Lemire Aims for Less Meta, More Family in DCnU ANIMAL MAN

Jeff Lemire Talks DCnU ANIMAL MAN

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In September, Jeff Lemire has the difficult task of taking two characters made famous by Grant Morrison and reintroducing them to the DCnU: Animal Man and Frankenstein.

For Lemire's legions of fans, it's not hard to believe he's up to the job, particularly with his many Eisner nominations and the recent announcement that his indie title Essex County may be a movie soon.

Lemire will create two new #1 issues for DC's September relaunch: Animal Man with artist Travel Foreman and Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE with Alberto Ponticelli.

Animal Man, the character who was prominently featured in the hit weekly series 52, can borrow the powers of animals. But the element of his story that sets him apart is that his alter ego Buddy Baker is a happily married father.

Under Morrison, Buddy famously became aware he was a fictional character, as Morrison used his Animal Man run to explore the thin line between reality and fiction.

But Lemire will likely put his own stamp on the character. He's known for writing quirky, small town stories in comics like Superboy, Sweet Tooth and Essex County, which would fit well with the family man aspect of Buddy's life.

As Lemire takes on the new challenge, Newsarama talked with the writer about how he intends to reintroduce Buddy Baker to the DCnU.

Newsarama: First, Jeff, congratulations on the news that Essex County is being developed as a film!

Jeff Lemire: Yeah, thanks. It's something that's been in the works for a couple years. But it's good to finally be at a stage where we can talk about it.

Nrama: I'm not surprised at all by the announcement that you're writing a Frankenstein title, since we just talked so extensively about him in the Flashpoint mini-series you're doing. But Animal Man was unexpected. Are you a long-time Animal Man fan?

Lemire: Oh yeah. I'm a huge Animal Man fan. I'm a big fan of the early days of Vertigo, and the late-'80s DC era pre-Vertigo when Karen Berger had all those books going at DC, like Animal Man, Swamp Thing and Sandman. I think it was 1993 when they all became Vertigo books. Those were really formative years for me. I was in my late teens or something, and those books really meant a lot to me and inspired me. They played a huge part in me wanting to write comics and tell stories.

I was a really big fan of Grant Morrison's Animal Man run, and the Jamie Delano run after Grant as well.

But having said that, Animal Man wasn't something I pitched to DC. They asked me about it. And it surprised me. But it took me about three seconds to say yes. It was just like a dream come true.

Nrama: Because a lot of people think of the Grant Morrison run, you've got to be thinking it's impossible to even try to duplicate what he did. But is this going to be in that same kind of meta-fiction tone?

Lemire: I don't want to repeat or even attempt to repeat what he's done. Those books are classics now, and if I did that, it would just be so lame, to try to do the same thing he did. And the nature of that story he told isn't the kind of story that can be told again anyway.

So I'm not going to go in that meta-fiction angle on it.

For me, it's more a book about the Baker family and their journey to discover the origins of Buddy's powers and why he has them and what it means for his family. That's more the angle I'm taking.

But having said that, I do give a nod to that kind of stuff in the first issue.

I'm drawing from stuff Grant did though. And I'm drawing a lot from what Jamie Delano did. His run gets overlooked. He wrote more Animal Man stories than anyone else ever has. I think Grant did 26 issues, and Jamie did more like 40 or something. And none of it has been collected, so a lot of people haven't read it. But it's full of great ideas. I was really inspired by reading his stuff.

So I'm taking different bits and pieces from all the writers who have handled it. And from the original Silver Age stories as well.

But I also want to do my own thing with it too.

Nrama: You already have such a distinctive voice in your other work, so it's probably just a matter of finding your voice with Animal Man.

Lemire: Yeah, some people might be disappointed that I'm not trying to redo what Grant did. But you can read those stories if you want that. I'm trying to do something new.

That's the fun thing about these characters that get passed on from creator to creator, you know? From decade to decade, you get to see the character grow in different people's hands, and see different creators' takes on them.

Just like with Frankenstein, which is another Grant Morrison thing, I want to take what they did and make it my own.

Nrama: When you think of Animal Man, what sticks out is that he's a family man. You mentioned the Baker family and the solicitations mentioned his daughter, so in this new title, would you still describe him as a family man?

Lemire: Yep! That's what drew me to the book. That's what drew me to the character originally, in Grant's stuff. And now, it's just that whole thing that he's a father and a husband first, and a superhero second. To me, that's an original and unique viewpoint for a superhero book to have. That's what attracted me.

That's what I want to write, is that family interaction. It's about Buddy, but it's really about the whole family.

Nrama: I know you can't talk about the story too much, but can you tell us anything about the characters involved in the comic?

Lemire: I can't say too much, but the first couple issues are mostly the family, but then the cast starts to expand to some new characters that weren't in any of the old stories. Other than that, I can't give any specifics yet.

And I can say that the first storyline revolves around Maxine, his daughter, starting to develop powers as well. And that's a story that was actually done in the Vertigo stuff a bit. Jamie Delano teased it and played with it a bit. But I'm doing it in much different and darker ways than he ever did.

Nrama: DC is also doing this big push toward new readers. Do you think Animal Man being a married, father superhero would really set this book apart for new readers?

Lemire: I would think so. I think it's going to be something that attracts new readers on a couple of different levels. Firstly because of that, because I think it's something a lot of people can relate to if they haven't read superhero comics before. And he's the kind of character and the kind of stories that people can really understand and relate to.

And I think my book, and Scott's book, Swamp Thing, and Frankenstein and the other books -- I just love that Pete Milligan is writing the DCU version of Constantine and the Vertigo one -- they are DCU books, but they're going to be told with a darker and edgier tone to them. And that, too, is something I think new readers will find attractive.

Nrama: So this is part of DC's effort to round out the type of titles they offer to readers?

Lemire: I think so. They're trying to have a really diverse line now. They say it all the time, but I think it's really true now: There will be something for everyone when this is all done.

Check back with Newsarama soon for our discussion with Jeff Lemire about his other September ongoing, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE. 

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