As I’ve recently reviewed Tom Veitch’s run on the Animal Man series the next in line would be Jamie Delano’s. Delano wrote the longest run on the series (spanning 29 issues and one Annual), and the run is also the one that Jeff Lemire has stated he’s taking the most inspiration from for his new ongoing Animal Man book.
Read my review of Jamie Delano’s Animal Man to find out how exactly it does relate to Lemire’s book, and if it’s worth checking out!
I have to first say that this was definitely the run I was looking forward to reading the most. That being because I knew it was Delano that introduces “The Red” to the Animal Man mythos. “The Red” is similar to Swamp Thing’s “Green” in that it’s a sort of life force that certain people are able to tap into in various ways. In Swamp Thing “The Green” is the life force of all plants on the planet, and through it Swamp Thing is actually able to break down his body into the plants and reform himself anywhere in the world that there is plant life. While traveling through this the visuals are like textbook looks at chlorophyll microscopically. The same thing is done with The Red. I’ll talk about that in a bit though, but I just wanted to give some pretense before getting deep into the review.
The story here starts right off from Tom Veitch’s run, albeit with Delano’s specific dark narrative-heavy style of storytelling. We have Buddy’s son Cliff absent from the scene and with his uncle Dudley, who you get a creepy vibe from right away. The family is now staying with Ellen’s mother on her farm, and they all start to get quite worried that something’s happened to Cliff, so they decide to go on a search for their missing son. Buddy dons the Animal Man costume and starts tracking down his son when suddenly he’s run over by Dudley’s truck and turned into human roadkill. End issue one.
Right from the start the run gets you hooked. When I read that first issue I couldn’t help but desperately want to see what happened next, which is always a good thing. The story continues in giving us Buddy’s first foray into “The Red”. Upon his death we see his consciousness travel between various animals before coming to Winky, Maxine’s (Buddy’s daughter) pet triceratops (who was introduced in Veitch’s run). Buddy discovers that WInky is female, and for whatever reason he realizes that this means he can have her give birth to a new creature that can be his own body (rather than sharing a consciousness with the bodies he inhabits). Winky does give birth before dying, and what comes out of the egg is not quite what Buddy expected. It seems that Buddy has taken some form from each animal that he inhabited the body of and they all came together into one crazy chimaera which kind of scares the crap out of Ellen.
The first arc ends with Buddy saving Cliff from his then revealed to be a psychopath uncle and then going off to a cave to go through a metamorphosis into a new human body. From there the story continues on with a couple of major plot elements: the exploration of “The Red” and Buddy’s relation to it (as well as Maxine’s), and the development of Buddy’s family and each member of it. Cliff’s character is expanded quite a bit after his rescue. Whereas he was kind of a useless and annoying side character in the past runs he’s now got a character all his own. He usually acts as comic relief as a foul-mouthed antithesis to everything his father is, but he still loves his family more than anything. Maxine stays her daddy’s little girl, and even more so as the series go on and her powers develop further and further. Ellen goes through a lot through the run, and I think her character might change the most, and fans of her and Buddy’s relationship with her might find some stuff to be bothered by here. Let me just say that she and Buddy don’t really get a lot of happiness together here. They love each other just as much as they always have, but what with everything else happening to their family and in their lives it seems to have driven them apart a little bit. However, that’s not all bad, as it comes pretty naturally throughout the story.
The plot continues for a while to have more exploration of Buddy’s powers and his relation to “The Red”, but it’s in the second half of the run that things really make a big turn. For the majority of the first half we’re introduced to more characters who would become regulars, and some recurring characters, most of which would come to live on the farm with the Baker family. This includes lesbians who Ellen met on a trip that helped her out, and a mother and daughter, Annie and Lucy, who form strong bonds with the Baker family. After all these characters join in on the farm we really get into the thick of things.
A big plot point in the series is that we see Maxine die. She loses control of herself at one point in the book, and at one point she walks out into snow and cold just to freeze to death. The family and friends have a burial and funeral for her, and in the process Buddy loses himself to “The Red” and turns into another sort of Chimaera, but this time he’s not able to turn himself back, even after Maxine miraculously comes back to life (similarly to how Buddy did, supposedly). The last ten issues or so of the series have Buddy acting as a true avatar to “The Red” in this Chimaera form, and in the meantime he and Maxine, along with Cliff, Annie, and Lucy, go out and start a sort of religion based around “The Red” and humans connections to the animal kingdom.
We end the run in a much more rewarding way than we did in Veitch’s run, as it seems that all the plot elements at play tie together pretty well, but also because it’s left open ended for the next writer to take over. I have, at this point, read one issue past Delano’s run, and I can say that it does tie in directly to the events of Delano’s conclusion.
The strongest part of this entire story, in my opinion, was the amount of character development that was given not only to Buddy, but to his entire family. It seemed like Delano was constantly trying to give each member a good amount of focus, and that’s seen in the fact that there are issues that give direct focus to each character in different ways. By the end (or even middle, really) I really came to enjoy Cliff, who was a character I really didn’t care about previously.
The story is also a really grasping one, as I was always excited to see what would happen next. I don’t think there was really a single weak issue in the lot. Each issue serves some purpose wether it be to further the story, or to give an individual character some development. Both of those are important in a good comic, so it makes this one a success on varying levels.
The exploration of Buddy’s powers and “The Red” was something I’d been hyping up for myself for a while before I got to actually reading it, and since I was already familiar with Swamp Thing’s “Green” maybe I had higher hopes for it than I should have, but I don’t think the concept was developed far enough. At least for my liking.
We get plenty of issues that show us Buddy diving into “The Red”, or Maxine tapping into it as well, but Delano never really gives us a lot on what it ACTUALLY is. It’s almost as if he assumes we’ll figure it out for ourselves, or that we should already know what it is. If I hadn’t read Swamp Thing before then I would have no idea what it was supposed to be, but for someone who HAS read Swamp Thing, and IS familiar with “The Green” as a concept, the connections are apparent from the beginning, and it’s obvious that it’s the force that makes Animal Man the Animal Elemental just as Swamp Thing is the Plant Elemental. Maybe there’s more about this, though, in Prosser’s run (following Delano’s), or maybe Lemire will flesh it out to my liking, but that’s all yet to be seen.
The art on the book is constantly good. The majority of the arc is covered by Steve Pugh who has a really great style for the series. Not much to say here. The style is indicative of the times, and fits the book very well. He also gives a good interpretation of all the high concepts that Delano fits into the story, which is something I know some artists might have some trouble with.
I think my biggest complaint would simply be that about not going deep enough into “The Red”, but also that the ending, while I did say I liked it, was not very conclusive at all. We do get a conclusion of sorts, but if there wasn’t another issue after Delano’s run ended I definitely would have found myself upset. There’s obviously more story to be told here.
Fans of the character, and fans of Lemire’s new series, definitely owe it to themselves to read this run. It’s a really important one in the life of Buddy and the Baker family, which isn’t something I can really say about the previous two runs (even if they were fun reads). It’s not perfect by a long shot, mostly because I’d love to have seen Delano further develop his own concepts, but it’s a noteworthy story with interesting elements. Delano also definitely takes advantage of the “Mature Readers” label, and the fact that it becomes attached to the Vertigo imprint once it started up, as we deal with stories about drugs, sex, and much violence. The run might turn off some readers for some of the blatant animal-rights-extremists views, but that’s what comes with the character regardless of his writer.
Overall it’s a good read, and it’s the best run on the series (in my opinion) since Morrison’s. It doesn’t reach the same level, but it definitely does a lot to develop all the characters, which is really important in my book. Plus, like I said, it’s an important run when looking towards Lemire’s new series. I’m not quite sure what’s still part of the character’s continuity with the relaunch, but it’s still noteworthy to read regardless.
GO Rating: 4/5
Once again, the run isn’t collected at all, so if you are interested in reading it you’re going to either do like me and hunt down all the single issues, or download them online. This is one of the few times I condone downloading comics, since it’s out of print and not exactly easy to get. Jamie Delano’s run on Animal Man spans issues #51-79.
Next I’ll be reviewing the fifth and final run of the series, #’s 80-89 by Jerry Prosser.
Images courtesy DC/Vertigo Comics