Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man saved ‘superhero’ comics for me.

I grew tired of super heroes in my teens, specifically with the rise of superhero movies. Not that I was deliberately swaying a way from superheroes because they were getting popular, but more simply, I had felt as though “I got it.” Growing up surrounded around comic books, I understood the concept of a superhero, and I wasn’t reading anything new that I thought challenged the concept.

So I stopped reading them altogether.

It wasn’t until I discovered Lemire’s Animal Man that my 3 year departure from major comic book universes would end,  and that I would learn a valuable lesson about what was truly important and worth looking for in a comic book, and that is simply – The Writer. 

I actually find Animal Man to be quite a goofy hero with kind of a lame super power. He thinks of an animal, and then can use the abilities of the animal he imagines. Unlike, say, Beast Boy, who just straight up turns into any animal he desires. Additionally, Buddy Baker (Animal Man) got his powers from “Aliens”… which, frankly, I find goofy. 

The only reason I picked up Animal Man in the first place was because during my separation from the major universes, I had discovered writers and artists through non superhero related comics. One of those writers being Jeff Lemire with his comic book ‘Sweet Tooth.’ So when I saw that he’d be joining DC’s New 52 band wagon, I was intrigued, though still reluctant to the notion of anything involving superheroes. 

But Lemire taught me a lesson I should have learned long ago – Writers are more important than the attributes of their characters, and it really comes down to what the writer is capable of doing with that character. It was Lemire’s Animal Man that went beyond the concept of heroisms and super powers, and made the backbone of the series his relationship with his family. The thingthat separates Buddy Baker from other heroes in DC universe to begin with, is that at the end of the day, he has a family to come home to. He’s also an actor, and an animal activist. Really, he’s quite a strange character in comparison to the more traditional superheroes of the DC universe. But it was Lemire’s approach to taking a D-list superhero like Animal Man, taking his family, and making that the forefront of the story, when it could have easily been something meaningless in the background, which made making Buddy that much more interesting to me than any other superhero character. Lemire gave him a dynamic that I think was simply not seen, or flat out ignored in other mainstream characters.

Animal Man would then eventually introduce Swamp Thing into the storyline, which inevitably resulted in me reading Scott Snyder’s run on Swampy. From there, I started picking up everything Lemire was doing: Justice League Dark, Frankenstein Agents of S.H.A.D.E., and Green Arrow. And just like that, I was thrown right back into it all – The Universe I deliberately avoided for so long, had just dragged me back in, solely on the writers, NOT the characters.

I, for one, believe that all great things must come to an end. I also think that great things are better short lived, as opposed to being dragged out as far as it can be, just to risking losing the spark that made it so great in the first place. An example of something that ended when it needed to, was the show Twin Peaks. It lasted for only two seasons, of which most say was only worth watching till the 1st half of the 2nd season. But thankfully, it ended shortly after that, on what I think is one of the most amazing cliffhangers of all time. And if you know Twin Peaks, you know that it couldn’t and shouldn’t have ended any other way. If it were to have continued, it most likely would have never captured the awe inspiring atmosphere and mood of 1st season. I feel that Animal Man had introduced such a beautifully crafted epic tale about family and loss, that by it’s 29th issue, it said all it needed to, making it okay to come to a close.

Now, I’m not saying that Jeff Lemire was not capable of continuing the story with that consistent brilliance, but I’d rather see a series short and amazing oppose to long and filled with ups and downs. 

Despite Animal Man’s end, I continue to go to my local comic book store, and purchase several comics a week within the DC universe. I continue to indulge in Swamp Thing and Justice League Dark, even though the writers have changed. And of course, I still follow Lemire and his Animal Man in Justice League Canada. I would have never considered getting back into mainstream comics if it wasn’t for Jeff Lemire’s take on the silly super powered/actor/animal activist, Buddy Baker, but Lemire managed to take him and turn him into something genuinely inspiring to me. So now when I go comic shopping, I don’t pick based on the superheroes power, or whether they belong in the DC or Marvel universe, I pick based on the writer and what they’ve done in the past. 

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