Have you heard of Animal Man? No? Me either. Not until this week, that is. I haven’t been reading comics but for approximately a year, and I started with a New 52 package I was gifted awhile back. Now, of course I went through the more known titles first: Batman, Aquaman, Justice League, Green Lantern, Superman, Action Comics, Detective Comics, etc.

But when I was done with those, I started reading some more of the stuff I didn’t know that much about: Suicide Squad, Constantine, Watchmen, and Stormwatch. THEN I got to the stuff that was a complete and utter mystery to me. One of those mysteries was Animal Man. I was immediately intrigued as soon as I saw some of the cover art.

Animal Man, AKA Buddy Baker, was a simple C-list actor just trying to get by and provide for his family when he was chosen to be an Avatar of the Red, a special dimension that links all animal life. As an Avatar of the Red, Buddy is able to tap into and borrow the powers, strengths, and abilities of most any animal on the planet. Using this ability, the duty of preserving the Red falls to him…..at least until his daughter Maxine comes of age and realizes her power.

The Red, the Totems, and the Rot.

The first story bit presented to us in Animal Man #0 introduces us to the Totems of the Red. These are the  previous Animal Men and Women who, after they died, chose to stay in the Red. It’s their job to protect and preserve the Red, by appointing a champion or avatar. When the current Animal Man is killed, the need for a new Avatar is quite sudden. However, they cannot imbue a new Avatar with enough power to be a “full” protector quite yet.  So they decide to create a sort of stopgap Avatar, one to ‘hold them over’ until the next true Avatar is born. For the stopgap, they choose the father of the next true Avatar, Buddy Baker. His daughter is destined to be the next in line to protect the Red, but at this time she is only 4 years old…far too young to be an Avatar.

Buddy is able to enhance himself with the strength of many animals at once.

Possibly my favorite thing about this series is how dark and gruesome it is. It’s quite the contrast to the lighter, more subdued stories I had read previously. The art style is very graphic, bloody, and monstrous. It seemed like the exact kind of thing you’d see in a horror movie. Even the Totems of the Red looked like these giant, fearsome beasts that you would NOT want to run into down a dark alley. Blood, muscle, and sinew are all illustrated in extreme detail, giving a very dark tone and theme to the story.

The protectors of the Red and Green.

I felt like Animal Man would fit right in with the likes of a team such as Justice League Dark. Everything revolved around a dark theme filled with magic and special powers. Swamp Thing, avatar of the Green (plant life), makes a few appearances in this series as well, which makes sense. The Red and the Green are part of the same force, along with the Rot (death, decay, un-life), that need to be in perfect balance at all times or else unspeakable consequences would occur.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Animal Man. It was certainly different from everything else I’d read in the New 52. I really appreciated the art, and felt connected to the characters on some level through the excellent storytelling. I highly recommend giving Animal Man a shot if you’re looking for something new to read.