All good things must come to an end, and sadly, Animal Man is no exception. With Wednesday’s final issue, the ongoing story of Buddy Baker and his wife and two kids comes to a close — but the adventure for Buddy is far from over. As writer Jeff Lemire closes one door, he opens another, bringing Animal Man along with his to the May shipping title Justice League United! Lemire sat down with Comicosity to look back at Buddy Baker’s time in the New 52, why Cliff Baker had to die, and what Animal Man will mean to the new heroes of the Justice League.
Jeff Lemire: I just felt like I had done the story I wanted to tell. You can only pull the family apart, terrorize them, and bring them back together once or else it just becomes repetitive. For me, the other way to write Buddy would be to change it up completely and maybe do more straight super-hero stuff, but I didn’t feel like doing that in a solo book would really work. It’s the family stuff that really makes that book unique.
I did feel that putting him in a team setting would offer me something new, so that’s why I’m moving him to the Justice League. Really, it wasn’t my decision to end the series, so much as DC saw it was either that or have someone else come on and do the book. It just seemed like a natural time. Sales hadn’t been picking up and a transition into Justice League United seemed right to keep the story going with me in that way.
MSG: So much of what defines Buddy Baker involves his marriage, and by extension his family. Will that inform your continued depiction of Animal Man in Justice League United?
JL: It will take a back seat. One of the things — especially in that last issue — that we really wanted Buddy to take out of this entire 29 issue run is that he needs things separate from the family if he’s going to continue being Animal Man, and continue having adventures. He can’t keep putting his family in jeopardy. He can’t do that again after what happened to Cliff. It’s just tearing his family apart. So, for him, if the Justice League ever becomes something for him other than working at an office and coming home at the end of the night, he’s not going to do it anymore.
That’s not to say we won’t ever see Maxine or Ellen appear again at some point, but he’s really making an effort to keep them separate from the adventure stuff.
MSG: In looking at your body of work, from Underwater Welder and Sweet Tooth to Green Arrow and Animal Man, there’s a lot of father-son storytelling at the root of your stories. What thinking went into Cliff Baker’s demise for you and how it came out?
JL: Well, there were a couple of things that went into the decision. When Scott Snyder and I were doing the Rotworld story, we knew that for Rotworld to be more than just an Elseworlds story, it had to have some real repercussions. And also, the idea of grief and loss in a family was something worth exploring, and something worth telling that you don’t see in comics that frequently. It was something new and creative that interested me.
And I didn’t bring Cliff back because you want the end result to be as real as possible, and relatable. In real life, obviously, death is death, and it’s not super-hero death where people always come back. I felt that the loss and the grief that Buddy went through in the second half of the series needed to be something he carries with him now as part of who he is.
MSG: And on the other side, a lot of Buddy’s story was seen through the eyes of his daughter Maxine. How much in your mind was this entire arc her story as well, and is this the true end for Animal Girl?
JL: Well, the story is probably never over for her, because as much as I like to be protective of the characters, I know that one day I won’t be around. Someone else will write them and they’ll be able to do other things with these characters that I wouldn’t do.
I think Maxine is a great character, and I think there’s something really compelling and interesting about her. I’m sure at some point another writer will pick up on that, but for me, the story of Animal Girl is done for now.
But yeah, it really was Buddy and Maxine’s story. She was an equal lead in many ways to him, and it was something that really compelled me to write the book. Writing her, Ellen, and Cliff was always as important to me as writing Buddy.
MSG: And we really saw that in the final issue, where you made the choice to illustrate Maxine’s portion of the story yourself. Can you talk a little about what went into that decision for you?
JL: Obviously, I’m a cartoonist as well as a writer and I draw a good amount of stuff. I felt a really strong connection to Animal Man, probably more than anything I’ve ever done as a writer. I really just wanted to draw a little bit of it, to throw a bit more of myself into it before the series was done.
My art style isn’t exactly what you’re used to with mainstream super-hero comics. It would really gel with what had come before it, so for me to draw part of it, I knew there had to be a narrative device that made it work. For me, doing it as this sort of children’s story Maxine was telling Buddy was a great device to have my work in the book and have it still kind of co-exist and mesh with everything else going on.
It felt like the right thing to do, and just felt like the right ending — just a quiet night at home with Buddy and Ellen and Maxine, and her telling him a bedtime story. It was the perfect ending to the series for me.
MSG: I don’t know whether you know this, but Comicosity is first and foremost proudly Canadian-owned, so the move to Canada for Buddy and his Justice League colleagues is a big moment for us as a site! How will things be changing for Animal Man, other than heading north, as the newest Justice Leaguer?
JL: Well, it’s a lot of what I said already in that he’s decided to keep his super-hero stuff separate from his Justice League stuff. We won’t see a lot of the family. It will be more him interacting with the larger DC Universe, taking everything that he is and putting it in a larger group dynamic.
Buddy is an interesting character, because he sort of means something different to every one on the team. It’s part of what I’m discovering as I write the book. When he’s with Stargirl or Supergirl, he almost becomes a surrogate father figure, because he is a father and they’re young. And when he’s with Green Arrow, he’s more of a big brother. They have this fun, love-hate thing between them that’s been a blast to write.
Buddy also has a lot of humor to him. Despite how dark the series was, there was always some black humor running through it. He has a bit of a wit to him, so he’s the comic relief in many scenes as well. He’s been really interesting to write, because of the different facets of his personality that I didn’t get to write when doing his solo book. Obviously, you want things that keep a character interesting or else it gets stale. That’s been really cool.
MSG: Will we see a connection with the Bridgewalker and Buddy’s interstellar destiny from #26 reappear as Animal Man and the Justice League head into space?
JL: It does seem there’s a real opportunity there, since United is a cosmic Justice League book. And that’s a cosmic story. I don’t have a definite issue number planned for when I’m going to deal with that, but it does seem like something that will end up coming back and getting some sort of resolution. It’s on my radar for sure.
MSG: Any final thoughts or special teases for the Comicosity audience on the close of Animal Man or moving over to Justice League United?
JL: No, just that I’m really proud of the run, and that Travel Foreman deserves as much credit as I do. He really set the visual tone and the weirdness, the depth of the Red, and everything else. He brought so much imagination to it. He deserves a lot of the credit.
It was certainly thrilling working with all of the others I got to work with as well, like Cully Hamner and Rafael Albuquerque and Steve Pugh, but it was really Travel that gave the book a visual voice. So, kudos to him. It was so great to work with him.
MSG: Thanks so much, Jeff! One last thing: I love, love, loved Socks the Cat, by the way. I think I will miss him most of all.
JL: (laughs) Well, you know, maybe Socks has a place in the Justice League. We’ll see.
Jeff Lemire’s run on Animal Man may have ended, but Justice League United #0 arrives from DC Comics next month, co-starring none other than Buddy Baker himself. Jeff’s work can also be found monthly in the pages of Green Arrow and the upcoming weekly series New 52: Futures End.