This week's issue of Animal Man made it clear that the hero's role has clearly changed in the DCnU.
And that role is pretty well defined by one word: Father.
With Animal Man #3, writer Jeff Lemire has revamped the superhero's origin for this new DCU, which isn't a surprise. But what is perhaps more unexpected is that Animal Man's new origin takes importance away from him and places it squarely on his daughter.
In the story, Buddy Baker enters a mysterious realm known as the Red, and he finds out he was given superpowers only so he could prepare the way for someone else: his four-year-old daughter, Maxine.
The issue, which is filled by horrific creatures designed by artist Travel Foreman, has an unsettling nature about it, as Buddy and his family are pursued by the Hunters Three and encounter the Totems at the Heart of the Red.
Now that Lemire's bizarre take on Animal Man has passed its third issue, giving the character a revamped origin and an even more family-oriented direction, Newsarama talked with the writer about the concepts introduced in this issue and what's coming up next.
Newsarama: Jeff, it was a little surprising to see your story take the angle that Buddy is Animal Man because he's supposed to father Maxine. Why did you decide to make her such a key player?
Jeff Lemire: You know, it's hard to remember, to be honest, how the initial pitches went, but honestly, I think I decided from the start to make Maxine a key to the book. It just seemed like the natural progression for the family.
I wanted to make the kids more important, and not just have them be incidental. I didn't want Cliff and Maxine to be background, but instead to have a key part in Buddy's life — both his personal life and his superhero life.
By making Maxine this really important character for the future of not only their family but the world and the DC Universe, it gave them a lot of weight and a lot of importance, and it made the whole family part of the book rather than it just being Buddy's book with them just as sitcom-type, background family characters.Nrama: One of the things I could really identify with — and I'm a mom, so maybe that's why — was when Buddy said, "No! She's only 4 years old! You can't do this!" I could feel what he's going through as a dad. It feels very relatable.
Lemire: Yeah, I'm a dad too. I'm putting a lot of that into the book too.
The book's a horror book. It really is. And the scariest thing — and you know this as a parent — the scariest thing you can possibly think of is something terrible happening to your child. If I can tap into that, I think I've created a really terrifying book and a book with a lot of emotional stakes.
That's the other key reason for making Maxine so important, is to put her into this dangerous role and having Buddy kind of defend her.
It automatically gives him something important to fight for. Rather than just going out of control and beating up bank robbers every once in awhile, he has something tangible and important to his core that he has to protect and keep safe.
Nrama: This issue took Animal Man's origin, which had been changed a lot over the years anyway, and really gave it a new context.
Lemire: Yeah, and I think something really had to be done with Buddy's origin. There's the classic Silver Age origin, which is that he found an alien spacecraft and then he got these powers. Then when Grant Morrison took it over, he kind of tweaked it a bit too. Obviously, Grant did a lot of things to the character. And then Jamie Delano, when he took the character over, or maybe it was Tom Veitch before him — it seemed like every incarnation by a different writer had a tweak of his origin. So it was already kind of loose anyway.
If you tried to stick with all the different stuff in those 89 issues of the Vertigo series, and make it all make sense, it just doesn't. Some things start to contradict each other.
So what I had to do — and I guess that was a benefit of the New 52 and the relaunch — was pick and choose bits of it that worked, and boil it down and re-present it in a way that I thought was more accessible.
So as you learned in issue #3, the alien aspect of the origin of that classic Silver Age Animal Man is still there, but we learn that the Totems manufactured that secret origin for Buddy as something he could understand, because it reflected what was going on with Green Lantern and Superman and these other superheroes that were arriving.
So the idea is that, as superheroes started appearing five years ago, a lot of them had an alien origin. So the Totems created this alien origin for him so that he would become a superhero and learn to use his powers.
And all this would just be in preparation for his real role, which is basically as a father.Nrama: So we should assume this new origin for Buddy took place within the last five years?
Lemire: Yeah, exactly. I had to make his origin fit within this five year timeframe. So Superman was supposed to have appeared about five years ago, and I see Buddy getting his powers a couple years after that.
In my mind, Buddy's been around for about three years, and he's just been sort of a second-rate superhero. He's been slowly learning how to use these powers that he gave him.
And the idea is that the Totems gave him a narrative he could understand, and a way that he could create an identity for himself.
But really, it was all just training for his role as a protector of Maxine.
Nrama: Obviously, you're working with Scott Snyder on this whole idea of the Rot, the Red and the Green. Was that something you guys wanted to do from the very beginning when you were handed these books?
Lemire: I think we both started writing our books, and we traded scripts right away, just to give each other advice and feedback and stuff. And we just saw parallels going on.
The Rot itself wasn't something we had in mind yet, but when we saw the villains Scott was using, and the "Hunters" I was using, the Red and the Green just seemed like it was already so linked and had so much in common that we came up with the idea of the Rot to put a name on what we were doing.
Once we did that, a lot of other story potential popped up.
We have a really, really big storyline planned for next year, where both our books will intersect. We're not allowed to talk too much about it yet, but it's a pretty ambitious story, and I think it's something people will be excited about.
Nrama: The end of this issue says "Next: The Other." Is the "Other" the same as the "Rot" you guys are talking about?Lemire: Yeah, that's the Rot. And to be completely honest, it took us awhile to land on a name. There was a lot of debate about what we were going to call it. And we went between three different names for quite awhile, with the "Rot," the "Black" and the "Other."
At the time when issue #3 was lettered, we still hadn't decided. So that's why it says the "Other."
Nrama: Now it's officially the "Rot?"
Lemire: Yeah. It's officially, from now on, being called the "Rot." We just didn't get our act together soon enough.
Nrama: I like that better than the "Other," which makes me think of Lost.
Lemire: Yes! I think that's what we decided. We thought it was too much like Lost.
Nrama: These Totems that we saw — are they related to the ideas introduced in Swamp Thing that there have been different incarnations of Swamp Things over time?
Lemire: Yeah. But I don't want to say too much about the Totems, because in issue #4, you'll find out a lot more about them. I don't want to give away too much because I think the story's pretty cool, but you're on the right track. And we do get to actually see that next issue.
We get to see a few of the old Animal Men and Women in the next issue.
Nrama: Then is the idea of Maxine's role related to Abby's role in Swamp Thing? With this family connection to these elements? With the Arcane family naturally related to the Rot, is the Baker family connected to the Red?
Lemire: Perhaps, yes. And you'll find out much more about all that in the next two issues. These two issues coming up are sort of the big reveal issues about the mythology of Animal Man and the Totems and everything.
Nrama: The artwork in this book — particularly this week's issue — is really creative. Once Buddy and Maxine entered the Red, the art became just mind-boggling.
Lemire: It really is.
Nrama: Are these shapes and visual ideas something you described in your script, or did Travel Foreman come up with the way to represent these things on the page?Lemire: This issue, it's him. At this point, I had already seen the first two issues. This is a perfect example of how I've adapted the work to Travel. In many ways, he's made my job easy because he's got such an incredible visual imagination.
I've learned that there's no reason for me to get too specific in my descriptions, because he's going to have something better anyway — something I could never capture in words. I've learned to do that not only working with Travel on Animal Man, but it's something I've learned to do as a writer. Working with these great artists has taught me that I don't have to control the visuals on these books like I do with my own books that I draw myself.
And at this point, with issue #3 of Animal Man, I knew Travel would do something pretty mind-boggling with the Totem characters. So I just kept it very simple.
I was more focused on who they were as characters, and I let his visual ideas grow from that. I just described them as these giant animal gods. And I didn't know what to expect.
When I saw that first double-page spread of the Totems, I actually had to sit and look at my computer for, like, five minutes trying to figure out what I was looking at.
That's just him. He does things I've never seen before. He has this voice as a designer that is really unique, and it certainly brings a lot of flavor to the book. We really are collaborators in every sense at this point.
Nrama: There's even a visual tone to the Red that is distinct from the real world, with different colors. And there's lettering differences between the Hunters' voices. So you've got a lot of visual cues going on to tell this story.
Lemire: Yeah, it's a great team. The letterer and the colorist have done so much for this book. The writer and the artist get all the recognition, but Lavern Kindzieski, who's doing the color, is really helping to make this book distinct.
Travel's stuff is so incredible, but it's also very dense. When you see the pencils, sometimes there's so much detail that it takes a minute to figure out what's what. But Lavern is really good at taking that and, like you said, giving each thing a color palette and separating the different elements so it becomes a little bit easier to digest.
And Jared Fletcher, the letterer, is really bringing a lot of character to each character with the way he's giving each of them a distinct voice with the lettering. It's really cool.
Nrama: We've seen solicitations for few issues, and you and Scott Snyder have both talked to us about this big storyline next year called "Deadworld" that crosses over with Swamp Thing. Can you tell us anything else about what you've got in store for readers?
Lemire: Yeah, issue #4 and #5 are the end of this first opening arc, with the Hunt and the Hunters, and the Totems. After that ends, in issue #6, we're doing a really cool issue with a guest artist, John Paul Leon.
In the first issue, we hinted that Buddy had been in an indie film. Sort of an indie superhero movie. And issue #6, we basically get to watch the movie, and John Paul is doing that issue.
And then issue #7 and #8 is a two-issue arc called, "Animal versus Man." And I'll let your imagination fill in what that could be.
After that, we start building up toward the inevitable showdown with the Rot, and the meeting with Swamp Thing.
Also coming up, in issue #5, we'll get a guest artist helping Travel out on one scene. It's Steve Pugh, who drew all the Jamie Delano issues. He's coming back. So that's cool for me.