After the tragic death of Buddy Baker's son in Animal Man, the hero is craving some down time to grieve and be alone, processing the event with his family.
Well, too bad.
Animal Man writer Jeff Lemire is actually giving Buddy the opposite of quiet time. First, the series will explore what it's like to be famous in our celebrity-craved culture, with Buddy getting nominated for an Academy Award.
Then, Lemire is bringing Brother Blood to the comic as a new Animal Man villain, expanding the villain's revamp for the New 52 to tie him more closely to the Red.
It's all part of the "Splinter Species" story arc that runs through Animal Man this summer.
Why would Animal Man be fighting Brother Blood? And why is Lemire exploring the subject of celebrity in an Animal Man book? Newsarama talked to Lemire to find out more — plus we asked the writer about his transition to celebrity as the co-writer of this summer's "Trinity War."
Newsarama: Jeff, as a writer, was it difficult to decide what you wanted to do in Animal Man after the tragic end of "Rotworld" for Buddy?
Jeff Lemire: No, honestly, I think it was almost the opposite. After "Rotworld," we had spent 17 or 18 issues focused on the Rot, and for me as a writer, I was just ready for a clean slate and a fresh start, and really, if anything, just re-focusing and stepping back and looking at who Buddy Baker is as a character. I wanted to try to get back to something a little more personal to him and his family.
I knew that Cliff would be dying at the end [of "Rotworld"], and I knew I really wanted to explore a couple things with the character [of Buddy]. Primarily, parents dealing with the loss of a child, which is probably the worst thing you can imagine, and then sort of contrasting this by showing that, while Buddy's at the ultimate low personally, his celebrity and his career are exploding at the same time.
[So I'm] exploring celebrity and our culture's obsession with it. I thought it present a really interesting opportunity.
Nrama: I know fans like it when you do these "movie" type stories. Did that spur you to do more with that, or was it that you enjoyed it too?
Lemire: Yeah, I enjoyed it. I feel like that was always a part of the book that we set up at the beginning, sort of exploring his celebrity and everything that was going on with this indie movie that he made. I felt like that was always something that would build to something bigger. Now we're seeing the end results of it.
This small movie that he made becomes a phenomenon, and with his superhero career, it's all combined to make him sort of this overnight sensation, which we'll see in the next arc starting in #21.
I think he's a unique character in that he's one of the few people in the DC Universe whose identity is known. His secret identity is known to the public. But it's not just that. It's also, aside from being a superhero and everything, he also has this whole celebrity side to him that is something pretty unique.
And I feel like it would be a waste if we didn't really explore that.
Nrama: The arc is called "Splinter Species." Is that title linked to the villains of the arc?
Lemire: Yeah, those are the new villains. They're called the Splinterfolk. They're a group of... I guess you would call them, at one time they were animal rights activists. But they've pushed it so far and gone so far in the extreme with it that they've actually started surgically grafting animal parts on their own bodies, to be closer to the Red.
So they've become these horrible mockeries of animal rights activists, these Frankenstein kind of half-human, half-animal creatures that Buddy tangles with.
Nrama: And we've seen Brother Blood on the cover of issue #23. What's his role, and how are you using him in the title?
Lemire: He's someone who has appeared in the New 52 already, in a different title. But I felt like he could be pushed even further and re-imagined a little bit more and made into, in a lot of ways, a perfect Animal Man villain, because Buddy doesn't really have a lot of classic supervillains in his rogues’ gallery. So I thought he actually would be pretty well suited for him, with a few tweaks.
After The Rot, I really wanted to expand Animal Man's rogues’ gallery. I wanted to add a number if new villains both old and new as a way to help keep the book fresh. So in addition to new creations like The Splinterfolk we'll be seeing a reimagined version of brother Blood emerge as Buddy's rival as well.
Blood seems like a natural choice for Animal Man because his powers lend themselves to a possible connection to The Red. But it's more than that. I’m going to give him a new origin that makes him even more of a perfect fit for Animal Man. He grew up with [ties to] The Red like Maxine, but Blood never had a stable family life it the support of parents like Buddy and Ellen. As a result, it corrupted him.
I'll also be using Blood's church as a way of further exiting celebrity in the book. The Church of Blood will become much more like The Church if Scientology complete with celebrity members.
Nrama: I find the subject of our celebrity culture now to be interesting, but are you reflecting our culture in how the DCU handles celebrity? Is the way they respond to Buddy a reflection of what you've seen in our culture now?
Lemire: Yeah. I think these days, people are more obsessed with, and more interested in, which star is dating which star and all this crap, rather than all these horrible things that are actually happening in the world, you know?
It's almost like, as a culture, we escape into this trash culture of celebrity and fame and paparazzi and stuff, instead of actually dealing with the reality of what's going on and the real problems in the world. And in a way, I felt like I'd like to touch on that and explore that theme through a superhero comic. I thought that would be something pretty interesting, you know?
You have so many celebrities today who are just famous for not really actually accomplishing anything. They're just famous for being famous. And kids growing up don't really want to do anything with their life. They just want to be famous. And it's kind of a sickness, really, that we've created.
Buddy, who actually has done something with his life. And now he's become famous for all the wrong reasons, you know? And at the worst time. So it's going to be him reacting and trying to escape from this world.
Nrama: Yeah, is that what he does? Escape? Or does he turn toward his family? What is Buddy's reaction to this attention? Because he's even nominated for an Academy Award, right?
Lemire: Yeah, and the actual award ceremony is going to be a lot of fun. I just wrote that.
To be honest, though, being a celebrity is the furthest thing from Buddy's mind at the moment. I mean, he's dealing with Cliff and he's dealing with his marriage. And he wants nothing to do with any of that stuff. It won't leave him alone, you know? In a way, this thing almost becomes his supervillain for this next arc.
Nrama: You said you've just written the Academy Awards ceremony. Is it similar to the awards shows we know in our world?
Lemire: It starts off that way. It starts off being very much a take on the regular Academy Awards, and award shows that we're used to. And then it spirals into a crazy weirdness about halfway through. I won't spoil that, but I think it's pretty crazy.
Nrama: And that goes down at the end of this arc?
Lemire: Yeah, the arc has all these paparazzi and all that sort of hounding Buddy every day, and the big question is, will he even go to the Awards ceremony? You know? And then certain people in the press start questioning his sincerity and whether or not the whole thing with Cliff is even real, or if it's just something he's done to get the award. And there are a lot of different things going into it.
Nrama: How long are you doing this story arc that kind of surrounds this theme of celebrity?
Lemire: This arc is three issues long. It introduces a couple of villains: One new villain and one re-imagined old villain. And they both grow out of this idea of celebrity and Hollywood. That's a three-issue arc.
And then we move onto the next stage, which I don't want to spoil.
The idea [behind doing a three-issue arc] is, with "Rotworld" being so long, I wanted to do shorter arcs — two- or three-issue arcs — just to keep the book fresh and keep it moving a bit quicker.
Nrama: Will Brother Blood, and what happens in that final issue #23, lead into what comes in September and beyond?
Lemire: Yeah, definitely. Stuff with this villain will be the next big story after this three-issue arc.
Nrama: You know, Jeff... we've talked several times before about how, so often, what you write about reflects what you're going through. First it was small towns, then preparing for fatherhood, and then being a dad. And now... celebrity. You do realize that you're achieving a level of fame, and now you're exploring this, right? Or did that occur to you?
Lemire: Uh... no. [Laughs.] It didn't occur to me, actually.
Lemire: I don't know. I hadn't thought about it. But I guess, yeah, I'm a lot more well-known now than I was when I started working on Animal Man. So you could probably draw the comparison.
But I don't know. I don't want to think about that.
Nrama: Yeah. I'm going to watch what Buddy does, and how fame makes him feel, because I bet you it will tell us how you feel when you're at cons, signing autographs and speaking on panels.
Lemire: Uh oh. Now you've got me thinking.
Nrama: As long as we're on the subject of your fame, you've got a pretty high-profile gig coming up this summer as you co-write "Trinity War" with Geoff Johns. I know you can't say much about the story...
Nrama: But I know you've been working with him for awhile, building Justice League Dark toward this event.
Nrama: What's the experience been like, working on "Trinity War," and what can you tell us about what this story is like and what it's been like writing it?
Lemire: You know, it could have been pretty overwhelming, just the sheer amount of characters involved in the story and the scope of it. It's so huge.
But luckily, Geoff has done these kind of stories quite a few times now. So for me, having my first event book, having him as kind of, like, my Jedi Master, has been helpful. He keeps it very grounded, and he keeps it very focused on character. Even though the scope of these stories is so huge and epic by nature, he always finds a way to keep it very focused on emotion and character, and which is how I approach story too, obviously.
We just really, to be honest, have had a lot of fun doing it. I think we've just had a blast writing all these different characters together and kind of riffing off each others' ideas.
It's been a lot of fun. So I hope the story turns out to be a reflection of that.