Animal Man (1988 Series) #1
Title: The Human Zoo
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Chas Truog
Inks: Doug Hazlewood
Letters: John Costanza
Colors: Tatjana Wood
Cover Art: Brian Bolland
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: DC Comics
The biggest purchase I made at last week’s Wizard World New Orleans was a complete run of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man series. I’d read the first trade paperback years ago and enjoyed it, but couldn’t find volume two. Now that Jeff Lemire has made me a serious fan of the character, when I saw this stack of comics bundled together, I knew the time had come to scope it out. So for the next several months, I’m planning to review this series an issue at a time, Saturdays here at the Back Issue Bin.
Issue one re-introduces us to Buddy Baker, part-time superhero with the ability to borrow special talents from animals: the agility of a cat, the deep-sea swimming ability of a fish, the flight of a condor and anything else you can imagine. Buddy never cracked into the big-time as a superhero, and with his career as a movie stuntman stalled, he’s thinking of going back into superheroing full-time… something that bothers his wife, Ellen. As Buddy begins the quest to reinvent himself, another animal-powered metahuman begins a quest of his own… something far more sinister.
This book is very much a product of its time. Grant Morrison draws on then-current happenings in the DCU, such as the debut of the Justice League International, to inform Buddy’s lifestyle choices, and while the weirdness that would later (and still does) characterize Animal Man is hinted at in this issue, at the beginning it reads more like a family drama. There’s tension between Buddy and Ellen, there’s problems for his kids Cliff and Maxine… Buddy’s home life and family is ingrained into his character makeup in a way few other superheroes enjoy. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine him as a single, childless man, and much of that is owed to Morrison’ characterization.
While the genre-defining work that would later come is hinted at this issue, the artwork is less impressive. Chas Truog’s character designs – particularly when it comes to hairstyles and clothing choices – don’t age well. Even for a comic produced in 1988, the styles look like 80s clichés rather than the way an average family really would look at the time. The better scenes, artistically, are actually those where we leave Buddy’s family behind and follow the shadowy figure who will be our first antagonist.
It’s an interesting first issue, looking back with the perspective of someone who knows where this title would later go. We can see it pointing in the right direction, but it definitely had a long way to go.