Retro Review: Animal Man #27-32 By Milligan, Truog & Others For DC Comics

Animal Man #27-32 (September 1990 – February 1991)

Written by Peter Milligan (#27-32)

Pencils by Chas Truog (#27-28, 30-32), Steve Dillon (#29)

Inks by Mark Farmer (#27-28, 30-31), Steve Dillon (#29), Chas Truog (#32)

Coloured by Tatjana Wood (#27-32)

Spoilers (from twenty-seven to twenty-eight years ago)

After Grant Morrison left Animal Man, I dropped the book.  I saw that Peter Milligan was coming onboard as the new writer, and I just wasn’t interested.  I’m not sure why – at the time I was becoming aware of just how good his Shade the Changing Man was, and hadn’t yet been burned by some of his more mainstream work.  I think I just didn’t have the cash at the time, and then had never heard enough good stuff about the book to make me change my mind.

Recently, I picked up this whole run for a very low price, and figured it was worth getting for the Brian Bolland covers alone.  So, after a strange and boundary-pushing run like Grant Morrison’s, what should the follow-up writer do? Take the book in a new direction?  Double down on the stuff the previous writer was doing, and make things even weirder? Acknowledge the fact that an up-and-coming comics writer appeared in his own series, or just ignore it?  I don’t know what Milligan did, and now we can find out together…

Let’s look at who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • The Front Page (#28)
  • The Notional Man (#28-29)
  • Lucinda Angel (Angel Mob; #30-32)
  • Mark Angel (Angel Mob; #30-31)
  • Matthew Angel (Angel Mob; #31)

Guest Stars

  • Nowhere Man (#28-32)
  • Freedom Beast (#31)
  • The Green Cigarette (#31)

Supporting Characters

  • Ellen Baker (Buddy’s wife; #27-32)
  • Cliff Baker (Buddy’s son; #27, 29-32)
  • Maxine Baker (Buddy’s daughter; #27, 29-32)
  • President Eagleton (#30-32)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • Milligan opens with Buddy in a coma in the hospital, where he’s been for three months.  He dreams of being a horse on an African savannah, that gets attacked and eaten by a tiger.  He wakes up in the hospital, says the word “buttocks” and scares a nearby nurse. A doctor arrives, explaining that he was found unconscious in the streets; the doctor is strangely very dismissive of Buddy, speaking to him like he’s a child.  Ellen visits later, and Buddy is surprised to see that she’s changed her appearance and is smoking. She claims she’s smoked for years, ever since her mother died, but Buddy remembers speaking to her mother just before his accident. Ellen seems very short-tempered.  Later, Buddy returns home and while Cliff is happy to see him, Maxine refuses to speak to him. Ellen gives him the cold shoulder in bed, and he feels very out of place. When he practises flying, he crashes into the house, and when he tries to go into the bathroom, he sees a lush jungle scene.  Ellen explains that she has friends coming over who she wants to impress, and that she is worried about Buddy’s behaviour. While thinking about how life has changed, Buddy absentmindedly marks his territory by urinating all over the front walk, which infuriates Ellen. Buddy is surprised that he acted this way, and then absentmindedly catches a bird.  When Ellen’s friends arrive, Buddy sniffs at the woman like a dog, terrifying her, and Ellen sends him away. That night he sleeps on the couch. Maxine creeps down at one point and finds him gone. Instead, there is a simian figure sitting in a chair (we’ve seen it looking over Buddy’s shoulder before); Maxine asks it if it’s going to make her father himself again.  Buddy has flown to the zoo, wearing only his underwear, and is standing next to an ostrich when he is found by a pair of police. He starts to run from them, and then is wrapped up in a vision of an ape-man beating a pair of warthogs. He snaps back to reality and finds he’s beaten the cops. The next day, Buddy arrives at an animal rights rally where he is expected to speak.  We learn that that morning he’d regurgitated his breakfast to feed it to his kids. There’s a large crowd at the rally, and an officer on horseback offers to escort him through it. The horse panics at the sight of Buddy, and he chases it, and confusing himself with the tiger in his vision before, he ends up biting into its neck and beginning to eat it in front of the whole crowd.
  • A new character called Nowhere Man, who is made up of various sections of floating body parts (he’s described as molecularly displaced), watches footage of Buddy attacking the horse while narrating with a very self-consciously William S. Burroughs style.  He’s in a hotel living large on the CIA’s dime, and his appearance scares a prostitute he’s called to his room. Buddy tries to explain himself to a police officer, who lets him go because the CIA has expressed interest in his being free. Buddy wanders around trying to figure out what’s going on in his life, when he sees a newspaper headline that references Marvin Gaye still being alive; Buddy now thinks that the whole world is not right.  Nowhere Man is supposed to be tracking down triplet murderers called The Angel Mob, but instead reads more Burroughs and waits for Animal Man. Buddy does some research to learn just how different the world is (Hitler lived to stand trial at Nuremberg, for one example), then heads home to find Ellen “entertaining” another man. She tells him that their marriage has been dead for a while, and Buddy goes a little primate, basically mounting Mike in the bedroom.  Buddy thinks that because Mike submitted, Ellen will be his again. Nowhere Man walks into the room, confusing everyone, and stops Buddy from beating on Mike again when Ellen tells him she wants a divorce. Nowhere Man takes Buddy to a bar, where he tells him he’s needed to help guard the President. Nowhere Man tells his life story, about how when his sexually controlling mother kept him from exploring his puberty, he became molecularly displaced and ended up working in a freak show.  After the guy that ran the circus, and the lizard woman he was sleeping with, died, he left and became a superhero alongside The Front Page and The Notional Man, who he ended up betraying after they entered the porn industry (Milligan is trying way too hard to be Doom Patrol Morrison here, I feel). These two weird heroes (Front Page is made of newspaper headlines, and Notional Man is hard to find) attack, and Buddy decides to leave, but then feels he has to help his new acquaintance. Buddy goes all primate again and ends up killing Front Page.  Since Buddy can’t go home (the babysitter says she’ll call the police if he comes by), Buddy and Nowhere Man head to a nightclub. We learn that first they tried to wash the incriminating headlines off of Front Page, and when that didn’t work, they tattooed all his ink, and dumped him at a hospital. Buddy spots the Notional Man out of the corner of his eye, and tries to follow him; too late he realizes that he’d left a bomb in the club, and heads back in just as it explodes.
  • Half of issue twenty-nine is narrated by the Notional Man, who overextends a pregnancy metaphor to a ridiculous level.  Buddy has survived the explosion, although he feels responsible for the death of a woman. Nowhere Man has also survived, and he convinces the vengeful Buddy to return to his hotel with him.  The next day, he refuses to meet with the CIA, and when he phones Ellen, he learns she’s gotten a court order to keep him away from their kids until after their divorce is finalized. Buddy instead goes to school and picks up Cliff (literally, through a window) and Maxine.  When a security guard tries to get him to go to the office, he threatens him. A CIA guy tells Nowhere Man that without Buddy, he won’t be able to protect the President. Notional Man follows Buddy and the kids as they start driving across the country and staying in motels. At the Grand Canyon, Maxine insists Buddy is not her real father, and reveals that she’s seen the “funny old monkey man” (who showed up at the explosion scene) and the jungle in the bathroom at home.  Buddy calls Ellen to tell her that the kids are fine, but then he spies a guy talking to the kids and overreacts again, turning animalistic. Notional Man continues to track them, and to overwrite his narration. Buddy, while driving, sees the monkey guy, writhing in agony in the highway. He touches him and has his senses overloaded, before the guy just disappears. Buddy rests at a hotel, and when he hears a knock on the door, is surprised to see that Maxine has vanished, but then remembers how the Notional Man’s powers operate.  He flies off and finds her in his car, at the edge of a great cliff, with the Notional Man holding the car in place. He directs Buddy to start performing surgery on himself in order to save Maxine’s life. Buddy throws a tool at him, and he lets go of the car. Buddy grabs it, but the bumper falls off, and the car drops over the cliff and explodes. He starts to fight the Notional Man, then uses his powers to confuse him with animal love (I don’t get it either) before tapping into his primate savagery and killing him. Buddy is happy to see Maxine sitting on a ledge and climbs down to get her.  Maxine now says she might like Buddy better than her “old daddy.” After renting a new car and getting ready to drive home, Buddy stops to pray in a church (as he’d promised to do when he prayed while looking for Maxine). He sees blood dripping from an organic ceiling, and then a figure falls through the stained glass window; it’s Buddy, in uniform, lying in front of him.
  • As Buddy looks over his own corpse, he watches a maggot crawl out of his other eye, and turn into a monkey man in a suit, who is now presiding over Buddy’s wedding to a woman with a clock for a face.  He runs out of the church to find Nowhere Man and two CIA agents waiting for him. They explain that Lucinda, one of the Angel Mob is using her telepathic powers to mess with Buddy, and it was she who made him see the things in the church.  Cliff interrupts Buddy, who has actually been talking to himself, but at that time, Nowhere Men and two CIA agents approach and confirm what just happened in Buddy’s visions. We learn that Batman tried to stop the Angel Mob and has been out of action for months because of it.  Cliff wants to go home to his mother, so the CIA guys take the kids, while Buddy tries to figure out if Lucinda is behind everything that has been happening with him. Later, the CIA guys explain that weirder, less effective heroes have done better against the Angel Mob, who are just children.  Buddy goes to his house and enters the jungle in the bathroom. While there, he sees one of the monkey men trapped like before, the corpses of a couple more, and a sign made of vines that reads “Stay there Buddy, back soon, PS: careful danger”. He tries to talk to the monkey man, but is attacked by a tiger.  The tiger actually goes for a primate child, and Buddy stops it. Its mother is thankful, and they begin to communicate when her mate shows up and Buddy retreats back into his house. Once there, Ellen holds a rifle on him As it turns out, Ellen is really Lucinda, who he tries to convince to explain everything that’s going on.  She says she will if he kisses her, and as he is about to, Ellen finds him talking to nothing. She wants Buddy to leave. Later, on a plane, the CIA guys brief Buddy on the three Angel Mob kids – Lucinda, Matthew, and Mark. Later, he meets the President (Eagleton, not Bush, whoever that is), and acts oddly around him. Nowhere Man and Buddy ride in the President’s motorcade through San Francisco, when Buddy notices that Lucinda is giving him visions again.  The President’s car swerves, and Buddy flies up, finding Mark Angel, the telekinetic. Mark breaks a skylight into shards, and sends them flying at Buddy. We see him fall off a roof and fall to the ground, with a large shard sticking out of his chest. His head is bleeding, and he appears to be dead.
  • Buddy is dead, and Nowhere Man is upset about this.  The CIA guy tells him that he needs to get a new partner, regardless of how he feels.  The Angel kids are divided on Buddy’s death, with Lucinda very upset about it. Later, we see Buddy’s funeral, which is attended by his family and Freedom Beast.  Nowhere Man pays his condolences and learns that Maxine can see the jungle in her bathroom. He meets his new partner, the Green Cigarette. Later, at the Baker house, Nowhere Man has a chat with Cliff and then gets Maxine to show him the jungle in the bathroom.  He enters it and finds himself attacked by a tiger, and then saved by Buddy, who is not dead, but has a beard. Lucinda is upset with how things turned out, and is starting to feel the need to move in another direction from her siblings. Buddy and Nowhere Man talk – Buddy’s figured out that he’s some two million years in the past, when humanity’s ancestors first came down out of the trees, and that he needs to help the one monkey-man who is still stuck in a glowing rectangle.  He also claims that there are a lot of real Buddy’s, but can’t really explain. They head back into Buddy’s house, although Buddy has to hide from his family. Buddy has a plan to help Nowhere Man guard the President from behind the scenes. In LA, the Angel Mob attack and abduct the President, with Buddy giving chase. They drop the President on Nowhere Man and Green Cigarette, and when the Angel Mob mess with the low-rent heroes, Buddy shows up and tells them to cut it out. Lucinda listens to Buddy and agrees to meet him later, and she allows them to leave with the President.  Later, Buddy explains to the President that he can get Lucinda to leave him alone, but that the President needs to promise to pardon the kids and get them help. Buddy meets with Lucinda and asks her for a favor; in return she agrees to get her brothers to turn themselves in with her. She trusts Buddy because she can read his mind. When he meets with the Mob, Buddy is betrayed by the government, who use their anti-telepath techniques to tranquilize and capture the kids. Buddy yells at the President (who is there for some reason), and the President reminds him that politicians lie.
  • The President tells Buddy that he’s going to have him dissected, and Buddy slips back into his primate self and kills the man.  He escapes, but in doing so, flies into a wall and blacks out. He wakes up in Nowhere Man’s hotel room, and they have a long expositive conversation about how the portal into the jungle in the bathroom was made by people far into the future who had discovered time travel and went back to the beginning of humanity, only to be chased away by the monkey-men.  The one monkey-man got stuck in the time portal; he is an ancestor of Buddy’s, which is why they have been connected. The conversation moves to Buddy talking about quantum mechanics, Schrödinger’s Cat, superposition, the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Many Worlds Theory, pizza that maybe has hot peppers on it, and some other stuff. Basically, Buddy’s figured out that all Buddy’s across the multiverse have gotten stuck in the wrong timelines, and that is how he is both dead and not dead in the wrong reality where his wife doesn’t love him.  It’s confusing, and Nowhere Man’s dialogue is annoying. Also, Buddy is not wearing pants. Buddy has figured out how to fix things. Lucinda communicates with them through their pizza toppings, so they go and find her. She is hooked up to machines, and her siblings have been turned into vegetables. She wants Buddy to help her die, and in return, she plants a psychic trigger in him that will help him return to his own world. He unhooks her machines, she talks to Nowhere Man for a bit, fixing his annoying speech patterns, and after the two men have left, the facility blows up.  Buddy says goodbye to Nowhere Man and returns to his bathroom. He pulls his ancestor out of the time portal, which kills him. Buddy climbs to a high waterfall and jumps, refusing to fly so he’ll die. At that point he wakes up in the hospital, the psychic trigger works somehow, and he’s back in his own body and world. Ellen and the kids are happy to see him, and things end happily ever after.

I think my initial instincts, which told me not to get this run when it came out, were right.  By the end, this wasn’t a terrible set of comics, but it was pretty weird, annoying, and unnecessary.  Just after Grant Morrison took Buddy’s family away from him, it’s weird that the next writer would essentially do the same thing, but with a twist on it.

These comics did not come with a “suggested for mature readers” tag, yet they were so very different from anything else on the stands.  I think that the freedom Milligan was given in writing this run went to his head, as he decided to pepper Nowhere Man’s speech with innuendo, and generally write a mature comic that centred on confusing physics.  The thing is, as he was trying to find ways to weird it all up, he wasn’t taking the time to make sure that the storytelling was compelling. More than once it felt like he was trying to duplicate the cool stuff that Grant Morrison was doing in Doom Patrol, only without the guiding principles and character work that made that book so much more effective.

Milligan is the first writer to suggest that there’s more to Maxine than meets the eye, as she’s the one who first recognizes that Buddy has changed, and she is the only other person who can see the jungle in the bathroom.  Later writers built on that.

Truog’s art looks really dated in this run.  Buddy appears to be wearing Zubaz for a few issues, and his mullet looks even more mullet-ty after he emerges from the jungle.  When Truog inked himself on his last issue, his work got a lot more wild. I think it’s also worth acknowledging (which I didn’t do in my last column) that Tatjana Wood coloured every issue of this series to that point, which feels a little remarkable.  Also remarkable is the continued run of Brian Bolland’s thoughtful and bizarre covers.

When Milligan left after just six issues, I jumped back onto the book, excited by Steve Dillon’s clean artwork and the new direction that Tom Veitch took the series.  We’ll talk about that 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 the story, you can follow this link:

Animal Man Vol. 4: Born to be Wild

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