Retro Reviews: Animal Man #33-50 With Veitch, Dillon & Others For DC Comics

Animal Man #33-50 (March 1991 – August 1992)

Written by Tom Veitch (#33-50)

Pencils by  Steve Dillon (#33-38, 40-41, 43, 45, 47-50), Tom Mandrake (#39), David G. Klein (#42), Brett Ewins (#44), Steve Pugh (#46)

Inks by Steve Dillon (#33-38, 40-41, 43, 45, 47-50), Dick Giordano (#39), Mark Badger (#42), Jim McCarthy (#44), Steve Pugh (#46)

Coloured by Tatjana Wood (#33-50)

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

I jumped back onto Animal Man at the start of Tom Veitch and Steve Dillon’s run.  I liked the clean artwork by Dillon (RIP), and wanted to see what was going on with the Baker family again.  I don’t remember a whole lot from this run, except that it was in many ways the most normal of any Animal Man comics, while still pushing the boundaries of what a mainstream, non-mature readers only superhero series could be.

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

Villains

  • Buck Samson/Metaman (STAR Labs; #35-36, 41-43, 47-50)
  • Bear King (#40)
  • Moonlight Jackson (associate of Samson and Stone; #41, 43-44, 48-50)
  • Ex-M Prototypes (#42, 44, 47)
  • The Antagon (#46-50)
  • B’Wana Beast (Mike Maxwell; #47-50)

Guest Stars

  • Phantom Stranger (#40)
  • Dr. Fate (Inza Nelson; #40)
  • Vixen (#44, 48-50)

Supporting Characters

  • All The Animals/Stone/The Stone That Cracked Open The Earth Like An Egg (#33-34, 36-37, 39-41, 43, 46, 48-50)
  • Mister Rainbow/Power of Thought (#33-36, 38, 48, 50)
  • Cliff Baker (Buddy’s son; #33-36, 38-39, 41-42)
  • Ellen Baker (Buddy’s wife; #33-38, 41-50)
  • Maxine Baker (Buddy’s daughter; #33-38, 41-44, 47-50)
  • Travis Cody (#33-39, 41-44, 47-49)
  • Dwayne Brown (game warden; #33-34, 39)
  • Dave (Buddy’s friend/manager; #35, 39)
  • Raney Fox (director; #35, 45, 47-48)
  • Ace (Cliff’s friend; #38-39)
  • Mrs. Frazier (Ellen’s mother; #41-44, 49)
  • Kami (Samson’s assistant; #41-42, 44, 47-48)
  • Uncle Dud (#42)
  • Tristess (Stone’s assistant; #43-44, 48-50)
  • Les Decker (comic editor; #44-45)
  • Arum (Animal Master; #49-50)
  • Krate (Animal Master; #49-50)

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

  • In an old trailer somewhere kind of run-down looking, three men, one of whom we see (he’s an older Native American gentleman) are smashing statues of the yellow aliens and Grant Morrison, talking about how they had their turn.  One man finishes his statue of Animal Man and hands it to the older guy; he says to the statue that he will teach him all the secrets of animals and men. Buddy is back at his film stunt job, driving a Grand Prix off a mountain road right into an oncoming jet, and flying away when they collide and explode.  While doing this, Buddy’s narration assures us that things are more or less back to normal in his life, except he feels like he’s being stalked by something. He also saw a dead eagle the day before. He lands and finds another dead bird, and can’t figure out what killed it. Cliff is with him on the set, and Buddy has him put on a harness before he flies home with him, thinking about America’s history of hunting and killing eagles.  As they get close to home, someone shoots an arrow at them, and when Buddy swoops towards the bowman, he lets off another shot that hits Cliff in his side. Later, at the hospital we see that Cliff is going to be okay. Ellen is annoyed that he was put at risk, but as they drive home, the argument brewing between Buddy and Ellen fizzles out. Buddy sees the guy that shot at Cliff and goes after him. The man, an aging hippy, denies shooting the kid, but says he is an agent of higher powers and that Buddy’s time is up.  There is another dead bird there. Later, Buddy and Ellen talk in bed – the guy, Travis Cody, had a house full of “weird inventions” but no bow and arrow. Buddy and Ellen start to tease each other, but Buddy gets a little aggressive and is sent to sleep on the couch. The next morning Maxine complains that she dreamt she turned into an animal that ate everyone. Buddy has apparently spent half the night looking at a dead hawk, and has learned that all these dead birds were cooked on the inside; he suspects that Travis Cody has a microwave gun.  Cliff says he dreamt Maxine turned into a ferret. Buddy has a message from a game warden who wants to talk to him about dead birds. After Buddy meets up with the guy, Dwayne Brown, he asks him about Cody. We see a glimmering silhouette, Buddy smells ozone, and then a wolverine attacks them. Buddy has to tap into its abilities to kill it, and afterwards, he reveals that his hand, which has grown three claws, won’t revert to normal.
  • Maxine rips up a teddy bear with her teeth and generally acts kind of feral.  Buddy and Dwayne drive and talk about strange it is that Buddy’s hand isn’t fixing itself.  When he gets home, Ellen is surprised by the hand and tells him that Maxine is turning animalistic.  Buddy checks on her, and can tell that she’s connected to his powers somehow. Cliff interrupts them to show them that Travis Cody has nailed a dead owl to the Baker’s front door.  When Buddy gets angry, Maxine starts howling. Later, over dinner, Buddy says a kind of secular grace, and turns down a telephoned invitation from Captain Atom to help earthquake victims in the Middle East.  Buddy is testy, which sets Maxine off a little again, so he heads out. He goes to check out Cody’s place, borrowing some rat power to sneak in. He finds Cody experimenting on some dead birds, and moves to stop him.  Cody brains him with a wrench, knocking him out. Buddy lies in the grass, while elsewhere the old Native guy speaks of how he’s going to learn “the secret ways of eagles”, and we see the glowing silhouette approach and touch Buddy.  When he wakes up, his hand is normal. When he gets home, he finds Maxine playing with a dozen rats in her bed, and when he shuts off his rat powers, she freaks out. Ellen suggests leaving town with Maxine, but Buddy thinks distance won’t change their connection.  Buddy is at Cody’s place when he’s arrested for assault. Cody again claims that he’s working for “higher powers” and that he’s not the threat. The cops and Dwayne praise Buddy, who flies off. As he flies around, he’s attacked by an eagle, which makes him feel ill.  He lashes out and it explodes. He approaches another eagle nest on a cliffside, and when that bird reacts strangely to him, his powers are triggered again, and it and its hatchlings die. Buddy realizes that when he uses his flight powers, birds die, and that he has been the cause of all the bird deaths.  He vows to never fly again (he’s still on a cliffside though).
  • At STAR Labs, Buck Samson talks to someone unseen about how they’ve been working for ten years to “create a mutant” which has left them with a lot of waste that they can’t safely dispose of.  He has a plan to use a salt cavern in New York State, but can’t get approval of the local indigenous people whose land it’s on. Samson has a plan to get Buddy to be a spokesman for the company and convince the Native Americans to deal with them; we learn that the waste is a bunch of radioactive dead dogs.  Buddy walks through his neighbourhood (he won’t fly now that he knows it kills birds), and is followed by some dogs. He tries borrowing flight powers from a dragonfly, which works until a bird eats it. Buddy goes to visit Travis Cody and they talk about how Travis (who feels bad for hurting Cliff, but also justified in that Buddy was killing all the birds) has a device that will monitor Buddy’s use of the M-Field (the morphogenetic field).  Travis doesn’t believe in “bird power”, as birds don’t fly that way. Buddy takes Travis home with him (and a stray dog too), which surprises Ellen a little. Maxine talks about her new friend, Mister Rainbow, who everyone assumes is imaginary. When she takes a cookie to her friend, we see it’s the sparkly silhouette that keeps showing up. Travis sets up his experiment, which involves having Buddy tap into the M-Field to look for electric eel abilities; he has little success, finding his connection confused or blocked by someone or something.  When he directly connects to a single eel, he is able to use the powers easily. This gives him an idea, as he is able to resurrect the stuntman career he put on hold when he learned he was killing birds. He ends up in Mexico, where a sci-fi film called Day of Dread II is being filed. The director, Raney Fox, has plans for Buddy. When Buddy points out that some dogs in a cage are hungry, Fox is offended. Buddy suits up in a rubber alien suit and stands on top of a pyramid. He connects to an eel just as lightning fills the sky, making a very cool visual effect.  Some other actors in alien suits come out of a spaceship and start slicing up the dogs from before with swords. Buddy, distracted, loses control and shocks himself with lightning. Buddy is furious about the dogs, and he argues with Fox. Buddy is approached by Samson, who offers him the chance to come to STAR Labs’s nearby resort and talk about the fact that STAR has been trying to get him to work for them. Buddy, knowing he’s out of the film business, agrees.
  • Maxine is playing with the new dog when Mister Rainbow shows up and surprises her.  He shows her a strange, colourful world, and she walks into him and looks around. The older native guy approaches her on a floating rock, accompanied by two wolves.  Maxine gives him the name All The Animals, at his urging, and he says he has a message for her to give her father. Buddy and Travis are hanging out at the STAR Labs resort in Mexico (why would they have this?)  Samson pushes Buddy to work with him to monitor endangered species (which is part of his waste disposal plan, remember), but Buddy is too preoccupied with figuring out his powers to commit. Buddy talks to Travis on the drive home, revealing that he can tell Samson is trying to con him.  When Buddy gets home, he finds Maxine basically catatonic with Cliff and Ellen worrying around her. Ellen blames Buddy, and when he tries to contact her through his powers, she snaps back to normal. Later, she tells everyone about her trip through Mister Rainbow, and Cliff is a jerk about it.  Maxine tells Buddy that the old man wanted her to tell Buddy that, “the animals want to teach [him] a big secret.” This rattles Buddy. Later, Buddy hires Travis as his assistant, despite his reservations about his character. Buddy starts to study animals more seriously, and begins to acquire some odd specimens, like a European fire salamander, and a gyrfalcon, which he then goes flying with.  When he returns, he sees that his new red van (which looks like Steve Dillon has maybe never seen a van before) has arrived. Ellen’s not too happy about this purchase, which he needs to keep his animals handy during missions (so he can access their powers directly), as they are running out of money. Elsewhere, the Native guys are sitting around a fire, and All The Animals calls home his messenger, Mister Rainbow, who he calls Power of Thought.  He asks him about Buddy, who he calls his son, and then talks about how Buddy is creating pain for himself, worrying that pressing him will kill him before the right time. He picks up a statue of Travis, who then sees Power of Thought approaching him. When Power of Thought touches him, Travis screams and claims to see god, just as Buddy reassures Ellen that everything is going to be fine.
  • Testing out his new protocol of pairing with specific animals, Buddy takes a spider with him to climb up the side of a building (making a few meta references to Spider-Man and his limited power set along the way).  This is weird, because the spider climbs alongside him, at the end of a leash, which makes me think it took him hours to climb so far. Sitting on top of the roof, Buddy catches and eats a fly. Taking the elevator back down to ground level, the spider slips its leash.  A woman in a lynx coat gets on the elevator; Buddy gives her a hard time about wearing fur, and then the spider climbs onto her face, causing her to pass out. At home, Ellen talks to her mother about coming to visit and when Buddy and Travis come in, with Travis talking endlessly about his dream (which we know was a visit from Power Of Thought) and how Buddy needs to go with him to upstate New York to get on a spaceship and ride out the destruction of the Earth, Ellen misses her chance to talk to Buddy about this.  Buddy tests out his fire salamander powers, with Travis questioning just how Buddy can shoot venom out of his hands with no visible delivery system; Buddy’s eyes go reptilian, and his tongue flits like a lizard’s. Ellen tries to talk to Buddy, but gets freaked out when she sees his reptilian appearance. Later, they watch TV and see that the woman from the elevator, who is a reporter, is slagging Buddy. The next day, Buddy has a scheduled demonstration of his powers at the San Diego Zoo. He shows how he borrows abilities from specific animals, and prepares a digging demonstration involving an aardvark and a fennec (it’s a type of fox – I had to Google it).  At the same time, All The Animals gets impatient with Buddy and decides to call to him. Buddy starts hallucinating and freaking out at the zoo. He can hear All The Animals speaking to him, telling him to come see him and calling himself his father. He rejects All The Animals, who takes a hammer and breaks his statue (the man who hands him the hammer calls him Stone), which makes Buddy’s powers run wild. Getting himself under control, Buddy realizes he’s killed every animal in the San Diego Zoo.
  • Issue thirty-eight opens with a comic within a comic, as Cliff and his friend Ace read “The Penalizer”, a bit of a parody of the Punisher.  There’s some irony there, as Steve Dillon would later become best known for his Punisher run with Garth Ennis. Ace worships the Penalizer, and Cliff clearly wants to impress Ace.  Buddy has stayed in bed all morning, thinking about all the animals he’s killed. The press is on his lawn, and there is talk of him being charged with vandalism and killing endangered species.  Ellen tells him that she’s going to take Maxine to visit her mother, and that she’s leaving Cliff with Buddy. He agrees it’s a good idea, and Ellen tries to comfort him. Later, the girls leave, and Buddy gives Cliff some money to keep himself busy.  Travis shows up and tells Buddy he’s leaving too, heading for the spaceship he saw in his vision. He tells Buddy that he really is an agent of higher powers, and that he created and guides Mikhail Gorbachev through his dreams. He gets mad at Buddy, accusing him of being a “pod person”; Buddy gets mad and tells him off.  A couple days later, Cliff and Ace explore around Travis’s house. They break in, pretending to be the Penalizer, and start trashing stuff. Buddy, tending to his animals, is overcome with bad feelings. He gets a call from his friend Dave, and while he talks, he spots Power Of Thought out the window. Ace douses Travis’s workroom with gasoline, and sets it all on fire.  Buddy goes outside, recognizing Maxine’s Mister Rainbow as the thing that’s been around when his powers have gone weird before. He senses that it wants to hurt him, and he begins fighting it, tapping into the full force of the M-Field. The creature becomes solid (and ugly) and Buddy keeps blasting away at it until it is dead, at which point it turns into a psychedelic cloud.
  • Travis has made it to Stone’s trailer, and he laughs at the knowledge that his messenger told Travis about a spaceship.  He wants Travis to get a job. They watch the news and see that there has been some crazy animal behaviour in California, including a pack of timber wolves attacking the San Diego Comic-Con.  The wolves are now roaming San Diego. Dwayne, the park ranger, goes to see Buddy about the wolves, and finds him and his house in a very dishevelled state, with mail and food piling up everywhere.  Buddy won’t really pay attention to what Dwayne is saying, instead fixating on some pictures Ellen has mailed him from Vermont, and vowing to make her sorry. Cliff and Ace pick through the wreckage of Travis’s place, and find one of his devices.  Ace is convinced he’s going to be arrested for arson, and tells Cliff he plans to hitchhike up to San Francisco to stay with a friend. He invites Cliff along. Dwayne gives up on Buddy and heads out, and gets chased by wolves into his truck. Cliff and Ace go into the house and Buddy recognizes Travis’s M-Field meter in their hands.  He accuses Cliff of torching the place, and then slaps him when he lies. Cliff storms out, saying he hates him. Later, Buddy releases all of the animals that he’d been keeping, and generally feels terrible. He hears the call of the wolves, and strips naked and starts running with them, terrifying some teenagers driving to the beach.  He scares some more teens, one of whom shoots at him. The next morning, Buddy is lying on the couch talking to himself. Cliff empties his wallet and leaves him a note saying he’s heading to see his mom. As Cliff and Ace leave, Buddy’s friend Dave comes in, waking Buddy up. He tells him that Raney Fox is willing to work with him on a slasher film.  Buddy more or less ignores him, and calls Ellen in Vermont. He tells her that Cliff’s left (although we haven’t seen him see the note), and claims he needs to go see her; it looks like she protests and he says he’s going anyway. He borrows money from Dave and starts driving east, sure that something is stalking him.
  • Issue forty ties in, a little, to the War of the Gods event, which took over just about every DC book in late 1991.  Buddy continues to drive across the country, and to feel lost without his wife. He pulls into a gas station where the Phantom Stranger and Doctor Fate (the Inza Nelson variant) are waiting for him.  They explain that Circe has sown war among the gods, and tell him they need his help, claiming that this problem is already affecting him. The Phantom Stranger also tells Buddy that his friend is trying to help him, and that he should pay attention to what he’s saying.  Buddy gets mad and drives off, continuing to feel terrible. He ends up in the town of New Rosewood, which seems kind of bear-themed. As he checks into a hotel, he learns of the Bear King Ranch, the only black bear farm in America. He talks to Ellen briefly on the phone, and doesn’t think it’s strange that Cliff hasn’t shown up at the farm and is missing.  Buddy sleeps, and as he does, he’s visited by Stone, who tells him that his enemy is watching him, and that if Buddy helps him, he’ll show him a fragment of what he really is. The next day, Buddy walks past the lake that formed over the old town of Rosewood (back in some Alan Moore issues of Swamp Thing). Buddy tries to cross the lake to go to the bear farm, but his powers give out midway across and he ends up in the water.  When he swims to shore (as a normal man would), he is met by two men with guns and “bear-cuffs”. They take him to meet their boss at the Bear King Ranch, who knows he’s a superhero. He talks about how legitimate his business is, and then take Buddy up in a helicopter as he hunts bears on national forest land. Buddy recognizes that the guy is a poacher, and is not happy when they fire missiles at bears on the ground (which somehow don’t totally destroy the poor creatures).  As they fly back with their kills, they see that the old town of Rosewood has emerged from the lake, and that people are acting weird there. The Bear King turns into a bear-man, as do other hunters, and they come after Buddy when he escapes. He finds a bear that speaks to him, calling him brother and referencing their shared father (presumably Stone). The bear gives Buddy access to its power, and when hunters approach, Buddy uses his powers to lead bears to maul and kill the hunters.  Later, the town is purged of its evil, and the bear says farewell to him. This was a strange one.
  • Ellen and Buddy are in bed together, talking about how good Buddy is at making love.  They’re at Ellen’s mother’s farm, and when Mrs. Frazier (she doesn’t have a first name yet) goes out to milk the cows, she finds them floating above the yard.  She blames Buddy. Travis is eating at a diner with a guy who knows Stone. This guy tells him that Stone’s full name is The Stone That Cracked Open The Earth Like An Egg, and that he isn’t trustworthy.  They also talk about how Travis needs to find a job, and how Stone is really trying to get ahold of Buddy. They are interrupted by Buck Samson, from STAR Labs, who is there with his assistant Kami. They offer Travis a job, and let slip that he’s broken his probation by leaving San Diego.  Buddy brings the cows back to the ground, and he and Ellen worry about Cliff. They go for a walk later and Buddy shares his plan to find a bird to go with him searching for Cliff. Buck tells Travis that his home has burned down and offers him some weed as they drive somewhere in a limo. Mrs. Frazier is teaching Maxine to gather eggs, and they are both surprised to find a blue one.  A small dinosaur hatches out of it. Travis arrives at STAR’s New York facility, and Buck shows him around. He recognizes that they are mapping DNA, and Travis is shown to what will be his lab. Buck has to go speak to someone, and tells Kami to not let him into the restricted lab next door, but of course Travis looks, and finds faceless human clones or something. While Mrs. Frazier frets in the kitchen, and Maxine names her dinosaur Winky and explains that she created him, they receive a phone call from Cliff.  He tells her to tell his father he’s in trouble and in San Francisco, and some guy pulls him away from the phone. Buddy and Ellen lie in a meadow after having more sex, and Buddy talks about what happened with his powers in Rosewood. Buddy’s bird from San Diego appears and tells him (so that even Ellen can hear) that he needs to go see Stone with her. They fly off together, and Buddy hears Stone’s voice telling him that it was him and his people that gave Buddy his powers, not the yellow aliens. When Buddy approaches Stone, Stone punches him in the jaw for killing his messenger, and then says they have a lot to accomplish.
  • A local knacker (the people who collect and sell dead animals) named Homer picks up a road-killed deer under watch of a bear.  He talks to himself, so we learn that Buck Samson is paying top dollar for dead animals. Buck is meeting with Travis, and is upset that he saw the creatures they are building.  He figures this means that Travis has to come and work with him, and appeals to his honor by telling him that Buddy is involved in a conspiracy against nature. Travis refuses, so Buck tells Kami to take him home, and refers to him as being in File Six.  Homer goes to the Frazier farm to pick up the corpse of one of Mrs. Frazier’s cows, who had to be put down after her flying episode. Kami goes with Travis to his place, on the edge of the reservation, and explains that she is supposed to seduce him. Homer sees a bear from his truck and tries to shoot it, unsuccessfully.  Samson shows the artificial people that Travis found to a military guy. These creatures are manufactured soldiers designed to fight for two weeks before dying. The guy, Captain Silva, takes three of them for testing. Homer arrives with a truck full of bodies as the three prototypes are loaded into a van; Samson is happy that one of the bodies is from the Frazier farm.  Ellen calls her Uncle Dud in San Francisco for help in locating Cliff; as it turns out, Dud has Cliff with him, and we see that the boy has bruises on his face (we are left with a creepy feeling about Dud). The soldiers prepare the three prototypes for a military exercise where they are armed with paintballs, and will hunt one another. Fully programmed, the prototypes take off, watched by the same bear we keep seeing.  Kami explains to Travis that the prototypes are called Ex-M, and they are irradiated. Kami succeeds in seducing Travis, and in convincing him to take the job. The military exercise goes badly when one of the Ex-Ms attacks a soldier. Another soldier kills an Ex-M, before being shot by another with live ammo. The Captain finds the bodies and starts shooting into the forest. The two remaining Ex-M’s flag down Jethro’s truck and kill him.  The bear watches this, and then walks onto the Frazier farm. Mrs. Frazier hears the animals reacting to him, and heads out with her shotgun. She is about to shoot the bear but Maxine runs out and claims that the bear is really Buddy.
  • Buddy is in a dreamstate, where he sees his body being created by one of the yellow aliens from Grant Morrison’s run.  As the alien talks about how Buddy created his own reality and story, the alien crumbles, replaced by Stone, who is surrounded by psychedelic colours and light.  In the real world, we see that Buddy is lying in a bed in Stone’s trailer, looked after by a beautiful woman we’ve not seen before. Stone explains to her that Buddy’s spirit is learning truth in the hidden side of the world, while his life energy is wandering around in a bear.  Stone says that he is making Buddy an “animal master”, and that he will wake up in a day or so. Stone heading north to meet two other men, and tells the girl that when Buddy wakes up, he should go home. He also says that a woman of colour is coming, and that there are five people like Buddy in total, and that they need to be gathered.  He warns her not to fall in love with Buddy. At the Frazier farm, Maxine rides on the bear she claims in Buddy. She explains to Ellen that Buddy’s not in the bear, and that Buddy is learning secrets from the old man who talks to her. Then Buddy returns to the bear’s body, and Maxine says he has to leave. Travis, working for STAR, starts to dig in the computer system, and hacks into the security system, finding a camera showing his drinking buddy Jackson Moonlight talking with Buck Samson about how they are maneuvering to control a salt cavern.  Moonlight is to get the Native council to appoint him to the species monitoring station, and we learn that Moonlight is spying on Stone. Samson is contacted to be told that a hacker is in the system, and that there’s an incident at the gate. The Captain from last issue is there to complain about how the X-type soldiers killed his men, and tell him two escaped. Samson organizes a search, sending Moonlight with them, and then kills Captain Silva. Travis finds footage of Silva’s dead body being cut up in a machine, used to make more X-M soldiers. The woman continues to watch Buddy’s body, and then we see her as a bear, joining Buddy’s bear form.  They hang out, and then start to have sex (the bears do), and this makes Buddy wake up. We learn that the girl’s name is Tristess, and they start to make out. Ellen wakes up, knowing that Buddy has cheated. At breakfast, her mother suggests she leave him, but Ellen vows to always stay with him.
  • It looks like Tabu, the woman that Buddy and Vixen fought in Africa in Morrison’s run, has come to town wearing one of her animal masks.  One of the X-M guys is robbing a blood bank, and she uses her powers to kill him before flying off wordlessly. Buddy is hanging out with Tristess and Moonlight Jackson, who are barbecuing venison.  Moonlight is wearing a dress because Stone always makes him do that, as part of his usual course of making people confront things they don’t want to do. The woman in the animal masks shows up, and Buddy begins to fight her.  She knocks Buddy down, and then reveals that she’s actually Vixen. Ellen has arrived in New York to look for work, and has an interview at Wonderful, a children’s publishing company. The woman interviewing her has a place for her with their comics division, and takes her to meet Les Decker, the editor-in-chief.  Vixen explains to Buddy that she absorbed Tabu’s powers, making Vixen more powerful, and opening her to Stone’s call. Travis shows up at the party with Kami, and Buddy makes introductions. Travis tells everyone he’s working at STAR, and then realizes that Moonlight is working both sides. As Travis and Kami drive Buddy to the farm, Travis warns Buddy that Samson wants his DNA.  When Buddy arrives at the farm, Mrs. Frazier is cold to him, and tells him that Raney Fox has been calling. Ellen continues her meeting with Decker, who is happy to learn that her son reads Penalizer, his best selling comic. He wants Ellen to colour the book, and when looking for the pages she has to colour, finds some amateur art, including a strip written and drawn by Cliff. Decker seems a little nuts, and ends up pulling a gun on Ellen.  One of the Ex-M escapees drives a truck into a ditch, shoots a fox, and hooks it up to his arm. It approaches Maxine and her dinosaur Winky. Brett Ewins, the artist who drew this issue, is nowhere near Steve Dillon’s league, making this issue look kind of terrible.
  • Les Decker heads home, and his narrative is cut with scenes from his Penalizer comic.  We learn that Decker is attracted to Ellen, and has a lot of weapons in his house. Ellen colours pages of the Penalizer while talking to Buddy about how she doesn’t like this job.  She talks about how she expects Maxine to develop powers one day, and that she feels Cliff is safe with her uncle in San Francisco. She tells Buddy that she suspects he’s been with someone else, and he denies it.  We see a few more pages of the Penalizer comic, wherein the character speaks to a woman at a bar about his enemy Doctor Darkness. Basically, Decker’s stolen Cliff’s comic idea, which makes Ellen unhappy. Buddy gets a phone call from Raney Fox again, who has come to town to meet with him.  It turns out Fox wants to buy the rights to Buddy’s story, but Buddy is a little unsure of that. Ellen shows him that Decker is using Cliff’s story idea, and then we see a few more pages of that comic, pages that show a boy named Cliff using drugs and being armed and sent to kill the Penalizer.  They attack him and he kills them. Ellen and Cliff call for Maxine, who hasn’t been around, and find Winky, her baby dinosaur, bleeding from a gunshot wound on his leg. The Penalizer vows to kill Doctor Darkness. Decker finishes writing this scene (which I previously thought was being coloured by Ellen), and gets a phone call from a guy complaining that he owns an apartment building full of crack dealers; Decker agrees to help him for twenty-five thousand dollars, and suits up as the Penalizer.  Raney Fox arrives at the farm, and Buddy explains that he’s looking for his daughter. Fox suggests Buddy use his powers, and Buddy does locate her, but says she’s a mile underground.
  • Issue forty-six is an all-flashback issue, wherein Buddy retells his origin in a different way.  It’s drawn by Steve Pugh, who will soon become the series artist and take it to its greatest heights (in my opinion).  Eighteen year old Buddy has been out drinking with friends and gets dropped off right in front of his father, who is furious with him, and smacks him across the face.  At dinner, Frank (his dad) talks about how he’s gotten stuck in his place in life, and how he wants more for Buddy. He decides to take him up to his family’s hunting lodge to do some hunting.  As they drive there, he talks about how his bloodline has power in it, going back to old Jack Baker, whose portrait hangs in the cabin. When Frank tries to get Buddy to shoot a deer, he misses on purpose, leaving it for Frank to kill the creature.  Buddy tells him he doesn’t want to help skin the deer, and Frank gets angry, but then notices bear tracks and decides he needs to go kill a bear, like his forebears have all done. At this time, a white cocoon (it is designed to remind us of the alien ship from Buddy’s regular origin story) comes crashing down, blinding Buddy.  When he comes to, he sees his father being attacked by the bear. Frank shoots it multiple times, but it rakes him with its claws before dying. Buddy moves to perform first aid on his father, at which point Stone shows up, rubbing a salve of some sort on the injured man. When he touches Buddy, energy goes through the boy. Stone, who calls him son throughout, takes him to the ship/cocoon, and tells him that his enemy resides within.  Stone says he cannot kill his enemy, but his son can. He has Buddy strike the cocoon with a warclub on a spot where he’s drawn a symbol, and it gets stuck there. The cocoon begins to burrow into the earth, and a sound knocks them both out momentarily. Recovering, Stone says that they will have to wait for the enemy to return. Buddy wakes up in the hunting lodge. His father, healed, tells him that an “Indian” brought him home, but Buddy doesn’t remember the man.  Later, Buddy is upset to see Ellen hanging out with his friend Roger at the state fair. A tiger escapes, and Buddy uses the new powers he didn’t know he had to stop it from killing Ellen, at which point she agrees to go on a date with him.
  • Mike Maxwell, formerly the B’Wana Beast, still has access to his powers even though he’s given away his elixir and mask.  He’s killed one of the Ex-M soldiers, and blasts the head off a deer. He drags the deer’s carcass into a deep tunnel, where he’s apparently holding the naked and animalistic Maxine.  Buddy continues to use his powers to locate Maxine, which excites Raney Fox and the scriptwriter he’s brought with him. Buddy says Maxine is near his dad’s old hunting camp, and flies off; Raney asks Ellen if she knows where he’s going.  Buddy’s connection to his powers gets weird again, and he drops out of the sky, right by the Ex-M’s body. He begins to burrow into the earth just as Ellen arrives. Travis has brought one of the STAR Labs VR helmets home, and is getting ready to hack into STAR’s computers as Kami smokes opium behind him.  We join Travis in VR, which looks like a science fiction city. He slips into a floating facility, where he finds a giant body that looks like Buck Samson. He figures out that Samson is trying to build a clone of himself using only flesh that has been affected by Buddy’s powers. As he prepares to inform the higher-ups at STAR about this, Travis’s brain is fried; we see Buck on his computer screen.  Buddy finds the deer carcass in the tunnel, and is attacked by Maxwell. He sees Maxine and begins to fight back. He’s surprised by how feral Maxine has become, and when he attacks Maxwell, his hands get blown off by his strange energy. Maxwell takes Buddy to meet his maker, the Antagon, the thing in the cocoon from last issue. Maxwell talks about how the Antagon curses the Animal Masters, and when he tells the cocoon he’s brought it two of Stone’s children, it looks like it absorbs him, and opens a fissure below Buddy and Maxine.
  • Maxwell, the former B’Wana Beast, floats above Ellen, Raney Fox, and the screenwriter.  He kills Raney then stops to eat an apple, before heading off into the woods. Ellen is afraid that Buddy and Maxine are dead too, but then Buddy flies up with the injured Maxine.  Buddy promises to get Stone to kill his connection to Maxine, and says he wants Ellen to take the kids and leave him when this is all over. Buddy follows the trail of destruction caused by the Antagon and figures that it first woke up when Buddy started killing the birds.  He goes to Stone’s trailer, where Tristess and Vixen are waiting; Tristess says they need to go to the sweat lodge to contact Stone. Travis, it turns out, is not dead but is trapped in STAR Lab’s computer system (it’s the nineties, so of course ‘cyberspace’ gets used a lot).  He tells Kami to plug him into STAR’s San Diego office; he explains that he can see that Buck is moving forward with his plan to enhance his body with m-field altered undifferentiated tissues. We see Samson go forward with this, replacing 47% of his genetic structure. He’s now super strong, and also aware that Travis is in the system; he asks for Moonlight Jackson.  Jackson goes to Travis’s house and shoots Kami. Buddy and the women are in the sweat lodge, calling forward Power of Thought. Stone speaks to them through Power of Thought, and tells them that they need to join him and learn about themselves. He says he’s opened a door to them, but at that point Maxwell shows up outside the sweat lodge, and kills the two men guarding them while ranting.  He blows the sweat lodge apart, but finds his prey missing. The camera zooms in on a smoking pipe, and we see Buddy and the others in among the smoldering tobacco, approached by mites.
  • Moonlight shoots Travis’s body, stranding his consciousness in cyberspace.  No one explains how, or how it is that Travis appears able to see out of computer monitors without even a webcam in the room.  The screenwriter (whose name we don’t know) tries to comfort Ellen, who worries about her family. Buddy, Tristess, Vixen, and Maxine realize they’ve been shrunk and are near Stone’s door between worlds.  Vixen fights off a dust mite but Tristess makes it clear that it’s Buddy’s role to pass one of Stone’s tests. He uses his abilities to tame a mite, which takes them to the doorway to Stone, who is in Labrador.  Buck Samson threatens Travis’s cyber-self, while his message to STAR’s San Diego office has borne fruit. A STAR security team fights against Samson’s local security, but it is Samson himself, showing off his new body, who stops the attack.  Stone greets the heroes, and calls Maxine “Little Wing”, a name that sticks. He introduces them to Arum and Krate, older Animal Masters. Stone narrates a prose history that explains that the Animal Masters were the people who created the animals of the world, a power that was countered by Antagon, who the first Animal Masters were about to destroy, and who instead entered a cocoon and lay dormant.  Stone mentions how his first attempt to stop Antagon, with Buddy, didn’t work. He also explains that Antagon has taken over B’Wana Beast’s body, and that the four new Animal Masters – Buddy, Maxine, Tristess, and Vixen, have to stop him. Samson talks to his people about how he wants to become a superhero – Meta Man, while Moonlight tries to tell him about Antagon’s path of destruction. Samson decides to stop Antagon, but also displays powers that look like its energy pattern.  Travis yells at Samson from the computer, and Samson’s associate starts dividing and sequestering Travis’s being. Samson smashes the computer screen. Ellen, her mother, and the screenwriter sit at the farm when Buddy arrives through a portal with Maxine. He leaves his daughter, telling Ellen to keep them everyone in hiding, asks the screenwriter to look over his family, and then departs through the same portal.
  • Veitch’s last issue is narrated by the unnamed screenwriter, which is perhaps a bit of a nod to Grant Morrison’s character showing up in the last issue of his run.  The guy is writing from after the events, and we learn that while he was staying at the farm, he found himself increasingly attracted to Ellen. He heads into town for groceries just as the Antagon attacks again, and he is the only survivor.  This feeds into his ego, as he figures that he’s been spared to chronicle what’s happened. He follows the Antagon to where the military is trying to stop it, with little effect. A STAR Labs helicopter arrives, and Buck Samson, in his Metaman outfit, states he’s going to save the day.  The helicopter approaches the Antagon, still in B’Wana Beast’s body, and Samson jumps out. Moonlight Jackson and the doctor who empowered Samson are killed. The Anatagon and Metaman fight, and it looks like Megaman’s powers are enough to kill Maxwell. The Antagon takes over Samson’s body though.  The narration turns briefly to Stone, who sends Power of Thought to collect the Antagon. It confronts Stone and his two brothers and manages to destroy them too, leaving only Buddy, Vixen, and Tristess to inherit their power. Buddy figures the only way to stop destruction is to create, and he and his two friends use their Animal Master powers to create a universe.  The Antagon is stuck in this universe, in Samson’s body. Maxine plays on the farm, creating butterflies out of thin air. The screenwriter talks with Ellen, who admits that she’s dreamt of Buddy being with another woman. He convinces her that this means Buddy is cheating on her, and then he makes a move. Buddy returns home to find them embracing. The writer accuses him of cheating, and Buddy, while admitting that he’s spent time with Tristess, also slaps the guy and throws him through the window.  Buddy then promises that they would become friends, and in a page of typewriter paper, the screenwriter talks about how he did become friendly with Buddy and Ellen while completing his script. Buddy admits to worrying about the Antagon, but the writer is sure it will all be fine.

It’s an odd ending, what with the focus shifting to the screenwriter’s perspective, and with some subplots left unresolved by Veitch.  It kind of feels like, with the birth of Vertigo coming six months later (and the move to “suggested for mature readers” status coming before that), editorial decisions were made to truncate Veitch’s run, and to make the series darker (although in a lot of ways, this run was already plenty dark).  

One thing that stood out to me after so many years is how my memories of this run were inaccurate.  If you were to ask me, before I started to reread this series, what stood out in my mind, it would be the way that Morrison and Veitch both portrayed Buddy as a weird hero who had a relatively normal domestic life.  The reality is that very little of these runs showed Buddy’s family in a normal way. Almost as soon as Veitch took over, he had Buddy’s powers running wild and it causing chaos for his family. With Ellen leaving, and later Cliff running away, there was very little time and space given to Buddy have anything like a typical life.

One of the stated purposes of this run was to explore Buddy’s powers, and I’m not sure that Veitch was successful at that.  The early issues, as the Antagon was stirring, and it looked like Stone was a threat to Buddy, had Buddy questioning the nature of his abilities.  As we got closer to the big ending though, we were given a hastily put-together explanation that roots Buddy’s abilities in Native American lore and tradition.  That could have worked, as could Tristess’s rather unexplained presence, but it’s hard to believe that two African-related characters, Vixen and B’Wana Beast, would be part of the same thing, simply because of their animal-themed identities.  It felt like a bit of a cop-out, or like it was suggesting that all tribal people are similar, and probably should have been workshopped more, or explained better.  It also removes the yellow aliens from Buddy’s origin, but I’m not sure if this is currently considered canon or not (I don’t remember it being discussed in Jeff Lemire’s New 52 run).

There is a lot to like in this run though.  I enjoyed Travis Cody’s character, and also the sub-plot involving STAR Labs and Buck Samson (who, I guess, never did get to dump his radioactive dog corpses in a salt mine on indigenous land).  I also liked the way that Buddy and Ellen had to explore their relationship and how they could make things work with all the weirdness that Buddy brings into their lives. I also liked the introduction of Mrs. Frazier, Ellen’s plain-speaking mother (although it’s weird that Veitch didn’t give her a first name).  I also liked seeing Cliff evolve from a Bart Simpson stand-in to becoming his own, kind of difficult, character.

At the same time, the way that Cliff got written out of the book was a little odd.  I also wonder what Veitch was planning on doing with Les Decker, the comics writer who liked to dress up like his character, The Penalizer, and scare away drug dealers.  I don’t remember if Decker shows up again in the subsequent run, but if he doesn’t, I’m not sure why Veitch gave him the space he did.

It was a treat seeing all this early Steve Dillon artwork again.  I loved Dillon’s runs on Hellblazer and Preacher, but found that a lot of his work after that (like on Wolverine: Origins) became a little too clean.  This early stuff, which he inked himself, was scratchier and a little rougher than what he became, and that really suited the story. He was a massive talent, and I miss seeing his work.

Tatjana Wood has still been the only colourist to work on this title to this point, which is impressive.  Brian Bolland’s covers continue to amaze during these issues, marrying his sense of whimsy with the dark stories that Veitch was telling.  Bolland really is one of the all-time greats.

I’m very much looking forward to getting into Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh’s run, as they took the book over to Vertigo and set Buddy up as a bit of a cult leader.  I remember this being one of my all-time favourite runs, and am curious to see how it has held up.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

This run has been collected, and can be found here:
Animal Man Vol. 4: Born to be Wild
Animal Man Vol. 5: The Meaning of Flesh

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