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Three Reasons You Should Be Reading Animal Man

Back in August, DC Comics initiated a massive reboot of nearly every single franchise under its belt. The relaunch, called “The New 52″, has received mixed reviews from diehard and new comic book fans alike. Flagship series such as Superman and Batman have gotten some high praise, but some of the second tier heroes have been rushed, given uninteresting plot lines or poor villain choices. Franchises like Hawk and Dove, Catwoman, and Green Arrow have suffered from stiff releases, leading some fans to lose heart. There is, however, one reboot that stands head and shoulder above the rest:

Animal Man Issue 1 Cropped Cover
Animal Man Cover by Travel Foreman

Animal Man’s change in direction from a classic hero story to a darker horror comic is welcomed. Lead story writer Jeff Lemire and lead artist Travel Foreman have re-envisioned the character with depth and sincerity. The reason their Animal Man reboot is so successful boils down to three major points:

Its not a reboot that expects you to know everything 

The intro interview sets up the world nicely. Our hero’s hopes, dreams and outlook on life are laid bare with clarity. There are no spinoffs of Animal Man either, mitigating a problem with some of the other franchises embedded in DC’s 52. The first issue of Batman, for instance, expects the reader to know who Red Robin, Robin, and Nightwing are in order to understand the story. Not so with Animal Man. A newbie reader doesn’t have to worry about other characters, backstories, or the deep universal ties between everyone.

The conflict is deep and varied 

Most superhero comics focus on two core types of conflict to explore: superhero vs society or superhero vs supervillian. The conflict laid out in the first two issues of Animal Man goes well beyond the norm, creating very tense and engrossing reading. There is conflict between mutant and society, husband and wife, classic good and evil, and perhaps most notably man and himself. Each decision or action Animal Man makes has a heavy impact on two or more of these which makes the development deeper and the story more interesting.

The art direction pulls no punches 

While things blowing up and acrobatics are cool, comic books’ stylized nature often diminishes the results of violence. Animal Man corrects this in a fairly simple way:

Gore.

The artists use gore and disturbing imagery add gravity that is not over-the-top, but makes the situation seem more dangerous and the outcomes of actions more severe. Travel Foreman also does not fear getting surrealistic or metaphysical in his rendering of the scenes. Using heavy shading, the black and white dream sequences only colorize the gore and the grotesque. This stark contrast works beautifully. Buddy and Maxine walking through the map of veins not only expatiates the central conflict, but also does a great job of explaining the powers of Animal Man while cementing the connection between father and daughter. The costumes and the artistry may not be ultra detailed or full of spectacle, but its distinctiveness allows the story to breathe and grow. The art and the story work together instead of jockeying for attention.

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