The Young Animal imprint is a weird, important addition to DC Comics.
After years of reading comics like Preacher and Y: The Last Man, I thought I had seen the weirdest and most shocking stuff the medium could offer. Then I started reading the DC Comics imprint Young Animal (YA), which was founded in 2016 by acclaimed writer and former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.
The main characters in the YA universe include a bird-like alien who switches bodies with humans while wearing a coat made of literal madness, a spelunker with a mysterious, artificially intelligent eye, and a sentient street. That’s right: a sentient street. If you couldn’t make it through that description without rolling your eyes, then Young Animal might not be for you, but if you’re intrigued by the bizarreness, or at the very least willing to put up with it, then you’re in for a good time.
Because somehow, amidst all of the utterly insane, psychedelic happenings in these comics, the writers keep finding ways to inject deep themes into their stories and give their characters compelling emotional arcs.
For example, Mother Panic, written by Jody Houser and featuring incredible art by Tommy Lee Edwards, Shawn Crystal, and others, seems at first like it’s going to be a Batman clone (it even takes place in Gotham City), but is actually an exploration of mental illness, trauma, and what it might really be like to live a vigilante lifestyle.
Shade, the Changing Girl, by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone, features the aforementioned bird-like alien, and tells a somewhat grounded story about a girl struggling to fit in at a new high school.
Young Animal comics are great because they have these added dimensions, but they also totally work as a vehicle for ideas too out there (or too explicit) to be used in DC’s best-known comics. In Way’s Doom Patrol, a good portion of the first issue involves a society living inside a burrito.
And when it seems like these comics are throwing out absurd ideas just for the sake of having absurd ideas (which, to be fair, they do quite often), some character interaction, like the titular character in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye reconnecting with his daughter years after his wife passed away, reminds you that these are legitimately well-crafted and real characters, albeit in surreal settings.
Getting into comics can be overwhelming due to the sheer quantity of choices and (assumed) prerequisite knowledge required to fully appreciate certain stories, but YA offers an accessible point of entry. The four series mentioned above are the main ongoing titles in the imprint, and they can be read independently of the others. After about 12 issues for each series, the first phase of YA recently culminated in the crossover event Milk Wars. Phase two has been slowly rolling out over the last few weeks with slightly altered titles (Shade, the Changing Girl is now Shade, the Changing Woman), and a new miniseries called Eternity Girl, which premiered to a lot of praise.
It takes a lot to elicit shock like this in a medium where there are essentially no limits to what kind of stories can be told, but the most impressive thing about Young Animal is how it is equally important to the creators to make their characters feel real. I haven’t started phase two yet, but the only thing that would surprise me about it is if it didn’t completely surprise me.
header image: mother panic / dc comics