Grant Morrison is known as the great comic book chaos shaman, the guy who’s more willing to tear down the fabric of comic book reality than anyone else working in mainstream superhero stories. But before he got trippy with Doom Patrol, Arkham Asylum, The Invisibles and Final Crisis, he made his mainstream comics debut with one of DC’s lesser known characters: Animal Man. Though it was never a blockbuster, it did establish Morrison as an inventive new force in superhero books, and remains today one of the most exciting pieces of work produced at DC Comics in the 1980s.
The concept of Animal Man is so conveniently simple and yet so diverse that it’s a shame he’s not a more prominent hero. Buddy Baker is just a regular guy who has the power to absorb the abilities of any animal – the leaping ability of a grasshopper, the flight of an eagle, the strength of an ant, the resilience of a rhino. Different writers have offered different interpretations of exactly how this all works out for Buddy, but as Morrison introduces him, he’s between jobs and thinking about becoming a full-time superhero again.
Morrison began his Animal Man run with his own spin on the superheroes in real life tradition that was so en vogue in the ’80s. Alan Moore had taken superheroes and made them people with problems, and readers were crying for more. But if Morrison is anything, he’s an original, and he’s idea of a superhero living a real life manages to be surreal even when it’s not trying. Buddy has a comforting and serene domestic life. He loves his wife Ellen, he accepts drawings from his kids, he helps the neighbors rescue cats from trees. And then the villains show up, and things start changing.
By the end of Morrison’s Animal Man tenure, things get so trippy that he even appears on the page himself as a character. But here, in the beginning, it’s a very straightforward superhero comic that seems to promise much more. Even in these early pages you can see what Morrison will become: a writer who thrives on playing with conventions to suit his own needs. Animal #1 is a master class on how to start a series, how to sow the seeds of bigger themes and how to take a minor character and make him something more.