With "Animal Man" #7 arriving in stores this Wednesday, DC Comics shared an exclusive preview with CBR News. And while the pages by new series artist Steve Pugh are gorgeous, we also reached out to Eisner Award-nominated writer Jeff Lemire to ask a few questions about his critically acclaimed series, which is heading full steam ahead towards an epic summer crossover with another industry darling, Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette's "Swamp Thing."
Lemire teased that while everyone knows the two series are interconnected, the extent of that relationship will surprise most people. Readers of "Animal Man" and "Swamp Thing" already know the Red and the Green operate in mysterious ways, and with the Rot rearing its ugly head on the faces of some of Mother Nature's most beautiful creatures anything is possible.
Set to take over writing duties on "Justice League Dark" from Peter Milligan in May, Lemire also discussed his love for John Constantine, his re-imagined vision of Black Orchid and delivering something as big and powerful as what he and Snyder have planned for their "Animal Man"/"Swamp Thing" crossover within the pages of his supernatural -- as opposed to superheroic -- team book.
CBR News: With a brief pause in the overarching story last month for the fantastic 'Tights' issue, "Animal Man" picks up again this week, with Buddy, Ellen and the kids on a cross-country tour. But this isn't your average family road trip, is it?
Jeff Lemire: Like you said, now it's kind of become the Baker Family road movie where the family is stuffed in an RV, even with grandma, on the run across Middle America as they're hunted by animals -- ironically. And they're just trying to stay one step ahead of whatever the hell is going on.
In the preview, there's a great back-and-forth between Buddy and Ellen where Buddy mentions he could maybe bring The Flash into the melee but Ellen scoffs at him. Buddy really isn't in the same league as these guys, is he?
Yeah, that's the whole idea of that scene is to show that Buddy really is a D-list superhero. And we're showing it by how hard it would be for him to actually try and contact one of the heavy hitters. He wouldn't have much more success than an average person trying to contact a movie star. How do you get their attention? How do you contact these people? He's pretty much at that stage where he doesn't even know where to start to call The Flash. It all just really accentuates that he's on his own here and the Baker Family is facing something that he has to deal with.
The only ally they seem to have is this Alec Holland person, who seems to be the key to something that is going to happen. As a result, their only choice is to head in his direction. But again, they don't even know who that is yet and how much he can even help them.
Another great thing about Buddy is instead of butting heads with other superheroes or even villains, he can't even escape a road trip with his family without being challenged. Again, in the preview pages for "Animal Man" #7, his son Cliff is really giving him the gears.
What makes the character unique is his family life. You get to write great scenes like that one. And those scenes are as important as the superhero stuff. That's what defines him to me and it's what makes him special. And it's what I really want to keep doing in the book. In this issue, in particular, I had a lot of fun writing these types of scenes because later we see Buddy and Cliff go off on their own for a father-and-son kind of thing. Up to this point, it's mostly been Buddy and Maxine. But in "Animal Man" #7, Cliff finally gets his moment. And we start to explore Buddy and Cliff's relationship a bit more. And that's going to be something that's really important moving forward.
Maxine is so important to the mythology of the Rot and the Red and the Green -- and she has powers and is much more like Buddy in many ways -- but it's going to be interesting to see how Cliff reacts to that because he is just a kid. I would imagine there is going to be some sort of jealousy. Cliff's going to have to deal with those feelings and we'll see how Buddy handles it.
Speaking of Maxine, the cover teases the arrival of Animal Woman. And the cover image certainly seems to feature a decked-out Maxine as Animal Woman. She's a little young to be a superhero but can you confirm that Maxine is Animal Woman?
Okay. Let's talk about another member of the Baker Family, Socks. A favorite online and in the forums, Socks has become almost a Yoda figure in "Animal Man," wouldn't you say?
[Laughs] I've never heard him described as Yoda before. That's pretty good.
How did you come to have a talking cat as main character in "Animal Man" because on paper it seems like an odd choice?
It's funny because we have a cat at home and I often do his voice when I imagine what he's saying. But seriously, I don't know. It's like asking me where any character comes from, but I'll be completely honest, when the New 52 stuff happened, some of it came really quick. I literally had to sit down and in a couple of hours and come up with a really quick initial pitch for "Animal Man" -- knowing that I would have time to refine it later -- but I just needed to get something down. I remember the Socks character sort of spontaneously coming out of that initial pitch. It wasn't something that came from deep thought. And after the initial spark is down and you are developing the actual mythology, you start to see where that fits and it becomes more elaborate. I don't know if he was ever going to be as big a part of the book as he's becoming. But at the end of the day, he's really become just like another family member. And he's really fun to write and it's fun to have everyone react to him.
Buddy is known for his utmost respect for animals and now he has to lay the smack down. Does that faze Buddy at all as a do-gooder?
The key is Buddy has respect for all life. He has a deep understanding, both physically and mentally, of all animals. He has a real connection with all living creatures but I think once the Rot possesses these animals, they become something else. They are not a part of what he and Maxine are a part of anymore. They are not a part of the Red anymore. And because of that, there isn't that sort of guilt if he's forced to take a rabbit's head off. [Laughs]
What happens when Buddy tries to draw powers from an animal infected by the Rot?
He can't because they are no longer a part of the Red. Buddy has no contact with these animals anymore. He can't control them. He can't use their abilities. He's completely disconnected from them and they are totally alien to him.
Buddy may not be expecting help from the Justice League but as stated, the search is on for Alec Holland. You have a highly-anticipated crossover coming up with "Swamp Thing" in the months ahead. Did you and Scott [Snyder] come up with these plans or was it something mandated by DC Comics?
When Scott and I landed on these books, DC didn't have any plans for them to be so closely related. It mostly came out of Scott and I being such good friends and talking so much and we just realized there was so many similarities between what we were both doing that we figured we could literally connect the books to expand the mythology. And once we made that connection, it just started growing out of that. And then we brought the idea to DC and started sharing the details. I think everyone knows there is going to be a crossover now but people don't realize the extent to the story we're doing yet. It's pretty exciting where we are going.
Did you go back and really ground yourself in "Animal Man" to write Buddy by reading all the classic runs by [Grant] Morrison and [Jamie] Delano or does he come pretty naturally to you?
I think it's a mixture of both things. I obviously knew his history really well because I was a really big fan of all of his previous runs, so I was already influenced by that going into it. But at the same time, I had to find a way to try and not just redo what Grant Morrison did or Jamie Delano did. I had to put my own voice to it and do things with it that played off my strengths. There is a combination of being respectful for what has come before and choosing the things that work towards the vision you are shooting for.
And because it was the New 52 and a new first issue, and everything else, I also wanted to make it completely accessible to new readers that don't know anything about the character.
You mentioned just now, and several times before, that you are a huge fan of Animal Man and several of the other DC/Vertigo characters including Swamp Thing and John Constantine. Do you have to stop and shake your head every once and while when you realize you are now writing stories with these classic characters?
It's pretty surreal, to be honest. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm not just writing fan fiction. It's actually legit because, like you said, I grew up reading this stuff and you never for a minute think that one day you will be putting words in their mouths. I can't explain how exciting it is. To say it's a dream come true, doesn't even sum it up because it was never a dream. It's pretty amazing.
Are you surprised at all by the positive response for "Animal Man" from both readers and those in the industry?
Of course, you obviously don't expect the book to be as successful as it has been. You just kind of hope it doesn't get cancelled, really. For it to be resonating the way it has is something you can't anticipate. You just do the best work that you think you can do and if you believe in it and do something that you really like, you just hope it resonates with other people. And in this case, it really did. And it really helps having Scott doing something that works so well as a companion piece. DC gets the two books kind of feeding off one another and building buzz together.
Do you think part of the appeal of "Animal Man" is that it is very much not a traditional superhero comic?
It definitely stands out. There are so many superhero comics published every month, so it's obviously very distinct. In that way, I think it was an easy one that really stood out because it had something really distinct to latch on to. And the nature of the character really lends itself to that too.
All great fairytales need a supervillain to make them complete. You can't have Batman without the Joker. With the Rot being such an organic and sinuous villain, right now anyway, does it allow you to tell different types of ideas because the Rot is really more of a Keyser Söze concept than a former carnival employee in a crazy suit?
That's what makes it interesting for me. It's not just this one person in a costume that Buddy can punch in one issue and then he's gone. It's something that he just can't figure out exactly what it is. It keeps morphing and changing and growing and as a result as a storyteller, you have to keep going and going and keep pushing it in new directions and not let it be so specific or defined. Usually, it is one big battle and then it's over and then you have to come up with another villain. This breaks the superhero formula so maybe that's something else that people are reacting to.
With Buddy set to meet Alec Holland in the "Animal Man"/"Swamp Thing" crossover, no doubt we'll see Alec Holland as the Swamp Thing. Any chance we'll see Buddy don his Animal Man costume because he's been shirtless for most of the first six issues?
Nah, I kind of like his chest. [Laughs] We'll see what happens but he likes to be free.
Anything else you can tease about the next few issues heading into the crossover with "Swamp Thing?"
It's hard to give too much away at this point but "Animal Man" #7 has some really big hints and glimpses at things to come. And let's leave it at that. It has some real concrete clues as to where these books are going.
Does where these books are going include characters from "Justice League Dark," the other DC series you are set to take over? Because that title features another character that you love, John Constantine, and he has a long history with Swamp Thing.
No. The "Swamp Thing"/"Animal Man" crossover is very contained to those two titles. It doesn't reach into the other Dark books, which is good because if I was writing two books sharing the same storyline it would feel kind of stale. My plans for "Justice League Dark" are completely separate from the Rot storyline, a completely different thing, but something I am equally excited about getting out there.
Last time we spoke, you told me John Constantine was your all-time favorite character, perhaps in all of fiction. Has creating dialogue for him come easily to you?
It's interesting because I've read everything he's been in and every interpretation of that character. You tend to be influenced by different writers that have worked with him and that you really like but at the end of the day, you have to find your own interpretation of him. It takes some time to let go of your influences and make him your own but I think I am getting there.
It's really funny being able to play him off other characters, especially Deadman. It's an easy way to start to define these characters by how they react to one another.
You're also bringing some new/old characters into the fold when you take over the series, such as Black Orchid. DC just announced she was joining the series for you run. Anything you can say about her inclusion?
There are some older DC characters that I've re-imagined by creating new versions of them and one of them is indeed Black Orchid. I have a unique, new version of her and I am really enjoying writing her.
"Animal Man" #7 is on sale Wednesday. "Justice League Dark" #9, the first issue by Lemire and artist Mikel Janin, is scheduled for May 23rd.