Upgrade or Downgrade? Animal Man Omnibus

2 Dec

by Mike Hansen

Animal Man OmnibusOkay, this is gonna be a quick one, since I’ve been away… I’ve been recovering from a rather inconvenient surgery (minor skin cancer, fortunately quite curable), so apologies for my infrequent posting over the last few months. One of the few things I’ve been able to do easily over the past several weeks has been to FINALLY organize my comics collection, so expect a lot more stuff in the near future. Onward!

The Animal Man Omnibus is 99% perfect. The story contents remain an essential touchstone for mainstream comics’ transition to more mature and deconstructionist material, and made Grant Morrison (The Invisibles, All-Star Superman, New X-Men, Doom Patrol, Batman, JLA, etc.) one of comics’ biggest names. (John Byrne did a fun, goofy take on a main character that knows it’s a fictional comic-book character in Sensational She-Hulk, which was published at about the same time as this Animal Man material – but Byrne’s mastery of old-school, 1960s/70s-inspired comics storytelling hasn’t received the same accolades as Morrison’s innovations.)

Secret Origins #39 cover

A missing Animal Man piece that’s finally been reprinted.

THE GOOD: This book features Grant Morrison’s entire run on Animal Man, including Animal Man #1-26 and a story from Secret Origins #39. Morrison took a ridiculous character (a guy in orange tights who gains the powers of animals) and built the perfect story around him, one that breaks down the entire idea of the role of superhero stories. The story is a must-read for anyone who appreciates a mature take on the frankly immature superhero concept, and has a permanent place in comics history.

Extras include all three of Brian Bolland’s covers for the previous softcover collections of this material (printed without design elements for the first time), plus Grant Morrison’s original introduction to the first volume. The cover to Secret Origins #39 by master illustrator Michael Kaluta is reprinted for the first time here (the second volume placed the cover to Animal Man #10 in front of the Secret Origins lead-in to that issue, for some reason). The ever-brilliant Bolland created a brand-new cover for the dustjacket, too. The book itself has a neat wraparound version of Bolland’s cover to the second paperback volume.

Animal Man vol. 1 TPB

The 3rd printing of Vol. 1 had the smallest logo covering up the artwork, but the 1st printing has the best paper.

The old trade-paperback collections of this material had inferior paper (except the pre-Vertigo first printing of the first volume), so this is a big step up. The reproduction and paper quality of this Omnibus are both great, and the design is minimal and clean.

THE BAD: Like many of DC’s oversized books, some pages are inexplicably trimmed differently than the original comics, resulting in an unnecessary loss of art around the edges of random pages. Some pages look perfect, while others are trimmed: Why?

Animal Man origins ad

This art remains uncollected. (scan from an issue of Hellblazer)

Animal Man vol. 2 TPB

Volume 2 was the only book that didn’t have any cover-design changes between printings.

The only thing that’s missing from this book is a DC house ad promoting Morrison’s re-imagining of Animal Man’s origin in Secret Origins #39 and Animal Man #10-12. It’s an unfortunate though minor oversight; there are several chapter-break pages that have room for this image. (Granted, I’m biased because I’ve been lucky enough to research some Marvel projects lately, but finding original art from house ads seems like a no-brainer to me. Then again, so does including cover art, and a lot of DC books didn’t include even that for years.)

THE REST: Since Grant Morrison has been one of DC’s biggest writers for most of the last 26 years or so, I’m a bit surprised that there isn’t any new commentary, notes, sketches, etc. from the ever-verbose writer for this collection. Maybe it’s a cost-cutting move, or maybe he had nothing more to say about the series that made him a star?

Animal Man vol. 3 TPB

The 1st printing of Vol. 3 had Grant Morrison’s name as small as the artists’, covering up less artwork than later printings.

It would’ve been cool to see Bolland’s original series covers reprinted without design elements, but given the age of the material this may not have been an option. Perhaps these are available in Cover Story: The DC Comics Art of Brian Bolland, or Image/Desperado’s The Art of Brian Bolland? (I don’t own either of these yet.)

I’m thrilled that DC is collecting Animal Man with additional softcover volumes, as the issues that followed Morrison’s run – written by Peter Milligan (Shade the Changing Man, Enigma, Hellblazer, X-Statix, etc.), Tom Veitch (Star Wars: Dark Empire, etc.), and Jamie Delano (Hellblazer, Captain Britain, 2020 Visions, Outlaw Nation, etc.), and drawn by Steve Dillon (Preacher, Hellblazer, Punisher, Judge Dredd, Wolverine Origins, etc.), Steve Pugh (Preacher: Saint of Killers, Generation X, Doom 2099, Superman vs. The Terminator, etc.), and others – are underrated gems that contributed to DC’s mature-readers line evolving into the non-superhero Vertigo imprint.

From what little I’ve read so far, I haven’t been that impressed with the “New 52” Animal Man series, as it seems like a rehash of old Swamp Thing themes. But with classic Animal Man artist Steve Pugh contributing to recent issues, I’m going to revisit this new series soon.

THE VERDICT: Should you buy this? ABSOLUTELY. DC has been really inconsistent with the quality of its collected editions over the last several years, but this book is near-perfect in its presentation of this material, one of the most significant comics stories of the last 1980s (if not all time). Even if you own the previous trade-paperback editions, this is well worth the upgrade.

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2 Responses to “Upgrade or Downgrade? Animal Man Omnibus”

  1. kalafalas December 3, 2013 at 02:21 #

    Thanks a lot about this. I have been thinking about buying it for quite some time now.
    Also, hope you recover soon and completely and it’s great it wasn’t anything serious.

    cheers

    • All Day Comics December 3, 2013 at 10:34 #

      Many thanks for the kind words.

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