A couple of weeks ago I decided to revisit Grant Morrison's Vertigo series Animal Man, of which he wrote twenty-six issues (collected into three trades) and today I finished the third volume. I hadn't read these books since they first came out back in 1989-1990, but as I suspected they age very well. Actually the art by Chas Troug and Doug Hazlewood (with a couple of fill in issues by other similar artists) is solid, good C list superhero comic book art, but while re-reading this series I just kept thinking that if there was an artist on this series like Frank Quitely (All Star Superman, WE3) or Chris Bachalo circa his Shade The Changing Man art style, Morrison's Animal Man would be more of a defining / seminal book than it is. It can be argued that this art style was chosen specifically to emphasis what Grant Morrison was saying with the entirety of his run on Animal Man. All of the covers were done by Brian Bolland including the three featured here.
Animal Man is Buddy Baker, who after an encounter with some aliens, gets the power to absorb the abilities of animals he's near, basically a C level superhero with no real stories of distinction before Morrison got his hands on the character. Grant Morrison introduced a new Vertigo audience to the character as a happy married man with two kids who didn't have a secret identity. Morrison also wrote a new version of Doom Patrol (six collected volumes), which along with Shade The Changing Man were the second wave of Vertigo's British invasion post Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.
Just as Alan Moore had done with the Swamp Thing character, Grant Morrison developed Animal Man, with his throwaway powers and origin, into a character through which to voice how he (Morrison) felt about animal rights, family, and the world around him, while at the same time taking what was established about the character from earlier stories but actually giving his origin and powers a framework that showed that Morrison was a writer who thought outside of the box. While Morrison (and Neil Gaiman on Sandman) was apeing what Moore had done on Swamp Thing, it was a really good ape job (although Morrison's writing has never been as artful as Moore's - but whose writing is?) and Morrison developed the characters within Animal Man in such a way that readers were totally invested in them.
The real power of Morrison's Animal Man was that it was / is one of comic books' great examples of breaking the fourth wall (a form of story-telling in which the characters know that they're just fictional characters and or the creator or characters in the story communicate directly with the reader). There are hints that Morrison is building to this in the first volume, but it's really not until volume two where he steps it up, and then the entire third volume brings all the foreshadowing elements together as Animal Man, Psycho Pirate, and Grant Morrison talk to each other and the readers. Breaking the fourth wall can be an annoying as many feel it takes them out of the story, but when it's done well, as it is in Morrison's Animal Man, this kind of story can be a great vehicle to ask existential questions and or a way to look under the hood of the creative mind.
Grant Morrison at one point expresses to Buddy (Animal Man) that he worried that his writing on the book about issues such as animal rights and vegetarianism became preachy, and while that has to be a concern when incorporating your worldview / politics into your fictional writing, I thought Morrison, in Animal Man, said things he felt passionately about in an entertaining fashion. It may be that I feel so strongly about Morrison's Animal Man because I'm on the same page in respect to what he's saying (preaching to the already converted), but I like to think that people who read or have read Morrison's Animal Man that hadn't already considered some of the issues presented, will, due to the power of the writing on display, be left with ideas that stay with them long after they've read this series.
Following are some dialogue examples of what Grant Morrison was doing in Animal Man: "The real super-villains don't want to rule the world, they already do." "What if God's reality...Heaven, if you like... what if it's so bad that he had to imagine us to help make his life bearable?" "As for you... I can still see you. Don't think you're going to get away with just watching for very much longer." "Life needs you to go on fighting and not to sit back while they build more bombs and bulldoze more trees. Either you're on the side of life or you're on the side of death." "Life doesn't have plots and subplots and denouements. It's just a big collection of loose ends and dangling threads that never get explained."
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