are three surreal creatures called the Hunters Three that will be the main adversaries in the series. When it comes to this kind of a series though, there’s no telling if they’ll be villains or heroes opposed because of an inability to communicate and understand.
One of Animal Man’s limitations, that I’d always liked, seems to have gone away. He used to only be able to take the powers of animals that were nearby and it used to be one at a time. In this first issue, he takes what he considers a “standard cocktail” of animal powers, mixing several for effectiveness. He also grabs the hide of a rhino, so distance doesn’t seem to be an issue. If they were going to go in that direction, I’d have liked to see them explore the ability he had during one of DC’s recent giant events: he had the ability to tap into any creature in the universe to mimic their abilities. As he had no idea what most of these creatures were, interesting storylines could have come from his exploration.
This could be one of the better series coming from the reboot, but it is going to take quite a few issues before that’ll become clear. I’m wondering if they’ll hold off interacting with other heroes or much of the outside world given his place in the timeline. It could make the storytelling very tricky. Not being able to interact with the rest of the DC universe is what soured Giffen on the Ambush Bug, it could put a damper on a promising series here too.