More Fun With Animal Man

August 9, 2007 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

Considering “Animal Man” is going to be the theme of this blog for some time, it’s probably a good idea to explain what makes the Animal Man comics so good. And what better way than with an example, featuring the fantastic fifth issue?

The first four issues of Animal Man were fairly bland. He fights evil, works for and then against an animal-testing lab, and learns the true meaning of Christmas (well, perhaps not the last one). It’s good, but nothing to write home about. It’s not until the fifth issue that writer Grant Morrison really gets into the swing of things, with a story quite unlike anything we’ve grown to expect from comics.

In the fifth issue, we learn that Wile E. Coyote is Jesus.

The story opens with a trucker giving a hitchhiker a lift across the desert. They’re talking, laughing, having a grand old time, right up until the trucker accidentally hits a coyote on the highway, reducing it to a fine paste.

As the truck drives off we see the coyote heal itself, and the narration describes the excruciating pain of his ordeal. Flash forward to a year down the road, at the home of Buddy Baker (aka Animal Man), where he’s throwing out all the meat in the freezer and declaring that from now on they’re vegetarians. Buddy suddenly gets an inkling that something is wrong in the world, and flies off to save the day.

Back in the desert, the invincible Coyote is still being killed and reborn in incredibly painful ways. The trucker from the start of the story has had a series of tragedies in his life, and blames the strange regenerating animal he hit all those months ago. Convinced that it’s the devil, he resolves to kill it with a silver bullet.

All these things come to a head as Animal Man arrives on the scene just after the coyote has been shot. The coyote, dying, hands Animal Man an aging piece of parchment containing the story of his life. It explains how the coyote came from a dimension of cartoon violence, whose denizens were forced to kill and die a thousand times over for the entertainment of their god. The coyote sought out God and begged him to end the madness; the god agreed, but with a catch. He would end the suffering of all the other cartoon creatures only if the Coyote agreed to be sent to another, far more terrible dimension, where he would experience pain and suffering beyond anything he had ever imagined.

That dimension was, of course, Animal Man’s world- the “real” world.

And so the coyote was lived and died and lived again in the real world, knowing incredible pain but nonetheless glad to have been able to end the suffering of his people. His story ends with his hope that one day he might go back and unseat the tyrant god, and usher in a better world.

The story ends, and we see Animal Man looking at the parchment. From this angle, we can see that it’s written in a strange, incomprehensible script. “I can’t read it”, says Animal Man, and the coyote passes away in his arms, it’s story forever unknown.

The “camera” pans out as the panels get farther and farther away from the action. The coyote bleeds white, which is filled in with red thanks to a giant brush held by and unseen hand. Across this sad, sad scene a caption appears:

“That’s all, folks!”

*****

Issue 5 is really one of the best Animal Man stories, and sets the tone for the rest of Morrison’s run. It deals with questions of reality with just a touch of animal rights commentary tossed in. It also features Morrison’s ability to make us love a character right before he does terrible, terrible things to them. There’s a dark sense of humour there, capping off a tragic death scene with the end line of so many children’s cartoons.

The set-up here is something that’s going to become pretty standard for issues of Animal Man; our hero confronts the bizarre, the inexplicable and the horrifying, and finds himself unable to do anything about it. Indeed, this issue heavily foreshadows the journey Animal Man is about to go on himself, suffering for the entertainment of others, discovering the dark secret behind the universe, and eventual meeting his ‘creator’.

All said, “Wile E. Coyote as Christ Figure” has to be the second greatest use of such imagery in something comic book related. The third best is the time Spider-Man was crucified on front of the elevated train in Spider-Man 2. The absolute best?


Prez Rickard
America’s First Teen President

But that’s a story for another day.

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