Grant Morrison had been given the green light to write his four issue miniseries for Animal Man and it was a success. The bods at DC knew that if they were going to take a chance on Arkham Asylum then Morrison needed more exposure and if Animal Man was working, why change anything. So they asked him to continue, but after finishing your story what do you say? How about shifting focus to a coyote that has been sent to the DC universe from a parallel animated world?
While the first four issue of Animal Man dig into the weirder mythology of the DC universe, issue 5 creates its own weirdness. It’s an absurd existential tale about sacrifice and fear. Again, I won’t go into deep detail but I will cover the salient points, in fact I am barely going to mention Animal Man himself at all.
The main elements in the issue are the revelations about a coyote that walks around the desert on two legs and a man that loses everything but his faith. The issue opens with optimism and a trucker that has turned his life around for the better. During a conversation with a hitchhiker we learn that he’s a gay man in the 80’s that has found a loving partner and is doing well, he has even found religion. Then they meet the bipedal coyote … and run him down with a truck. This could be the end of the story for both the trucker heading home and the dead coyote. However, we quickly learn that this is far from the end when the coyote’s broken body heals.
The story picks up a year later for these two and in that time a lot has happened. The trucker has lost everything; his partner was killed in an accident. His mother had died from cancer, he had lost his job and the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the hitchhiker he helped a year before has also been killed. Tracking it back he pin points the start of his bad luck on the day he ran over the devil, or as we know the coyote. Now he wants revenge.
After running through several attempts to kill the coyote in some very looney toon ways, the coyote meets Animal Man and presents him with the truth. We learn that he is from a world of cartoon characters, beset by constant violence but where no one can die. Sick of this endless cycle of pointless violence he goes to see his creator and partition him to intervene and stop it. The creator agrees, on one condition, the coyote will be transported to another world to suffer again and again, thus saving his world from violence.
The book ends with Animal Man stating that he cannot read the script he has been given that contains the truth. The Trucker finally kills the coyote believing he has killed a / the devil, thus saving the world.
To stop there for a moment, we are really getting into the Morrison-isms that I have always enjoyed. The concept of parallel or multiple worlds will come up again and again in everything from Doom Patrol, Batman, Final Crisis and of course Multiversity. It is a core conceit of the DC universe that Morrison is a master of. Also, woven into this issue and some of those other stories, especially Final Crisis is the idea of a “creator”. This is returned to later in his Animal Man run, when Buddy Baker actually meets Grant Morrison. In this series and Final Crisis we meet characters that have been forgotten and exist in a limbo waiting for a creator to pluck them out and use them again.
Moving from the purer Morrison ideas, the heavy religious overtones of this issue cannot be missed. From the truck drivers cross and mission to kill the devil, the evangelist on the TV in the Baker home to the idea of the Coyote sacrificing himself to endless punishment to save his world from violence. Of course the irony being that a man of faith has killed a being that is on a mission of pain for the purpose of peace.
I think because of his longer list of stories behind him Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing 21 is a better statement of his ability; it is better structured and tighter plotted. However this issue from Morrison is like an experiment, he throws in some good ideas in a loose construct and it comes together brilliantly. It’s no wonder he comes back to the ideas again in the future. Of the three issues I am discussing, this is my favourite.