Over the years since I first got into comics, the comics I'm reading has only diversified more and more as time goes on, whether that's going beyond Marvel and DC into more and more indie work, or just generally trying a wider and wider variety of superhero books from those big two publishers.
In that sense, there are comics I've read from Marvel and DC that feel so different and unique to most superhero comics I've read from them. For an example from each, Strange Academy and Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow immediately come to mind. They both have those elements we recognise, know and love, but on the whole I felt (and continue to feel with Strange Academy) that they're doing something new and exciting with their premise.
That's all a long way of saying this run of Animal Man, written by Jeff Lemire, and art mostly by Travel Foreman and Steve Pugh, was absolutely one of those books. It was something I wanted to get into someday, especially in trying to read through lots of Lemire's work, and a couple years ago after hearing a friend read through and praise it, I managed to get a good deal on the omnibus on Ebay.
As happens all too often though, as might already be clear, it took me a while to get round to actually reading it. But wow when I did, it caught me off-guard but in the best way possible. I wanted to read more than I could at any one time, because while I was enjoying it, it was quite surprisingly heavy (thematically I mean, I should clarify, although saying that the omnibus itself is also physically heavy) so I had to go through it gradually, soak it all in.
If you've read any of Lemire's work, you'll know how effectively he can balance the plot and story threads with the emotional journeys and arcs of the characters. He's one of the writers that I see consistently mentioned as one of the best writers nowadays, in general and for heartfelt stories that will at least sometimes make you cry. Depending on what you've read of his, you'll know just how wild he can get with his ideas (I haven't read Gideon Falls with Andrea Sorrentino... yet, but I'm very excited to eventually, and that's one that immediately comes to mind from what I hear for that) and especially when superheroes are involved, at Marvel or DC (as is the case here) or otherwise (thinking Black Hammer).
So right from the first issue, you feel that balance between the more down to Earth, wholesome family dynamics of The Bakers, and then immediately into the surprisingly creepy aspect of the comic, both of which are the main elements the series is always anchored on, and always comes back to throughout it's run. I mean, the way it's all illustrated, for the first arc by Travel Foreman, and then for most of the rest of the run by Steve Pugh, with colors mostly through-out by Lovern Kindzierski, it's incredibly unsettling. It has that balance between looking grounded enough to feel real, but it still feels ever so slightly off, and when it does get more fantastical, it never looks right, but in the best way. It was genuinely so creepy. That cover alone, to this omnibus, starts to illustrate what I mean, everytime I look at it I feel disturbed, uncomfortable, and that's the feel and aesthetic the art carries through-out this whole book.
There are a few final points I want to talk about, and the first of which is the overall pacing of the run. As I mentioned the idea of in the beginning of this review, there are certain superhero runs that particularly stand out to me as being new, fresh and exciting. Another thing I always love and appreciate, is when a run has a consistent and compelling direction to it, especially when it's something that goes on for a decent amount of time. Don't get me wrong I also love a run which is just a collection of well done story arcs, one after the other, without much tying them together, that can be good fun. But when a run has a consistent vision, from beginning to end, telling one complete story with the characters, over dozens of issues, with the arcs merely being chapters of sorts going through? That's something really special, and something I thought this run did really well.
That leads nicely into the penultimate point I wanted mention, and that's that this run genuinely was allowed to have decent stakes. In the sense that, DC isn't going to allow a writer to kill off Batman... forever, without him coming back eventually anyway, whether that's next month, six months or whenever. But here? I don't want to spoil it, but like I said before, the way Lemire can write that effective, stunning balance between the wild and wackiness that goes on here, and the deeper, emotional core of the book, is incredible. Like any good, impactful comic book, you feel the thoughts, feelings and emotions of these characters, the arcs and journeys they go on, and what happens to them, for better or worse. Tying back into my previous point, again without spoiling it, the way Rotworld is built up to over the first half of the run, which under another writer could have just been the climatic finale of the book, but how the fallout of that is given time to breathe, and is explored before the run kicks back into the gear for it's actual climatic finale was so compelling to me.
Finally, I have to mention the mostly standalone "Tights" issues, with most of the art on those by the late, great John Paul Leon. I'll admit I haven't read much that has art by him, but those two issues made me want to when I can. The "Batman/Catwoman Special #1" immediately comes to mind where I first heard of his work, unfortunately released after he sadly passed away, and from what I hear became a tribute to him in some ways. His issues in Animal Man, though, I loved how they were used to not only break up the story in terms of pacing, the first one was a nice break between the first and second arcs, and provided some fun and interesting depth and backstory to this New 52 version of Buddy Baker. The second one comes at a very emotionally raw point in the run, again without spoiling anything, and I loved how it was used to thematically reflect on where Buddy is at that point, and just generally thought they added that extra layer to the run.
Overall, I would highly recommend you check this run out, in whatever format you can read it. If you read all of this to the end, thank you so much, I always really appreciate it.
If you've read this run, let me know what you think! I'd be interested to hear from anyone else that has read this (of course keeping it spoiler free for anyone who hasn't yet) or just any Animal Man in general. I need to read the absolute classic Morrison run I always hear fantastic things about, especially since they reprinted the omnibus of that earlier in the year.
Apart from that, I'll see you around on League of Comic Geeks and on Twitter, maybe in the comments of my posts there, and hopefully in my next review! I hope you have a great day, and thank you again for reading!
You can also find his podcast on Twitter @JoeTalksComics, which you can listen to through Anchor, where you can find links to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify, or you can click those hyperlinks directly.