The First Comic That Ever Blew a Hole in My Head

ANIMAL MAN #26, DC Comics, August 1990
Since I'm talking about firsts this week, let me tell you about the first comic that truly BLEW MY FRICKIN' MIND! And that would be Animal Man #26. Oh, I'd read Watchmen and all, but it didn't really open that door. See, when I moved away from my hometown to go to college, I finally had access to comic book stores. One such, 1,000,000 Comics it was called, was having a going out-of-business sale and I stormed the place and got entire runs of comics I'd missed out on (entire up to that point, obviously). LEGION, Dr. Fate, Milligan's Shade the Changing Man, Doom Patrol, and Animal Man (by Grant Morrison, Chas Truog and Mark Farmer). And they let me have them for half the cover price.

So I chow down on Animal Man #7 through 26 and... wait for it... IT BLEW MY FRICKIN' BRAINS OUT! Well, it pulled the trigger some time before 26, but by 26, my brains were splattered all over my living room.

"Deus ex Machina", in a nutshell, is the story of Animal Man meeting his maker. And that maker is Grant Morrison. Yes, Grant Morrison is God. Actually, he's only Animal Man's writer (and Doom Patrol's too, "but they don't know it"). Though there have been hints as far back as Animal Man #5, here it is finally revealed that the DC Universe is really just a pile of comics, "a world created by committee".

Let me interrupt myself here just to say this: GRANT MORRISON HAS GOT SOME BALLS! He stars in his own comic (BALLS THE SIZE OF JULIUS SCHWARTZ'S HEAD!), he blows the cover off the DCU's biggest secret - shhh, it's not real - blowing my mind in the process (did I mention that already?) and in this panel, he even tells off Gerard Jones, writer of Justice League Europe (BALLS!!!!):
A world run by committee indeed. Is there any doubt in your minds that Animal Man was only added to JLE's roster to give him broader appeal? Well, they really screwed that one up.

Another ballsy move is making the comic unashamedly anticlimactic, basically just a big long conversation between two characters. It gives Morrison the chance to meditate on superhero comic book structure, throwing out such nuggets as:
This is Morrison's last issue on the title - after all, what do you do for an encore? - but where another writer might've made his thank yous in the letters page, he does it inside the comic itself, while he forces Animal Man to fight animal-themed villains in the background, "to make it more interesting to draw". It all seems very cathartic for Morrison and we're just along for the ride. Another moment, when Morrison suggests that the next writer might make Animal Man a meat-eater:
BAM! That's the sound of my brains being blown out! (Still get chills from this one.) This series showed me what you could do with the medium like no other had at that time. Morrison is a real maverick, an Evil Knieval stunt-writer with no limits. Then I read all those Doom Patrols I'd bought, and I knew. Grant Morrison isn't just Animal Man's god, he's mine as well.


rob! said...

that was an insane issue.

in a good way.

billjac said...

How was the Shade series? I considered it just another Vertigo B-lister at the time but Miligan's gone on to do some pretty good stuff so I've been thinking of adding it to my quarter-bin watchlist.

Siskoid said...

Shade is still one of my favorite Milligan work and most issues have gorgeous Mark Buckingham artwork.

It pretty much divorces Shade from his Ditko-ish world and puts him in an alternate universe America terrorized by the American Scream, a force corrupting the American psyche. Even beyond the initial "weird america road trip" storyline, Milligan creates an intriguing lead and some famously memorable guest stars.

Totally recommended. An engaging and loopy study of the "American psychosis".

gorjus said...

Awesome review. Animal Man, the comic, made me into a vegetarian (12 years and counting). And this was a fantastic ending.

Anonymous said...

Im working through the Doom Patrol trades now. Animal Man is next.

I quit reading comics around the time that AM issue was new, and it amazes me how inexpensive it is to pick up those classic comics.

Anonymous said...

Although, I've heard such good things about Morrison's run. I've never actually read it.

But Animal Man's run in 52 and Countdown to Adventure has been nudging me to want to check it out.

Siskoid said...

You totally should. You'll recognize riffs from his later work, but he did them here first, and Animal Man remains one of his most emotional (not to say sentimental) works. Buddy's family really breathes and lives.


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