Whereas the first Animal Man volume seemed far more like set-up than a collected story, Origin of the Species tells the complete story of Buddy Baker's growing animal activism, leading up to a fateful decision about his future as a super-hero. The stories leading up to the finale of Origin of the Species are fantastic single issues in their own right--in one, he helps B'wana Beast choose his sucessor in the midst of South African oppression; in another, he fights with the Sea Devils against dolphin hunters--but it's in the final chapter that Grant Morrison really defines this series. Buddy is forced to confront the imponderables of super-heroing--whether super-heroes must always be role models, whether a hero's responsibility is to the law or to moral rights, how costumed heroes can possibly fight the true injustices of the world--and the prose shines on the page. Morrison, of course, can offer no better answers here than any others, but his portrayal of Buddy's struggle is iminently compelling.
Animal Man: Origin of the Species, offers two overriding plotlines, both that of Buddy's struggle for animal rights, and also a strange mystery that DC Comics' fans will recognize is tied to the aftermath of the 1980s' Crisis on Infinite Earths. The second is unresolved by the end of the trade, and it's only the pacing of the stories--Origin of the Species begins with the cosmic mystery, and then for the most part abandons it in favor of Buddy's moral crisis--that makes their juxtaposition somewhat jarring. As with the first Animal Man trade, I think some the awkwardness here comes from the modern reader's exposure to recent written-for-trade trade paperbacks, which wrap up far neater. Origin of the Species is definitively a collection of single issues, and not a graphic novel, but it's no less the richer for it.
It's interesting here, as with the first Animal Man trade, to see the dual DC Comics and Vertigo logos on the trade; possibly this is simply how Vertigo trades were marked in the beginning, but it continues to speak to the birth of Vertigo and the evolution of some titles from DC to Vertigo. The Vertigo elements here are more than just graphic violence--of which there's far more here against animals than against people--but also the social and political commentaries sprinkled throughout. Current DC fans will also enjoy an extended guest appearance by current Justice League member Vixen, as well as some Mirror Master continuity that fits exceptionally well into what Geoff Johns would establish about the character later.
[Contains full covers.]
Two Animal Men down, one to go. Stick around!