Photo by Lena Rose on Unsplash
I'll have to admit, for many years American Comics weren't cutting it for me. It was during 2008-2017 my interests shifted towards Japan reading a variety of Manga to supplement my need for compelling and innovative storytelling. I can't say I ever grew out of my favorite Superhero's, rather, I grew out of the convoluted story plots, continuity shifts, and plain hard to follow alternate dimensional bullshit that plagues American comics.
I now am content with sticking with my select favorite heroes with specific author runs, but I'm also more than happy to look back at past series, thanks to Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man. Released in 1988 this run lasted till 1990 with 26 issues by Morrison.
Animal Man follows Buddy Baker, a B-list super hero trying to be taken seriously in the DC universe. He's also surprisingly a family man trying to balance his work and home life.
Animal Man's power originate from radiation from alien spaceships. Allowing him to take on the abilities of any animal on the planet.
What's so refreshing about Animal Man's family dynamics is that his children and wife are very aware of Barry's super career and are involved with his alter ego. From providing feedback on his updated costume changes, to informing the family on recent developments, like when Barry (for a time) had his powers all in whack. It's clear family is important to Barry, and so the story is never bogged down with secret identity tropes within relationships.
Morrison managed something that I rarely get to see in superhero comics, which is a compelling home and Hero life. I'm not just wanting one aspect of Berry's story to be skipped, I'm invested in his character as a whole. The only other Hero I can think that is similar in those qualities is Peter Tomasi's run on Superman!
Speaking of Superman, it's not lost to me how meta this comic is. Being that Animal Man takes place in the DC universe, many high-caliber super heroes make an appearance or are referenced. These encounters are usually used to exacerbate Buddy's feelings of being a low-tier hero with little to no recognition to civilians and fellow heroes. Morrison doesn't just tell stories, he comments on storytelling and creating comics as a whole. (Spoiler) Buddy
eventually discovers that he is in fact a comic book character, and even meets and talks to Morrison! I don't think anything could get any more meta than that.
If you don't think all that is nuts, there even is compelling perspective on animal activism. Since Buddy is connected to animals, it's natural role to be a activist. This give readers grim and powerful imagery of animal experimentation, abuse, and mistreatment of creatures.
Needless to say, I'm very impressed with this body of work. There's powerful imagery and unconventional comic storytelling. It can be cynical at times, but it doesn't depress the hell out of you. It makes a statement without shaming or reprimanding the reader (too much), it's thought provoking that catches you off guard in the best way possible. Something I hope I have convinced you to pick it up. Definitely worth it!