Jamie Delano’s run on Animal Man began and ended with Buddy Baker’s death. While many criticized Delano’s run as it progressed, it’s important to note that this situation deteriorated over time. Indeed, Delano’s run started with a strength rivaling or even exceeding much of Grant Morrison‘s much-lauded work on the title.
When Delano took the reigns, Animal Man was badly in need of new vibrancy. Whereas Morrison’s run had felt tremendously vibrant, the two years following his departure had seen a slow but progressive deterioration. Delano, like his predecessors, had an impressive pedigree as a comics writer — but in his case, it seemed almost perfectly suited for Animal Man. Delano, after all, had taken a secondary character in Alan Moore‘s Swamp Thing and turned him into the protagonist of Hellblazer. While Delano’s work was sometimes hit and miss on that title, it was far more hit than miss and had really created the fully-fledged character of John Constantine, telling many masterful horror stories along the way.
It is one of the forgotten aspects of Animal Man‘s history that Delano’s early run did indeed fulfill this promise. Issue #51, Delano’s first issue, went as far as to kill off the title’s protagonist — and did so in a particularly brutal fashion. It was a maneuver that would later win James Robinson great acclaim following his first issue of Starman. In his first issue — occurring some time after Veitch’s conclusion, with Animal Man and his family settled down at the farm in Vermont — Delano introduced Ellen’s uncle Dudley, a gun-carrying, arch-conservative hick who effectively kidnaps Buddy Baker’s son, Cliff. The son of the environmentalist Animal Man, Cliff was traumatically made to witness and even participate in the brutal killing of the very animals his father represented. Pursuing his son, Animal Man was literally run over by Dudley’s car and left mangled in the street to die. Which he did.
As the storyline — entitled “Flesh and Blood” — continued, united by the dark art of Steve Pugh (the main artist throughout Delano’s run; the two had previously collaborated on Hellblazer), we found that Animal Man’s life force had survived and began reincarnating itself in the bodies of various animals. In the process, Animal Man discovered the Red — the animal equivalent of Swamp Thing’s the Green — a bloody field of sorts that unites all animal life. Delano had masterfully succeeded in the desire to do for Animal Man what Moore had done for Swamp Thing — and he had done so complete with Moore’s tone of true horror. Central to Delano’s storyline was the violence of nature, an intellectually necessary counterpoint to the title’s past sanitary depiction of nature — not to mention Swamp Thing‘s more vegetative Green. Mangled and dead animals abounded, and the reader was left haunted by the brutal implications of ourselves as animals, as “flesh and blood.” Delano had turned Animal Man into a first-class horror title.
The storyline concluded in issue #56 (Feb 1993), a truly double-sized issue meant to clear the decks before the January 1993 launch of DC’s Vertigo imprint, which would take in Animal Man as well as DC’s five other ongoing mature readers books. In the two-part conclusion, Buddy Baker, reborn as a frightening hybrid animal avatar, rescued Cliff and discovered the ability to recreate his original human form.
Issue #57, the first Vertigo issue, began Buddy’s new life as a sort of animal elemental. Now legally deceased, Buddy Baker felt content to live a quiet life with his family. Fearing that nature would eventually exterminate the human beings despoiling it, Animal Man began trying to make them understand the consequences of their actions. The farm became a kind of commune, a haven for environmentalist outcasts — including Annie Cassidy, a woman who also was in contact with the Red, and her daughter named Lucy who began a relationship with Cliff — a relationship they consummated in animal passion. Buddy, overwhelmed by the Red, again adopted the body of the hybrid animal avatar and flew to Washington, D.C., where he attacked the city with all kinds of animals, trying to pressure humanity to change its ways. The storyline led to Buddy’s capture by the authorities, but he was released in part due to public sympathy.
Between Buddy’s agenda and the many who shared his sentiments on the farm, Annie suggested starting a cult. Called the Life Power Church of Maxine, Buddy served as prophet and Maxine as savior. Despite resistance from the establishment, the church grew, especially among the young. This, combined with the revelation that Buddy had had an affair through the Red with Annie, placed tremendous stress on Ellen, who felt alienated from the movement and temporarily left Buddy. The church careened across the country along Route 66, acquiring both new converts and various rebellious animals. Finally settling down in Montana, all that remained was for Buddy Baker to die — once again — in Delano’s final issue, issue #79.
Delano’s run — the first to be longer than Grant Morrison’s own — commenced with a brilliant storyline that created the Red, the necessary animal component of Swamp Thing’s vegetative Green. But the tone of horror brought to Delano’s original storyline failed to maintain itself, as the series gave way to themes of religion and state persecution. While Delano’s run is remembered as disappointing, we can only imagine how history would record his run had the attention Vertigo brought to the title occurred six months earlier, allowing new readers to encounter — and remember — that we are all “flesh and blood.”