By: Jeff Lemire (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Dan Green (inker), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

The Story: Sing it with me, everybody—“‘Cause I want to live / like animals…”

The Review: Who would’ve ever predicted that from all of DC’s enormous body of characters, Animal Man would get counted as one of its most famous and acclaimed?  Certainly, he has little inherent appeal in either his powers or background.  A family man who can call on the powers of the animal kingdom certainly has nothing on an alien from a dead planet with the strength of a god.  It just goes to show what inspired writing can do for seemingly unpromising material.

And if any writer can bring the inspiration to make Animal Man a force to behold again, Lemire can.  From the first page, he gets us well acquainted with Buddy Baker’s voice, which is candid, mild, and irresistibly inclusive: “The whole DIY, bootleg thing is a part of who I am…As long as the world still needs Animal Man, he’ll be around.”  Think of a tree-hugging Jimmy Stewart who can also do an uncanny impression of a dog, and you’ll have the right idea

We get to see all these elements in action, in a tense, but ultimately tangential sequence involving a grief-crazed shooter in a children’s cancer ward.  While Buddy obviously prefers the touchy-feely approach, he has no qualm about getting his hands dirty.  As he simultaneously controls the abilities of an elephant, fly, and cheetah, we see good evidence of why, even with a fruitful film career, he’d never give up the superhero biz.  “…it’s just too much fun.”

What with all the DC men who’ve lost their wives to editorial changes, it’s refreshing to see Buddy blessed with a stable, wondrously imperfect family life: the familiar insinuations (“And when does your agent think you’re going to get paid…?”), the harmless squabbles, the small, loving gestures (“I..take on the weight of a bumblebee so I don’t wake the kids.”).  That he gets to experience these things on a daily basis already sets him apart from his more famous peers.

This all makes it that much more painful when we realize that his family, or at least one member of his family, will become the center of much hardship to come.  In Revelations style, his hellish dream foreshadows the dangers awaiting him and his family: “We are rot in the Red.”  “We are flesh made sickness.”  The nightmare culminates in the final page, which channels every creepy scene involving a child in a horror movie you’ve ever known, a perversion of an ordinary, innocent act that becomes even more gut-wrenching on the fact that it’s no longer a dream.

Foreman uses a thin, sparse linework that he and Green never overwhelm with inks.  It allows for good detail, but more importantly, it creates large patches of negative space that at once evokes a Japanese peacefulness (especially fitting in the scenes of Buddy at home) and a certain tension, an uneasiness, as if beneath the apparent calm you can sense a shark just inches away from bursting into the surface.  Foreman doesn’t skimp in bringing the truly hideous to Buddy’s dream, by the end of which, you’re left breathless and rattled, like witnessing an accident.

Conclusion: With these “Dark” titles, DC wanted to bring some new flavors to the selection of mainstream comics, and if this series is any indication, they have a good chance of succeeding.  It makes me very happy to think you can see a title like this side-by-side with The Avengers and Batman.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I love that Cliff believes to get into the Justice League, you have to send in an audition tape, a la Amazing Race.  If only, if only.

– Letting your son get a mullet at age nine?  My guess is this won’t win Buddy or Ellen any awards in the Wise Parenting Choices category.