Animal Man #51-79 , Annual #1 (September 1992 – January 1995)
Written by Jamie Delano (#51-79, Annual #1)
Pencils by Steve Pugh (#51-57, 61-63, 66-70, 72-73, 75-76, 78-79), Scot Eaton (#56), Russell Braun (#56, 59-60, 71, 74, Annual #1), John Higgins (#58), Will Simpson (#64-65), Fred Harper (#74), Peter Snejbjerg (#77)
Inks by Steve Pugh (#51-57, 61-63, 66-70, 72-73, 75-76, 78-79), Graham Higgins (#56, 59), John Higgins (#58), Tom Sutton (#60, 71, Annual #1), Dan Steffan (#64), Will Simpson (#65), Gene Fama (#74), Peter Snejbjerg (#77), Rafael Kayanan (Annual #1)
Coloured by Tatjana Wood (#51-79, Annual #1)
Spoilers (from twenty-three to twenty-six years ago)
I remember loving Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh’s run on Animal Man. Their time began with the book becoming “suggested for mature readers”, and after their first arc, was one of the few DC Universe books to get moved over to the newly-created Vertigo office. I don’t really remember the plot of the run much beyond knowing that Buddy becomes a gigantic chimera, and ends up being the central figure of a cult that is based out of Ellen’s mother’s farm. What stands out in my memory is the way in which Mary Frazier, Cliff, a new character named Annie, and her daughter all become very real characters. I wanted to read these issues again as much as I wanted to revisit Morrison’s run, which is why I decided to focus on this series in this column.
If asked to name my top ten favourite comics runs, I would put this run on the list. I hope that it’s as good as I remember it, or this column might become a chronicle of my disappointment. Let’s hope not.
Let’s look at who turned up in the title:
- Uncle Dudley (#51-56)
- Mike Peroni (#57-59)
- Leviathan (#62-63)
- Ray Dillinger (Department of Biologically Enhanced Criminality and Eco-Subversion; #71-72, 75-79, Annual #1)
- The Silent Walkers (#65-66)
- Jack Rabbit (Free Country; Annual #1)
- Cliff Baker (Buddy’s son; #51-57, 60-65, 67-79, Annual #1)
- Ellen Baker (Buddy’s wife; #51-79, Annual #1)
- Mary Frazier (Ellen’s mother; #51-58, 60, 64-72, 74, 77-79, Annual #1)
- Maxine Baker (Buddy’s daughter; #51-57, 60-66, 70-79, Annual #1)
- Juliet (Ellen’s friend; #58-59)
- Jack (Ellen’s cellmate, Sisters Without Mercy; #58-59)
- Sarah Wise (lawyer, Sisters Without Mercy; #59, 71-74, 76-79)
- Kris (ex-military, Sisters Without Mercy; #59, 71, 76, 79)
- Tony (ex-military, Sisters Without Mercy; #59, 71)
- Myra (Sisters Without Mercy; #59, 65, 67-69, 75-76, 79, Annual #1)
- Selene (Sisters Without Mercy; #59, 65, 67-69, 75, 79, Annual #1)
- Honey (friend of the Sisters Without Mercy; #59)
- Annie Cassidy (#61-79, Annual #1)
- Lucy Cassidy (#61-65, 68-79, Annual #1)
- Sheriff Robbie Reinhardt (#66, Annual #1)
- Maxine’s Twinbaby (#67-70; Annual #1)
- Deputy Dan Patterson (#67-68, Annual #1)
- Evelyn Patterson (#67-72, 74, 77-79)
- Tod/Locust (#74-75, 77, 79)
- Rachel/Turtle (#74-75, 77, 79)
- Bear Paw (Year Zero; #74, 78-79)
- Jack (Tod’s dad; #74-79)
- Dolores (Sisters Without Mercy; #76, 79)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- Cliff is in Uncle Dudley’s place in San Francisco. Dud makes their evening’s movie choice based on the fact that a stray dog got killed crossing a freeway, and has Cliff drink bourbon with him. Buddy and Ellen are spending the night together on the farm, lying by a pond. Buddy feels like himself again after all the weirdness of the last little while, and it’s clear that they are going to sleep together. Mary Frazier, Ellen’s mother who finally has a first name, lies awake feeling a little jealous of the happiness that Ellen has. Maxine comes to her, to tell her that she had a bad dream about a boy being cut up by a man on a freeway, whom she tries to save until they are both hit by an ice cream truck. Maxine believes that the boy in her dream is Cliff. At the same time, Cliff, drunk and feeling sick, hopes he can sleep and have a bad dream, as his descriptions of them make his uncle happy. Buddy wakes up in the grass, and is almost attacked by a weasel; it’s wildness infects him a little. He scares Ellen, who is watching the cows and Winky, Maxine’s now very large dinosaur. Ellen tells him about Maxine’s dream, and says she wants Cliff back with them. Buddy agrees to head out to find him and fix things with him that day. Mary gives him some cash and puts him down a bit, and Buddy heads off. Later, once he’s in San Francisco, he goes to Dudley’s office, but finds that it’s abandoned. The landlord tells him that Dudley left that morning, saying he was going to take his boy on a trip in a new camper he just bought. Buddy frightens the man into telling him where Dudley says he bought it. Dudley gets Cliff, who is looking at the dead dog from earlier. He tells him that looking at dead things is natural. Buddy goes to the car lot where Dud bought the camper, and gets his address. Dudley rushes Cliff into the camper, and puts him down for wanting to know where they’re going. He heads back into his apartment to get a bottle he forgot. A thick fog rolls in, grounding Buddy when flying becomes unsafe. Dudley spots him from his window and gets nervous. Buddy is able to smell Cliff, and focuses his senses on finding his trail. He doesn’t see Dudley driving at him in the camper (he’s sent Cliff to the back), and Dudley runs over him, leaving his corpse behind.
- Maxine prepares a cake for her brother’s return to the family, but after she and Mary chase Winky the triceratops out of the fields, he eats it. Ellen feels a sense of dread, and then receives a call telling her Buddy’s had an accident in San Francisco. Buddy feels his consciousness slipping through “a red wash of forgetfulness” that looks a lot like his skeletal form joining a stream of decomposing animals. He fights this, thinking about his son, and we see his uniform forming around him. He surfaces in a red sea and begins to swim towards shore. Uncle Dud prepares to kill a cold snake in Yosemite Park, when he’s interrupted by a cyclist. This guy finds Buddy’s hand in some fender damage on Dud’s camper. When Cliff sticks his head out of the camper, it becomes clear that Dud threw the guy over the cliff. Buddy continues to walk, being passed by dead animals. He makes his way through a surrealistic landscape towards a building shaped like his dead body; he enters. Ellen has arrived in SF and identifies Buddy’s clothing. As she waits to make an identification of his body, Buddy returns to it, feeling immense pain. When Ellen enters the morgue, she is terrified to see Buddy’s ruined body, cut open from the autopsy, flopping around. Ellen passes out, and Buddy, realizing that he can’t stay in his body, throws his consciousness into a mite in her hair.
- Ellen is back home, and having trouble dealing with Buddy’s death, and the fact that they have no idea where Cliff has gone. She speaks to Buddy’s ashes about how Maxine has been struggling, and how she will always love him. She spreads the ashes in the pond on the farm, and when she begins to cry, the mite that has been housing Buddy’s consciousness is washed off her and into the pond, where it is eaten by a hydra. Buddy inhabits the hydra, and then also the fish that eats it. Dud and Cliff are fishing, and Dud has Cliff kill and clean the fish. He talks to him about how life is struggle, and how people should not fear death. Dud tells Cliff that he called his family, and that they’d gone to Disneyland without him. Mary tries to comfort Ellen, who tells her that Maxine is convinced that Buddy isn’t dead. We see that Maxine has gone to the pond to look for her father. Buddy inhabits an insect now, and it climbs out of the pond, while he thinks about Ellen. Maxine recognizes the bug as Buddy, and watches as it metamorphoses into a dragonfly (does it really happen that quickly?). Buddy sees Maxine and starts to fly towards her, against the dragonfly’s instincts, and is chomped up by a bat.
- Dudley has Cliff carrying a rabbit corpse into some hills. He shoots a bird and has Cliff bring it too, and we see that Dud has Buddy’s fingers in a small bag around his neck. He and Cliff climb up to a small canyon where most of the horror films they watch were filmed. It’s clear that they are going to stay there. Ellen wakes to Maxine yelling at Mary; a bat has gotten into the house, and Mary is trying to kill it with a broom. Maxine is convinced it’s Buddy. Ellen picks up the wounded bat and carries it outside, while Maxine yells at her grandmother. The bat hides under the house, and we understand that Buddy is inside it, and that he is the one who forced the bat to fly during daytime to find his family. Come night, a cat kills the bat, and Buddy jumps into it. The cat approaches Ellen, who is drunkenly sleeping on the couch. The Buddy cat begins to lick Ellen’s breast, and when she wakes up, she freaks out. The cat runs out of the house, and makes its way to the barn. Buddy decides he has to exist inside a non-predatory animal, and jumps into a cow, although it turns out to be Winky, the triceratops. Buddy begins to understand its consciousness, and its genetic memories of its era and extinction. Winky moans loudly, which Maxine, in the house, interprets as loneliness. Buddy visualizes himself existing as the last human (in some Omega Man tribute scenes), and empathizes with Winky. They break out of the barn and head out into the night.
- Cliff wakes up in Despair, the ghost town where Uncle Dud has kept him. He’s dreamt that his heart is an animal fighting to get out of his chest. Dud cooks breakfast and talks about the importance of killing and eating meat. He tells him it’s time to take him to “the underworld.” Ellen wakes up having dreamt of Cliff, and remembers a time when she was a girl when Dud was playing with her, and made her promise to give him her first child one day. Ellen is heading off to meet with an FBI agent to talk about Cliff’s disappearance, which Mary does not approve of. It’s been twenty-three days since the last issue, and Maxine feels bad about Winky and Buddy having left. She heads into the woods to look for them. Buddy, still in Winky, realizes that the dinosaur is female, wants to mate, and is also going to die soon (winter is coming). He contemplates the nature of life, and the interconnectedness of all living things, especially since the DNA of all creatures is so similar. Winky enters a cave, and Buddy’s consciousness dives deeper into her. Dud is also taking Cliff into a cave, this one strewn with the bones of his former partner. He leads him to a large cathedral space in an old mine, also filled with the bones of various animals. Dud talks about how death rules everything, and then abandons Cliff with a sputtering torch. Cliff sees small skeletons chained to rocks, and jars filled with hearts before realizing that Dud is abandoning him. Buddy dives into the double-helix, and learns more about the red tide that all life is connected to, while Pugh gives us some really interesting visuals. Ellen, having returned to the farm, is upset that Mary has no idea where Maxine is. Just then, Maxine returns home, carrying a large egg. She explains that she found Winky and stayed with her until she died, and then gathered the egg that came out of her. When Mary says she wants to make an omelette, Maxine points out that there is a heartbeat coming from the egg.
- Issue fifty-six is double-sized, presumably to finish this story in time to launch the Vertigo imprint with a new story arc. Buddy emerges from the egg, but only Maxine is happy to see him, as he’s a strange hybrid beast, with goat’s hooves, bat wings, a tiger’s face, and a large furry body. One hand is human, the other is clawed. Mary believes he is the devil. A week later, Buddy has been hiding in the cave eating the dead triceratops. Only Maxine is visiting him, and she explains that Ellen wants to see him because she got a phone call from the FBI about Cliff. Buddy and Ellen talk, and Ellen clearly has trouble accepting this new body; she rejects Buddy’s advances and after saying that the FBI has no leads past finding Dudley’s abandoned camper van, explains that while she still loves Buddy, she wants his original self back. When she turns around, Buddy is gone. Cliff has a weird dream about Dudley crashing the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and wakes to Dud standing over him, giving him water. He’s been in the cave for ten days, starving and alone. Dudley explains that he wanted Cliff to become like him, and to talk with “Old Man Death,” and puts a medicine bag around his neck. His hope is that Cliff will understand his world view and cuts him so they can be blood brothers; instead, Cliff tells him he hates him. Buddy has been flying non-stop across the country, and somehow manages to arrive at the canyon where Dudley’s taken his son. He swims into the caves, following a thin trail of Cliff’s blood that only he could smell. Dudley explains that the hearts in the cave belonged to monkeys, not children, and as he starts to lead Cliff out of the cave, Buddy emerges from the water. Dudley thinks he’s Death, and prepares to give him Cliff. They struggle and both end up in the water. Buddy saves Cliff and lets Dudley get swept away. Outside, he cradles the boy. The second chapter in this issue was drawn by Scot Eaton. Cliff has a bad dream and when he wakes, we see he’s back on the farm, with Ellen sitting next to him. He’s confused about Buddy, who stays outside the room. Buddy and Ellen talk, and Ellen is still upset about the changes made to Buddy (and about what happened to her son). Buddy tries to explain that he tried to recreate his own body, but without a DNA template, wasn’t able to. Maxine hears this and goes into raccoon mode, and digs through the trash. She finds the medicine bag with Buddy’s fingers in it. He takes them and heads back to his cave, sealing himself in. He ingests his fingers and makes a kind of cocoon with his wings. Ellen has a hard time drawing, instead remembering a dream she had where Buddy, in his new form, was eaten by hundreds of animals until his human self emerged. Maxine complains that Cliff was scaring her. Ellen talks to her son, who is feeling a little morbid these days. Ellen goes for a hike. Buddy wakes, back in his regular body, but finds he can’t get out of his cave in his new weakened form. He yells in frustration an Ellen hears him. She helps pull him out of the cave and then tries to warm him up. This issue ends with a seven-page comic by Cliff, staring the Kannibal Kid, but really drawn by Russell Braun.
- Issue fifty-seven is the first published under the umbrella of Vertigo, DC’s mature readers line. Animal Man, alongside Sandman, Shade the Changing Man, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, and Doom Patrol, became separate from the DC Universe at this point, and lived more or less in its own world. When Buddy loses focus, he joins animals at various points around the Earth. His consciousness merges with a seal in Labrador, until Ellen calls him back. They are at the farm, and we learn that Ellen is headed to the city for a while to look for work, and that Buddy is legally dead, and therefore limited in his employment options. The next day, she leaves Buddy and the kids to take the train. Buddy takes the kids shopping, and it leads to some bizarre moments. Cliff is kicked out of a video store after the owner sees him talking to a religious nut outside. Maxine gets upset by the dead animals in the butcher’s section of the grocery store. Maxine needs to get some fabric from the haberdasher’s for her grandmother, but then offends the woman by pointing out that her dog is horny. Buddy lets the kids go to a burger joint for some fries, and while he continues to shop, he thinks about how precarious human civilization really is. He’s surprised to see that all of the pets have escaped an exotic pet store, and returns to the truck while looking for the kids. Cliff and Maxine are hiding in the truck as the police arrive to try to corral the monkeys and alligator. As it turns out, Maxine told a monkey to unlock all the animals; at bedtime, she and Buddy laugh about it. Cliff and Buddy share a moment, and then Mary measures him. Ellen calls, and they laugh about the day together. Ellen mentions that the friend she’s staying with, Juliet, has a new boyfriend named Mike, and that Juliet has gone out. Their conversation turns a little sexy (she’s just wearing a robe), and after it ends and she hangs up, Mike appears, exposing himself and coming on to her.
- Buddy merges with the mind of a bird protecting its young while its mate hunts for food, and when he returns to his own mind, realizes that his explorations of the Lifeweb match how he’s feeling with Ellen out of town. His moans scare Mary a little. In New York, Mike tries to force himself on Ellen. She kicks him, and they are struggling when her friend Juliet returns home. In another room, Juliet admits that she is afraid of Mike, and that he is mobbed up, and insisted that she leave him alone with Ellen. Ellen leaves, and Mike beats on Juliet. Ellen is walking around New York in the rain in the middle of the night, and she feels very unsafe. She is mugged, kicked, and abandoned. No one will help her, and when she approaches a police car, she actually interrupts a cop getting oral sex from a prostitute. The cop tries to lure her into the car for sexual favours, and Ellen slaps him. Luckily the cops are called away when another officer is shot somewhere. The prostitute tries to help Ellen, but also assumes that Ellen is a “pro” too. The prostitute buys some drugs, and tells Ellen she’ll take her to a shelter, but two plain clothes cops pull up to arrest Ellen for assaulting the officer. They find the prostitute’s drugs on her, and book her. That whole process is terrible for Ellen, and made worse when her public defender also suggests she plead guilty. Ellen meets Jaqueline, better known as Jack, in the holding cell, and tells her what happened. Feeling safe with Jack, Ellen sleeps. Buddy speaks to Juliet on the phone, and learns that Ellen has been unaccounted for for a whole day. He gets a bad feeling.
- Buddy’s arrived in New York, and is looking for Ellen, with little luck. He’s not comfortable in the city, which he sees in terms of schools of fish swimming amidst predators. He thinks he smells Ellen’s perfume and drops to all fours to better use dog senses. Ellen has gone to see her friend Juliet. She explains that, at her friend Jack’s urging, she cut a deal with the police to expose Mike’s connections with the mob. Juliet is furious, and receives a call from Mike, who is already out of jail. Juliet lies and says she hasn’t seen Ellen. She gives her twenty dollars and sends her away. Buddy ends up accosting a woman on the street, unable at first to realize that she is simply wearing Ellen’s coat. A scene develops, and some cops show up to calm things down. When Buddy growls at one of them, he is clubbed on the head and stuffed into a squad car. Ellen goes to the Sisters Without Mercy bookstore, where Jack told her she could get some help. She meets a group of radical feminists – Sarah, Kris, Tony, Myra, and Selene, and tells them her story. She calls her mother and discovers that Mike called there and left a message saying that if Ellen doesn’t meet him, he’s going to hurt her mother and kids. Kris wants to kill Mike, but Ellen refuses. Instead, they come up with another plan, centred on the fact that Mike is very homophobic. The Sisters call up Honey, a cross-dressing friend of theirs to come help. Ellen calls Mike and agrees to meet with him at a hotel. Later, Mike arrives at the hotel. Ellen pours him a drink and spikes it with some powder. She goes into the bathroom to freshen up and changes places with Honey, who is wearing a wig to look like her. The Sisters watch on video as Mike forces Honey to service him at gunpoint. When Mike wakes up, he watches a video that shows him that he had sex with a man, and during it, gave up a lot of mob secrets. The Sisters arrive, in masks, and rob Mike, and then make it clear that they are keeping the video tape he watched, and that if anything happens to Ellen and her family, they will expose him. The Sisters celebrate, but Ellen feels like she’s done something wrong. In the last panel, we see that Buddy is locked up and howling for Ellen.
- Animal dreaming again, Buddy joins an alligator that is being caught and anesthetized by some police officers. We see that he is in a straight-jacket and being kept in a padded cell in a jail. Ellen is back on the farm and feeling safe again, although she wonders where Buddy is. We see Buddy loaded into a van to be taken to a mental institute. He uses skunk powers to get the guard to stop the van and open it, and then, using snake powers, he slithers out of his bonds. He flies naked out of the van, and stops at an office for a religious ministry to use the phone. He calls the farm and tells Cliff he’s on his way home; the two Christian women in modest dresses are stunned by both his nudity and his smell. Ellen tells Mary what happened to her in New York, and Mary is shocked. Ellen is surprised that she’s speaking so highly of Buddy lately. Maxine tells everyone that Buddy’s coming, and he lands, still naked, in front of them, shocking Mary. Later, Buddy is in the bath with Ellen trying to scrub the smell off him. They talk about her new friends, and Buddy begins to talk about how people need to get right with nature again. He sees common purpose with the Sisters Without Mercy, and even talks about gathering an ark full of weirdos. Ellen gives Buddy the clothes that Mary has been making for him, and asks him to wear it to dinner that night. Mary is nervous about her gift, and is being crotchety with Cliff. Buddy shows up in a new homemade superhero suit that is very ill-fitting. Mary decides it’s because he’s lost weight.
- An old man fishes on the coast. With typical Delano writing, we learn that he was offended when the woman who lives up on the dunes refused a fish from him because she feels the waters are polluted. On his last cast of the day, the man pulls a huge knot of lobsters onto the shore, and they devour him. Buddy, Ellen, and the kids are on their way to the shore for a vacation, but the kids are bickering and Buddy is a little lost in his head, thinking about how much pollution cars create. They pull into a rest station, and Buddy attacks a family that is barbecuing, throwing their steaks at them and trying to damage their car. At the same time, Cliff is attacked by a bunch of ducks, and Maxine has an odd encounter with woodchucks. Buddy calms down, and they decide to leave. At the shore, Annie Cassidy works on a painting (of lobsters eating a man) but can’t concentrate. She talks to her daughter, Lucy, who tells her that a bunch of garbage washed in overnight, and that the old fisherman went missing. She also tells her that the Bakers are renting the cabin below them. Annie goes for a hike. Buddy and Ellen get ready to go swimming while the kids look around, and Buddy talks about how he’d felt himself wrapped up in a wave of something. They aren’t happy to see Maxine playing with used condoms (Vertigo, folks), and realize that there is a polluted creek running into the ocean right by their cabin. Lucy shows up to introduce herself, and tells them to not swim. Buddy, Ellen, and Maxine decide to take a boat out for a bit, but Cliff wants to stay with Lucy. Annie watches from up above, and we learn that Lucy is dying from something caused by pollution. She climbs up to a cave that has ancient carvings in it, as well as a carved seat. She sits there, as she often does, to let her rage seep into the Earth. The Bakers are watching dolphins swim alongside their boat when Buddy starts to feel unwell again. The dolphins also become angry, and crash into the boat, breaking it apart.
- Buddy finds himself getting wrapped up in the same force that is making the dolphins so angry but cuts through it to save his wife and daughter from them. Cliff hangs out in the dunes with Lucy, who explains that she is lonely living so far from the town. They talk about how Annie is angry at the world, and expects humanity to die out soon, and we learn that Lucy’s father tried bombing a chemical plant in town and is now serving time. They go to see rabbits, and Cliff is surprised when one runs at him and headbutts him. More rabbits chase them. They go back to Annie’s trailer, where Cliff looks at her painting – it shows a red wave bearing down on the chemical plant, with a large sea creature riding it, while other animals attack people. Annie comes home and talks about adding dolphins to her painting. On TV, we learn that there have been a rash of animal attacks all over the northeast. Buddy believes they are radiating from Malecite Bay, where they are. Ellen thinks that Buddy might be behind all of this. Cliff returns home, and tells his parents about his new friends. When Buddy sends him to bed, he gets angry; Ellen checks on him and he tells her they are invited to a cookout with the Cassidys. The next night, the adults drink wine by a fire and Annie talks about how her family cut her loose after her husband went to jail. She and Buddy bond over their fears for the future. Cliff and Lucy go for a walk, the adults talk about the animal attacks, and Maxine gets upset about a news story about global warming. Annie chides Ellen for comforting her, and reveals that Lucy has leukemia, which she believes is tied to her husband’s time at the chemical plant. Annie continues to show her anger. It’s worth pointing out that in the background in a couple of places, we see Lucy and Cliff kissing. Later, Ellen and Buddy talk in bed. Ellen wonders if Annie is connected to the animal attacks, and Buddy is a little annoyed. He’s growing more and more worried about the future, but doesn’t believe he can do anything about it. He says he can feel something out there; in the last panel, the clouds over the ocean resemble the creature in Annie’s painting.
- Issue sixty-three marked the end of Brian Bolland’s incredible run of incredible covers. It also finished off the Tooth and Claw arc. Buddy, unable to sleep, swims into the ocean and finds himself surrounded by angry fish. Annie is also unable to sleep, having had a bad dream, and heads up to the cave so she can manage her anger. Birds start going crazy everywhere, flying into the cabin window and scaring Ellen. Lucy turns up at the cabin, worrying that she can’t find her mother. Buddy swims and discovers the extent of pollution off the shore, as well as the remains of an ancient city. He has to fight against the rage of the sea creatures, and comes across a massive being. Ellen and the kids prepare to go looking for Annie, and when they arrive at her cave, Cliff refuses to enter. The others find Annie, and Maxine intuits how indigenous people came to the cave to dream about animals and “the big thing”. Annie is in a trance, apparently channeling the Leviathan, which intends to flood the world to bring it peace. Maxine explains that Annie’s anger woke and stirred up the Leviathan. Buddy swims with all the fish, recognizing that the world has turned on humanity. A huge wave forms, with Buddy riding its crest. Cliff watches this, as sea creatures begin to rain down around him, including sharks. Annie doesn’t understand her connection to the storm, and continues to rage against everything. Lucy gets angry, as she’s been made to feel like getting sick and everything bad that happened because of it is her fault. She threatens to kill herself, but Maxine stops her. Maxine says that instead of getting angry, everyone should just cry out their bad feelings so they can begin to feel happy again. The wave washes over Cliff, but Buddy catches him. They see the Leviathan, and see the wave destroy their cabin. Leviathan turns back, and things return to normal. Buddy and Cliff find the others. Later, we learn that Buddy has rented a new car for them to go home in, and that Annie is still crying. Cliff explains that he told Annie and Lucy they can come and live on the farm with them.
- With issue sixty-four, which marks the departure of Steve Pugh for a short stretch, we get to the new status quo for this title. Mary is a little disturbed by how much her life has changed since Ellen, Buddy, and the kids have moved to the farm. Now Annie and Lucy are living in a teepee on her yard, and she feels both her age and a renewed sense of responsibility for her growing family. Cliff and Maxine head off to school, Ellen works on a picture book, and Buddy visits Annie for a chat. They talk about Lucy’s illness, which is stable, and Buddy’s growing guilt over the state of the world. He again mentions his idea of building a metaphorical ark at the farm, and Annie talks about her belief in a harsh female God. Ellen is lost in a reverie of drawing, but is interrupted by the phone, and has to go into town to pick up the kids from school, who got in trouble. When she arrives, the principal starts to lecture her, and Ellen loses her temper, pulling the kids out of school completely. In the car, she tells the kids she’s angry with them. Later, she talks to Buddy about the school, but also about her growing uncertainty for the future. Cliff explains that at school Maxine was playing with a raccoon when other kids chased it into traffic, and it was killed. Angry, and accused of lying about Buddy being alive, she resurrected the poor creature with her abilities, which led to the kids throwing stones at her. Cliff started to fight the kids to protect her. Mary sits on the porch, and for a moment Ellen fears she’s passed away. She tells Ellen that she feels her faith has been restored, alludes to a visit from an old friend, and states that Ellen should live her life the way she wants. The last panel suggests that someone or something is watching them talk.
- Buddy and Ellen are hanging out in the woods together, and Buddy tries to explain what his connection to the Lifeweb feels like for him. He attempts to do this through a stream-of-consciousness description of all that is happening around him in the quiet-seeming forest. Ellen feels a little shut out, and perhaps jealous of Annie’s apparent connection to the natural world. She suggests that Buddy open up to her sexually, and before they begin, Buddy points out a smell in the air, and says he feels like he’s being watched. Cliff and Lucy are hanging out in the barn together, and Cliff has stopped kissing her after smelling something strange. They talk about the fact that Lucy wants to have sex with him, but she respects the fact that Cliff is not quite ready. Myra and Selene, from the Sisters Without Mercy, drive towards the farm. They stop to look at things, and after smelling something, begin to make out. Maxine interrupts them, and at first acts surprised to see two women kissing, but also says it doesn’t bother her. We get a very graphic page of animals having sex, followed by Buddy and Ellen’s post-coital conversation. Ellen didn’t enjoy their experimentation, as she felt the Lifeweb to be hungry and selfish. Back at the farm, the two newcomers are hanging out with everyone. Ellen comes in, while Buddy stops to talk to Mary on the porch. She talks about how she is accepting of all the people moving onto the farm, and asks Buddy he has plans for the “ark” he’s apparently building. Mary tells Buddy that the smell everyone has been smelling is the smell of God. She explains that she’s seen God before, when she was a child, and that he’s “about eight and a half feet tall with green eyes an’ red hair an’ he smells of pine an’ bear an’ honey”. She points out where he’s standing near the trees.
- Buddy has been running after the creature for a while now. He remembers seeing him with Mary, and being surprised because he couldn’t feel the being in the Lifeweb. Mary reiterates that he is God, and explains how she used to hide in the woods as a child when her father had been drinking. One day the God came to her and she took comfort in its arms. It motioned for her to leave with it, but she instead returned home, where her father beat her. She tells Buddy to follow it. Ellen and Annie talk while sitting under a tree in the rain. Ellen tells her that she was jealous of her connection with the animal world, and Annie admits that Buddy seemed interested in her. They talk about Ellen’s sexual experiment, and how it made her feel. Annie admits that she’s stopped having sex, and explains how she thinks nature is making people less sexually potent as a way of staving off destruction. She also laughs at the idea of having sex with Buddy because he’s such a bimbo. Buddy continues to follow the trail of the creature, crossing over into Canada and climbing a mountain. He finds a gathering of the creatures, the Silent Walkers, and learns that they have always shadowed mankind, keeping away from people and their development, while also always watching over them. They’ve always had minimal impact on their environment, but now feel that their time has come to an end. They bathe with Buddy in a waterfall and share a meal with him, and then they disappear. Buddy feels a new sense of possibility within him, and naked again, flies home. Ellen lies half-awake in bed, thinking about how her mother has changed the last few days. Buddy returns, startling her, and she explains that Maxine went off to protest a logging operation in order to save a squirrel nest, and had to be brought home by the police. Buddy begins to explain where he’s been, and Ellen is shocked to see that his eyes have changed.
- In ‘93, many Vertigo series had a crossover, called The Children’s Crusade, run across their annuals, including Animal Man, although most of the oversized story fit perfectly with what was going on in the series already. Cliff and Lucy are hanging out by the pond, with Cliff drawing a picture of his girlfriend, when Maxine, playing with some frogs, ruins his art. Cliff gets angry and acts like he’s going to hurt a frog when Maxine attacks him, scratching his face. She runs to her room, feeling terrible and trying to hide in the Red Place. Ellen comes to talk to her, and sends her to have a bath. Buddy comes to talk to her (he has cat eyes now, and it’s not really discussed). Buddy calms Maxine down, and explains his ark concept yet again. When Maxine asks if animals can live at the ark, he agrees. She thinks about all the animals in pain around the world, and begins to call them to the farm. A local farmer explains to the Sheriff, Robbie Reinhardt, how he shot a lion that was attacking his livestock, and they agree that there are strange noises coming from the Frazier farm. Maxine walks through the woods, which are now filled with exotic, non-indigenous species. She explains to the remaining lions that they can’t scare the zebras anymore, and while she talks to the elephants, she recognizes that Buddy is having problems. He’s been pulled over by the Sheriff, and has to lie about his identity, since he’s legally dead. The Sheriff gets suspicious, and overreacts when he sees Buddy’s eyes. He tries to arrest him, but Maxine shows up with the elephants and they trample the squad car, sending the cop running. Later, everyone gathers at the farm to make plans. Mary takes charge, and tells Myra and Selene to leaves, since Myra is wanted. She also tells Buddy to take off, and says she wants Maxine to hide the animals in the woods. A government operative, Ray Dillinger, shows up to lead a task force, as she believes that Buddy is still alive. She tells her men that they can use lethal force on the animals. Ellen is nervous, but Mary is calm. Buddy is circling in the sky, having turned into a human-bird hybrid. When the Feds pull up, everyone acts normal, and Mary demonstrates her strength. It goes well until a rhinoceros walks into the yard, and when the Feds prepare to shoot it, Maxine runs to it. Things go a little nuts, Buddy attacks the men shooting at his daughter, and Maxine leads the rhino to the other animals. She is upset to find them all fighting and feasting on a zebra. She forces them to stop, and is trying to convince them all to go vegetarian, when they hear the dogs coming after them. Maxine tries to lead the animals away, but it all goes wrong, and they are shot. Buddy tries to reach her, but is shot in the arm and falls. Maxine runs, and is called by a big rabbit in a briar patch. He’s Jack Rabbit, and he’s there to take her to Free Country. She’s conflicted, wanting to split in two, so her good side can stay with her family and her wild side can go to Free Country. As the dogs get closer, and the briar patch is set on fire, she agrees to go. Buddy recovers in time to see her chased by dogs into a warren under a tree; he (naked again) attacks the dogs, and tries to dig his daughter out. Dillinger shows up to arrest him, and he resists her. The Sheriff and his deputy decide to help. Buddy takes Maxine’s unconscious body back to the farm, refusing help from the Feds. The Sheriff steps in to stop Dillinger from arresting Buddy, since she botched the whole operation; he threatens to expose her to his Senator uncle. The Sheriff apologizes to the family, and everyone leaves. Mary tells them to put the house (which was ransacked) back in order. Maxine’s story is continued in other annuals I’m not reading for this column.
- A female gorilla cannot figure out what’s wrong with its newborn baby, and feels no love for it. Ellen wakes up to see that “Maxine” has soiled her bedclothes and is staring at her with an empty grin. Ellen can’t manage it, and sends Buddy to clean her up. Later in the morning, Ellen and Mary talk about how Ellen feels so cold towards her daughter. Cliff comes in, having expected breakfast in bed, and gets angry when no one seems to have plans that include him for the day (we can see that the date has been circled on the kitchen calendar). He storms out and heads to Annie’s teepee. She tells him that Lucy is sleeping, on her period, and depressed. Cliff wanders off looking for Buddy. He sneaks up on him, but is the one who is surprised when he sees that Buddy has transformed into a hybrid of many beasts. He explains that he was searching The Red for Maxine, and forgot how his body changes now. Cliff is upset about him forgetting something. Cliff checks in on Myra and Selene, who are fixing up an old car. Selene gives him some money and sends him into town to buy some diapers for Maxine. Cliff rides up to a baby store in the rain, and creates a bit of a scene, claiming to be a teenage father and talking about how his baby was born with teeth and eats hamburger. When he goes to leave, he is accosted by local teens, who chase him. As he rides away from them, he gets hit by Deputy Dan, who he yells at before passing out. When he wakes up, he’s in his boxers and lying on a couch, being looked after by Evelyn, Dan’s wife. She tells him that her husband is always driving into things, and she convinces him to tell her everything that has him upset. Cliff unloads about how messed up his day has been, and how he is worried about his sister, and why he acted the way he did at the baby store. As he talks, Evelyn lays her hands on his leg and heals him. She is tired and goes to lie down. Deputy Dan returns home and explains that Evelyn has some healing powers. Dan talks to him about God’s plans, and Cliff asks if Evelyn could come and try to fix “Maxine.” He also reveals that it’s his birthday.
- All of the women at the farm prepare a birthday party for Cliff while Ellen feels bad about having forgotten him. The mothers all talk about their experiences of giving birth, and we figure out that Lucy has gotten sicker. Ellen realizes that “Maxine” has slipped out again, but Buddy, still part bird-man, returns with her. He’s gone into town to get a guitar for Cliff, and has not seen any sign of him. Annie brings up the possibility that he’s off drinking, and they all hear a siren outside. Myra and Selene slip away while Buddy goes out to confront Deputy Dan. Ellen mistakes Evelyn for someone from child welfare, but Cliff explains that he brought them as friends. Mary invites them in, and Cliff realizes that they remembered his birthday. Evelyn mistakes Lucy for Maxine, and is surprised to meet the real article. Evelyn finds it hard to reach Maxine with her healing energy, and Buddy suggests that they take a break and eat first. Ellen, Buddy, and Annie talk about whether or not they should let Evelyn try to heal their children, while Dan teaches Cliff how to play the guitar. Evelyn decides it’s time to start the healing. When Ellen explains that Myra is afraid of uniforms, Dan heads out to check in with the police station. The women, Cliff, and Buddy all join hands, but Annie demurs until Evelyn makes clear that Annie’s non-Christian belief system is fine with her. Dan lets everyone know that he has to go track down an old lady who left a gas station without paying. As he drives, he muses about what a good kid Cliff is, and how he’s never going to use his gun in his career. He flags down the woman’s vehicle and approaches slowly. Evelyn feels her healing energies gather in Lucy, but doesn’t seem to be able to reach “Maxine.” She feels like her energies are going down a drain, and it takes a lot out of her. At that moment, she rears back. The old woman in the car pulls a gun on Dan, and Evelyn collapses on the kitchen floor. Lucy feels great, while Maxine has not changed at all. Evelyn says she felt Dan go, and is a little cryptic. The Sheriff calls (I guess he knew they were at the farm) to tell her that Dan was killed. Evelyn feels sorry for the old lady who killed him, and says she is going to stay at the farm for a while, hoping to help Maxine.
- Buddy dreams that winter has closed around his ark, trapping it in pack ice, and that a giant white whale smashes the ark, causing him to lose his family. At the same time, Ellen lies awake and doesn’t get up when she hears “Maxine” leave the house on a cold, snowy night. Instead, she opens the window and watches the snow fall. When Buddy’s dream and the cold wake him, she tells him that Maxine has left. Buddy panics and wakes everyone up. While Mary works to get Ellen warmed up, Cliff gets Buddy to start searching for the girl. Mary bathes Ellen, while Ellen explains that she feels like Maxine has been dead since the events of the annual, especially since Evelyn’s repeated attempts to help her have failed. Now she worries that Buddy is going to treat her differently. Cliff is very worried, and Buddy, who has transformed halfway into a polar bear, thinks she’s been gone for a couple of hours. Cliff rides Buddy, and at one point they swim across a pond, which wouldn’t have been possible for Maxine, in just a nightgown, to do. Back at the farm, Myra is convinced that everything bad that’s happened has been her fault, because she killed her husband. She insists that she and Selene have to leave, or Maxine will be found dead. Annie has a hard time dealing with things, while Mary decides to join Evelyn in prayer. Buddy figures that “Maxine” is headed for the tree he pulled her out of, and as he and Cliff get close, passing the skeletal remains of the various animals that were killed there, Buddy stops short. Cliff runs up to the tree while Buddy feels the same way he did in his dream. Cliff finds “Maxine’s” body, and states that birds have already eaten her eyes. Cliff doesn’t know what the family is going to do next.
- Buddy, Cliff, Ellen, Mary, Annie, Lucy, and Evelyn gather to bury “Maxine” in the roots of the tree where she died, but no one is able to speak. Afterwards, Ellen lets Buddy know that she’s heading into the city; Buddy insists he still loves her, but Ellen feels she has to leave to figure things out. Alone, Buddy bites his arm hard and screams. He goes to visit Annie in her teepee. He explains that Ellen is going to stay with the Sisters Without Mercy and travel to a women’s’ commune with them. Annie tries to help Buddy understand what’s happened to him, and how she feels that Buddy’s sense of duty to his family has kept him from evolving into what he’s supposed to be; with Ellen leaving, he has permission to make whatever changes he needs to. They admire the goddess carving that Annie made, and they embrace. Buddy gets swept up in the Red, and ends up having weird animal sex with Annie. Afterwards, she’s surprised that it happened, and tries to figure it out. Buddy wakes up and feels weird, quoting Jim Morrison’s “plan a murder or start a religion” line. Annie gets annoyed as he leaves, and isn’t impressed to see that Lucy was waiting outside. They argue briefly but then Annie apologizes. Cliff is standing vigil over Maxine’s grave, not even sure why he hasn’t left yet. He hears digging, and thinks that it’s going to be an animal trying to get at her body. Instead, he’s terrified to find Maxine digging her way out of the tree roots, seemingly back to her usual self. He runs away screaming.
- Buddy has transformed into an animal hybrid form similar to the one he had when he returned from the dead. He has large wings, chicken feet, teeth and a beak, and large ibex horns coming from his head. In a rage against humanity, he flies towards Washington DC, and decides that he will champion The Red in trying to turn the tide of humanity. He summons birds, rats, and roaches to him in the thousands. Maxine wakes up next to her grandmother, and remembers returning from Free Country because she could feel her father calling to her. She dug her way out of the rabbit warren and found Cliff terrified to see her. She remembers coming to her grandmother, who bathed her, but doesn’t know why she didn’t see her parents. She goes to their bedroom, but they aren’t there. Annie watches TV and thinks about how sex with Buddy awoke some kind of craziness within her. She is distracted by the TV, which shows a reporter explaining the huge influx of birds at the capital, apparently being led by a figure on top of the Washington Monument. Maxine comes to talk to Annie, and points out that her father is on TV. The reporter is horrified to be engulfed in a flood of rats. Ellen and three of the Sisters of Mercy – Sarah, Kris, and Tony – watch the same broadcast in New York. The reporter makes the connection between Buddy’s new shape and his former Animal Man identity. Maxine tries to reach him through The Red, but he’s too angry. He flies straight at the reporter, and her feed goes dead. With the feed restored, the reporter interview Buddy. He talks about how he’s an emissary of nature who, because his daughter is dead at the government’s hands, is going to war with humanity, starting with America. While he talks, government agents arrive. Buddy says that animalkind will suffer great, but acceptable, losses. Maxine still can’t reach him, so Cliff calls the new station and gets put through to his father. He tells Buddy that Maxine is still alive and lets him talk to her. Ellen hears him speak to her over the TV and we see the animals start to disperse. The reporter asks what is happening, and Buddy is a little confused. He prepares to fly home, but is shot by some sort of electrical weapon, wielded by Ray Dillinger.
- Dillinger is on the phone with a superior who is clearly chewing her out, while Sarah, the lawyer from the Sisters Without Mercy, smirks. She is taken to see Buddy in detention, where he’s been sedated. As he comes to, he asks for Maxine and becomes agitated. Sarah stops the guard from tasing him, and explains that due to the fact that he didn’t hurt anyone, that the public is on his side, and that Maxine is alive, the government has agreed to free him provided that he doesn’t wage war on the US again. Sarah advises he sign it so he can go home. Back at the farm, Ellen holds Maxine and they talk about how much has changed since she was gone. Ellen explains that she left so she wouldn’t hold Buddy back anymore. Cliff talks to a gaggle of reporters staking out the farm hoping to see “Little Miss Miracle”, Maxine. Lucy asks Annie if she’s going to tell Ellen that she had sex with Buddy, and Lucy gets annoyed at how self-absorbed Annie can be. Evelyn speaks to a crackpot on the phone, and then talks to Mary until Maxine runs through the kitchen announcing that Buddy is coming. Outside, reporters try to talk to her, but she ignores them as Buddy flies over to her. Later, Buddy and Ellen talk. She explains that she still needs to go and spend time with the Sisters, and they discuss how Buddy is going to stay in his new hybrid form. Ellen makes it clear that she still loves him, and tries to explain that something is going on with her and Sarah, but he keeps cutting her off and reveals that he had sex with Annie, which does not surprise Ellen. At dinner, the extended family is watched by reporters through their window. Buddy talks about how his rage has subsided, but that he feels the need to fight to protect The Red. Annie talks about how humanity’s consciousness needs to be raised, but Sarah says that’s what environmentalists have been trying to do for decades. Buddy wants people to feel the world as he does, and Annie suggests that they start a religion around a new leader to lead people into a better reality. Buddy thinks she means that he would be the new messiah, but she disagrees, seeing Buddy as the preacher. She proposes that Maxine be the centre of The Life-Power Church of Maxine.
- Ellen and Sarah in a motel room somewhere, and Ellen is trying to find a TV show called Make Your Case on the set, because Maxine is going to be on it with Buddy, debuting the Life-Power Church of Maxine. Sarah can’t understand what people are referring to when they talk about The Red. Cliff and Lucy are in the studio audience for the show. Cliff is a little jealous that he doesn’t get to be famous, and together they make jokes about Jesus which the people around them don’t enjoy. Annie joins them and starts drinking from a flask. Buddy and Maxine both find the makeup artist condescending, and Maxine doesn’t like how much she’s been dressed up. The show begins with the host, Ernesto (a Geraldo Rivera stand-in) introducing and kind of mocking our heroes. Buddy talks about how he has evolved as a way to protect The Red, and tries to explain how life power is resurrected through it. He says that both he and Maxine have been through this rebirth process, perhaps as a form of inoculation for humanity. Ernesto suggests that The Red is another name for God. After a break, Buddy makes the claim that humanity needs to reconnect with nature, but Ernesto rejects that, and gets on Buddy’s nerves. He decides to demonstrate the power of The Red, and begins to roar. The noise he makes begins to affect everyone in the audience, and even sets off the animals and insects around Ellen’s motel. Maxine gets mad at Buddy for acting like this, and tries to calm him down. They disagree with each other over the correct methods to make people more aware, and Maxine insists that people are born good, and can be that way again. She suggests that children should be leading adults, and soothes the frightened Ernesto, while also pointing out that he’s defecated himself.
- A boy named Tod is listening to the song “Better Red Than Dead” by Year Zero, which has become an anthem for the Life-Power Church. Following the song’s instructions, he kicks in his TV, sets his dad’s car on fire, and starts hitchhiking to Vermont. He gets passed by Buddy, Cliff, Annie, and Lucy, who are driving the truck in the opposite direction. We learn that a ton of kids have been showing up at the farm, as the Life-Power Church has been gaining traction. Tod walks with a girl named Rachel, who is now calling herself Turtle. We learn that kids have been “Red Dreaming”, and that her father drove her, happy that she’s leaving home so he and her mother can move into an RV. Tod tells her that he followed the song’s instructions as they arrive at Arkadia. Tod’s Red Dreaming has shown him visions of being part of a swarm of locusts, so Turtle gives him Locust as a new name. Mary and Evelyne talk in the kitchen. Evelyne is opening mail and gathering donations (while throwing out hate mail), while Mary cooks and frets at the number of people joining the Church. Maxine leads small groups of teens in Red Dreaming, while Locust and Turtle chat. In Oregon, Ellen and Sarah talk about what’s going on with the Church, and how animal-related weirdness is spreading across the country. Sarah is afraid of the Red Dreaming, while Ellen feels separate from her family. Buddy and crew are at a Year Zero party/concert/rave, and Buddy appears uncomfortable with the attention he’s getting. Annie convinces a woman to go hit on Buddy, and then she chats with Bear Paw, Year Zero’s frontman, who is pretty earnest in his beliefs (which makes him easy for Annie to mock). Cliff has tried weed and can’t find Lucy, so Annie dances with him. A middle-aged guy in a bar rants about the Church, complaining that his son, who was named after his dead brother, wrecked his house. The man, Tod’s father, admits that he burned down his own house, and shows the bartender that he has a shotgun and is going to head to Vermont to “do some huntin’.”
- The Life-Power Church has continued to grow, and now Buddy is leading a procession of teenagers and animals along Route 66. As they prepare to pass through a small town, locals prepare as if for a hurricane, and Ray Dillinger, the government agent, arrives dressed as one of the “Red Plague”, as they are now known. She’s planning on infiltrating Buddy’s group, and assaults a preacher who gives her a hard time. The Plague rolls into town, with Buddy flying overhead and Cliff, Lucy, and Annie riding in a car pulled by sled dogs. Buddy stays above, communing with The Red, and feeling very good. At the commune where the Sisters Without Mercy are staying, the animals are refusing to be milked or to give up their eggs. Selene and Ellen talk, mostly about how Ellen feels weird not being with her family. She says she had sex with Buddy in a Red Dream. Myra arrives with the mail, and Ellen has a letter from Cliff that’s told in comics form, and takes up three pages. We learn that the Red Plague decided to stay on the move to avoid problems with the law, and that whenever they go through a town, they leave a huge mess behind. Animals break free of farms to join them, and they often loot grocery stores. Cliff is aware of the government trailing them, and Ellen interprets that he is either asking her to join them or warning her away. Tod’s father checks into a motel a few hours behind the Plague. He makes it clear that he’s going to get his son back and shoot anyone who gets in his way. At the Plague’s camp, Ray Dillinger meets Turtle, who offers her food and asks to borrow a tampon. She sends Ray with Locust. Annie climbs a tree to talk with Buddy, and they talk about how out of control their movement is becoming. She suggests that they all move to land in Montana that Bear Paw has bought, but Buddy is more interested in knowing if they are still lovers.
- It’s been a few months, and the Red Plague continues to move West. The government has decided to make a stand on the Nebraska border. Another letter from Cliff to Ellen explains that Cliff is feeling uneasy on the prairies. Christians with guns have been threatening the Plague, and they know that the standoff is coming. The government has made it clear that crossing into Nebraska is not an option, and Cliff is not sure what’s going to happen next. Ellen finishes the letter, and wants to check the news, but a new woman at the commune named Dolores gives her a hard time. We see that this is all getting to Ellen, and that the standoff continues, as more parents arrive trying to find their children who have joined the Plague. At the Plague’s camp, Annie explains that Buddy and some animals are going to create a diversion so everyone else can break north and head towards their new promised land. Ray Dillinger walks off, frustrated at having spent months among all these kids and animals. She ends up swimming with Maxine, and contemplates drowning her. Jack, Tod’s dad, has had a rough few months, landing in jail for vagrancy, before quitting drinking, and buying a run-down car and new gun to go after the Plague with. He’s close again, and after gassing up, heads out to find his son. Ray decides to leave camp and try to call her superiors at a closeby gas station. She gets caught by a bunch of locals in a pickup truck. She fights them, and does some serious damage to them, but they overpower her and tie her up. They strip her, and plan to rape her. Jack, having seen the lights in the cornfield where this is happening, stands by watching, but then decides he needs to act. He stops the rape from happening, and cuts Ray loose. She attacks one of the men, and Jack tells her to douse their truck in gasoline, which he then shoots and sets on fire. He tells Ray to take him to Animal Man.
- The great Peter Snejbjerg drew issue seventy-seven, which reminds me of just how into his art I was in the mid-nineties. Buddy and Annie are talking again, and it’s clear that they are not as much on the same page as they were before. Annie walks away from Buddy, and we learn that she’s pregnant after they had sex a second time (which makes it after his transformation). Annie’s a little worried about just what the baby might be, but her thoughts are interrupted by Turtle and Locust, who are also clearly having relations. Annie reminds them to stay safe, but their conversation dies out when they notice Ray standing with an unfamiliar man at a fire. Locust realizes that it’s his father, with a gun. He begins to try to calm his dad down, but Jack hits him and starts to yell at him. Locust refuses to go home with him, and Jack hits him again. The others begin to circle this drama (Cliff is holding a torch), and Buddy shows up, emerging out of a lake and scaring Jack. Jack shoots Buddy right through his beak, and Cliff jumps at him. In the struggle that ensues, Cliff is shot in the leg. Back at the farm in Vermont, Evelyn wakes Mary to tell her that she felt someone get hurt, and that she thinks it was Cliff. They decide to go to Montana to check on everyone. Ellen packs and starts to say goodbye to Sarah; it seems she’s heading to see her family as well. It sounds like some of the other Sisters Without Mercy are going to go with her, and merge with the Life-Power Church; Sarah is not sure if she would be welcome. Ellen makes it clear that she loves Sarah, but that she’s not a lesbian. Apparently they haven’t had sex, but they do kiss, and Sarah makes plans to come with Ellen. Ray tends to Cliff’s wound, which is in his butt, and Jack tries to apologize. Buddy gets all angry, and animals start to circle the man. Locust grabs the gun, firing a shot in the air to clear the animals away, and defends his dad. Maxine takes the gun from him, throwing it into the lake, and decides that, since Locust wants to stay with Turtle and the Church, Jack should just come with them. Ray has gotten the bullet out of Cliff’s backside, but still thinks he needs to go to a hospital. Annie thinks that using mainstream healthcare weakens the Church’s position, while Cliff is worried that news of a shooting would be enough of an excuse for the Feds to send the National Guard after them. Annie figures out that Ray is working for the government but doesn’t say anything, and Cliff insists that he stay with the group when they move on.
- Cliff is in worse shape, and so Buddy flies off with him to seek help at the Promised Land. Ray begins to push back against Annie’s leadership, until Maxine defuses the argument temporarily. Annie makes it clear that she doesn’t trust Ray. At the Promised Land, Mary hangs out with Bear Paw, who talks about how they are building and preparing for the pilgrims travelling with the Red Plague. We also learn that people are arriving on their own, and burning their vehicles at the entrance to the place as a sign of their commitment. Evelyn emerges from a trailer to say that Buddy and Cliff are coming. They arrive, and Buddy quickly explains that he needs Evelyn to heal him. Ray receives an order, at last, to proceed with Option “B”, which means she is to poison Buddy with a biological agent. As Buddy leaves the Montana property, Ellen runs towards him, having just arrived with Sarah. Ellen knows Buddy saw her, and is angry with him. She sees her mother and learns that Cliff has been hurt. She feels the apathy of the last months wash away as she rushes to her son. Buddy feels conflicted between his human side, who wanted to run to Ellen, and his animal side, which doesn’t have time for sentiment. As he flies back to the Plague, he thinks about everything that’s happened since he died. He’s not sure where he’s headed anymore, and isn’t sure how to manage everyone’s expectations of him. He arrives at the camp and lands unseen, continuing to think. Ray sneaks towards him silently and shoots a blowdart at him. Buddy speaks to her, revealing that he’s known who she was all along. She explains that she hit him with a combination of various animal diseases, and that by the time the Plague arrives at the Promised Land, he should be losing his mind and bodily control, with the plan being that he die on national TV. Buddy thanks Ray for reviving his sense of determination, as he realizes that he needs to die again.
- After a week of hard marching, rushing against the disease that afflicts Buddy, the Red Plague has made it to the Promised Land, with Maxine in the lead on a bear, and the world’s media watching. They stream through the gate made of burned out cars, and arrive to find a party underway. Ray has stayed with the Plague, even though she’s completed her mission, because she wants to see the end of the Life-Power Church. Ellen and Annie sit and talk in an abandoned house on the property. Ellen is annoyed that Buddy hasn’t come out of the sky, and Annie brings her up to speed on her being pregnant (Buddy doesn’t know about this yet) and Buddy’s illness. Annie admits to some guilt at having been a catalyst for all the weirdness in the Baker family’s lives, but Ellen assures her that it likely would have happened anyway. Sarah and Evelyn head out to check out the party, and to look for Myra, Selene, and some of the other Sisters Without Mercy who Mary saw arriving on TV; Mary decides she’d rather watch the events on TV while sipping whiskey in the hottub in Bear Paw’s trailer. A reporter, in the throng of people and animals partying, gets caught up in The Red and starts taking off her clothes and throwing herself at a man while on air. The news anchor reports on the tensions between the authorities and the Red Plague, before moving to cover Maxine’s speech on the main stage. Maxine talks about how Buddy is about to land, and how he’s talking to her through The Red. She tells the people that Buddy is proud of how they’ve changed the way they see the world, and that now that they’ve reached the Promised Land, there is no more place for him and his fierceness. That instead, people need to calm down and grow food and make babies. Maxine tells everyone that her father is going to give his body to The Red, which Annie approves of; she sees this as proof that the Life-Power Church is going to thrive. Ellen worries that this was predicted by her in a dream back when he first died. Bear Paw starts to play, and everyone in the audience begins to feel caught up in The Red, even Ray, who begins to make love to Jack. Maxine hides out backstage while Ellen and Annie stand around and watch everyone else start to copulate. Buddy, twisted and deformed now, lands on a hilltop, backlit by the sky so the cameras can’t see how sick he is, and as everyone has sex, animals rip him apart. Later, after everything quiets down and everyone is wrapped in post-coital sleep, Ellen and Annie find the sleeping Maxine and head to the trailer. They wonder if Buddy has managed to end the conflict between people and animals. They are called to the hot tub by Mary, and decide to join her to drink and talk about how they are going to run the Promised Land.
Twenty-five odd years after I first read it, I think I love this run as much as I did the first time through. I credit this run, which I first read in my late teens and earliest of twenties, with helping make me aware of issues around the environment and LGBT inclusion, but also introducing me to just how wonderful an artist Steve Pugh is, and just how florid Jamie Delano’s writing can get (check out his Avatar series about pirates – I forget the title – to see it taken to extremes).
Delano, Pugh, and the various guest artists took a character who was at one point a D-list superhero, and continued his evolution from meta-commentary on superheroes through avatar of indigenous perspectives, into a role as a messiah figure. They built on this slowly, first introducing the idea of the ark as a safe space for weirdos who want to live differently, before going full-bore into the Red Plague.
The thing is, had you asked me what I remembered best about this run before I reread it, I would have to say that it was the characters that always stuck with me. I grew to love Cliff, who started out as an annoying Bart Simpson look-alike in Morrison’s hands, and instead evolved into an abrasive yet loyal kid who put his family first, while recovering from abuse at the hands of his uncle. I also grew to love Mary, who slowly shook off her physical and emotional isolation to be the strong guardian of anyone who found their way to her. Delano portrayed Ellen as a very complicated character who wrestled with the divides within her personality. She wanted nothing more than to be a loving mother, yet found that to do that, she needed to be separated from her family, and ended up living in a commune with lesbians, including a woman she fall in love with.
Annie is one of the best characters in this comic. She’s also very complex and difficult to predict, but at the same time, incredibly internally consistent. Her place in the Life-Power Church is interesting, as she’s clearly not a believer, but is also the person that keeps it running. Her relationship with everyone in the book is often prickly – especially that with her daughter and with Ellen – although she always seems nicest to Cliff. Her relationship with Buddy is interesting to watch develop.
Maxine only began to be unusual, in terms of animal powers, during Tom Veitch’s run, but Delano really leans into that, and manages to take the editorial mandate of the Children’s Crusade crossover, which had Maxine interacting with kids from other Vertigo titles, and uses it to accelerate his own story, with the advent of the Twinbaby, and her role in pushing Ellen away from the family.
Even the character of Ray Dillinger (who was Maria Hill before there was a Maria Hill) is handled in a complicated and fascinating way. She starts out as a bit of a parody of the Nick Fury type, but when she is sent undercover into the Red Plague, she becomes the narrative focus of the book, allowing Delano to provide an outsider’s point of view that helped to clarify just what the members of the Life-Power Church are all about.
It’s interesting, in looking back at these issues, to see how Delano portrayed and explained the idea of The Red without once referencing The Green, the concept developed in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. The connection is obvious, but Vertigo Animal Man had no contact whatsoever with the rest of the DC Universe, to the extent that his Justice League membership was never once referred to. Later, in the New 52, Jeff Lemire would go on to tie The Red and The Green together in the fight against The Rot, which led to some great superhero comics, but this portrayal stayed more true to the idea of humanity having separated itself from nature.
Early Vertigo was a lush period of creativity at DC (I’ve loved looking at the house ads for the various miniseries and titles that I’d more or less forgotten about from that era). Animal Man never received the attention garnered by Sandman, Hellblazer, or some of the other bigger titles of that era, but it was always one of the higher quality books. The letters page showed that Delano’s story both resonated, and churned up some anger among more conservative readers. In so many ways, this book was ahead of its time…
Steve Pugh’s art is fantastic here. He gives the characters so much personality, and helped them seem real. I like the narrative trick of having Cliff illustrate letters to his mother in comics form, giving Pugh a bit of a break, and allowing for a quick information dump. I also like the way Pugh played with the design of Buddy’s more animalistic form. The first time Buddy exists like this, he looks very different from the second, more prolonged time. I would have liked to read the design notes around this, as it felt that every visual element was there for a reason.
The various fill-in artists were also very accomplished, and the book maintained a consistent feel, even when an artist as distinct as Peter Snejbjerg subbed in. A lot of the credit for that could be giving to colourist Tatjana Wood, who was with the book from its inception, which is a remarkable feat.
When the comic moved under the Vertigo umbrella, it took on the distinct trade dress of early Vertigo. Brian Bolland’s covers became more serious at this point, and eventually, he left the comic. He was replaced with a variety of cover artists, and things got pretty ugly at times. The early 90s were an ugly time, and while Vertigo was a safe haven from pouches, muscles, and the lack of feet, the opposite side of that was an attempt to imitate the strange constructions Dave McKean was making for Sandman. That lead to some terrible Tom Taggert covers on this book, but towards the end of the run, things improved, culminating in a beautiful final Peter Kuper cover.
After Delano and Pugh left the book, it was given to Jerry Prosser and Fred Harper. I don’t think I remember anything from this run except a sense of disappointment, and I know that I ended up dropping the book three issues before the series was cancelled. I’m going to start reading the issues I have on hand, to see if my memory of them is unfair, but I am unsure if I’m going to write up another column on this series.
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.
If you’d like to read these stories, follow these links:
Animal Man Vol. 6: Flesh and Blood
Animal Man Vol. 7: Red Plague
Tags: Animal Man, DC Comics, Retro Reviews