New 52 Animal Man Vol. 1: The Hunt Review
When I picked up this book, my friends at the comic book store started making comments: “The guy isn’t even cool enough to have a specific animal assigned to his name! Just blanket “Animal” Man? Laaaame…!” However, hurting for something to read and with no new “top shelf” DCU titles available for me to grab (I showed up late in the week and most new releases were sold out), I figured at an affordable price of $12.99, why not grab this collection? Besides, when I asked the guy behind the counter what’s good and new, he recommended this one. He hasn’t failed me yet.
I’m really late to the show on this one as this title was released in May of 2012. The publication collects issues #1-6 of Animal Man during the New 52 event. It is written by Jeff Lemire (Atom, Superboy, Justice League Dark) with artwork provided by Travel Foreman (X-Men Unlimited, The Immortal Iron Fist, Birds of Prey). It was released as a trade paperback with no hardcover option like more mainstream New 52 collections.
Buddy Baker, Animal Man, isn’t in the top echelon of the stable of heroes from the DC Universe. In fact, the character is mired in mediocrity and something of a man who can’t decide on what he is or wants except for his love of family. Portrayed as an everyman character, he is a far distant cry from the likes of Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent. Something else that sets him apart from most superheroes is how he doesn’t go to any great length to conceal his “secret” identity and flies around with his face visible to anyone he encounters. Heck, for a lot of the story, he runs around with half of his costume missing or ripped off.
While the general premise of the story is a little predictable, the pacing is excellent and turns the comic into a fast read. I also found the dialogue a little cliche, but it detracts little from the main story. Lemire makes it easy to care about the characters and it is a nice change of pace to find a superhero who’s a lot more accessible than those living in low Earth orbit on the Justice League Watchtower. With down-to-Earth characters, the story turns into one where the protagonist is just a man who happens to have super powers and is learning to cope with the ramifications of those abilities while trying to keep his family safe from the dangers associated with being a superhero. In this respect, it makes Animal Man a little less super but adds more dimension to a character who isn’t there to punch his way out of problems. Indeed, this is a hero who doesn’t have everything he needs. There’s no secret lair, no super-powered backup team—just a man trying to have a life.
The art is creepily appropriate. While a little bright and with images a little too washed out for my taste, the grotesque manifestations and vivid, dream-like sequences add a lot of flavor to the story. Foreman’s work has caused me numerous times to stop and examine the detail in the sometimes ghastly and oftentimes intricate images. His drawings can cause great emotion and helped bring me into the world Animal Man is forced to traverse. The story is comforting and repulsive at appropriate times thanks to the scenes and images that can change drastically between panels. Reading this comic served as a surreal and immersive experience. Highly enjoyable. The collection also provides sketches in the final pages as bonus material. This I found underwhelming and thought it could’ve used more to add to the value.
While I found this book an entertaining read, I don’t feel all that compelled to keep reading into the series. It’d be a nice buy if there was nothing else to read, as was the case when I purchased it. Titles such as this and Swamp Thing, which it ties into, ought to be in their own micro-verse like they were when published under the Vertigo banner. In the end, the book seemed like an afterthought to tack on to the New 52 event. There is no buyers’ remorse in this purchase, however. If you are looking for a superhero comic book with “traditional” superhero roles, this is certainly not one to get. However, if you’re a comic book fiend looking for something not quite so superhero-y but which doesn’t stray too far from what you’re used to, then you can’t go wrong picking this title up.