Animal Man #9 (1989)

Animal Man #9 (March, 1989)
“Home Improvements”
Writer – Grant Morrison
Guest Penciller – Tom Grummett
Inker – Doug Hazlewood
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Tatjana Wood
Assistant Editor – Art Young
Editor – Karen Berger
Cover Price: $1.25

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

Hint: There’d better be some Oreos for dessert!

We open with Cliff Baker heading home from school.  Along the way, he is confronted by a quartet of goofy-looking bullies… and we know they mean business, as one of them is wearing a Bon Jovi t-shirt!  Not to mention, one of them looks to be Mastermind from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  Anyhoo… they razz him for being Animal Man’s son, referring to him as “Animal Boy” before feeding him some sidewalk.  Meanwhile, at the Baker house… Buddy plays with a cat.

There is a knocking at the door… that Buddy ignores.  After all, he is playing with a cat.  An irritated Ellen resigns herself to the fact that she’s on her own here… and answers the door.  She is shocked to see that their guest is the Martian Manhunter (who was she expecting, Sidney Poitier?).

Buddy greets his fellow superhero, and asks if J’onn is here on official business or just to say “hey”.  Turns out, it’s a little bit of both.  Buddy, now a member of the Justice League Europe, is able to reap the benefits of home repair… and a new home security system.  This is a callback to an earlier issue where the Mirror Master did a number on the Baker home… the League will cover the repairs at no cost.  I guess membership does have its privileges!

Ellen kinda nudges Buddy in the ribs, suggesting that this might be the right time for him to share some recent news with the Martian Manhunter… and so, Buddy invites J’onn to chat… outside.

We shift scenes to the apartment of the returning James Highwater, a man who had simply “appeared” in an earlier issue.  He has no memory, however the apartment feels quite familiar to him… even down to the copy of Alice in Wonderland laying on the floor.  He picks up the book and finds a folded note inside instructing him to “Ask the Psycho Pirate”.  That’s probably nothing, right?

We rejoin J’onn and Buddy as they fly over some canyons, at which time Buddy shares that ever since the Invasion/Gene Bomb, his powers have been… unpredictable at best.  If he focuses on a cat… he might wind up with chicken powers, stuff like that.  J’onn is disappointed, stating that while the League can ill-afford “carrying passengers”… he still really wants Buddy on the team.  He appreciates that he fights from a “different corner” than many others, with his position on environmentalism and animal rights… after all, somebody’s gotta make Thanksgiving dinner awkward and uncomfortable!

Next, we rejoin Cliff… sunken-shouldered Cliff… as he continues his walk home from school.  He hears a rustling in the leaves in the trees above him, but chooses to ignore it.  As he passes the trees, we see a man land behind him.  Probably nothing, right?

Back at the Baker house, the Justice League International’s crack security team is setting up the lasers… and it kinda goes ca-ca.  Ellen ain’t at all keen on having an in-house arsenal that could, ya know, cook one of her children.  Dude starts to lecture her on how dangerous it is for superheroes to have families in the first place… and so, she offers him a beer.  Yeah, that’ll fix it!

At the canyon, Buddy attempts to focus in on a rabbit… instead he gets a barrage of other animals… rattlesnake, scorpion, kit fox, buzzard, ants, German Shepherd, catfish, termite, coyote… ay yai yai… thankfully, no lions, tigers, nor bears though!  Overwhelmed by the intensity, Buddy vomits.  J’onn stands there, unmoved… gotta figure by now he’s already seen Guy Gardner huggin’ a bowl or two after a rough night.

He helps Buddy to a rock where he can sit… and suggests he see a doctor.  Buddy wishes he had a better understanding of his powers to begin with… after all, they are rather impossible.  How can he breathe underwater without gills… fly without wings… these are all questions we’d never ask of other heroes… but a dude who gets his powers from animals?  That actually makes you think a bit… if you let it.  The pair fly off… with, for whatever reason, a parting shot on Blue Beetle.

We rejoin Cliff as he arrives at home… and since he hadn’t a clue about the new security system, he just saunters on in… and is faced by a whole lotta lasers!

Everything’s cool, however… everything has been modified to be “non-lethal”.  The Bakers will each receive a special key to bypass the security system.  Meanwhile, Maxine draws a picture for their guest, the Marshmallowhunter.

Cliff is annoyed… as he usually is.  Probably something to do with that haircut.  With the rage of a million Suns, he slams a half-gallon of milk on the counter… then begins to cry about those jerks calling him “Animal Boy”… and we learn that they also stole his bike.  Well, lucky for him, “Uncle J’onn” is there… and he’s got a plan.

We follow Cliff to the nearby 7-11 (where hot dogs are $1.19… which seems kinda high for the late 80’s!).  Cliff gets in their faces and gives them the ol’ “You won’t like me when I’m angry” speech… to which, “Stay Gold” Ponyboy blows his cigarette smoke in his face.  When the smoke clears, it would appear that Cliff has transformed into a giant green beast!  The gaggle of geeks mess their pants… and run away.  Cliff and J’onn share a moment… and a laugh, as Buddy walks up.  Cliff tells his father that his powers are lame before speeding away on his reclaimed bicycle.  Can’t win ’em all…

We close out in Africa, where a painted tribesman puts his head to the ground… and hears a “weeping in the Ghost Country”.  He reports that… the Gods are coming.

Alrighty, it’s been quite a while since I read a random issue of Animal Man… and gotta say, I’m surprised that Grant was already peppering the Psycho Pirate bits in this early.  Having read this run several times over, I’m sure I knew that, but it’s still kind of odd and crazy to see the groundwork being laid.

This was a really nice snapshot of the Baker family… playing into their archetypal roles.  We start with Buddy… who is so wrapped up in his own nonsense, that he comes off as aloof.  Ellen, who has to hold everything together… and you can tell it’s beginning to wear on her.  Cliff, the angry boy… who is being bullied, and feels he can’t turn to his father for help… and instead lashes out.  And finally Maxine, who’s main trait at this point is being adorable.  I mean “Marshmallowhunter”?  C’mon… that’s gold!

There’s this discomfort in the Baker house.  It feels like we’re viewing one of those portraits of the typical suburban family… everything seems safe and secure… but you know that just below the surface, there’s a bunch of, err… “imperfections”.

I feel like having J’onn be the Justice League International representative to witness all of this is pretty much perfect.  He doesn’t really react… but, you just know he’s soaking it all in.  He really is the perfect observer.  The story wouldn’t have worked with any other member showing up to set up the security.

Overall, this entire run is worth checking out.  I find I get a deeper appreciation from reading Morrison work in single-issue format… because they come with letters pages, which are a hoot anytime… but when it’s Morrison, I feel like we get a bit “more” from them.  If singles (remember… not floppies) are too inconvenient, definitely nab those trade collections!

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