Animal Man #1-26 and Secret Origins #39 (September 1988 – August 1990)
Written by Grant Morrison (#1-26; Secret Origins #39)
Pencils by Chas Truog (#1-8, 10-13, 15-21, 23-26), Tom Grummett (#9,14, Secret Origins #39), Paris Cullins (#22)
Inks by Doug Hazlewood (#1-9, 11-13, 15-21, 23-24, Secret Origins #39), Mark McKenna (#10), Steve Montano (#14, 22), Mark Farmer (#25-26)
Coloured by Tatjana Wood (#1-26), Helen Vesik (Secret Origins #39)
Spoilers (from twenty-eight to thirty years ago)
In 1988, I was still getting to know my way around the DC Universe. One way I was becoming familiar with the wealth of characters it had was to sample just about any new series that came out. I picked up Animal Man #1, a comic about a character I’d never heard of, featuring work by a writer and artist I’d never heard of. I remember liking the everyman approach Morrison took to Buddy Baker, but not adding it to my ever-growing roster of books that I was buying. Whenever it tied into something like Invasion! or featured members of the Justice League, I would pick it up, and continued to enjoy it. I finally started getting it on a monthly basis towards the end of Morrison’s run, when Buddy’s family got killed. I was hooked, as I was all about the grim’n’gritty characters, and loved it when Buddy went into his “black suit” phase. By the time Morrison finished his run, he’d moved this comic far from Buddy’s roots as a “Forgotten Hero” and made this one of the more influential and important (if criminally under-discussed) runs of the pre-Vertigo era. At least, that’s how I remember it. I’m curious to see how his run, which I’ve gone back to fill some gaps in, stands up now that meta-ness has become passé. Let’s find out.
To provide some historical context, the first issue has ads for new series Starman (Will Payton), Haywire, The New Guardians, and V For Vendetta.
Let’s look at who turned up in the title:
- B’Wana Beast (Mike Maxwell; #1-4)
- Rokara Soh (#6)
- Skalla Kol (#6)
- Red Mask (#7)
- Mirror Master (#8, 17)
- The Mad Hatter (#10)
- The Psycho-Pirate (#10, 20, 22-24)
- Hamed Ali (#11-12)
- Tabu (#11-12)
- Lennox (#14, 16-18, 20-21)
- The Time Commander (#16, 22)
- Owlman (Crime Syndicate of America; #23)
- Scarecrow (#23)
- Power Ring (Crime Syndicate of America; #23-24)
- Ultraman (Crime Syndicate of America; #23-24)
- Johnny Quick (Crime Syndicate of America; #23)
- Overman (#23-24)
- Bizarro (#24)
- Tweedle-Dee (#24)
- Tweedle-Dum (#24)
- Mister Freeze (#25)
- The Shark (#26)
- Slaughterhouse (#26)
- Superman (#2)
- Hawkman (#6)
- Martian Manhunter (#9, 20)
- Vixen (#10-12)
- B’Wana Beast (Mike Maxwell; #13)
- Freedom Beast (Dominic Mndawe; #13)
- Grant Morrison (#14, 25-26)
- Dane Dorrance (Sea Devils; #15)
- Dolphin (#15)
- Sue Dibny (#16)
- Elongated Man (#16)
- Metamorpho (#16)
- Rocket Red (#16)
- Mirror Master (#21)
- Rip Hunter (#22)
- Booster Gold (#22)
- Phantom Stranger (#22-23)
- Streaky (#23-24)
- Immortal Man (#23)
- Jason Blood (#23)
- Sunshine Superman (#23-24)
- Speed Freak (#23)
- Magic Lantern (#23-24)
- Aquagirl (#23)
- Sargon the Sorcerer (#23)
- Prince Ra-Man (#23)
- Merryman (Inferior Five; #25)
- Dumb Bunny (Inferior Five; #25)
- The Gay Ghost (#25)
- The Red Bee (#25)
- Nightmaster (#25)
- Mrs. Weidemeir (Buddy’s neighbour; #1-2, 4, 20)
- Mr. Weidemeir (Buddy’s neighbour; #1-3 20, 22)
- Ellen Baker (Buddy’s wife; #1-5, 8-11, 14, 16-18, 22, 26, Secret Origins #39)
- Cliff Baker (Buddy’s son; #1, 4-5, 7, 9, 14, 17-18, 22, 26, Secret Origins #39)
- Maxine Baker (Buddy’s daughter; #1-4, 9, 14, 17-18, 22, 26, Secret Origins #39)
- Roger (Buddy’s neighbour and manager; #1, 6, 17-18, 20, Secret Origins #39)
- Tricia (Roger’s wife; #1, 10-11, 18, 20)
- James Highwater (#8-10, 14, 17-19, 22-24)
- Two yellow aliens (#10-12, 22-24, Secret Origins #39)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- A character dressed in a trench coat and boots walks along the highway towards San Diego, while the narration, which refers to him as “The Beast”, talks about how he can hear monkeys screaming and smell the congestion of the city. Buddy Baker falls while rescuing his neighbour’s cat out of a tree, but is able to land safely thanks to his animal powers, which he passes off as stuntman training. He tells his wife, Ellen, that he is thinking about becoming a fulltime superhero. Ellen is not happy about this. Buddy thinks that he could make money of being a hero, since he hasn’t been getting much film work, but Ellen doesn’t see it as viable. Cliff comes home from school and argues a bit with Maxine. The Beast is in an alleyway struggling with the assault on his senses being in the city gives him; it receives a vision of a star. He takes off his helmet and is confronted by a young man who wants to rob him. The Beast crushes his hand and leaves him bleeding on the sidewalk. Buddy and ellen talk again, and he tells her that he is going to start training, mostly because he’s been getting a strange feeling. On the first day of training, Buddy practices swimming, establishing that he can borrow animal abilities for thirty-five minutes. On the second, he flies, and on the third he practices running fast; Ellen is with him for all of this. On the fourth day, his friend and neighbour Roger offers to be his manager, and tells him he can get on a local talk show. The Beast drinks some kind of liquid that strengthens him, and approaches STAR Labs. Buddy’s TV appearance makes him look like a joke, but the next day, he receives a call from STAR Labs about helping with an investigation. He flies off, and Tricia, Roger’s wife, talks to Ellen about how unreliable Roger is. Some good ‘ole boys head out on a hunting trip, and shoot a bird to get things started. Buddy arrives at STAR, where he learns that someone very strong broke in. He is shown a horrifying mass of flesh made up of the lab’s monkeys – it looks like they’ve been merged into one disgusting organism.
- Somewhere in a field a cat catches a mouse. The STAR Labs guy explains to Buddy that whoever broke into the lab somehow combined all of the monkeys, and that they are dying and in pain. He tells him that a lab assistant saw a giant cockroach man in the lab causing the damage they saw. Buddy doesn’t know how to help the monkeys, but explains that if he can get near a dog, he can track the roach-man down. The Beast sits on a rooftop feeling pain from his surroundings. He knows he failed with the monkeys, but is determined to not fail again. He crushes a brick with his bare hand. Buddy is upset that he picked up his dog abilities from test subjects, and flies off to find his quarry. The rednecks we saw last issue shoot a deer and talk about how their hunting spot, which is where the cat from the first page is hanging out with her kittens, is a “garden of Eden.” Buddy loses the trail of the roach-man because it stops suddenly. A kid asks for his autograph, but thinks he’s Aquaman. While Buddy sits and thinks, Superman approaches him. They speak briefly before he flies off to help an aircraft. The Beast uses his powers to merge a rat and a homeless man. Buddy talks to Ellen on a payphone when he is attacked. Ellen hangs up and takes Maxine out to the woods. Buddy is being attacked by a rat-man, and borrowing the abilities of a nearby praying mantis, begins to fight back. Ellen and Maxine wander the woods. Maxine finds the kittens, which she expects belong to her neighbour’s cat, while Ellen comes across the dead deer. The rednecks approach her and refer to her as “Eve” in a threatening manner. Buddy continues to fight the rat-man with great difficulty. It swipes at him with its claws, and severs Buddy’s right arm completely. As he blacks out, he sees the rat-man splitting in two.
- The first few pages explain a few things, revealing that the Beast is the classic DC character B’wana Beast, who is in the city looking for Djuba, an ape friend who has been calling to him telepathically. He’s never referred as “B’wana” Beast, instead getting called The White God of Kilimanjaro (he’s a white guy in a helmet and loincloth, who has some sort of animal powers). He goes rampaging through San Diego in his loincloth. Buddy’s powers kick in to keep him from bleeding to death, and connect with some earthworms, so that his severed arm grows back. He finds the ratman lying in the alley in shock, and heads off to call STAR Labs for some help. Ellen is still surrounded by the hunters, who grab the cat and feed it to their dogs. One of them hits her and calls her a slut, while being generally misogynistic towards her. When they hear Maxine in the woods, Ellen yells for her to run away. Buddy is disturbed that the STAR Labs guys who come to him are in full hazmat gear, and load him into a van. B’wana Beast arrives at STAR, and we learn that he has been upset since his closest friend Ken was killed in a civil war, which led to him slaughtering the soldiers that killed him. When he returned to Mount Kilimanjaro, where he hangs out, he discovered that Djuba, his close ape friend (or, perhaps, his lover?) was taken. At STAR, all the test animals start going nuts, and the Beast takes out a security guard. Maxine runs to her next door neighbour, Mr. Weidemeir, to get help. As Buddy arrives at STAR, the Beast rushes past him carrying Djuba. Buddy insists that the scientist he’s been talking to explain what’s going on. The Lab has been contracted to develop a strain of anthrax that wouldn’t affect people, and were using Djuba, who is much more intelligent than most apes, to finetune the disease, knowing that it would kill her. It is never explained why the Beast didn’t get her the first time he came to STAR Labs, or what he hoped to gain by merging the pile of monkeys from before (which is never mentioned in this issue). One of the hunters makes it clear he’s about to rape Ellen. Mr. Weidemeir shows up and holds him at gunpoint, but when that guy lifts his rifle to shoot him, the older hunter kills him. Ellen loses it and starts beating on his corpse with a branch, until Weidemeir points out that Maxine is watching. The scientist explains to Buddy that the Beast might, by having taken Djuba out of the lab, endangered everyone in California. They receive word that he’s taken her to the zoo. We see the Beast cradle his friend as she dies, and all the animals in the zoo start freaking out. The Beast stands and yells.
- Buddy reads a book to Maxine and thinks about how complicated his life is getting. He thinks back to the events of the day. Leaving STAR Labs, Buddy went to research his foe at the library, and for the first time he’s referred to as the B’wana Beast. Buddy gets to the zoo, where he finds the dead ape. The B’wana Beast confronts Buddy, and punches him. Ellen and Maxine rush home with the kittens they found in the woods; they send Cliff to go find Mrs. Weidemeir to help them, as the kittens are dying. Mrs. Weidemeir, who mentions that her husband is at the police station, making me wonder why Ellen isn’t, says it’s too late to help at least one of the kittens and Ellen cries. At the zoo, Buddy spies a tiger/ape creature created by B’wana Beast, and flies around picking up animal powers before being attacked by a weird flying creature that he has no choice but to kill. The tiger/ape attacks him, but weakened, he flies up and hides in a cable car that he mistakenly keeps calling a monorail (there is no rail if it’s hanging from a wire!). Buddy uses his abilities to find the Beast, and attacks him using elephant strength. The Beast uses his mind control powers on Buddy, but turns it back on him. They stare each other down fighting for mental control, and the Beast collapses. He’s caught the mutant anthrax from the ape. He begins to talk to Buddy about how people are killing the world. Ellen, Mrs. Weidemeir and the kids bury the kittens and Maxine talks about cat heaven. It looks like the B’wana Beast is going to die, but Buddy uses the Beast’s powers to combine living things to work on his white blood cells, so they are able to defeat the anthrax in his system. He decides to leave him alone, and Buddy walks away, and restores the animals that had been combined. Buddy returns to STAR Labs where he tells the scientist off for his immoral practices, and then slugs him. In the present, Ellen shows Buddy that one of the kittens survived and is going to live. The B’wana Beast returns to STAR Labs and dumps Djuba’s body on the scientist’s desk. He tells him to call for help, and then he merges the scientist with the dead ape, leaving him to be viewed as a test subject by the other scientists (who had apparently never taken a good look at Djuba before, or wonder where the scientist went).
- I feel like issue five, which is a strange issue, could be read as an abstract for Grant Morrison’s true goals for the title, while also serving as a weird tribute to the old Warner Brothers cartoons. A trucker has picked up a hitchhiker named Carrie in Death Valley, and while he drives her towards LA, he talks about how he was saved from a hustler’s life by a man named Billy, who gave him a silver cross to wear. Soon they are singing together, when the trucker runs over what looks like a coyote-man that wanders into the highway. They keep driving, and we see the Coyote heal and get up. A year later, Buddy has decided that his family should become vegetarians. Ellen finds him cleaning out the fridge, and they argue about him making the decision without discussing it first. Buddy talks about how animals are treated before being slaughtered, and then flies off in his costume. We see the trucker, who is now convinced that it was the devil he’d hit on the highway, setting up a dynamite tripwire in Death Valley. We learn that his friend Billy died, as did his mother. So too did the girl he’d driven that day; he saw an article about her death in a newspaper. He has a high powered rifle, and sneaks up on the Coyote, who is sitting at the edge of a canyon. He shoots the creature, causing it to fall. When he sees it’s still alive, he drops a boulder on it. He moves in to finish it with his “magic bullet”, and finds it is already up and approaching him. The Coyote steps on the tripwire, which causes the dynamite to blow, attracting Buddy’s attention. The man is still alive, and the Coyote is rapidly healing. The Coyote approaches Buddy and gives him the scroll that has been on a string around his neck. The scroll tells of a cartoon world full of violence. Crafty, the coyote, travelled to God to put a stop to the violence, and as punishment for his ambition, God sent him to Hell, which is really our reality. He was hit by the truck immediately upon his arrival, and has spent the year since dying and being reborn. As it turns out though, Buddy can’t read the scroll, and that’s when the man shoots Crafty with the bullet he made from his silver cross. As the creature lies dying before Buddy, the camera pulls back and we see a hand and paintbrush filling in the colour of Crafty’s blood. Like I said, a strange issue that can be seen as prologue to the final issues of Morrison’s run.
- Issue six ties in to Invasion!, the crossover event you can read about here. A Thanagarian named Rokhara Soh has been given permission to stage his final work of art on Earth as part of the Invasion force. This entails him drinking Hellshade, which will kill him, and reflecting on his memories as he approaches the moment of death. Buddy and Roger are at the zoo together talking about Buddy’s new vegetarianism, and his belief the animals are not lesser than humans. They are interrupted when they see a Thanagarian warship fly overhead. Rokhara Soh plants a “lifebomb” on a fault line while his pilot, Skalla Kol, watches over him. Buddy shows up, and Kol attacks him. His only hope is to dive into the water; he is able to grab her, destroy her wings, and then turn on her anti-gravity device, sending her flying into the air. She turns it off, and falls, presumably to her death. Soh sends some birds to attack Buddy (why would he have control over birds?) as he finishes setting his bomb. He sticks Buddy in a tree and starts to talk to him about fractal geometry (which makes this the first place I would have come across the concept, fractals being something I associate much more with the early 90s). Soh talks about how his art explores destruction and plate tectonics. He also talks about how his father taught him about fractals. The poison in his system starts to work, and he collapses. Buddy tries to figure out how to turn off the bomb, which looks like a yellow orb, as Soh revisits moments from his difficult relationship with his father. Just as Soh dies, and sends a mental command to detonate the bomb, Hawkman (Thanagarian Katar Hol era) shows up to turn it off.
- A portly man in an old-school villain costume and a red mask struggles to climb some stairs to the roof of a building. He looks out over a city in ruin, and Buddy, who is flying by, thinks he is about to jump. We flash back a bit and learn, as Buddy talks to Cliff on the phone, that he was in space helping to fight back the alien Invasion!, and has now returned to a chaotic Miami, where the destruction caused by the invasion is being magnified by some very old looking simplistic robots that are randomly wreaking havoc. A cop explains to him that the robots are pretty garbage, and Buddy flies around trying to find the source of them, leading him to the roof. He talks to the old guy, who is called the Red Mask, and who has a death touch. We learn that he’d wanted to be a hero but when he touched a strange, glowing meteor, it gave him a death touch so he decided to become a villain, working for a time with a guy called The Veil, and fighting a hero named Captain Triumph (he was an old Quality character; I don’t know if the Red Mask is an actual Golden Age character). The Veil ended up in Arkham, and the Red Mask retired, but now, since he’s dying, he decided to send his robots out, and then to jump to his death. Buddy tries to appeal to the guy’s good side, and suggests that his friend Roger could get him on TV. The Mask agrees, and Buddy tells him to wait for him on the roof for a minute. Buddy flies off, and then the Mask changes his mind, and jumps off the building. The art suggests that he’s actually flying for a minute, but he hits the ground and dies. In an epilogue, we see that Buddy has found the last of the robots, and shuts it down. The cop from earlier talks to him, and Buddy says he’s going to head back to LA, making no mention of the Red Mask, which feels a little unlikely. As Buddy begins to fly off, the Gene Bomb goes off (making this an unofficial tie-in to Invasion! I guess) and everything turns black and white, and the next issue box tells readers to follow Buddy into Invasion! #3.
- Issue eight opens on a computer screen where someone has typed an Einstein quote about God playing dice with the cosmos. Buddy wakes up when Ellen brings him his mail. He receives his Justice League membership card, and discuss the fact that his powers have gone wonky since the Gene Bomb went off, a fact he’s kept from the League. Ellen leaves, and when Buddy goes into the washroom, he is attacked by his reflection, which is wearing his Animal Man outfit. The Mirror Master is in his house, and he blasts Buddy’s staircase. Buddy runs to put on his outfit and confront the rogue. Mirror Master tells him that Buddy’s involvement at STAR and helping animal rights groups has made him some powerful enemies, and that he was hired to point out how easy it would be to get at Buddy or his family. Ellen returns home, observed by a shadowy figure in the bushes across the street, and finds the place trashed. Buddy follows the Master into a mirror, and gets disoriented by how backwards everything is. Ellen finds the Mirror Master and kicks him in his junk; he slaps her, but loses control over the mirror world or something, freeing Buddy. Buddy throws him out of the house, but as he departs, the Master turns Buddy into a living mirror; when Ellen looks at him, he becomes Ellen, until she smashes the mirror that is causing this to happen. They throw it out, not knowing they are being observed by someone in the bushes. We learn that the Master was working for someone in the US Government. A Native American man stands on a butte watching an eagle fly, thinking about his identity as a physicist and his loss of memory. We see the same computer screen from the first page, and someone has typed below the quote that it is he or she that plays dice with the cosmos.
- As Cliff walks home from school alone, he is bullied by some kids who call him “Animal Boy.” While Buddy plays with Maxine and their kitten, Ellen answers the door, surprised to find the Martian Manhunter there, with a pair of workmen who have come to repair the damage caused by the Mirror Master; all part of being in the Justice League. Ellen forces things so Buddy has to talk to him about how his powers have changed; they fly off together. J. Highwater, the man we saw at the end of the last issue, returns home to an apartment he doesn’t remember, as his memories are gone. He finds a copy of “Through the Looking Glass” on the floor, with the words “you’re only one of the things in his dream” underlined, and a note tucked in it telling him to “ask the Psycho Pirate”. Buddy and J’onn chat in a canyon about how Buddy’s powers have become scrambled since the Gene Bomb went off. J’onn explains he wants Buddy in the League because of his environmental and animal rights stances. Cliff is walking home, angry, and is observed by the shadowy figure we saw before. At the Baker house, Ellen is annoyed by how careless and talkative the workmen installing security lasers in her home are. Buddy demonstrates to J’onn how scrambled his powers are, throwing up when he tries to borrow abilities from a rabbit. Buddy admits that he worries about how his powers work in general, and J’onn recommends a doctor. Buddy says he’ll check it out after he returns from a foxhunt sabotage thing he’s going to in England. Cliff returns home and sets off the new security system. Later, the family, J’onn, and the workmen sit around the kitchen table. Cliff goes off on Buddy because he’s the reason he’s being bullied, and we learn that his bike was stolen. J’onn says he has an idea. We see Cliff walk right up to the bullies (one of whom is wearing a Bon Jovi shirt), and when the one who wears collared shirts and smokes gets in his face, Cliff changes into a giant monster and scares them all away. Of course, it’s really J’onn, disguised as Cliff, but the kid gets his bike back and gets to point out that his father didn’t help one bit. In Africa (I guess we don’t need to be specific – it’s that grass hut village by a mountain where giraffes hang out), a guy in face paint listens to the ground and tells some soldiers or park wardens that, “the gods are coming.”
- Secret Origins #39 (I’d forgotten how essential this series was to my understanding of the DCU) features Buddy, and fits between issues nine and ten. The narrator talks about being awakened and being “recorporated into the first available memoryform”, while we see some animals stampeding on the African savannah. Buddy is in nature with his family testing out his powers. He talks to Ellen about how his abilities are still scrambled, keeping him from being able to breathe underwater, and when he tries to use dog powers, ends up jumping like a flea. We see that two yellow aliens are watching Buddy and his family, and the recently awakened beings talk about how “the traveller”, which is the being that woke them, has been found by people, and how Buddy has changed, appearing younger. They discuss his morphogenetic grafts, which have been damaged and which threaten his life. I think they are also talking about how the DCU has changed, post-Crisis, so they decide to revisit Animal Man’s origin, as they remember it. A crew-cut, older looking Buddy stops an angry escaped elephant by punching it in the face. Earlier, he had tried proposing to his girlfriend Ellen, but lost his nerve. He went hunting with his friend Roger, who teased him for being so timid. Buddy shot a rabbit and when he went to pick it up near a cliff, a bright light went off and knocked him out. When he awoke, he found a tiger about to pounce on him. He ducked it, and found himself being attacked by a gorilla. He threw the tiger into the gorilla using new strength, and some men came and captured the animals, which had escaped from a derailed circus train nearby. Roger and Buddy go look over the cliff and find a crashed spaceship, and Buddy figured out that the radiation from the ship has changed him, allowing him to access the characteristics of animals in close proximity. The aliens in the present discuss the ways in which humans disregard physical laws on this “stratum”, and question why so much has changed while they slept. Buddy and his family approach an abandoned house, which gives Buddy a sense of deja vu. We return to his pre-Crisis history, and see that this was Ellen’s house. Buddy went to her and blurted out a proposal before he collapsed. Next we see Buddy’s second adventure, when he fought an alien invasion featuring the two aliens we see now. The aliens discuss how little Buddy questioned what happened, and how their actions led to Buddy becoming a superhero. One alien says that “major surgery” is required, and wonders if Buddy is going to remember them. This is where this storyline is starting to become a lot more Grant Morrison than ever before.
- Issue ten begins ten years before, with a quick recap of Buddy’s origin, and Roger discovering a second alien ship. In the present, we see two silent events happening simultaneously in alternating panels. In one, Vixen runs from some invisible thing in pouring rain at an airport somewhere, and jumps onto a departing airplane’s landing gear, making an escape. At the same time, some hounds chase a fox across the English countryside, but it is rescued at the last moment by Buddy. Some animal rights activists praise him for his involvement. Ellen is chatting with Tricia at home about Buddy’s scrambled powers when Vixen comes knocking on the door. Highwater, the physicist, makes a visit to Arkham Asylum. He talks with a doctor there, and on their way to visit a patient, they are interrupted by the Mad Hatter, who keeps talking about how they are all just words on a page (this is foreshadowing). When they visit the Psycho-Pirate, he asks if the Wolfman gave Highwater his name (a clever reference to Marv Wolfman, the writer who made him nuts in the Crisis). He talks about how he can’t sleep out of fear of being removed from continuity, and tells Highwater he’s left him a note on some crumpled up paper in the middle of his cell. The note talks about a boy who thought he was receiving signals from an intelligent fox. On the other side is a series of comics panels depicting Buddy’s first meeting with the yellow aliens; Highwater recognizes him as Animal Man. Buddy gets home and sees that Vixen is there; an invisible something moves through the back yard. Ellen and Tricia talk in the kitchen, and Ellen notices that her clock has stopped working. Buddy and Vixen talk about how she has been pursued by invisible things, and how their powers work, or don’t in Buddy’s case. Mari talks about how she inherited the Tantu Totem when her uncle killed her father. She mentions that her uncle, a general in the Zambezi army, was killed, and that he really worked for Hamed Ali, “He Who Never Dies”, who is apparently excavating a sacred site. The Baker’s cat gets nervous, and the invisible creatures break into the living room (apparently not setting off the JLE equipment installed last issue). Mari uses a smoke bomb to make them visible, and when Ellen walks in and distracts them, one of the creatures looks at Buddy, causing him to disappear. The creature smacks Ellen, and when Tricia asks what they should do, the two yellow aliens appear and state they will take charge.
- The aliens are working on some sort of device to fix or remake Buddy, while also worrying about the continuum. Buddy’s origin page is shown again, although now the text is garbled like a William S. Burroughs cut-up. One of the aliens talks about how resetting Buddy to “the template” isn’t a problem, but that any errors that work against the logic of the continuum could tear apart the stratum. Buddy is in a realm of white, and wants to stay there, but is instead reformed in Africa, right in front of Vixen who seems to be sitting waiting for him. Buddy feels great, and his costume is subtly different. An interlude page shows us that B’wana Beast is not in his cave on Kilimanjaro. At a big dig site, the Zambezi army finds that they can’t get through the shell of the thing they are trying to uncover. The people working the site are unhappy with the shaman’s presence. The guy in charge comes and brings a gigantic tank-dildo thing to help with the dig. Buddy and Mari camp out and chat. Buddy feels an animal lust for her, and is about to make a move when a giant crocodile-tank thing comes at them. A woman in a wooden mask drops out of a tree and begins to fight Vixen while Buddy tries to take out the tank. Both heroes are subdued, Vixen through a beat-down, and Buddy with a dart. We see that Hamed Ali, “He Who Never Dies” is an ape-like albino, and that he has our heroes. Tricia asks Ellen how she’ll tell the kids that Buddy disappeared, but Ellen doesn’t remember them, and then disappears. Buddy and Mari are being held in a fallout shelter where neither can access their powers. Hamed Ali talks about being older than Jesus, and that he’s digging something out of the Earth. He introduces Tabu, the woman who fought Vixen and who also has animal powers; he tells them that they are going to kill them at dawn and leaves. The aliens are now worrying that “the traveller” is in trouble because Hamed Ali’s people are using particle beam weapons to uncover it. Something happens and they lose control of the “binding force”; everything goes white. Tabu suits up to kill our heroes while they try to figure a way out of their predicament. The villains come to kill them.
- As Hamed Ali and Tabu move to kill Buddy and Vixen, Buddy begins to duplicate like Jamie Madrox, creating enough of a distraction for the real Buddy and Mari to run away; he explains that he tapped into the ability of bacteria to self-replicate. They find a room full of masks that have animal souls trapped in them – the masks give Tabu her powers. Mari recovers her totem and plants a bomb (did she have a bomb on her all along?) that blows up the compound as they flee. They are pursued by soldiers but Buddy grabs Mari and they fly away. They see a weird disturbance in the sky, which is coming from the hole in the ground that Ali’s people have been digging. Buddy decides to go into the pit while Ali gathers his forces to come after them all. Buddy finds himself in the alien spaceship and sees an image of himself with a crew cut and different costume. One of the yellow aliens approaches him. Vixen is attacked by the soldiers so she jumps into the pit too; Hamed Ali shoots the witch doctor that has been hanging around making pronouncements. Vixen finds Buddy talking to the alien, and she realizes it was the aliens that had attacked them before as invisible creatures. The alien admits to this, and tries to explain but they are interrupted by the appearance of Hamed Ali and Tabu. Vixen and Tabu fight, and Tabu kills her over and over, but she keeps healing immediately. The alien explains to Buddy that they are behind reality, that in this place things get re-created. They are in a ship, the traveller, which has been buried on Earth for ten thousand years. Sometimes the aliens visit the Earth in different forms – it was them that brought the Tantu Totem that Vixen uses, and the helmet and elixir of the B’wana Beast. The alien tells Buddy he died when the ship exploded in front of him, and that they rebuilt him with morphogenetic grafts that allow him to access animal powers. The Crisis made changes to the DCU, and now Buddy is a bit of a paradox. As Vixen continues to fight Tabu, the alien gets Buddy to use a device to access his memories and fix reality. Vixen ends her fight, and we see Buddy’s origin page again, but this time everything is fixed and makes sense. Hamed Ali tries to shoot one of the aliens, and it, calling him a minor character, deletes him. As he is erased, we see him devolve into a thumbnail, as if he is regressing as a drawn object, before he disappears completely. The aliens also disappear, warning Buddy that terrible times are coming; Vixen and Buddy stand amid a lot of dead soldiers, back on the surface.
- A news broadcast discussing civil unrest in South Africa (this is happening during Apartheid) in safe and sanitized terms is interspersed with photos that show the brutality with which indigenous Africans were being treated during a protest. We see the photographer who has taken these pictures. Elsewhere on the African continent, Buddy has run into Mike Maxwell, the B’wana Beast after he saw Vixen to her flight. They talk about their fight the year before, and Buddy discusses how the Beast changed his thoughts on animal rights. The Beast says that he’s going to step down from his role, and needs to choose his successor to the mask and elixir. He invites Buddy to come to Mount Kilimanjaro with him, and Buddy agrees. After they arrive, Maxwell drinks the elixir and receives a vision. The photographer, Dominic, meets with a foreign reporter to give him his photos, warning him that he needs to smuggle them out of the country. As Dominic walks away, he is attacked by some police and beaten. Buddy accompanies the Beast, who creates an ibex/eagle chimera to fly him to his successor. A police officer visits Dominic in jail. He knows that Dominic is a photographer, and that he gave the photos to an American. He tells him that he is going to use him to take down Archbishop Mogatusi (clearly a stand in for Desmond Tutu). He makes arrangements to hang Dominic in his cell, and as he does this, he tells him a story he liked as a child about the unicorn. Just as he’s about to hang Dominic, Animal Man and the Beast arrive and free him. Later, Maxwell explains his new abilities to Dominic, who does not appreciate the name B’wana Beast. Maxwell thinks the Beast should be about myth, while Dominic is determined to use the powers to further political ends. He talks about how he became involved in protest, and then tells Buddy about the American reporter. The next day, there is a large stand-in, and as the police prepare to suppress the crowd, the Archbishop, broadcasting from somewhere, tells the people to go home. The cops don’t want that to happen, so they try to escalate things. Maxwell steps out of the crowd and challenges the cops to fire on him. One cop does shoot him in the shoulder; just then, the Earth splits, as Buddy digs his way out, having scared off the cops. The guy from the prison goes after the Archbishop, but is then attacked by a zebra with a unicorn horn, which kills him. Buddy and Maxwell join the new hero, Freedom Beast. Maxwell agrees to stay in South Africa to help train him. Later, at the Daily Planet, Perry White sees that his reporter was harassed over a roll of vacation photos. Buddy arrives at the office with the roll of film that has Dominic’s actual photos.
- Issue fourteen is a strange one, not in the least because guest inker Steve Montano does some very weird things with the characters’ eyes, making guest penciller Tom Grummett’s art unrecognizable as his. That’s not the only place things get strange though. Maxine is playing outside with the cat when she comes across the shadowy figure we’ve seen lurking around outside before. He says hello to her and continues to talk to her and cry, thinking she can’t hear him. Ellen sees this out the window and runs outside, to find that the man has disappeared. Maxine says it was her father. The phone rings, and it’s Buddy telling Ellen he’s at the airport. In a monochromatic landscape, a man in a trenchcoat walks in the rain thinking about poetry and the nature of dreams. He approaches J. Highwater, who is sleeping at a picnic table and wakes him up; we next see Highwater awake in a hotel room in San Francisco, with no knowledge of where he is. A man named Lennox rings a doorbell, and when a Mrs. Linfield opens the door, he tries to give her some religious pamphlets. The woman’s daughter points out he has a gun, and he shoots both of them before closing the door and driving away. Cliff’s friends convince him to play with a ouija board with them. Ellen works on an illustration and feels like someone is behind her. There’s no one there but she jumps when the phone rings. The ouija board spells out Cliff’s name and the numbers 9 and 27; when Cliff pulls back his hand, a glass on a nearby table shatters. Ellen hangs up the phone and, convinced someone is in her house, grabs a knife. She tries to get Maxine’s attention, and is surprised by Buddy, who has come home. Highwater figures he is in San Francisco to look for Animal Man, and thinks about the line “the universe is a mirror”, which came to him in his dream. Buddy has checked the house and assures Ellen there is no one there. Later, as it pours rain, they talk about how Mr. Weidemeir told Buddy that he ignored his greeting the other day. They see the man standing outside the window. Buddy rushes outside and can just recognize the man’s outline in the rain. He remembers seeing this man when he was ten, and the figure disappears. When he comes back home telling Ellen there was nothing there, we see the numbers 9 and 27 outlined on the door in rainwater.
- A dolphin swims through cold waters wondering where its mate and child have gone. In a pub on the Faroe Islands, Dane Dorrance of the Sea Devils meets with a man named Jóannes, who is a fellow environmentalist. They are recognized by the locals who start a fight with them, a fight that is suddenly stopped by the appearance of Animal Man, and his creative use of a shrimp’s sonic blasts. The next day we learn that Buddy has joined Dane to help stop a traditional dolphin slaughter. Apparently large numbers of dolphins show up off the islands every year at this time, and the men herd them towards the shore where locals hack them to bits in an orgy of violence (it’s hard to believe, but some Googling confirms that this is a thing). Buddy dives with the men, and they connect with Dolphin (just before she started to become a regular in Aquaman’s series, which I wrote about here). The dolphin from the first page continues to mourn its missing family, and to lament the violence that people do. Early morning, everyone prepares for the grind (what they call the dolphin slaughter). Buddy dives into the ocean to be with Dolphin, hoping to warn the dolphins away, while the men in the boats decide that if they hurt one, the others won’t leave her. They harpoon a dolphin, causing Buddy to rock their boat. We recognize the dolphin that we keep seeing as it finds its dying mate. The people on the shore move to start hacking into the dolphins that have been led towards them, but Dane shows up on a rocky outcrop with a machine gun and threatens to shoot them. The main dolphin killer, Ongur, stands in the surf stabbing a young dolphin maniacally, until Buddy grabs him and flies up into the air with him. Angry, Buddy drops him into the ocean. Later, Buddy and the others talk about how pleased they are with what they’ve done, even if they’ve broken a bunch of laws, while Dolphin swims off with some dolphins. Buddy admits he lost his temper, but seems fine with probably killing Ongur (which really doesn’t fit with his character). Our narrator dolphin comes across Ongur flailing in the ocean and recognizes him as the man who killed his or her family; the dolphin leads him to shore, commenting on how man’s way is not the same as the dolphin’s.
- Somewhere in France, a man is very happy to learn that another man’s watch has stopped. Ellen receives notification that her book is going to be published, and Buddy decides to take her to Paris for a celebration. Sue Dibny, at the JLE’s headquarters, is puzzled by reports that clocks around Paris are stopping, and she tells her husband, the Elongated Man about it. The Bakers teleport into the JLE embassy, where Ellen sits on Metamorpho, who is shaped like a chair. Buddy introduces Ellen to his strange colleagues. The clock guy feels like his pieces are coming back together, and finds his Time Commander gear in a train station locker. Buddy and Ellen walk along the Seine, and talk about how Ellen blacked out after the aliens took him away, and how their life is going well. They turn a corner and find a tyrannosaurus rex wrecking things. Buddy takes the dinosaur down just as the JLE arrives. It seems like time has gone wild around the city, and they want Buddy to come help them, suspecting it is the Time Commander who is responsible. The TC is at a cemetery looking at his future, knocked out, self, and talks to a widow about how he is falling off the wild horse of time, but wants to use his powers to do great things. He starts to make people young again, and to bring back the dead, but then the JLE arrive. He evades Metamorpho’s jail cell, ages Rocket Red’s armor, sending him falling onto the Elongated Man, and then traps Metamorpho in an hourglass. Buddy doesn’t really do much, saying that he doesn’t enjoy fighting (which is a contrast to his actions last issue). Time Commander starts to talk to him, but then Metamorpho breaks TC’s hourglass and punches him out, causing all the returned dead to disappear. Later, Buddy and Ellen enjoy dinner in a fine restaurant, and we see that that Lennox guy from a couple issues back is sitting outside the restaurant in a car, taking notes.
- Lennox has gone to Glasgow to meet the Mirror Master. MM is annoyed that Lennox has been given the Animal Man job, and is pretty adversarial, while Lennox just wants a description of the layout of the Baker house. In California, a group of masked activists break into an animal research lab; Buddy is helping them, and punches through a wall. They find a bunch of monkeys with their eyes sewn shut and free them. We learn that the activists have places where they can leave the monkeys to be safe; one of the activists douses the lab in gasoline, and against Buddy’s light protest, they torch it. James Highwater is driving and thinking about the suffering of the world and why he needs to find Animal Man when his hands and forearms turn into a penciller’s thumbnail of hands and forearms momentarily. Buddy finds Cliff eating a hamburger and they talk about how consumption of meat damages the planet, and how Buddy wants Cliff to make good choices. When Mirror Master refuses to help Lennox, he tries to shoot him in the back, but instead finds himself trapped in one of McCullough’s mirrors. Ellen hangs laundry and Buddy notices she has a black version of his costume that he hasn’t seen in years. She tells him that three firemen were hurt at the animal lab fire. She is not happy about his involvement in this, and tells him Roger wants to see him. Buddy and Roger chat at the place where Buddy got his powers. Roger talks about how much fun it used to be when they were younger, before Buddy got so preachy, and he quits as his manager. Buddy admits he is thinking about quitting being Animal Man. Later, in costume, Buddy is on a debate show on TV, debating the ethics of animal testing, but gets baited into a rant where he admits that he makes mistakes and doesn’t want to be a role model for others. Mirror Master basically tells Lennox off, in a scene that feels pretty drawn out. Buddy tells the animal activist guy that he’s quitting being Animal Man, and resigned from the JLE. He flies home to find the kids and Ellen waiting in the yard. Ellen tells him to hurry into the house, where Highwater is lying on the floor, his bottom half fading into rough sketching, asking for help.
- Tricia and Roger try to talk to Buddy; it’s clear that something awful has happened. Two days earlier, Maxine has a feeling that Highwater is going to take Buddy away and the kids won’t see him again. Buddy talks to Highwater, whose legs have recovered and returned to normal. Highwater tells him that he has comic book pictures of Buddy that he found at Arkham, but when he takes them from his pocket, they have become a map showing a place in Arizona. Highwater wants to follow the map. Buddy talks briefly to Ellen about how he feels that the answers to all his questions wait there. Buddy and Highwater arrive on top of a mesa, where they find peyote buttons. After sitting around for a while waiting for something to happen, they decide to take the peyote (although Highwater is a little reluctant to do so without an attending ceremony). Things get pretty Grant Morrison when the drugs take effect, and celestial fireworks go off around them. Foxy, a ghost-animal messenger shows up and connects Buddy to the morphogenetic field. Highwater explains it as the source of Buddy’s powers, and Buddy understands how his powers work. Foxy shows him some wall paintings that tell of the past, and Buddy recognizes the Crisis on it. He also sees a second Crisis coming, and three spirits talk about the arrival of “Purification Day”. Highwater looks up and sees an eagle as big as the world. Later, they think their trip is over, but Foxy tells them it was just beginning. Ellen answers the door and finds Lennox standing there.
- An opening page shows someone writing at a computer and recapping the story. Buddy and Highwater, still on their peyote trip, see the skies turn red. Buddy falls from the mesa and sees himself in front of a gigantic whale. We get his standard origin story, as he falls into a puddle of blood, and is confronted by the pre-Crisis version of himself, who accuses him of taking his place. He talks about how ‘they’ control their lives, and when our Buddy asks who ‘they’ are, he turns towards the reader, and actually sees me/you/us. He starts freaking out, but Highwater calms him down. They sit on the mesa, which is now surrounded by water, and talk about the nature of god. Buddy begins to think he’s just a character. As proof, he talks about some of the odd things that have happened to him, like how the hunters that almost raped Ellen were never given a trial, or how he didn’t understand the aliens in Africa, or how Ellen doesn’t know what happened when he disappeared. Highwater starts talking about Bohm’s theory of the implicate order, but as he explains, they, and their island, get swallowed by a giant whale. Foxy, who wasn’t there before, tells Buddy that truth has a cost, and then he grows bigger and is somehow outside the panels on the page. Highwater is visited by his eagle totem, who convinces him to jump off the mesa (they are back on dry land now). He jumps and appears to kill himself, but then he wakes up laughing, and realizes that his trip is over. He and Buddy talk about how they feel, and Highwater understands the nature of Buddy’s powers – that he is connected to the morphogenetic field and doesn’t need to be close to an animal to borrow its abilities. Buddy flies home, and upon entering his house, finds his family shot dead in the kitchen.
- Buddy dreams of Ellen waking him up, but in reality, she and his children are dead, and Buddy is sitting on his kitchen floor being cared for by Roger and Tricia. We see flashes throughout the issue, suggesting that Buddy is in and out of awareness of what’s going on around him. The Weidemeirs also help out. Lennox reports to his three bosses in the government (they spend their days sitting on top of a large dias), and admits he’s worried about Buddy coming after him. They show him a large robot or suit of armor they call Bug-Man. The Psycho-Pirate rants in Arkham, yelling about how the dead are all coming back. Buddy continues to grieve, and appears lost at his family’s funeral. He speaks to J’onn J’onzz for a bit about going on leave from the JLE. Later, a detective talks to Buddy about how a moving van was seen outside his house, and how he thinks the killer hacked Buddy’s transportation tube. Lennox is still (days later?) at the government office, and is shown the various capabilities of the Bug-Man armor (this is confirmed now), including flamethrowers, strength, various imaging options, and needles that inject nerve agents or acid. Buddy considers taking sleeping pills to end his pain, and bashes his head into the bathroom mirror. Just as he is about to take the pills, the phone rings and the person on the other end says he or she has names he’d be interested in hearing. This gets Buddy’s attention.
- Buddy cuts his hair and dresses all in black. Mirror Master has come to help him gain revenge, and explains that the three men on the dais we’ve seen before don’t actually work for the government (I just assumed that because of the seal behind their dais). They are corporate types who don’t like how environmentalists cost them money. McCulloch (the Mirror Master) refused to kill for them, so they hired Lennox, who is also known as the White Owl. Buddy uses his powers of smell to recreate the murder of his family, and tells McCulloch he’s going to kill everyone responsible. One of the three guys is alone on his sailboat. Buddy pulls him overboard and holds him until he drowns. Lennox is worried that the JLE is after him and makes arrangements to see one of his bosses. The second rich guy is playing golf when Buddy pulls him under ground and buries him alive. The third guy, Brumley, is with Lennox at the top of his office tower, protected by the Bug-Man armor. Buddy and McCulloch walk down the street; Buddy sends some money to Greenpeace and makes reference to the fact that they are all just characters in a bad story, which is why it’s okay for him to murder these men. They surprise Brumley in the executive washroom (where McCulloch’s stashed one of his mirrors). McCulloch extorts a big cheque from the scared buy, and then has him write one for Greenpeace. The Bug-Man armor arrives to help, and McCulloch blasts it with one of his mirror guns, rendering it useless. Brumley gets into the elevator, but Buddy punches it right out of the building. He then starts hunting Lennox, following the smell of his aftershave. When he finds him, Lennox is wearing another suit of Bug-Man armor, and as they start to fight, gains the upper hand. Buddy, burnt on the back, uses the reactions of a fly to avoid some acid, and then shocks the armor. Worrying that Lennox is going to die, he pulls out a clawed glove from his jacket and sets to work. Later, McCulloch comes to him. Lennox’s parts are strewn about the room, and Buddy says he feels nothing. He tells McCulloch he needs a time machine to fix everything.
- Buddy goes to visit the Time Commander in prison, but he can’t help him. Next, he goes with Booster Gold to see Rip Hunter and the Time Masters, looking to borrow a time machine. Hunter isn’t going to help him, but then Buddy lies and tells him that he needs it to stop the Time Commander and the Lord of Time from destroying the Justice League. Hunter gives Buddy a time backpack, but it’s one that has been damaged. Rip feels like he’s met Buddy before, and Booster is surprised that Buddy lied. At Arkham, the Psycho Pirate continues to suffer, and speaks directly to the reader. Some psychedelic lights come out of his head and end up a puddle on the floor, from which he pulls the classic Flash comic where Barry Allen first meets Jay Garrick. Buddy returns to his kitchen and turns on the time backpack, which feels very strange. He finds himself outside of his house, and we revisit all of the times that a shadowy figure has been seen haunting the Bakers, and we realize that it was Buddy all along. He is frustrated to learn that he can’t influence events at all, as the damaged backpack didn’t travel back in time with him. He spends days getting over seeing his family again, and trying to contact him. He manages to move a jar of Ellen’s, and is able to contact Cliff through a ouija board, but his warning (9 27 refers to the date that Lennox will kill them) goes misunderstood. When he finally stands before himself in the rain, and recognizes himself, he is pulled back to his childhood, where Kid Buddy almost hits him in the street with his bike. Stuck further back in time, Buddy doesn’t know what to do, and sits in a park where he is spoken to by the Phantom Stranger. The last page is labelled a prologue. It shows the two yellow aliens visiting Highwater telling him that the time that was foretold is coming soon. Psycho Pirate has manifested a stack of comic books and an Ultraman poster; psychedelic lights come out of his head and brighten the skies around Arkham. He yells that, “They’re coming!”
- The Psycho-Pirate puts on his mask while talking about how everyone is back for the big finale, directly addressing the reader, who he can see. As he walks through Arkham, he sees a ghostly Owlman and Streaky the cat; Scarecrow tries to talk him into freeing him, but the Pirate declines, instead using his powers to make the man happy. He finds some members of the Crime Syndicate of America and other characters that were erased during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. He explains that all the erased characters have been living in his head. Outside the Asylum, the yellow aliens arrive with Highwater and talk about how they need to fix the continuum without Animal Man. Buddy, meanwhile, is in the sixties, walking around with the Phantom Stranger. He’s taken to a meeting of immortals, where he meets the Immortal Man and Jason Blood (Vandal Savage skipped out). Buddy is welcomed into their regular meeting. More characters wander around Arkham, while Ultraman insists the Psycho-Pirate explain more. He starts spitting out more characters. Buddy tells the immortals a little about the future, and how he doesn’t see any point in returning to the future without his family. Buddy gets upset when Blood kills a butterfly, but Blood explains that once something dies, it has moved on, and that the living must find a way to continue. More characters introduce themselves to the Psycho-Pirate, including a black afroed Superman, who I think Morrison brought back in Final Crisis or Multiplicity. Psycho-Pirate feels good about his work, but then starts to fade out. The Immortal Man talks about what he knows of life, and tells Buddy to choose between living again or staying on the side of death. Buddy thinks about all the good he can do for the Earth, and then fades out, returning to the present. Highwater walks through Arkham with one of the aliens (the other returned to the Baker home), and they see that things are getting more and more chaotic. Psycho-Pirate begins to worry about one world, apparently inspired by Alan Moore’s Miracleman, where the Superman figure, Overman, went full Johnny Bates and destroyed everything. Psycho-Pirate thinks he managed to keep this character in his head, but we see that he’s in Arkham, and he’s holding a nuclear bomb. The alien leads Highwater into the main room, where Psycho-Pirate, now completely transparent, talks to the Crime Syndicate about how they should seek revenge on the readers; he talks about how they are caged in panels. Ultraman pushes against a panel border and breaks through onto the white page. This freaks out the alien, just as Overman shows up with his bomb, and Psycho-Pirate warns the reader he’s coming to get him. Just then, the other alien arrives with Buddy.
- Issue twenty-four opens with panel descriptions that make it clear that someone is writing the story we are reading, and that Psycho-Pirate knows it. In Arkham, Buddy, the aliens, Highwater, and Ultraman are looking at the hole in the panel that Ultraman made. Buddy sees the faces of his readers through it, and remembers looking into the whiteness of the page before. As everyone starts to debate Highwater’s theory that they are all minor characters, Overman shows up with his doomsday bomb. He turns it on, and Ultraman attacks him, with some assistance from Streaky. Once those two are down, Bizarro shows up and begins to fight Overman. Highwater looks through some of the comics lying around and realizes that they structure the universe, and that every time they are read, the characters live again. Buddy dives into the space beyond the panels, and moving around pictures of Overman and Bizarro fighting, has some influence on things. Highwater talks to Psycho-Pirate about what happened during the Crisis, and how all these characters came into the Pirate’s head. Overman grabs Buddy back into their reality and begins to beat on him. Buddy drags him out of the panel, where a shadow talks about how the creators aren’t real either. Buddy traps Overman in a shrinking panel, making him disappear. Highwater speaks to the various characters, explaining why they have no control over their lives. Ultraman doesn’t like it, but Highwater talks about how they can all outlive their gods; Power Ring decides he’s had enough of this darker world, and collapses in a cascade of coloured rectangles. The rest of the characters do the same. Psycho-Pirate, who continues to fade out, points out that the Doomsday bomb is still counting down, while Highwater realizes that all the characters have gone into the Pirate’s Medusa Mask. One of the aliens suggests that Highwater wear the mask, and stand as guardian for the realities now living within it. Psycho-Pirate is the only one concerned about the bomb, as the aliens debate whether it’s a plot point or a metaphor. Buddy arrives and simply shuts the bomb off. Later, outside the Asylum, the aliens talk about how the continuum is fixed, and that this was a foretaste of Purification Day, which is yet to come. The Psycho-Pirate finally fades away, talking about how nice it was to see all the original characters one last time. Later, in the asylum, we see Highwater sitting in a cell, the mask fused to his face. He seems content. Buddy has returned home with the aliens, and has put on his original costume again. Buddy asks the aliens about being a character in a story, and who gets to write all the tragedy he’s suffered into his life. The aliens fade away, but Buddy hears a voice telling him it’s time to go for his last adventure. When he opens his front door, he sees that his house is in an old cemetery.
- A monkey sits under a tree typing away happily. Buddy looks out on the cemetery, and we see that the monkey’s tree is in the distance. He says goodbye to his pets and heads out into the misty cemetery, which has monuments to various extinct animals. He meets a man in a jester’s outfit who calls himself Merryman. He explains that they are in Limbo, the place where characters go when they aren’t written about anymore. He introduces Buddy to his friends, the Inferior Five. The monkey starts writing the script to Animal Man #25 but grimaces and collapses. One of the Inferior Five talks about how the monkey is sick; they explain to Buddy that it writes and they all hope it will write them out of Limbo one day. Merryman suggests that Buddy wants to go to The City of Formation if he’s hoping to meet the writer who killed his family. They go through a village of forgotten characters, such as the Space Canine Patrol. We see hands typing on a computer, writing about how he or she cares about these characters. Merryman shows Buddy some other more recognizable characters, such as Jemm, Max Mercury (before he was used by Mark Waid), and DC’s Hercules. Buddy meets The Gay Ghost, who is hoping he won’t be revived. Merryman brings him the dying monkey, and Buddy heads out towards the city. He walks for five years through a wasteland. Along the way, he meets characters like The Red Bee, who he gives his jacket, and after walking through ice fields, Mister Freeze, who doesn’t believe he belongs in Limbo. Buddy crosses a lava field, and comes across Nightmaster, who tells him he’s heading in the wrong direction. Buddy discovers his own house, and the skeletons of his dead pets. He realizes that the monkey has also died, and doesn’t know what to do. He pries the script to this comic from the monkey’s paw, and tries to not follow what the script tells him to do, but does it anyway. He cuts a paper key from the paper, and uses it to enter a different world, where things are quiet and empty. He comes to a house where he meets Grant, who invites him in.
- Grant Morrison’s final issue is incredibly unusual, starting from the textpiece inside the front cover where editor Art Young takes the time to explain that the series is not ending with Grant’s departure. The story opens with Buddy entering Grant’s home. Buddy is in colour, but everything else is in greyscale. Grant explains that he is Buddy’s writer, although he didn’t create him. He demonstrates his power by having Buddy react violently to this news, which is out of his character. He shows Buddy some Animal Man comics, to help him understand, and explains that he killed his family as a way of adding drama to the story. He talks about his dead cat, Jarmara, and how that death is more meaningful because there is no one to blame for it. There’s a small plug for Doom Patrol (this is when Morrison was writing that book too), and Grant points out that Buddy is very different when he’s with the Justice League because that book is written by someone else. They go for a walk, and Grant talks about how he’s not sure what he wants to get out of meeting Buddy. He creates some superheroes and blows them up, and then as they talk, all sorts of crazy (and colourful) things happen in the background. Buddy argues that Grant has not done a good job writing this book, as Buddy has not had any real connection with the events he’s gone through, nor much agency over them. Grant then mentions that there’s going to be a new writer soon, and again talks about how anticlimactic his last issue has become. He suggests that Buddy is only a vegetarian because it is Grant who cares about animal rights. Buddy asks him to bring his family back, but Grant denies him, for reasons of realism. Grant decides that it’s time for a fight scene, and dredges up The Shark and a guy named Slaughterhouse to fight him. While the fight goes on in the background, Grant takes time to thank his editors, collaborators, and readers for supporting the book. Buddy is close to death as Grant shares the address for PETA, and then restores Buddy to full health. He talks again about his cat, and then questions why people want to read about blood and torture so much. Reaching the end of his story, he tells Buddy to go home and fades out. Buddy sits on the ground, but then finds himself sitting on his couch at home. The doorbell rings, and he finds Ellen, Cliff, and Maxine outside, healthy and back to normal. We see Grant write this scene, and then think about how as a child he used to signal to his imaginary friend Foxy.
It’s hard to criticize this run immediately after reading Grant Morrison himself criticizing it as he appears in the comic itself. This is Morrison’s first sustained American run, and his ambitions for it were great, and therefore forgivable for falling a little short, at least by today’s standards. I remember finding this run pretty groundbreaking when it first came out, especially the last arc, but its level of meta-commentary has been done since, and now it feels a little unclear and clunky.
Still, there is so much here that’s admirable. While it wasn’t a consistent focus, the discussion of animal rights was important, as was the more mature take on superheroes and their role in society. At the same time, issues like the dolphin slaughter one were unmoored from the rest of the run, and didn’t always portray Buddy’s character in a consistent way (which, I guess, was explained away by issue twenty-six).
One thing that struck me almost from the beginning of this run was the way in which Morrison used it to explore the aftermath of the Crisis, and begin to work on ideas that he would revisit later in Final Crisis and Multiplicity. Unlike his Doom Patrol, this can be viewed as an early artist’s statement on how Morrison wanted the DCU portrayed. His sheer love for comics comes through in every issue, as does his interest in the metaphysical. Was Buddy the first superhero to trip on peyote? I feel like he probably was.
It’s hard to imagine that DC’s editorial offices ever expected Animal Man to be the coda to Crisis on Infinite Earths, but the storyline with the Psycho-Pirate was basically that. I’m curious to know how the Pirate was brought back; I’m pretty sure we never saw James Highwater again, and I’m still not all that sure where he came from.
I was surprised to see that Buddy’s family was not more developed than I remembered. Maxine is non-existent as a character here, and Cliff is basically Bart Simpson, complete with the terrible haircut. I remembered being shocked and disturbed by the murder of Buddy’s family when I first read these comics, but this time around, I was very aware of how little time I’d been given to care about these characters (unlike during Jamie Delano’s run, when I started to think of them as real people). It worked, but with more investment in the kids earlier, it would have been a lot more powerful.
I found it odd that we never really learned the truth behind the two yellow aliens. I guess they were just story mechanisms for Morrison to use, but still, I would have thought that an editor would have insisted on giving them a little clarity.
Chas Truog’s art was a little rough in places, but it grew on me throughout the run, to the effect that on the issues he was away for, I really missed his approach. The book has a definite late 80s feel to it, and a lot of that is down to Truog’s eye for haircuts and fashion.
One of the best and most memorable things about this run is the wonderful cover art by Brian Bolland. He’s always been one of the all-time great cover artists, and his work on this series is just wonderful. I wish this article was long enough to showcase each issue, and if you aren’t familiar with them, I urge you to check them out.
After Morrison left, Peter Milligan, whose Shade the Changing Man was impressing me at the time, took over for a short arc. That’s what we’ll talk about next time.
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.
If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you can follow these links for trade paperbacks that encompass some of these issues.
Animal Man by Grant Morrison Book One 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Animal Man, Book 1 – Animal Man
Animal Man, Book 2 – Origin of the Species
Animal Man, Book 3 – Deus Ex Machina
The Animal Man Omnibus
Tags: Animal Man, DC Comics, Retro Reviews