I’ve finally read the third Animal Man trade (Deus ex machina) by Grant Morrison and it is just as wonderfully inventive as the rest of the series has been. This one does contain a lot of what is remembered most from the series. Two stories in particular – Animal Man takes peyote, breaks the fourth wall and can see the reader; and the last issue where Animal Man meets Grant Morrison. They are wonderfully inventive and it feels like you’re reading a high water mark in superhero comics when you’re reading these for the first time.
The trouble with reading something so good is that it makes you want to do something similar and I have a feeling that the approach taken in Animal Man influenced a bunch of less successful superhero stories. Heck, the current Superboy Prime feels a bit like a poorly executed idea from Animal Man but that’s a whole other kettle of fish that really doesn’t have anything to do with the book at hand, so let’s gloss over it and move on.
What works here is that the stories approach the material as it is set up within itself and its relation to a wider genre. There is a lot of reflection upon the medium as well as the universe presented within the panels. It is a fun meditation on comics as well as a decent meditation by the character upon his own reality. It made me a bit sad to read it to a conclusion, but I also feel the better for having read it because it really is a novel approach to the character genre. Because of how original it is, it is that much more memorable and that much harder to borrow from, or imitate outright, which is both helpful and a hindrance. Should all superhero comics that break the fourth wall be written off as cheap Animal Man clones? – probably not, but it is extremely likely that the comparison will be made. It’s too bad that breaking the fourth wall is almost taboo because I don’t think everything has been said that can be said. I don’t think anyone should be afraid to use it to their own ends for fear of the sacred cow that it Animal Man.
What I would suggest to anyone yet to read the series, is to get all three trades and read them as one longer story. I had too much time between books and there is a lot of interaction between the stories as the narrative progresses. I really do want to sit down and read it all end to end now, and that is a good thing. I usually don’t want to reread anything.