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DC Comics’ New 52 – Animal Man Sneak Preview

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If your life takes you anywhere near the humming geek media machine found at the center of the internet, then you’ve heard about DC Comics preparing to shake up their universe. Horror fans are no strangers to the re-boot; and this is exactly what DC is after.

A lengthy struggle with low sales numbers paved the way to a total revamp of their comic kingdom, beginning with the release of 52 comics re-introducing some of the most well known characters on the planet with little details changed for a world that demands more gritty reality from their men in tights (or so they say.) Today, we get a look at one comic hero you wouldn’t normally think of as one that would peak the interest of a gore-hound. His name is Animal Man, gifted with the power to tap into the “Life Web“, allowing him to take on the abilities of any animal on the planet. This seems silly at first, until you give some thought to the power in a man with the toughness of a rhino, strength of an elephant, speed of a cheetah and agility of a monkey … all at once. Now, DC takes Buddy Baker (with his awesomely cheesy DC name) into a darker place. Here’s the outline …

Basically we start with Buddy’s best days as a superhero behind him. But, Buddy has found a bit of a second life. His past exploits, his politics and his involvement in various animal rights groups have made him something of a hipster icon. The young, left wing college crowd has latched onto the image of Animal Man as if he were something of an indie/alt icon of the 90’s. Unfortunately, that really isn’t helping to pay the bills.

As our series opens Buddy is actually reading an interview he did in a “Believer-type” magazine at the kitchen table as Ellen makes diner (the first page of the first issue is actually an excerpt from this interview, complete with the little illustrated headshot of Buddy, which catches readers up on Buddy’s recent past and his lessening involvement in super heroics, and his re-emergence within youth culture). There is clearly stress in their marriage. Buddy is doing little to help make ends meet and Ellen’s career as an illustrator is drying up.

We establish their quiet suburban life and routine and reintroduce readers to their three kids: Cliff, is now fourteen, anti-social and rebellious. Maxine is an introverted and shy ten-year old, and four-year old Josie is clearly the apple of Buddy’s eye.

As our story begins, Maxine begins to develop powers of her own. Buddy tries his best to help Maxine, but instead he accidentally sets into motion an ancient evil that will send The Baker family on the run across the dark and dangerous underbelly of modern America and right into the hands of [CLASSIFIED]. And there may be only one being who can save them … Alec Holland.

You don’t have to be a comic fan to recognize the name Alec Holland as the man who would become Swamp Thing in the 1982 film! In current comics, writers have separated the Swamp Thing entity from the man Alec Holland, so there’s no telling what this reveal means for the book. What I can tell you is this reveal must come later, as it has no bearing on the first issue of Animal Man. The premiere issue sees Buddy Baker donning his super hero duds to assist the police with a man endangering the lives of people at a local hospital. At first, you are to believe the event is resolved without incident. Animal Man puts himself in the line of fire and comes out the hero. It’s a text book happy ending…at least it would be if it weren’t for that “bleeding from the eyes” thing. Is this the stress of activating his powers after some extended down time or a portent of some oncoming evil? The mystery is expanded in Buddy’s dreams where his tiny daughter is exhibiting some disturbingly violent traits.

The story and its flow remind me of what little Neil Gaiman I have read with striking visuals played against a humdrum existence, making the moment that much more jarring. You’ll also agree that the concept of a tiny, little girl potentially wielding powers making her capable of horrific acts while her face maintains an air of innocence is extremely compelling. As DC’s outline teases, the emergence of these powers sends the family running, perhaps to save the child … or to spare those around her. Buddy has been tapping into these powers his whole life, but can his influence keep his daughter on the path of good while some insidious, supernatural force is obviously drawing her in? This is absolutely a comic I’ll be chomping at the bit to read monthly!! The first issue builds suspense like a top notch horror film and pays off with imagery in the closing pages ranging from the macabre to the downright monstrous. This one’s a keeper.

For horror fans, DC Comics’ new 52 also includes the following titles that should be of interest:

Swamp Thing: Written by SCOTT SNYDER (American Vampire!) & Art and cover by YANICK PAQUETTE
One of the world’s most iconic characters has returned to the heart of the DC Universe, and every step he takes will shake the foundations of the Earth! Alec Holland has his life back…but the Green has plans for it. A monstrous evil is rising in the desert, and it’ll take a monster of another kind to defend life as we know it! (September 7th)

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: Written by JEFF LEMIRE, Art by ALBERTO PONTICELLI & Cover by J.G. JONES
It’s Frankenstein as you’ve never seen him before, in a dark new series from acclaimed writer Jeff Lemire (SWEET TOOTH) and artist Alberto Ponticelli (UNKNOWN SOLDIER)! Frankenstein is part of a network of strange beings who work for an even stranger government organization: The Super Human Advanced Defense Executive! But can he protect the world from threats even more horrifying than himself? And since he’s vilified for who and what he is, will he even want to take on this mission? (September 14th)

Red Lanterns: Written by PETER MILLIGAN, Art and cover by ED BENES and ROB HUNTER
Atrocitus and his Red Lantern Corps return in their own series, battling against injustice in the most bloody ways imaginable! Basically, you’ve got super powered aliens powered by rage, seeking justice and spitting acid blood. SOLD! (September 14th)

Ressurrection Man: Written by DAN ABNETT and ANDY LANNING, Art by FERNANDO DAGNINO, Cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
It’s the return of Mitch Shelly – and he’s still dead. Resurrection Man can’t stay dead for long, though – and with each rebirth comes new and unexpected powers. But his many returns have not gone unnoticed, and forces are gathering to learn what’s so special about him – and to see which of them will finally stop Resurrection Man dead. (September 14th)

I, Vampire: Written by JOSHUA HALE FIALKOV, Art by ANDREA SORRENTINO & Cover by JENNY FRISON
For hundreds of years, vampire Andrew Stanton kept mankind safe from the horrors of the supernatural world, thanks to a truce he made with his ex-lover Mary, the Queen of the Damned. But now that truce has reached a bloody end and Andrew must do everything in his power to stop Mary and her dark forces from going on a killing spree – and she plans to start with the heroes of the DCU! (Those that read Marvel Comics are groaning right now, having just endured a vampire onslaught in the X books.) (September 28th)

Justice League Dark: Written by PETER MILLIGAN, Art by MIKEL JANIN & Cover by RYAN SOOK
The witch known as The Enchantress has gone mad, unleashing forces that not even the combined powers of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg can stop. And if those heroes can’t handle the job, who will stand against this mystical madness? Shade the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Zatanna and John Constantine may be our only hope – but how can we put our trust in beings whose very presence makes ordinary people break out in a cold sweat? (September 28th)

DC Universe Presents: Written by PAUL JENKINS, Art by BERNARD CHANG & Cover by RYAN SOOK
It’s the start of a new series spotlighting some of the DC Universes’s most exciting super heroes! First up is Deadman, straight from the pages of BRIGHTEST DAY, in a five-issue epic where the body-hopping hero meets his match in a new foe who wants to make sure the souls that Deadman helps out go straight to Hell! (September 21st)

NOTE: Scott Snyder is also writing Batman, in case you’d like to pick up everything the man is writing.

Animal Man drops September 7th at a comic shop near you and digitally through those offering them (which is a lot of people so I didn’t want to list them all!)

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