Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Whoa, Animal Man and The Shade

Y'know, the DC Comics reboot has spawned some pretty good titles, but two I'm absolutely thrilled to have picked up are Animal Man and The Shade.  Two completely different ends of the spectrum, two great examples of writing/art chemistry.

Animal Man is written by Jeff Lemire with art by Travel Foreman, bringing us the new adventures of someone familiar with the weird in the world, Buddy Baker a.k.a. the titular Animal Man.  Long story short, Buddy can tap into the morphogenetic field and take on the abilities of any animal.  Say he needs the strength of an elephant.  Done.  Maybe he needs to fly like a bird.  Done.  Quickness of a fly.  Done.  You get the picture.  Animal Man's always had one foot in the stranger adventures of the DC Universe - as when he was written by Grant Morrison - and he's experienced some more light-hearted journeys in the Justice League.  At the core of Buddy Baker's life is his family, the most important thing he knows.  That's also at the core of the new series.  When Buddy experiences strange bleeding and suddenly-appearing tattoos, he's concerned, but hey, he's a superhero.  Comes with the territory.  When his daughter begins displaying a new, disturbing power (controlling dead animals) and he has horrifying dreams, Buddy knows something has to be done.  What he doesn't know is that the demonic, scary-as-hell Hunters Three are on his trail as he and Maxine set off to find something called The Red using the tattoos as a map.

Lemire, who writes the critically-acclaimed Sweet Tooth, scores huge with Animal Man.  It's superhero adventure meets horror with the tale of a family struggling to be normal at the center.  Foreman's art is perfect for the tone of the series, subtle when it has to be, terrifyingly disturbing when it needs to be.  This series is going to be one strange ride.

The Shade is set to be a 12-issue limited series but the way it began, I'm thinking 12 issues won't be enough.  Writer James Robinson, who wrote the main character in his acclaimed Starman run, returns to familiar territory with the great artist Cully Hamner (who was the artist on Warren Ellis' RED, now a major motion picture).  The Shade is Richard Swift, a true Golden Age character created way back in the 40's to be a villain for the original Flash.  In Robinson's hands, Swift is neither hero nor villain, playing by his own rules - which usually place him on the side of the heroes.  He is intelligent, articulate, and can use shadows for his own purposes.  When this story opens, Swift has lost a little of that "spark" and is urged by his girlfriend, policewoman Hope O'Dare, to seek out an adventure.  And so he does, but there's something underlying that seems to be bothering him.  Something we don't know about yet.  While this is going on, German private detective and possible superhuman Von Hammer battles enhanced beings and discovers that The Shade is in trouble.  By the time the ending of the first issue comes around, a special guest villain appears and...well...I don't know how they're going to start the second  issue, but I can't wait.

Robinson can be a divisive writer.  A lot of people hated his turn on Justice League, but his work on the aforementioned Starman and the heartbreaking, realistic Golden Age are considered classic.  For what it's worth, I really enjoy his writing.  It's dramatic and gritty with affinity for the older characters.  Hamner's art is always pretty to look at.  His characters have distinctive appearances, and everything is laid out so perfectly.  The quiet scenes are just that, and the action sequences rival any big screen fare.

Two great titles and two of the best of what DC is doing with their reboot, in my opinion.  Can't wait to see what's in store.

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