[Featurama] It Came From the Quarter Bin: First Strike! Extra!
This week on It Came From the Quarter Bin, we’re going to look at a crossover tie-in that has very little to do with the crossover it is connected to. That makes it an easy book to judge this week simply on it’s merits. Fortunately, it’s a book from one of the most well respected authors in comics, though I doubt you’ll find many that could specifically remember this issue.
It is the lead in to a crossover that has been long forgotten, which makes it perfect for our little series.
Animal Man Issue 6
“Birds of Prey”
Why I Bought It
Grant Morrison. That’s the only name you really need on a book that’s worth a quarter to pick up. Morrison’s talent has left a lasting effect on countless super hero books. His run on titles like Fantastic Four, X-men and Superman are easily some of my favorite stories from those respective franchises.
Animal Man however was his first jump in to American comics and I really wanted to see how good these books really are. Nothing better to test his potential than a tie-in book for a big crossover, right? Besides Morrison’s name on the book, the art style of the cover has a really simple yet intimidating design prepared with the Hawkwoman attempting to smash our terrified hero.
Expressions like that are somewhat uncommon in hero books (at least in respects to the cover), especially in a simple one on one duel. The suspenders on Hawk Girl also aren’t too bad on the eyes.
Grant’s work on Animal Man has long been associated with the British Invasion, and rightfully so. He along with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and others crashed on to the scene and radically revamped characters with no identity in DC’s lineups, propelling them to critical success. The quality was phenomenal for the “gritty 80s” and more importantly, they broke down the definitions of a true super hero book.
Animal Man alone is the simplest example of what you can call a meta comic. Grant took one of Carmine Infantino’s characters about a man who absorbs the abilities of animals and essentially went anywhere he wanted to go with the character. Animal Man would break the 4th wall, change the idea of the superhero costume, and even meet with his creator in a bizarre turn of events.
It was a daring book, but it still had to conform to standard DC ideas. Things like a crossover. During this time, DC was ramping up their “Invasion!” event. While the event itself only ran 3 issues, it spilled in to over 30 books. Invasion was actually quite a simple concept. An alien race decides to gather a coalition to nip the rise of super humans. To do so, they have brought in the Thanagarians (Hawkman’s People), the Daxamites (descendants of Superman), Durlans (Chameleon Boy’s race) and others to conquer the planet in one fell swoop.
The superheroes win and the event has lingering effects in a few issues of Animal Man, but overall nothing that hasn’t been wiped away through continuity. More importantly was this gave Grant the opportunity to work on a second title after Invasion! His work on Doom Patrol would allow him to work on Arkham Asylum which now gives you the foundations for greatness.
What Animal Man Issue 6 is All About
Oddly, this is all about being an artist. Animal Man himself was coming off what would become one of the most defining issues in the series with a dark analysis of Wile E. Coyote in “The Coyote Gospel.” This has him adopting a vegetarian lifestyle which raises ire with his friend. This back and forth gets the two going and prompts him to offer an analysis of a human life in comparison to a lab rats. They are one in the same. It’s cold and callous, but what would you expect from a man that adopts the traits of animals?
Their argument however would be short lived as the Thanagarian’s Rokara Soh and Skalla Kol were booming over head.
Rokara Soh has come to Earth for one reason: death through art. From that line alone you should already have figured out that these people aren’t quite like the Hawkman and Hawkwoman we’ve come to grow fond for over the years. These two despise each other. The Hawkwoman Skalla Kol, despises the so called “art martyrs” of Thanagar. She only serves with Rokara Soh for the morale boost and destruction his death will bring to their attack.
So as they land and get prepared, Buddy steps in to save the day. Skalla Kol will have none of this and proceeds to wallop Animal Man. It’s all one sided until Animal Man manages to escape her by ducking in to a pond. Now strengthened with a fishes abilities, he uses the water to capture the low flying Hawkwoman. He removes her mask, wings and weapons and begins playing with her gravity controls. Like a bottle rocket, she gets launched in to the air and upon fixing her control device, falls crashing back to Earth.
Rokara Soh seeing Animal Man coming for him sends a call out to the birds in the forest to attack. Animal Man gets swarmed and the artist can finally complete his bomb. It will be an accumulation of his life’s work in one wave of destruction. Incapacitated by the swarm of different birds, Rokara Soh decides to let the man that bested Skalla Kol get a front row seat to his greatest work by hanging him up in a tree right in front of the bomb. Animal Man frees himself and springs to stop him, when the Thanagarian male collapses. His bomb is complete and the poison he consumed is finally taking effect.
That’s when our hero just starts losing it. He smashes on the orb like bomb and tries to do everything he can in his shaken state to turn it off. Nothing works and all there is left to do is cower in failure. As the bomb’s ignition begins, a finger presses on the device. Animal Man looks up in surprise and towering over him is Hawkman with a smirk.
“All you had to do was switch it off.”
Is It Good?
Of course! This isn’t as good as many of the things Grant would do later with the series, but as a simple crossover piece, it holds up extraordinarily well over time. Only a few frames of dialog tie it to the issues prior and most importantly it’s a showcase of the villain artist. This makes the book a fantastic one to just pick up and read at any point as you don’t need the history or the backdrop. Everything is simply given to you.
Rokara Soh is interesting because of who he is. He is an artist who would sacrifice his life for one beautiful act of remembrance. Death and destruction are a part of his warrior race. He however is not a violent man. This is shown in his relationship with Skalla Kol. She despises him because he’s not a warrior. He does not bask in victory, only in the beauty of his sacrifice. This is also shown in his dealings with most Thanagarians including his own father.
Both Thanagarians make for interesting people and they really play to Animal Man’s anti-hero personality. Animal Man kills Skalla Kol. He fails to stop the bomb. These are huge failures as a hero, but the intent is still here. Skalla Kol’s life meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. These people had to be stopped. Unfortunately, his powers wouldn’t be able to do so and in a deus ex machina, a true hero appears from nowhere to simply switch off the bomb with ease.
Grant wrote a good comic. The monologue is excellent and the premise is top notch. Villains have clear goals and the ending is out of nowhere. More importantly, the presentation and layout works amazingly well to build tension. That final scene with Animal Man’s struggle to stop the bomb interspersed with Rokara Soh’s flashbacks is tense. Here is a man standing proud in the great accomplishment he has worked to complete in an attempt to appease a father who will never appreciate his work. Spliced in between this is a man absolutely powerless to stop an orb of destruction threatening to kill his family and friends.
It’s amazing series of panels in it’s emotional build up and final resolution.
Animal Man’s entire run under Grant Morrison is one of those rare exceptional books that feels so out of place with many other super hero titles. Even in a simple tie-in crossover title, we are able to see Animal Man’s role broken down to a man that simply tries to save the day. He ultimately doesn’t. The only thing he accomplishes is killing the Hawkwoman.
Instead of building a hero, we built a man that plays in the world of superheroes. It’s an interesting book to read. It is far from lazy in it’s execution, despite the book crossing in to another. In fact, this is probably one of the best ways of tying in with an event. Write a story that focuses less on the back story of the event and more on and isolated battle. It is an attack that the world might never know about and that seems to be a theme with Animal Man.
Establishing this character as an animal rights activist (and a hard line one at that) showcases the willingness of this man to protect those that nobody wants to protect. He stumbles across creatures and people whose life means nothing to others. It’s an interesting way of keeping the hero more subdued and I guess this was the way to show off what the character is worth in a real event.
It’s a great early foundation to create for Animal Man and adds to the themes that Morrison wanted to create with him. It might not be the Animal Man story that people are still talking about after all these years, but it’s a great one anyway.