Review: Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina trade paperback (DC Comics/Vertigo)

Monday, December 24, 2007

A idea is not considered, under the general definitions, to live. It doesn't eat or drink, nor walk autonomously from place to place. But in the case of Animal Man, as Grant Morrison posits in the third collected volume of the series, Deus Ex Machina, the character was both created before Morrison came to comics, and will live on after Morrison leaves--does that not suggest to Animal Man some kind of life?

This is akin, of course, to saying that something like democracy or a religion lives; it's not so much that the thing itself is alive, as that it's kept in the common consciousness by the people who support it--in Animal Man's case, comic book readers. Still, even if it's hard to shake the wishful fiction from Morrison's ideas, Animal Man nonetheless makes a compelling read.

The third Animal Man volume is definitely the most esoteric of the three. From the first issues, where Animal Man undergoes a drug trip in the desert, to the final issue where Grant Morrison himself makes an appearance, Deus Ex Machina marks Animal Man's true deviation from traditional super-hero comics. As with Sandman, this in some way requires that Animal Man become a bit player in his own comic, and the story takes on a picaresque feel as Animal Man travels from lunch with the Phantom Stranger to comic book limbo and beyond. The story becomes not as much about Animal Man as about the people and ideas he encounters--which, as Morrison notes in his own appearance, is often more an attribute of "real" life than comic book stories.

I found Animal Man's visit to limbo the most compelling part of this story, especially the idea that comic book characters live entire lives in limbo that they simply can't remember when they re-emerge. There's also an interesting history lesson in traveling through Morrison's depiction of limbo; it's hard ever to believe that a current standard like Mr. Freeze was ever condemned to limbo. Morrison's prescience through out this chapter is amazing; the Shadowpact's Detective Chimp and Nightmaster appear here, as does Max Mercury and more.

Animal Man's meeting with Grant Morrison in the end, and the favors Morrison grants him, live up to the story's deus ex machina promise. Indeed, very little is resolved in terms of the aliens who created Animal Man, why Crisis on Infinite Earths begins to reverse itself in these pages, and even why Animal Man, of all the characters, is able to understand so much more about his existence than the rest. Morrison himself opines that even as he's trying to make claims about a larger issue in Animal Man, he never quite reaches it; he worries that the book may have been more preachy than it needed to be. Even if there is no true ending to Animal Man, however, and no true end promised, the ambitiousness of the project is worth the price of admission.

[Contains full covers.]

Coming on Thursday, a review of Paul Dini's Batman: Detective, followed by Grant Morrison's Batman and Son. Happy holidays to all!
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