Given that the run that made Animal Man famous – Grant Morrison’s 26-issue work of genius, in case you didn’t know – was one of the most forward-thinking and challenging comics of its era, it’s perhaps slightly surprising to see the character’s first solo series since the Vertigo title creaked a slow, drawn-out death rattle at the hands of Jerry Prosser be such an old-fashioned piece of work. From regressing the character back to his standard “guy with animal powers” setup (admittedly the DCU had already done this, but in 52, Morrison and co were able to throw in nods to the metafictional position he once occupied), to the plot being a fairly straightforward set-in-the-future “once-great hero starts to lose his powers tale”, and in having the writing duties taken care of by Gerry Conway (who, along with Marv Wolfman and Roger Stern, is a nice name to see getting work nowadays courtesy of the memories of great ’70s and ’80s work evoked, but who never really seems to roll with the times and produce anything in keeping with current trends and storytelling style), it’s about as backwards-looking a comic as I’ve seen for a while.
Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, and it’s not like this is a particularly bad story, either. It’s solid, and there’s always room for a decent exploration of what happens to superheroes after the years we tend to read about. The only thing that I’m left wondering is just why this had to be Animal Man – from the Brian Bolland cover, to still insisting on having him wear that jacket, this feels like it’s trying to evoke the Morrison run. And I’m not sure it should be, because beyond superficialities it doesn’t really share anything in common. This itself then raises the further question of whether or not Buddy is a character for whom we feel affection (and I’d consider myself a “fan”) just because of who he is and what he’s like, or specifically because of the stories that were once told with him. Simply put, if it’s not Morrison’s version and Morrison’s stories (or hell, even Delano’s stories, if you happened to be a fan of that rather strange and self-indulgent period), then do we care at all?
I suppose Buddy has traditionally (or, again, at least since Morrison) been used to explore the effects of superheroism on family life – and so that does make him a candidate for this type of story if the focus is indeed on his relationship with Ellen, Cliff and Maxine. But that’s actually one of the least satisfying aspects of the issue – the kids, “grown up”, are nowhere to be seen, and Ellen is barely recognisable (right down to having an entirely different job and dressing in business suits) as the character from the original series. There’s a slight level of intrigue over a newly-created villain (although it’s not like Buddy ever really had any arch-enemies to dredge up) who appears cliched and uninteresting on first appearance, but who’s given a story-based level of mystery later on that you hope will have some kind of significance.
Really, though, this doesn’t jump out as anything other than a passable comic, well-made but lacking in any sort of spark. For the nostalgia value of the character it’ll appeal to Buddy’s fans to some extent (and for that reason, I’m someone who’ll keep reading), but you’d hope for something that would suggest that it’s not just a generic story idea that’s been grafted onto Animal Man for the sake of selling a few extra issues to Morrison fans.