Treading Elseworlds

In “The Myth of the Creation” (which you can find in Secret Origins #39, reprinted in volume two of the Animal Man trade series) we get Morrison, Grummett, and Hazlewood’s version of the events depicted in Strange Adventures #180 (1965)–it’s a typical DC Silver Age origin: guy with not too much going on in his life gets a wake up call from space and an immediate opportunity to thrash some beasts–goes home feeling powerful, blurts out a marriage proposal to his breathlessly waiting sweetheart and faints… That’s Buddy the first…

In Animal Man #11 we get the origin again (drawn by Truog this time)–featuring costumes and hair redone for the late seventies, and words scrambled into magnetic fridge poetry. Clearly, there’s a problem here…although it’s supposedly solved the following month, when the key scenes recur a third time, with the original syntax restored… So they rebooted the character and they’re shameless enough to glory in this fact–so what, right? Wrong! There’s so much more going on here than a critique of silly superhero conventions! The bookend “myths of the creation” (which bring to mind the two versions of the beginning of the world in Genesis) completely undermine each other, leaving the middle one–the meaningless one–to stand as the “true” secret origin of Animal Man… It’s so secret, in fact, that it’s absolutely opaque! These aren’t “creation myths”, this is creation as myth! And without a stable origin, Buddy Baker has no real identity–he will always be other than himself…In issue #12, the reborn character discovers an ability to multiply himself, by absorbing the powers of self-replicating bacteria… In more ways than one then–Buddy II becomes Animal Men…

There’s a powerful anti-ontological argument running through this series. The mind instinctively recoils from the idea that consciousness springs out of the void. The standard antidote to this supposition is to posit a God or an Ideal which is the one and only something, and which we are all a part of (solipsism/pantheism)… I think most people would actually rather embrace nihilism than entertain the notion that whatever meaning there is in the world is founded upon radical absence! “Something” out of “nothing”? What the hell? So we lasso each other and the stars with mental umbilical cords, or hang ourselves with them…

I’m going to be doing some serious close-reading for the next couple of days, and I quite understand if no one but my future dissertation-writing self cares about this stuff, but if you’re still with me, check out what happens in issues #18-20. We open with a voice saying “…Buddy?…” in the dark, and a surreal vision of Tricia and Roger bearing down upon the unseen protagonist with tearful concern and a glass of water. In green boxes someone thinks “there’s something important I mustn’t forget… is that a door in the darkness?” Then we loop back into kitchen-brightness: Ellen pouring a glass of water for a flustered James Highwater (whose limbs have been disappearing for short periods lately), the kids chattering in the background… Then Buddy and James launch their adventure in monism, dreaming bridges across abysses under the influence of peyote, and the tutelage of an intelligent fox. A lot of cool stuff happens, but none of it counts for much against Buddy’s return to consciousnes in #20, on the floor of his kitchen, where he’d been since Roger offered him the first glass of water. During that whole burst of a-mesa-ing grace, Ellen and the kids were already dead! Morrison beautifully dramatizes a mind attempting to cope with the unthinkable–not its’ own anihilation, but the loss of what it loves! The cure is far worse than the disease. By plugging into “unity”, we lose the capacity to relate (how can you relate to yourself?), and relation is the only fount of meaning in this fallen world!

The mystic’s vision of union with the divine is a self-defense mechanism, a sop to the apocalypse, and humans generally gain access to it by poisoning themselves with intoxicants, starving themselves, or depriving themselves of sleep… I know a lot of smart people have bought into this over the years, but I prefer to believe my senses when they’re working properly…

Far from being “at one with the universe”, Buddy isn’t even at one with himself! He has no identity–or, at any rate, he is not identical to himself! In issue #22 (illustrated by Paris Cullins & Steve Montano, not by Truog, or even by Grummett, who had filled in before) Buddy wanders, alienated, through his past, thinking: “sometimes I watch them but they don’t seem real. They’re his family, not mine. My family is dead. It’s driving me mad. It’s driving me mad.” Unlike Dr. Manhattan, who is everywhere in the continuity at once, Buddy is never in continuity. His reality is fluid–he’s treading “elseworlds”… I think we get a minor version of this shock every time we look at old photographs of ourselves. I certainly do. That’s not my world in there. That’s his world… I have no identity. Like Buddy, I fill in the blanks between the panels of my life with guesswork, not a continuous self. And so do you.

Good night friends!



  1. [Marc] wondering if you’ve had a chance to look at The Filth – which is kind of a sequel to Animal Man. Key diffeernces I suppose is that the cat loving GM avatar is the protagonist. Also, rather than superheroes, the genre is super-agents (Prisoner, Gerry Anderson etc.) The result is a bit more existential oriented, I think. Still processing it. V Interested to hear your impressions.

  2. Marc,

    I’m ashamed to say that I have not yet read The Filth… I plan to remedy that situation, I assure you!


  3. David,

    I’m really interested in your argument about ontology, now that I can go back and really read what you said. There was a scene when Buddy and Grant are talking in which Grant, for no apparent reason, kicks a stone into the water, which gave me two impressions:

    1. He’s being motivated by an external agent to do things. This action is a mimetic support to his argument, not that he needs to make a good argument when he literally ‘controls the discourse’ anyway.


    2. He’s secretly saying, “I refute you thus!” I think it would be a good allusion under the circumstances, but in some sense Grant is contra Samuel Johnson, because he’s not kicking a real stone and so his action doesn’t prove anything at all. It proves, by loose analogy, that the world is not real at all.



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