Interview: Jeff Lemire On ‘Animal Man’ – Buddy Baker, Oscar Winner?

In 2013, writer Jeff Lemire will further raise the profile of the tragedy-prone DC hero Animal Man by putting Buddy Baker up for an award for his film work. In any other circumstances, this would be a welcome development for the Baker family, but following a recent tragedy and loss of one of their own, the increased spotlight feels more like a target on their back, Lemire tells me.

In this e-mail interview, Lemire talks about how Buddy will deal with this sudden increase in fame and warns that even the book’s title character isn’t safe this year. Plus, we have a look at a spread from “Animal Man” #21 from artist Steve Pugh.

MTV Geek: The intersection between celebrity and superheroes crops up occasionally as new writers try to find an angle on it, typically ending with something like “it’s bad.” What about it appeals to you?

Jeff Lemire: I felt that Buddy’s celebrity is an aspect of his character that makes him unique from other super heroes. He’s one of the few DC characters whose identity is known to the public, but also who has this bizarre cult following as a minor celebrity. To me, that seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore, what I see as a real sickness in our culture, that being our obsession with fame and celebrity.

We are raising a generation of kids who grow up, not wanting to accomplish anything of substance, but rather just be famous. Social media, reality television, all of these things are feeding into this. As a parent, this is really concerning to me. People are losing themselves in celebrity gossip and nonesense rather than facing real problems in our world. I know I sound like I’m ranting, but I feel like these are the things I can use the character of Animal Man to explore.

Geek: Along the same lines, given how laid-back Buddy is, what’s interesting for you about putting him through the kinds of emotional extremes, that being a guy who can channel animal powers while also maintaining an acting career has to go through?

Lemire: This book has always been about stretching the Baker family as far as I can. It’s about using superhero and horror stories as metaphors for the things that can pull a family apart or push them closer together.

This is the Baker family’s darkest hour. They will either be destroyed completely or evolve into something new. And, just as Buddy hits rock bottom emotionally and personally his celebrity explodes, making everything even more complicated and difficult.

Geek: Now Buddy’s always been kind of a second-tier celebrity. How has that affected him as a hero and what would a best actor nomination do to him on that front?

Lemire: At this point, the nomination is the furthest thing for his mind. His fame and celebrity are now a curse, almost like the new “super villain” in the book. His only concern is dealing with the loss of his family and trying to get them back. Everything else just stands in his way.

Geek: He’s aware of the Oscar curse, right? After you win one, chances of doing something great following the award are pretty slim.

Lemire: Yes, I suppose he is. We will actually see the awards ceremony, but it won’t go as planned…

Geek: How is his family reacting to the announcement? They’ve been through a lot lately, and this seems like an major and public unexpected turn.

Lemire: Like Buddy, it only serves to bring more attention to the pain they are already going through. And it pulls Ellen even further from Buddy.

Geek: If he wins, do you already have Buddy’s acceptance speech written? Or do you think he might have a Brando/Littlefeather moment and make it about something else?

Lemire: The bigger question is if Buddy will even go to the awards ceremony at all. Or if he’ll be alive to go to it. As you’ll see in the coming months, we’re not playing it safe. This is a superhero book where anything can happen.

“Animal Man” #21 will be on shelves June 19.

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