On the one-year anniversary of Deltarune Chapter 2's release I put out an essay explaining why, if Toby Fox intends for Deltarune to be about players turning the characters into their puppets and making them do bizarre and even cruel things for their amusement, he needs to go all-in and make himself the one manipulating everyone from behind the scenes (which you may want to read before this if you haven't, because I will be calling back to it). Towards the end I brought up Grant Morrison's Animal Man, a comic book where that exact twist happened. Funny thing, I did not go into that article thinking about or even remembering Animal Man, I was halfway through writing it when I suddenly realized "Wait a minute, I'm talking about that Grant Morrison comic, here." And then I noticed Spamton bared some similarities to another famous part of Animal Man. Then I realized, while I knew of Animal Man and how it ended and started reading it a few years ago, I never actually finished it and needed to rectify that.
As you can see from the novella I'm about to toss onto your desk, that turned into a rabbit hole.
If you're reading this you surely know about Deltarune and Toby Fox, so let's talk about Animal Man and Grant Morrison. Animal Man, real name Bernhard "Buddy" Baker, is a DC superhero created by Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino way back in 1965, and he gained the power to mimic the abilities of nearby animals after a spaceship blew up in his face. He sees an elephant? He gets super strength. He sees a bird? He can fly. Weasel? Super agility. Fish? Underwater breathing. Think of him as an amalgamation of Beast Boy, Carol Danvers, and Aquaman in an outfit that these days probably gets a lot of people mistaking him for Booster Gold. But he never gained any traction and after only a handful of appearances DC shelved him.
Fast forward to 1988, when Grant Morrison plucked him out of obscurity and turned him into a deconstruction of comic book writing and well, entertainment and what it means to be a creator in general if I'm honest. It's pretty common in comics for somebody other than the creator to define a character, and not uncommon even when taking the character down a self-aware route. Stan Lee created She-Hulk, but it was John Byrne who came up with the idea to have her break the fourth wall and argue with the readers, writers, and editors. And when Rob Liefeld created Deadpool he wrote him straight and serious (if you want to be generous, because writing is about the only thing Liefeld is worse at than drawing) and it was Joe Kelly who took him down the comedic, self-aware route we know Deadpool for today.
This thing about Morrison reimagining a pre-existing property is more than background information, it becomes very important to the story so take note of it.
Grant Morrison is a Scottish comic book writer, and you know All-Star Superman? The polar opposite of Frank Miller's All-Star "I'm the Goddamn" Batman, where Superman basically has cancer and is devoting what time he has left to doing as much as he can for Earth before he disintegrates? The one where he talks the suicidal teenager out of jumping off a building?
Grant Morrison wrote that. Other works of Morrison's include Doom Patrol, Flex Mentallo, WE3, The Multiversity, The Invisibles, runs on Batman, Green Lantern, and JLA, collaboration on the 52 event, and a lot more. Grant Morrison is a legend in comic books.
By the way, in 2020 Morrison came out as nonbinary... maybe, to be honest it sounds more like people started calling Morrison nonbinary based on something Morrison said in an interview about crossdressing and Morrison decided to roll with it, because in another interview Morrison called the nonbinary thing "a badge of honor [Morrison] didn't ask for." According to this interview Morrison is fine with all pronouns and Morrison's own site uses "he"/"him." But given how quick some Deltarune fans are to throw out your entire argument if you accidentally call Kris a "him" combined with people on Twitter who feel it necessary to "correct" anyone who refers to Morrison as a "him" when, as I just explained, Morrison accepts all pronouns and is perfectly fine with "he"/"him", I'm just going to go with "they"/"them."
Another thing you're going to need to know about is the Crisis. I'll try to summarize it, and if you want more details there's tons of videos about it (here's one from Comic Tropes), but the gist was in the 60s DC got the idea to expand its retcons and reimagined characters into alternate universes - a phrase I'm sure many an Undertale fan is familiar with - which there were an infinite number of. Think of how when Superman debuted he could only jump long distances and it wasn't until later they gave him flight, or how the first version of The Flash was that guy wearing a doughboy helmet with the Hermes wings on it. Those things still happened, just in alternate universes. That opened the gate on writers trying all kinds of new crap with characters and calling it a new universe, and by the 80s things started to get so convoluted they were having trouble keeping track of what events were supposed to have happened in which universe. Hell, they were probably having enough trouble keeping track of what powers Superman had at any given time.
Enter Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue series in which a multiversal cataclysm called the Crisis saw all those infinite universes destroyed and erased from history save one made out of the most popular bits and pieces of the others. You know that image of Superman holding Supergirl's body while bawling, or the one of the Flash running while he disintegrates like he drank from a fake Holy Grail? Those are from the Crisis. But over time the DC continuity gets re-jumbled, usually by people reintroducing the stuff that was scrubbed in the Crisis like Peter David bringing Supergirl back as an android created by the Luthor of a pocket dimension fused with an Earth girl or some shit? So every so often they have another Crisis or Crisis in Groucho Marx glasses like Flashpoint to reset the universe again. But it was a nice idea at the time.
When I went looking to see if anyone else noticed the similarities between the Dark Fountains and the Shadow Geysers in Magi Nation, I turned up a single Tweet that doesn't mention the Night Springs specifically, just compared the two games. Likewise, my searches for who else noticed the similarities between the Roaring and the Great Roar of the Astral World turned up a single Reddit post and a Tweet from the same person linking to that post. The former is due to Magi Nation's obscurity. I was going to say the latter is due to Deltarune's core audience being too young for Berserk, but go on Twitter and the Deltarune Subreddit you'll find a decent amount of Deltarune fanart drawn in the style of Berserk and "Where the fuck are we?" memes with Kris and Susie dropped into the Eclipse indicating some overlap in the two fanbases, so I don't know why that isn't pointed out more often.
My searches for comparisons between Deltarune and Animal Man turned up jack shit. I guess that's not too surprising, since to most of Fox's fanbase any comic that predates Homestuck might as well be the Nazca Lines.
I've mentioned before that I can picture Fox playing Magi Nation - a quirky old-school RPG that's like a cross between Earthbound and Pokemon? Hell yeah that would be his jam - but I cannot picture him reading Berserk. Well, I tell a lie. I can picture him attempting to read it to see what the hype was all about but noping out early on, at most making it to the Eclipse, having a puke around the time the Slug Count hollows out Pippin and uses his husk as a puppet to taunt Guts, and bailing before the, ahem, "climax."
Can I picture Toby Fox reading Animal Man? Given some of the stuff I'm about to present I'm having trouble believing he hasn't, but there's still a part of me with doubts. Morrison's Animal Man is legendary among comic book aficionados, but it's not like Watchmen where even people who don't read comics know of it. I'd compare it to something like Metal Gear Solid and not just because Hideo Kojima and Grant Morrison are both completely off their rockers: any half-dedicated gamer knows what Metal Gear Solid is, but anyone not interested in the medium is very unlikely to have heard of it. Despite getting his start in a webcomic, I've never taken Fox to be a fan of traditional comics. But hey, I don't know everything about the guy. Maybe he has read Berserk and didn't even flinch at "adult attack." And if you asked me to pick one non-web comic I can imagine being, let's say, "responsible" for Fox, it'd be the mindfuck I'm about to take you through.
Oh come on, if Deltarune was inspired by Animal Man Fox would have said so in an interview, right? He even admitted to the character-flavored teas being inspired by the ice cream story in Wayside School. Well, no. If you know one thing about Animal Man you know it's "that comic where the main character meets the writer at the end," and if Fox was influenced by it, and especially if he intends to give it the same ending twist, he would not be able to say anything about it until Deltarune was finished without giving away the Knight's identity. Could also simply be that he hasn't been asked, like nobody's asked him about Magi Nation or Berserk. I had forgotten before replaying the game to get pictures for this writeup that the Dark Fountains are sometimes referred to as "geysers." Yeah, I'm like 99% confident Fox based the Dark Fountains on the Shadow Geysers.
Anyway, only Fox knows for certain if he was inspired by Animal Man, though I'd be very surprised if he hasn't at least heard of Grant Morrison, and I am not saying he ripped it off. I don't want this to be some Kimba the White Lion bullshit about how Fox, like, totally ripped off Animal Man because without the space "Animalman" and "Deltarune" are both compound words that are nine letters long with five consonants and four vowels, and Buddy's eyes are frequently obscured by his goggles the same way Kris' eyes are obscured by their hair, and a Crisis is a major plot point and "Crisis" sounds like "Kris," lul, and Animal Man's existence is certainly not proof that the Knight is going to be Fox himself (although Animal Man's existence could be taken as proof that the Knight needs to be Fox himself. I'll explain at the end). It's just a collection of strangeness ranging from pure apophenia to amusing to "If Fox isn't actively pulling inspiration from Animal Man, something very creepy is going on."
If you've got a spare two and a half hours, check out YourMovieSucks' analysis on the Kimba the White Lion/Lion King controversy.
Obviously, there will be major spoilers for Animal Man, which I have to disclaim even though the book is over thirty years old. And a warning, if you decide to look into Animal Man just know it's not exactly as cheerful as Undertale or Deltarune. While Deltarune's meta self-awareness is bookended with quirky humor, fluffy goatbois, and teacup rides, Animal Man's meta self-awareness is bookended with heavy-handed animal rights soapboxing, a scene where in contrast to Superman the hero is not able to talk somebody out of jumping off a building, an attempted rape, lynchings, what could be best described as "Akira ball of monkeys," a kid playing with an aborted dolphin fetus, a guy getting fused with a plague-ridden chimpanzee's corpse and dissected alive, and some hunters feeding a cat to their dogs. And a lot of that crap happens in the first four issues.
It is only 26 issues and the trade is readily available, so it's not the biggest time or money investment in comics. Currently there are three versions you can get. There's the Omnibus that collects everything into one book but is only available as a physical hardcover. Then there's a two-volume version which you can get physically or digitally. No, I don't know why the first volume is listed twice in the "Books in This Series" marquee. The third version and the one I was reading splits it into three volumes. At time of writing you can read the three-volume collection for free if you have Kindle Unlimited, but if you want physical copies the three-volume collection is not in print anymore.
One final note, any time I mention the idea of the Knight being Fox, please mentally append "or Kris while under his control," I don't want to keep writing that and you don't want to keep reading it.
Right, then, let's get this show on the road.
For the first four issues Animal Man looks to be your standard, mature-themed superhero comic as Buddy tangles with B'wana Beast over a biolab claiming they're working on an AIDS vaccine but is actually trying to create a weaponized strain of anthrax. I recognized B'wana Beast from a couple episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold but he dates back to 1967, and he has the power to control animals and fuse them into chimera. But his comic history is a bit, uh, let's just say he would not fly today. While Buddy's dealing with all this, his wife is ambushed by a group of hunters in the woods behind their house and almost raped by one of them, and only saved when another one freaks out and gives his rapey partner a cranial excavation with his hunting rifle. Having fun yet, kids?
But things take a strange turn at issue #5, "The Coyote Gospel." "The Coyote Gospel" is, if not the most famous issue of the series, second only to the final issue, "Deus Ex Machina." In it, an unnamed trucker encounters an anthropomorphic coyote and has his life go to shit afterward, leading him to conclude the coyote is the Devil and takes it upon himself to kill it. But the coyote keeps regenerating after getting run over by vehicles, thrown off cliffs, smashed under boulders, and blown up with dynamite and yeah, he's a Wile E. Coyote analogy. For anyone wondering how Morrison got away with this, Warner Bros had already acquired DC back in 1969, and even if they didn't I'm sure this would be protected as parody.
Anyway, Buddy happens to be flying through the area and the fight catches his attention. When he descends to investigate, the creature approaches him and... hands him a scroll. The scroll - the titular Coyote Gospel - explains how creature's name is Crafty (which should be Craft E. but maybe Morrison didn't want to make the Wile E. Coyote analogy too on the nose), and he was originally a cartoon character from a cartoon world.
But Crafty grew tired of the meaningless violence and went to his air out his grievances with "God," in actuality the artist of his world. Outraged by Crafty's rebellion, "God" condemned him to "the Hell above" where he would die and resurrect again and again, but at Crafty's request agreed to end the violence among the other cartoon animals for as long as Crafty endured his punishment. "God" then cast Crafty into "the second reality" - Buddy's reality - where Crafty remains to this day.
 I'm a little confused as to whether Crafty is supposed to be from a Looney Tunes-esque cartoon within Animal Man and is somehow getting yanked out of the cartoon into the "real" world by a Chuck Jones proxy, or if his world is also ruled over by Morrison and Crafty getting banished from one to the other is like if George Lucas threw the ice cream maker guy from Star Wars into Indiana Jones Land to have his heart ripped out by Mola Ram or something. To be honest, I think Crafty's "God" is supposed to be Animal Man's penciler, Chas Truog. Who, uh, is listed as Chaz Truog on his DC Wiki page, despite the credit panels in the comic spelling it with an S, so I don't know what's up with that.
However, Buddy can't read any of this. The scroll is nonsense to him, and as he hands it back the trucker finally kills Crafty with a silver bullet before dying of his own self-inflicted injuries. As Buddy lays Crafty to rest in an obvious Jesus metaphor, the camera pulls out and we see the scene as it's being illustrated.
With this moment the fourth wall is shattered, the suspension of disbelief severed, and we, the reader, are made aware of something that will carry on for the rest of the series: we are reading a comic book.
But let's take a closer look at Crafty. Crafty:
- Hails from a city of madness in an alternate reality
- Is derivative of another character
- Starts out as a little cartoon and is transformed into a taller, more unsettling form
- Has a connection with "Heaven" and divine imagery
- Knows the truth about the world and tries to relay said truth to the protagonist, but his words are incoherent gibberish to the recipient
- Challenges "God" and gets brutally smacked down in for his defiance
Aren't I describing Spamton? Hell, they both even have long, pointy noses.
Two parallels here: "[being] taught new pain" and the sun.
Side note, I still can't get over how disgusting Spamton's official design is compared to how the fanart portrays him.
They even end up in similar poses, especially if you beat Spamton NEO mercifully like somebody who isn't a fucking dick.
There's also a similarity between Crafty getting kicked out of the cartoon world to toil in the "real" world, and Spamton getting kicked out of Queen's mansion to toil in garbage. And if Crafty's name had been written as "Craft E. Coyote" that would have been another similarity to "Spamton G. Spamton." I could mention how Crafty goes from standing flat-footed in his original form to standing on his toes in his altered form like Spamton would if his high-heeled NEO form wasn't hanging by his strings except... Spamton having feet is a fanon thing. In-game, his legs in both forms just end in points.
Linking Crafty's scroll to Spamton's emails might be a reach, though. And for anyone wondering, yes, this is why Susie is watching a Wile E. Coyote-esque cartoon in this comic.
As the book progresses, more oddities keep bleeding through the hole in the fourth wall. Every so often the book cuts to cryptic text on a computer screen - eventually revealed to be Morrison writing the comic on their computer - not unlike the text that appears at the very beginning of Deltarune Chapter 1.
Interestingly, before Morrison writes "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" all Buddy can see is the text cursor on a black screen, which he mistakes for a door. A door in the darkness.
A door to another world.
One character to notice something strange going on is a Native American Physicist named Jim Highwater. He comes home to find a copy of Alice in Wonderland, just, lying on the floor of his living room with a note tucked into it. He follows the note to Arkham Asylum - yes, the one from Batman, this is DC after all - where one of the inmates is a cartoonishly dressed little man raving about how everything is just
a game words on a page.
This gets creepier. That's the Mad Hatter, a somewhat lesser known Batman villain (I'd put him at B-Tier), and you know what the Mad Hatter's real name is? Jervis Tetch.
In addition, the Mad Hatter's schtick is mind control through the use of enslavement devices and hypnosis. Yeah, the thing you use to put Jevil to sleep to beat him mercifully?
Can we also consider the whole Alice in Wonderland vibe Deltarune Chapter 1 had with all the checkerboards, characters based on playing cards, game pieces, and white rabbits, and Kris and Susie getting to the fantasy world by falling down a hole? Or that Jervis is detained in Arkham Asylum, as Jevil is detained in Card Castle? Or that the Mad Hatter is a Batman villain, and Batman's arch-nemesis is a clown based on the Joker card?
These are industrial taffy pull levels of stretching but since somebody is going to think of them, yes, R and L are interchangeable in Japanese, yes, Batman is also known as "The Dark Knight," and yes, Jevil's palette is pretty damn close to the Mad Hatter's Animated Series incarnation, especially the green collar.
And yes, Jervis Tetch believes he's the reincarnation of the Mad Hatter from the novel. Dude was soulbonding decades before the Final Fantasy house was a thing.
 In terms of public knowledge, not how good of a character or foil to Batman he is to which I think most people would lob the Mad Hatter into D-Tier, at least outside of The Animated Series. S-tier is characters your mother knows about like the Joker and Catwoman. A-Tier is characters anyone who knows anything about general pop culture knows about like Two-Face, the Riddler, and Mr. Freeze. B-Tier is characters anyone who knows anything about Batman knows about like the Penguin, Scarecrow, and Ra's al Ghul. The Mad Hatter was never in a movie, but he has been in Batman video games and TV shows, including multiple episodes of The Animated Series.
"Hold up, Ra's al Ghul was the big bad of Batman Begins, what do you mean casuals aren't going to know who he is?"
He was if you know anything about Batman, otherwise Liam Neeson was the big bad of Batman Begins.
Highwater is actually there to see the Psycho-Pirate, real name Roger Hayden, a Justice League villain who was an important character during Crisis on Infinite Earths. No, he doesn't look anything like a pirate, but his Medusa Mask allows him to control people's emotions so his name relates to him being a mind thief as opposed to a telekinetic outlaw of the sea. He's the only DC character to remember the Crisis and the alternate universes, and we'll be seeing more of him later.
Buddy, meanwhile, has a run-in with the Red Mask, an aging supervillain who's dying of cough-up-blood-itis and has decided he's going to end his career with one last hurrah before fulfilling his greatest wish. The Red Mask talks like he has a storied history, but from what I could gather he was created for this comic. Before you ask "Wasn't the Red Mask the persona the Joker adopted during the chemical plant robbery in The Killing Joke?" that was the Red Hood. DC loves their Red Face-Covering-Item villains.
Anyway, the Red Mask gained the power to kill with a touch from a meteorite decades ago and became a bad guy inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's "The Red Mask of Death" because what else are you going to do after killing your dog by petting him. He teamed up with another supervillain called the Veil, who could turn noncorporeal and phase through objects, and the two made a decent enough team. That is, until the Veil snapped.
So, um, the Veil wears a cape, or rather a hood since it covers his head (the more I look at this, the more I think Morrison split the Red Hood up to get the Red Mask and the Veil), and the Red Mask mentions him starting to look like a raggedy shadow. "Raggedy" as in resembling a rag, or a worn out piece of fabric. What are some other articles of clothing similar to a cape, hood, or veil? A cloak? A shroud? A cowl? A... mantle?
As you can imagine, I'm giving Landorus and Thundurus here some funny looks.
Their wands end in little pointing fingers, indicating some touch-based gimmick? Yeah, the Red Mask had a death touch. One is red and one is gray? Yup, and you can even make the case that fire is deadly and wind is ghostly. And bonus points if they turn out to be a pair of thieves. However, these two were teased during the Spamton charity auction, which wouldn't be very conducive to the whole "secret boss" thing. But if Chapter 3's secret boss can insta-kill you and we need the Shadow Mantle to phase through their death touch, can themself phase through solid objects and we need the Shadow Mantle to pursue them, or is a nutty Superman proxy, then either Toby Fox has read this comic, or Grant Morrison really is a wizard, played Deltarune, and sent the idea to their past self Attack on Titan style.
Oh yeah, did I mention Morrison, like Alan Moore, believes they're a wizard? Dunno what it is with comic writers from the UK, anyone want to check in on Neil Gaiman?
After his run-in with the Red Mask, Buddy gets his powers scrambled by the Gene Bomb, a sort of mini-event that occurred across the DC universe. And you know what, now's the time to address a question I thought to myself after writing the essay about why the Knight needs to be Fox: if Fox is the Knight and Deltarune's creator both literally and in the context of the game, where would that put Gaster? He is involved with this, what with the garbage noise from Entry 17 coming through phones, the tweets announcing Deltarune releases being published in Gaster's voice, his theme playing during the character creator in Chapter 1, and the game flipping out if you try to name yourself or your creation "Gaster."
In Animal Man, there's these two yellow aliens that originally were the pilots of the spaceship that blew up in Buddy's face and gave him his powers. One of them is named Trano, and according to ComicVine the other is named Zaarn but I don't know where that name comes from because it never shows up in the Morrison run. Don't ask me which is which. Sometimes it looks like one wears black and one white, but other times their suits are identical. And in that image one has six segments on his bracer and the other four, but other times they both have four. But even if there was some consistent difference between them, that one panel that's technically a flashback is the only time one refers to the other by name.
Anyway, they show up to cure Buddy of the effects of the Gene Bomb and continue appearing throughout the book, primarily during events concerning that gaping hole in the fourth wall. They know full well they're just characters in a comic book, and that their task is to follow Morrison's orders to nudge the story in the right direction, but not to interfere with it.
Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed one of the aliens mentions getting Buddy in touch with "the Vixen." He's talking about Vixen, a superheroine Buddy travels with for a few issues who like Buddy can mimic the abilities of animals but requires a magic artifact called the Tantu Totem to do it. And you may be thinking "Wait, a vixen is a female f-" Put a pin in that thought for now.
They're also shown to be more powerful than other characters, either because of their connection to Morrison or their self-awareness giving them more control over the world. When confronted with the immortal Hamed Ali one waves his hand and not so much erases him as dedraws him out of existence. According to ComicVine, he has not been seen since and I wonder if DC has some law against ever bringing him back.
Oh don't worry if you've never heard of Hamed Ali, he's so obscure that when I went to find out who the fuck he was, both Google and Bing brought up more results for a DFM CEO, doctors, and that time Superman boxed Muhammad Ali. Yeah, that happened. Comics are weird. I eventually gathered he was supposed to be B'wana Beast's nemesis, despite tangling with Animal Man more times in his whopping five appearances.
What if Gaster isn't Deltarune's creator? I mean, he isn't, but canonically-speaking. What if when he was erased from Undertale - fell into the CORE, got swallowed up by an experiment with Dark energy, whatever - he found himself in the space between the game and the real world, met Fox, and the two struck up some kind of deal? As Trano and Zaarn are of Morrison, Gaster is an agent of Fox, the power that brings Deltarune into being. He, too, is working from the sidelines to keep Fox's story on track. Maybe the task Fox gave him was to be a decoy and distract everyone from the real puppetmaster.
The other possibility is when Gaster got wiped from Undertale and put in the space between the game and real world, he started sneaking around trying to undermine Fox, making him akin to, well, the Skull Knight from Berserk. But as we saw atop Ganishka, as powerful as the Skull Knight is he still cannot take on Griffith. Likewise, Gaster being in the interstice means he can get around Fox and be a nuisance, but he cannot challenge Fox directly so he's trying to get help from somebody who can. Somebody who, as the Skull Knight put it, "also exist[s] outside the story." The player.
Again, just spitballing. I do think Fox intends for Gaster to be Deltarune's creator. But of the two ideas I lean more heavily towards Gaster being the aliens, with the whole "Gaster publishing the Tweets" thing and the two voices in the intro of Chapter 1 indicating Gaster being in on the plan instead of fighting against it.
Also of note, the aliens cure Buddy of the Gene Bomb by disintegrating him, rebuilding his body, and transferring his spirit into the new one. In fact, Morrison retcons Animal Man's creation story to say he was vaporized in the spaceship explosion and the aliens recreated his body then, too.
Deltarune opens with you and Gaster building a vessel for your SOUL.
And in that second page the alien says they're the source of the relics a few characters derive their powers from: Vixen's totem, B'wana Beast's helmet, and the masks used by Hamed Ali's partner, Tabu. And Deltarune's secret bosses - who according to fan theory have come into contact with Gaster - bestow powerful equipment on the party when defeated. Oh, I know getting good stuff from secret bosses in video games is a thing and hardly something Fox could only have gotten the idea for from Animal Man, but it is another weird way Gaster parallels the aliens.
Back with Highwater, the information he got from the Psycho-Pirate points him to Animal Man. During his trip, he periodically becomes part pencil sketch.
Like he's doing the comic equivalent of glitching.
"Wait, shouldn't Crafty be the one bugging out, then?"
No questions in Ms. CK's classroom.
After Buddy and Highwater get acquainted, the two decide the best course of action is to head out to Arizona, climb up a mesa in the middle of the desert, and have a peyote trip. Not gonna lie, I want to see Fox go through with this and make that "Ralsei smoking a blunt" meme canon. As the "Animal Man" all animals are Buddy's spirit animals, but one steps up to guide him on his journey of discovery, and, um...
It's a fox. In fact, foxes are a reoccurring image throughout the book.
This comes from an imaginary friend Morrison had as a child, an intelligent fox named, well, Foxy (fortunately not Foxy Tob, I would have collapsed into a Thanos dust cloud right there if I'd read that. Yes, I know I'm mixing my comic companies but I don't know what the Darkseid equivalent of the Thanos Snap is). Morrison tells the story of Foxy at the very end of the comic, but it's first brought up when Highwater meets the Psycho-Pirate. He gives Highwater a comic book page with an excerpt from a Wood and Infantino Animal Man comic on one side (the one where we saw one of the aliens was named Trano), and on the other somebody recounting how, as a child, they would stand on a hill and signal their imaginary fox friend with a flashlight. At the end the speaker claims their surname is Gaelic for "son of the fox."
I'm not sure if the person telling the story is supposed to be Morrison literally or a self-insert character because I have not been able to verify the "son of the fox" thing. "Fox" in both Scottish and Irish Gaelic is "sionnach" and "son of the fox" is "Mac a'tSionnaigh." I guess I can see "Macatsion" evolving into "Morrison," but the Wikipedia page on Clan Morrison says "Morrison" is derived from Gaelic for "Son of the Servant of Mary," or "Mhoire"-son. So unless this "Servant of Mary" was Don Diego de la Vega, I think Morrison was either mistaken or lying so as not give away the big plot twist for anyone who knows Gaelic.
Oh, want to know which writer introduced the idea of alternate universes into DC lore? The original Flash's creator, Gardner Fox.
Yes, I know this is all a massive coincidence unless years ago Toby Fox was just an ordinary kid who thought he'd read the funny animal comic on a whim unaware of the hole he was about to have punched through his mind and all the foxes scurrying around made that hole wider, but it still gives me the creeps.
Along with foxes, two other things we keep seeing are monkeys (which we'll discover the meaning of later), and hands. There was that hand with the paintbrush coloring in Crafty's blood earlier, and every so often the comic focuses on hands at a keyboard. Which as I've already spoiled, is Morrison writing the book.
Additionally, the cover of "Coyote Gospel" depicts Buddy himself in the position we see Crafty in at the end: crucified on the ground, being colored in by a giant hand. And the second volume of the collection I was reading shows Buddy being unraveled by, again, a giant hand.
Throughout Deltarune there is repeated reference to the hand of the Knight.
While I believe Gaster and the Knight are separate entities, I guess this is the crux of people thinking Gaster is the Knight (which I think would be hilarious, opening the door up to all kinds of "King Gaisteric" jokes). Gaster speaks in Wingdings, a font that uses hands as many of its characters. Remember, "beware the man who speaks in hands." But there's somebody else whose hands loom over Deltarune and pull the strings on all the puppets. A god who cannot simply declare "Let there be light" to form his world but has to painstakingly forge it with his hands. Another "man who speaks in hands" you might say: Toby Fox. Fox programs the game, plots the story, writes the dialogue, composes the music, and draws the concept art with his hands.
 Again, I know Fox has a team helping him with this stuff, but he's the captain of the ship, so to speak. Heck, I keep referring to Animal Man as Morrison's work when they had a bunch of help too. One main penciler plus those who hop on for one-off issues, a colorist, a cover artist, a letterer, their editors, and everyone involved in actually printing the book.
"Why do you keep bringing Berserk into this?"
I like Berserk, screw you.
Back to the story, Foxy shows Buddy a prophecy depicting a world-ending calamity. Buddy thinks it's about the Crisis, which has already happened so why are you showing me this, but realizes something horrifying.
So, Foxy is a furry imaginary friend turned guide to the dream world, and bringer of a Doomsday prophecy?
At the end of Chapter 1 you can get Toriel to about a headband with horns Kris had when they were small child that went missing, suggesting Ralsei is either the Dark World counterpart of that headband, or a manifestation of Kris' memories of their childhood memento, as this Foxy is of the Foxy of Morrison's childhood.
There's something else I want to discuss in relation to Ralsei and Foxy buuuut to do that I'd have to completely spoil Animal Man's ending. I'll talk about it in Part 2 but for now it's about how Animal Man's ending relates to the words in Deltarune's credit theme.
The next person Buddy meets is OG, pre-Crisis Animal Man, as imagined by Wood and Infantino. A character who is simultaneously the same person as him and a different person.
Hey, remember how Deltarune's Light World is populated by alternate versions of Undertale characters? Characters who are simultaneously the same people, but also different people?
And if you want to get into tinfoil hat conspiracy theory territory with all this talk of "radiation," go look up what Toby Fox's Homestuck-era Internet handle was.
OG Animal Man fades away, and Foxy tells Buddy to turn around. Buddy obliges, looks over his shoulder, and stares right you.
This scene gets called back to in an episode of Titans where Beast Boy travels the Multiverse and even meets Morrison. If you're wondering about the weird series of circles Morrison is drawing, it's a reference to the cover of The Multiversity.
Buddy seemingly comes out of his hallucination, but the mesa he and Highwater are on is mysteriously flooded so yeah, he's just falling into another dream. Buddy tells Highwater what he saw.
He looked into our world, or "Heaven" as he calls it, and saw it's a dreary hellhole inhabited by people whose lives suck so much they turn to the lower worlds to get by.
The Darkners exist to serve and ease the lives of the Lightners. This is speculation, but my reading of Deltarune is the Dark Worlds are all based on forms of escapism. Chapter 1 is toys and board/card games, Chapter 2 is computers and the Internet, Chapter 3 looks like it's going to be movies and television. If I had to guess, there will be a chapter on books and comics, and one on music and art supplies. Guess the sixth one could be video games if it wasn't lumped in with computers or I dunno, sports equipment? I imagine Chapter 7 is going to be dealing with the fallout of the Roaring so it's not going to be about any medium in particular.
Of course, Deltarune is itself a piece of escapism for the player. Perhaps the game itself is the Dark World of video games.
Now, what does Spamton keep calling the Light World, or maybe our reality?
And what happens the first time you use the Shadow Crystals?
You get a glimpse of the Light World, or "Heaven." It only works once though, and nothing happens on subsequent uses.
"So wait, the Shadow Crystals are... peyote buttons?"
Buddy then mentions the hunters trying to rape his wife, but is confused on how long ago that was. That happened all the way back in issue #3. This is issue #19.
How much time has passed since then? There are three possibilities:
1) How much time is supposed to have passed within the story. A few months, according to Buddy.
2) How long it took to get to this point through the book's monthly release. A year and four months.
3) How long it takes you to get from issue #3 to issue #19 if you're reading the trade. A few days if you're pacing yourself and taking breaks, or a few hours if you're blowing through in one sitting.
Heck, you could read issue #3 up to the rapist getting his brains blown out, then open up this issue to this panel and the attempted rape would have happened a whole five seconds ago.
Each chapter of Deltarune is supposed to take place one day apart, but what does Susie tell Kris at the start of Chapter 2, which took three years to come out after Chapter 1? Like, I'm pretty sure it's just a joke, but thanks to Animal Man I don't know what's going on with this game anymore.
Kinda makes you wonder if the jokes about Guts and his party spending seven fucking years on a boat aren't jokes after all.
And yes, Buddy says "Heaven" is watching them. Yes, Spamton, [Heaven] is watching, and we're sorry for what happened to you.
If it seems like I jumped over a lot of the comic, it's because Animal Man has two stories going on. It has the meta-narrative about alternate realities, but it's also about Buddy trying to balance his superhero career with his family life, plus using his powers for animal rights activism and ultimately pissing off the wrong people. Earlier issues focus on the latter with the Thanagarians (Hawkman's race) trying to blow up California as a piece of performance art, Buddy helping B'wana Beast find a more appropriate successor in Freedom Beast, "What if Whacking Day But Dolphins," and other stuff that doesn't relate to a blue guy who speaks in olde English or sentient, dancing boomboxes. The meta-narrative doesn't go full balls to the wall until Buddy meets Highwater so yeah, most of this essay is focused on the last third or so of the book. We'll just have to wait and see if any future chapters of Deltarune feature a chronomancer using time manipulation to bring back the dead, a white supremacist getting impaled by a unicorn, or the characters being haunted by ghosts that turn out to be themselves from the future trying to avert a tragedy.
On a second reading, after you've seen the total collapse of the fourth wall, some of those earlier issues take on new meaning. The Thanagarian issue delves into the fractal nature of creation, both wordly and artistic but I guess the point of Animal Man is those are one in the same. Infinite paths splintering off into more infinite paths forever, which is like the many choices you can make in Deltarune, however small they might be, not to mention the unfathomable amount of fanfic it's inspired. And I suppose you could make a connection between the Time Commander and Queen. Neither were truly evil and only wanted to create a world where everyone was happy, they just weren't going about in the healthiest way.
But as I write this, I keep finding more parallels and if I don't draw the line somewhere we're going to be here all day. Shit, look at how much I've written just on two chapters, I can't imagine what I'm going to find once I get to dig through three more.
You've probably noticed Animal Man contains a lot of references to Christianity: God and Satan, Heaven and Hell, crosses, halos, a Gospel, Crafty as a Jesus figure, the Garden of Eden, somebody's about to get swallowed by a whale Jonah style, and I'm pretty sure Crafty handing the scroll to Buddy is supposed to be a reference to "The Creation of Adam." Deltarune makes several references to an "angel": the "Angel's Heaven," the angelic appearances of the Deltarune, Spamton NEO, and Noelle when she casts Snowgrave, and of course Asriel being named after Azrael, the angel of death. But I don't think there's a single reference to an "angel" in Animal Man unless you count Satan being the fallen angel, Lucifer.
Anyway, Highwater tells Buddy about David Bohm's Theory of the Implicate Order:
The Implicate Order, the higher reality, Heaven, the Dreamtime, or whatever else you want to call it is the origin of worlds, each only one of infinite possibilities, each a drop in an endless sea. If this "potential" that shapes new worlds is water, could it not take the form of a fountain?
And is the power to dip into the sea or fountain of potential and create new worlds not something we all possess?
And yes, Queen is looking out over a lake in that shot.
There's another parallel between Crafty and Spamton I skipped over, partly because we needed to discuss this "power to create worlds" business first, and partly because it involves the Snowgrave route which I prefer to pretend doesn't exist. The NEO machine is a Lightner's MS Paint doodle, filled with its creator's hopes and dreams. With that creative power Spamton thought he could rewrite his world and either forge his own life (Normal) or become the new tyrant god of the Cyber World (Snowgrave). Both Swatch and Seam express concern over a Darkner gaining a Lightner's power to create, and the Snowgrave version of Spamton even says he's "busy becoming [God]" if you examine the basement door. Crafty wanted to get back to his world, dethrone the artist, and create his ideal world. You know, before eating a silver bullet because as the Skull Knight said, a character in a story cannot challenge the one who wrote it.
Huh, Spamton says he's busy becoming [God]? Because Morrison's entire philosophy is that we will all become GOD.
By the way, there's a bit of wordplay here that gets lost in the digital version. Bohm's Theory of the Implicate Order says reality is "unfolded" out of a higher reality. Bohm likely meant this metaphorically, like how when we watch a story come together we describe it as "unfolding." Perhaps it could be likened to a crumpled up piece of paper or a flower bud, a concealed ball of mystery that gradually opens up and reveals what it really is. But the comic characters' reality is literally unfolded out of ours when we open, or "unfold" the comic.
And notice how Highwater says everything in the universe is connected and affected by our choices? I'm not just pointing it out because it's the complete opposite of Deltarune's "Your choices don't matter" attitude, another famous scene in All-Star Superman is when Lex Luthor injects himself with a serum to give him Superman's powers expecting just to get Superman's strength, flight, durability, laser eyes, hurricane breath, and so on. Well, he also gains Superman's vision, and loses his mind as he starts to see the world as Supes sees it with threads connecting everyone. Guess we know another Morrison trope, along with people jumping off buildings.
Speaking of which!
That "island" approaching is a whale that swallows the mesa and ejects Buddy from the comic (oh hey, there's another reference to hands), leaving Highwater behind. Highwater's spirit animal, an eagle, convinces him to take a leap of faith and ascend to a new level of knowledge. Highwater obliges only to smear himself on the ground below. This isn't the first time we've seen somebody try to fly only to smash into the ground, but at least for Highwater it was just a dream. The Red Mask died for his dream.
Remind anyone else of anyone?
This happens in the same issue as a city-wide robot battle.
"Okay, is Spamton supposed to be the coyote, Highwater, or the Red Mask?"
I'm not trying to do some "Zazu is totally Polly Cracker because they're both talking birds in a lion cartoon, and despite them acting nothing alike this proves Lion King ripped off Kimba" thing here, and while some characters between Animal Man and Deltarune have more thematic elements in common than others none them perfectly align with each other... well, maybe Jevil and Jervis, I have no idea what is going on there. Unless you somehow make a connection between the NEO machine and Wile E.'s frequent use of ACME gadgets Crafty wasn't obsessed with a battle mech, and I'm pretty sure Fox didn't intend for Spamton to be a Jesus figure. And there's a character we'll be looking at in about twelve paragraphs that both Jevil and Spamton have some things in common with.
The meta stuff briefly goes back in the box when Buddy comes home from his journey of discovery to find his wife and children massacred by the hitman Lennox, and it turns into a revenge story as he hunts down Lennox and everyone else with a hand in his family's murder. I would like to point out Lennox attempts to fight back against Buddy by getting in a big blue battle bot that shoots acid (and yes, battery acid is sulphuric acid). Afterwards, Buddy searches for a way to bring his family back before having to come to terms with the fact death is a part of life and they're gone.
After that, things go completely off the rails as the Psycho-Pirate (told you we'd come back to him) starts reviving characters from the worlds that were wiped out in the Crisis just by thinking about them. I don't fully understand how he's suddenly able to do this, I think it has to do with getting his mask back, but every character that crosses his mind for even a second is brought back to life, flooding Arkham Asylum with alternate Supermen and Batmen and Green Lanterns, a Spectre or two, and countless others. Which sounds like Ralsei bringing the Darkners to Castle Town after Kris seals their worlds' Dark Fountains, except the Psycho-Pirate's ultimate goal is to break out of the comic and wage war on the writers and readers that screwed them all over, putting his motivation more in line with King.
Yes, yes, I can hear your "Tricks are what a whore does" quips across time and space. And for anyone wondering, the Psycho-Pirate is transparent because every character he resurrects makes him a little less tangible, and he's already resurrected hundreds. Towards the end he's basically a cloud of smoke, barely holding together.
Bit of a digression here, but the Psycho-Pirate resurrecting Bizarro confused me because I thought he was still around. He was in Emperor Joker and Justice but the former was the Joker rewriting reality, and Morrison must like him because Supes encounters him and travels to a Bizarro dimension in All-Star Superman. I had to go look this up and it appears the original Bizarro, the one who was an alien from a cube-shaped planet, bit it in the prelude to the Crisis and was then erased from history in the Crisis proper? And the current one is, I think, a flawed clone of Superman created by Luthor? But there's also a version of Bizarro who's the one created by Emperor Joker and allowed to live after reality was restored? See, this is what I was talking about at the beginning of this article with people bringing stuff back into the DC continuity that was purged in the Crisis and making it a mess again.
Anyway, the concentration of alternate realities within Arkham is destabilizing the continuum and if not stopped is going to cause the second Crisis Foxy warned of. So what we've got here is an overabundance of potential tilting the balance away from reality and threatening to trigger a world-ending calamity, as spoken of in our furry imaginary friend's prophecy... I'm sorry, isn't this the Roaring? There's even a panel of shadowy figures rising from the ground.
And are the superheroes and villains taking form from the Psycho-Pirate's mind not titans in their own way? One of the aliens even refers to them as "monsters that will tear [the world] apart" in that last page I linked. Just in the case of the second Crisis, the titans are the cause of the apocalypse, not an effect of it. "All will fall into chaos." Absolute Chaos. Total Chaos. Let's throw "Final Chaos" in there while we're at it... yeah, that was tortured.
One fan theory I've read suggested Ralsei is going to accidentally cause the Roaring by gathering all the Darkners within Castle Town after their Fountains get sealed and their worlds erased, each resident increasing the power of Castle Town's fountain until it overloads. I don't buy this theory because violent players will end up with much smaller towns than pacifist players, especially if every chapter going forward has its own version of Snowgrave, meaning pacifist players would get the bad ending. I can't see this happening unless (A) it's not the number of Darkners in the town, but the mixing of different types of Dark energy that's going to blow up the world like how mixing two stable compounds gets you tannerite and even a single Darkner from a given world has the same effect on the Castle Town Fountain as a hundred, or (B) that's how the Roaring happens for pacifist players, and it happens some other way for violent players. But if it is the case, Ralsei would be doing what the Psycho-Pirate is doing: gathering too many characters from dead, alternate worlds in one place and causing reality to cave in on itself.
There's also a fan theory that a Crisis, I mean Roaring has already happened, and the cave you go through at the start of Chapter 1 is remnants of the first one.
Well, enough speculation. Hayden's plan goes to shit when he accidentally resurrects Overman, aka Evil Superman With a Nuke.
I might have piqued somebody's interest in this comic so I do not want spoil how Overman is beaten, and boy howdy it is a trip. But I need to link it back to Undertale and Deltarune, so you know what? I'll throw it on a separate page so anyone who doesn't care about spoilers can read it, while anyone who wants to read the comic and come back to what I have to say can skip it for now. Just as well, it's a little long. But the question raised by it is if, if Toby Fox was inspired by Animal Man, did it even inspire Undertale and Deltarune's battle system?
You've probably guessed that Overman is the "nutty Superman proxy" I mentioned way back when I was talking about the Shadow Mantle. You've also probably guessed who helps Buddy take him down.
Because I had been reading the book over a few days and am a thicky boo-boo head, when I first read this I could not figure out who the ghost was. I kept going back and forth in the issue trying to figure out if it was OG Animal Man, somebody from Overman's timeline, or a supervillain who was hanging out in the cell Buddy and Overman smashed through. It wasn't until I reread the whole book that I got my answer and yeah, it's the third option. That's the Veil from way back in the Red Mask issue, or at least what's left of him.
The reoccurring theme of Deltarune's hidden bosses is they're characters who went insane after realizing they're not real. Not just that they're objects meant to amuse the Lightners and the, for lack of a better word, souls of a Joker card and a spambot program, but also that they're just characters in a video game so that's, like, extra not real with imaginary sprinkles on top. Except the Darkners' creators, the Lightners, aren't real either. They're all just characters in a video game. Darkners and Lightners alike are, essentially, "Darkners" for the player.
Man, apply what the Veil says to Deltarune and it's a Matryoshka doll of illusions creating illusions. The Darkners aren't real, the Darkners' creators aren't real, the Lightners' creator isn't real, and, according to the Veil, Gaster's creator isn't real. Maybe that's why there's no audience in the Spamton NEO fight. As for what the Veil means, I'm pretty sure he's building up to something that will be elaborated on later because I don't think Morrison believed our own reality was written by aliens from the fifth dimension until 1994 when they were allegedly abducted by aliens in Kathmandu and shown the multiverse. I am not making that up, go back and watch that video on Morrison's philosophy.
Also, the Veil was locked up in the basement of Arkham Asylum. Jevil was locked up in the basement of Card Castle. The NEO machine Spamton uses to turn into Spamton NEO was locked up in the basement of Queen's Mansion, the background music to which is called "Pandora Palace." Is "somebody goes insane after realizing they're a character in a video game and ends up in the basement of a place with an alliterative name" going to be a thing going forward?
 Yeah, if you haven't guessed yet, Morrison is a bit... eccentric, which is my diplomatic way of saying "battier than Bruce Wayne's arsenal." In fact, Flex Mentallo is about... okay, it's weird so let's just say it's about a musician, Wally Sage, reminiscing on the comic books of his childhood as he's dying of a drug overdose, including one he tried to write as a child, Flex Mentallo. And the characters of Flex Mentallo - that is, the comic within the comic - are panicking over the end of the world, which is happening because their "god" is dying. Flex is the last superhero in the world, the rest having mysteriously vanished, so he sets off to find out what happened to everyone else and hopefully find a way to save his reality.
Wally then discovers comic book superheroes were his world's creators who, when their own reality was facing annihilation, moved themselves into the reality below Wally's so they would survive in the form of that reality's fiction. This, uh, somehow gives Wally the power to alter reality and (spoiler) decide whether he really poisoned himself with a cocktail of drugs or is just having a tummyache from a shitload of M&Ms, and his choice will be the truth. And Flex Mentallo was originally a character in a comic within Wally's comic who was brought into the "real world" - the comic within the comic - by his creator's psychic powers. So Flex Mentallo consists of the higher beings' reality, Wally's reality, Flex Mentallo's reality, and the comic within Flex Mentallo's reality. Although Flex Mentallo's reality is now the reality of the gods so is, like, the comic within that reality Wally's reality? And the two endlessly loop into each other? And of course the higher beings are being written by Grant Morrison, who in turn is being written by aliens from the fifth dimension. Also, there's a superhero BDSM orgy which I'm pretty sure represents the erotic fanfic Wally wrote as a teenager, a terrorist organization of Rorschach cosplayers that turns out to be one guy stuck in a time loop, and Flex having random, out-of-context flashbacks to his prior adventures including whatever the hell is going on here.
The moral of this story is that when it comes to balls-out insanity, Toby Fox ain't got shit on Grant Morrison.
Overman has been dealt with, but the halls of Arkham are still swarmed with the other alternate universe characters demanding to know why they can't exist alongside the characters that survived the Crisis. Highwater explains they do still exist through the minds of the readers, and will outlive their creators and gods.
Which is very much true, Bill Finger and Bob Kane are long dead, but Batman lives on (yes, I know I should just say Bill Finger because Bob Kane barely contributed to Batman's creation and only got credit for years by backstabbing Superman's creators, but not everyone knows that story). Even retconned versions of characters live on. The Superman who could only jump long distances and all memory of him within the DC universe was supposed to have been wiped out in the Crisis, but we, the readers, still remember him. No matter how hard DC's editors try to scrub him or how many times they blow up the Universe with an Infinite Crisis or Final Crisis or New Game+ Crisis, he lives on like a cockroach surviving nuclear war by taking refuge in our heads.
In fact, the events of this very comic were scrubbed from the DC timeline by the New 52, if not another Crisis that happened in between I'm not thinking of, and guess what? We, the gods, keep it alive.
The comics' creators are gods to the characters, and readers give them life. That sounds an awful lot like the relationship between Lightners and Darkners, according to Seam (who we sure are seeing a lot of here, huh).
What happens to these characters, Highwater, and the Psycho-Pirate is another thing I'll save for Part 2.
So the second Crisis was averted, but based on Ralsei's prophecy the world of Deltarune won't be so lucky and the Great Roar of the Dark World is going to happen no matter what, leaving our heroes to wander a wasteland on a quest to put the world back to the way it was.
Guess what happens towards the end of Animal Man.
After his confrontation with Evil Superman With a Nuke, Buddy finds himself in the limbo of forgotten and unused comic characters, where the only escape is for a monkey (it's actually an ape, but the book keeps calling it a monkey so I'm sticking with that) with a typewriter to write a story about you. But the monkey is dying, so Buddy is told to take it to the fabled City of Formation where it might be saved. This sounds like a complete shitpost, but it's a reference to the Infinite Monkey Theorem which you may have heard as the saying "give a million monkeys a million typewriters and a million years, you get Shakespeare." It essentially states that all possibilities are inevitable, the same way an infinite number of monkeys banging on an infinite number of typewriters means one is, just by chance, eventually going to bash out a given story.
And yeah, this is why we keep seeing monkeys in the book, with them being metaphors for creative potential along with water. We're all monkeys at typewriters, banging out ideas until we stumble into one worth pursuing. Now I'm expecting either the main antagonist or the secret boss of Deltarune's hypothetical book chapter to be a monkey at a typewriter.
If you'll bear with me a moment, there's a scene that has nothing to do with Deltarune (unless you really stretch and link it to Snowgrave) that I want to explain because it is going to confuse the hell out of anyone born after 1990:
"What the hell is Mr. Freeze doing in Forgotten Character Limbo?" you might be asking. "Dude's right, he is one of Batman's greatest foes and shouldn't be there." Funny thing about that, Mr. Freeze was not popular until a couple years after this comic published, when Batman: The Animated Series reworked him into an actual character with depth and a backstory. Before that, he was a one-dimensional dickhead who ran around freezing things because EEEEEVIL. I wonder if Paul Dini read this comic and decided to grant Mr. Freeze's wish.
You know how when somebody in a movie does something for no reason, viewers will say they did it because they "read the script?" Especially when whatever plan they pulled out of their ass worked? Well, after years of wandering, Buddy winds up back where he started with two dead pets and a ruined house, whereupon he finally learns how to get to the City of Formation by literally reading the script. He finds himself in a quiet town, where he wanders around for a bit until coming to a mysterious door.
Behind this door is in fact the power that brings his world into being. It opens and puts Buddy face-to-face with the monster responsible for all his problems, the one who jerked him around, abused him, sent Lennox after his family, and starved his pets all in the name of "entertainment."
Yeah, that was a lot more shocking back in 1990, before Animal Man was known as "that comic where the main character meets the writer at the end."
This isn't just me, is it?
Morrison invites Buddy in and introduces themself:
Note how Morrison describes themself. "The wicked puppeteer who pulls the strings and makes you dance." Morrison is calling Buddy their puppet. "Pulls the strings and makes you dance" is also two words away from a certain line in "BIG SHOT"
Oh, if you didn't watch the videos I've linked to you might be wondering if this is what Grant Morrison really looks like, or at least looked like thirty-three years ago since these days they could pass for a relative of Patrick Stewart. It looks a little off to me but I think it's just because this version of Morrison still has hair.
There we go. In addition, the cover of the issue has a photograph of Morrison wearing the same clothes they are in the comic, but cuts off most of their head. Not sure why the orange cat doesn't appear in the issue, maybe it was to avoid confusion with a gray one. And, uh... I do not know what is going on with Morrison's shirt on the left. I pulled that image from their Amazon page, and I really don't see Morrison attending San Diego Comic Con with a shirt that says "COCK" on it.
And if you want to know what Morrison sounds like, imagine Shrek mellowed out on pot - not stoned, just very laid back- saying all this. And if that's not giving you enough of a headache, imagine Weird Al Yankovic's voice coming out of Buddy. No, really.
This revelation enrages Buddy, who loses his shit and throws Morrison out of a window, killing them. Then Morrison reappears behind Buddy (because this isn't really Morrison, it's just a drawing of them. Ceci n'est pas Grant Morrison, you might say), the window is repaired, and Buddy sheepishly wonders why he did that. He did it because Morrison made him do it, and they can make Buddy do whatever they want. Where else have I seen somebody acting uncharacteristically violent while being controlled by somebody else?
When Buddy points out how fucked up this all is, Morrison tells him about a cat they had named Jarmara. Jarmara suddenly fell ill and could barely breathe due to pus filling her lungs, and she finally died after suffering for an entire month at just three years old. Buddy can shut the hell up because no matter how bad things get in the fantasy world, anything can be fixed by a superhero...
... or a spell.
And notice how Morrison, the being of the higher reality, is white while Buddy, the being of the lower reality, is colored? Like how the Lightners' dialogue portraits are white, while the Darkners' are colored?
Morrison puts on their coat and invites Buddy to take a walk with them and I'm sorry, is it just me or does Morrison's black coat and eyes with their white face and hands make them they look an awful lot like somebody else? Even more when you factor Morrison being bald now?
They're also making the same pose as Jevil's idle stance in that panel.
Think back to what the Veil said to Overman: "the creators, they're not real either." During their chat Buddy asks Morrison if he's real. Morrison's answer?
There was a comic page that showed up in my Twitter feed a long time ago, that I neglected to save. In it, Mr. Mxyzptlk (and I hate having to clarify this every time I mention the character, but yes, this is the actual name of an actual DC character, I am not trolling you) is taunting you about how he'll outlive you, and he's in your head but he will never think of you, and that makes him realer than you are.
Keep this in mind, there's a question I want to ask about it later.
If Spamton isn't "real" why did people cry when he fell? Why did this line in the NEO fight I only noticed while screengrabbing for this article bring me to tears? Why do people bother to make fanart of Tasque Manager bringing him a flask of soup, or the Addisons either getting the shit kicked out of them or making up with him? It shouldn't matter, he's just a bunch of pixels and programming routines on your computer sceen. And besides, your fanart doesn't affect his fate in-game.
My personal opinion on Spamton reconciling with the Addisons? The blue one can have his chance, the rest can go throw themselves in front of an incoming adblocker.
Now why should I get that worked up over some words describing a bunch of pixels throwing some other pixels under a metaphorical, probably also pixellated bus? Because Spamton's realer than you, me, and Fox himself. Fox could choke on a bagel, fall off a bridge, or get eaten by a pack of cloned velociraptors the day after he releases the final chapter of Deltarune, his characters will live on.
Before I link this back to Undertale and Deltarune, let's answer Morrison's question. People generally don't want to see blood and torture and anguish for its own sake. Meaningless violence is just as boring as a story where everything is fine and everyone sits around with their thumbs up their butts. There are two things we do want to see, and like it or not both require suffering. The first is justice; there are countless real-life atrocities we can't do a damn thing about, from the war in the Ukraine to that YouTuber who filmed himself murdering his cat (do not look further into this unless you want to ruin your day), so we turn to stories to get justice by proxy. But justice cannot happen without an injustice for it to answer. Buddy repainting the walls with Lennox's guts itself didn't excite us, it was seeing the smug bastard get what was coming to him (Buddy's wife and kids weren't his first victims, just his last) and be reduced to a sniveling child. And maybe killing him didn't bring Buddy's family back, but it meant Lennox couldn't take anyone else's.
Yes, this comic is in dire need of Lancer's blood bucket, in case you haven't noticed. And I didn't even show you images from the dolphin slaughter.
The second is for the hero to overcome a challenge and come out of it in a better place than before. If a character doesn't struggle, there's no change or growth and thus no character arc. The harder the character has to struggle, the greater the challenge, and the greater the satisfaction that comes with overcoming it. Nobody wants to see Guts get his shit kicked in by snake-dick Baphomet, they want to see him turn around and kick snake-dick Baphomet's shit in even harder knowing the victory will be all the sweeter for his efforts.
I will not claim to know who the Knight is. Only Fox knows that, and maybe he's confided with Temmie Chang. Like everyone else I can only speculate and form a hypothesis based on in-game clues or analyzing the game from a narrative and thematic level, and while those things lead me to believe Fox should be the Knight - or the entity that turns Kris into the Knight, you've been keeping that in mind, right? - I don't actually believe he will be (I think it's going to end up being Deltarune's version of Chara i.e. some dead character who, despite being critical to the game's backstory, is never mentioned until the very end of the game). But I will posit this question:
If, like Animal Man, Deltarune is about manipulating and abusing its characters for entertainment, and we're supposed to pretend Gaster is its creator instead of Fox, and the Knight is anybody but Fox, what is he doing besides creating a cowardly version of a 35-year-old comic book?
A light-hearted version with the dolphin slaughter replaced with a bake sale. One with a slapping soundtrack, where you occasionally set the book down to play a round of Punch-Out!! or ChuChu Rocket. But still one where Morrison points their finger at the reader for watching Buddy get jerked around for two years, then makes Trano and Zaarn the masterminds behind everything, or has some new character answer the door at the end of issue #25, absolving themself of their own role in Buddy's torment. One that, I might add, is taking significantly longer to unfold (the entirety of Animal Man played out in less time than passed between Deltarune Chapters 1 and 2).
"But if Fox is the Knight, isn't he just recreating Animal Man by way of The Monster at the End of This Book?"
That's where Deltarune being a video game instead of a comic book comes in. All we can do in Animal Man is observe as Morrison puts Buddy through the wringer for our entertainment. But in both Undertale and Deltarune, we have a hand in what happens to the characters and are given the choice of being kind or cruel. Given the choice, why would anyone choose the latter? Why do people choose to psychologically torment Noelle and freeze everyone to death? Some do it for the challenge, others for completion's sake, others just want to fuck around and find out. Others adamantly refuse to ever do a genocide run and exclusively play nice. You might have noticed I keep calling Undertale and Deltarune "joyful" and "light-hearted" failing to address how dire things get if you go genocide or Snowgrave. That's because I keep forgetting about those sides of the games, and you would have to hold my cats at gunpoint to get me to ever touch that shit. Sure, I'd like to try out the Sans fight for myself just to see if I could beat it, but I ain't going through what it takes to get there.
It's like handing a kid a toy and seeing what they do with it. Some kids are gentle with their toys and treat them like they're alive, to the point if they accidentally pop the head off while trying to turn it they break down into tears thinking they killed it. At most they'll bang He-Man and Skeletor together to simulate a battle, but they still try not to "hurt" either one. Others go Syd from Toy Story on them, tying them to rockets and tearing them apart. That's what they're there for, to entertain the kid by any means necessary and hey, they're just lumps of plastic. Better they set G.I. Joe on fire than the dog.
Deltarune being interactive also means Fox can screw with his audience along with the characters, and not just with jump scares and mind-fucks. We might think we're the ones in control, but when Queen tells us to grab the bananas in the car ride or the acid tunnel, how many of us did it just because she said to? More important, Fox is the one in charge of the game code and we only control Kris when he allows it. But he can flick whatever switch kicks us out of Kris whenever he damn well pleases and there is nothing we can do about it. And as I mentioned in the previous essay, when you inspect the NEO machine after putting the Loaded Disk in, you are not making Kris kick it, Fox is making you make Kris kick it.
And why is there an option to go nuclear winter on the Cyber World, but not one to buy Spamton an ice cream? Because Fox isn't just trying to break his characters, he's trying to break us. Our choices don't matter, so why not abandon all emotional attachment and burn everything down in the name of entertainment? Remember the cover of Animal Man #26 I posted a little while ago, where Morrison has a broken and defeated Buddy under their boot? Fox is trying to do that to us. Except there's a flaw in his plan I'll get to in a minute.
Third, Animal Man being a static comic means you can read it a hundred times and it plays out the same every time. Oh sure, there will be details you pick up on in subsequent readings, or symbols and foreshadowing that make more sense when you know where they're going and haven't forgotten about them by the time the payoff comes like what happened with me and the Veil. But the comic itself never changes unless you start drawing mustaches and silly hats on all the characters and whiting out text and replacing it with random swear words. You can play Deltarune Chapter 2 a hundred times and it'll always end with Kris opening the third Dark Fountain (yes I started to write "Shadow Geyser" there, thanks for asking), but the road there can play out a hundred different ways. Maybe maybe you'll pass on the Spamton NEO fight, maybe you'll keep Spamton on the Loaded Disk and try to stick him in the Ralsei mannequin, maybe you'll have the original Starwalker with you, maybe you'll take Susie to eat the alley moss, maybe you'll be a complete monster and finally do a Snowgrave, maybe while you're doing the Annoying Mouse puzzle with Noelle on the falling platforms your cat will take a dump next to you and the smell will distract you worse than Berdly and you'll drop her a couple times (guess who this happened to!). Each playthrough is a new timeline, playing into the idea of infinite possibilities that exist together.
Animal Man was also published before the Internet took off and never had the community around it that Undertale and Deltarune have... for better or worse, I mean holy shit, I'm impressed Fox can conduct interviews, voice act for cartoons, or even sleep because if I were him, I would never stop screaming over what the Internet did to my silly skeleton game. This line from Morrison is everyone who ever drew Sans and Papyrus fucking:
The announcement Tweets call the chapters of Deltarune "experiments." What if the fan response is, itself, part of the experiment? I don't doubt Fox is making decisions and tweaks based not necessarily on fan recommendations but on other, let's say, "data." There's already an example of Fox altering the game in response to player feedback with the charge shot bug in the Spamton NEO fight leading to Spamton NEO's secret hard mode, and my tin-foil hat conspiracy theory is he left Spamton's fate somewhat ambiguous because he wanted to see what players thought of him before deciding what to do with him next.
But apart from what choices Fox makes with the game's development, well, let's look at what Morrison tells Buddy about another writer taking over the comic:
For anyone wondering where Animal Man went after Morrison, it jumped around a few authors and following the New 52 reboot, Jeff Lemire turned it into a horror series to be the animal counterpart to Swamp Thing. Anyway!
Within the game of Deltarune we are confined to Fox's choices. We can't stop Susie from beating the hell out of Lancer, we can't stop ourselves from taking Noelle right to Queen's front door, and if Fox decrees it, we will not be able to stop the Roaring. But ultimately we still exist outside the story alongside Fox, and in the realm of fanfic and fanart, we can do whatever the hell we want. When we chose compassion over retaliation in the Spamton NEO fight, Fox denied Spamton his redemption. And we said fuck that noise and wrote fanfic of Spamton getting a happy ending. Nobody wrote fanfic of the trucker missing Crafty with the silver bullet.
"But none of that's official!"
What does it matter? Look at Spamton. Officially there are at least two wildly different versions of him. One is a wounded dog who's lashing out after being kicked too many times, and wanted the NEO machine's power to win his freedom. The other is a irredeemable piece of shit who wanted the NEO machine's power to make the Cyber City his bitch. How do they both exist? And "wounded dog" Spamton splits into one version where the kids try to help him and he turns into a token of gratitude, and one where the kids kick his ass and he turns into a token of submission. How do they both exist? And how do they exist alongside Spamtons who are stuck on the Loaded Disk in Kris' pocket, were forgotten about in their shops after making the deal with Kris, or got beat up in the alleyway? Same way Bizarro can be an alien from a cube-shaped planet, a flawed clone of Superman, a remnant from when the Joker rewrote reality, and whatever else DC turns him into in the future.
Now think about how many hundreds, if not thousands of fanon versions of Spamton there are (I touched on this in my essay about why Spamton affected people more than Jevil did) to the point it's distorted everyone's perception of the canon one. Spamton is only slightly shorter than Kris and Spamton NEO as tall as Kris standing on Susie's head, but everyone pictures him as a knee-high gremlin who turns into a towering 50-foot giant. And do I need to explain the Salt Route? Hell, Fox's original vision of Spamton has been so clouded by fanon that, as I mentioned earlier, I forgot that he doesn't have feet. Talk about canon all you want, half the playerbase is always going to want to put Spamton in a high seat and give him a smash cake. Why can't all those alternate Spamtons exist alongside Fox's? Like the alternate characters Hayden filled Arkham with, they're not the "canon" versions but that doesn't make them any less real. Tell me how Baby Spamton With a Penguin Blanket is any less valid than Evil Superman With a Nuke.
If I may tighten my tin foil hat, are fan theories and head canons part of that sea of infinite possibility? For example, the Spamton acid theory. I don't believe Fox has ever stated one way or the other if Spamton was burned in acid, fans got that from him screaming about burning and being shorter than the other Addisons, and Queen saying the acid shrinks things. Maybe Fox left it ambiguous so in one timeline a player forms, Queen had him thrown into the acid, while in another Spamton was just always short and he was burned by, I dunno, the sun of the Light World? And why does Spamton attack the kids in the basement? One player will say he went mad with power. I say Susie and Ralsei rescuing Kris enraged him because it reminded him of how his friends abandoned him.
Another head canon of mine? Spamton NEO is more powerful than he lets on, but is holding back during the fight. Neutral Spamton really doesn't want to kill Kris and is showing off a taste of the power Kris could have if they just come along willingly, as indicated by how through the fight he keeps begging Kris to join him by their own choice, and gets stronger when you piss him off with the charge shot bug. The Snowgrave version is playing with his food.
Going back to that page of Mr. Mxyzptlk claiming he will never think of you, if you drew a picture of Mr. Mxyzptlk thinking about you, doesn't that mean Mr. Mxyzptlk has thought of you? Or does it need DC's official blessing to count? I'm sure DC's lawyers would have a different answer than myself, but it's food for thought.
And remember, Morrison did not create Animal Man, Wood and Infantino did. Nor did they create B'wana Beast, Hawk Man, Trano and Zaarn, the Mad Hatter, the Psycho-Pirate, Bizarro, Ultraman, Mr. Freeze, or any of the other characters in Comic Book Limbo. They did create Buddy's kids, Crafty, Highwater, the Red Mask, the Veil, Freedom Beast, Lennox, Overman, and some of the other characters conjured by the Psycho-Pirate like Sunshine Superman. What is Morrison's run on Animal Man (or All-Star Superman for that matter) but their DC-sanctioned fanfic with some OCs mixed in?
Grant Morrison's Animal Man is an AU.
"So are you saying Sans really has fucked Papyrus, just because dip sticks on DeviantArt and Tumblr thought the world needed to see that?"
Well, I suppose the Infinite Monkey Theorem states Sans has fucked Papyrus, Toriel, Queen, himself, Sonic the Hedgehog, Optimus Prime, Sylvanas Windrunner, Jessica Rabbit, She-Hulk, Elsa, Darth Vader, Zapp Brannigan, Fred Flintstone, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Tim Curry, Statler and Waldorf, the Tick, Mojo Jojo, All Might, Ankha, Blanche Devereaux, Leisure Suit Larry, Mr. Pringles, Howard the Duck, Senator Armstrong, the Green M&M, the Great Mighty Poo, Slappy Squirrel, Dwayne Johnson, Phoenix Wright, Uncle Fester, Tom Servo, Candle Jack, Obelix, Rudy the Clown, the square from Adventure, the Godhand, yes, all five at once, the Bone cousins, the entire cast of Hades including Bouldy, the horny tank from A Boy and His Tank, Hamed Ali back there, and the third goomba from the starting point in level 1-1 of Super Mario Bros.
"Please don't make me think about Sans getting Zone Ankha'd by Slan as Fred Flintstone and the Tick stand over them cheering "Yabba dabba doo!" and shouting about them SPOOOON!ing while Phoney Bone tries to charge people to watch the show until Armstrong decks him, all the while Candle Jack is the back of the group calculating how much rope he's going to need or whatever other disgusting images that string of names conjures, thanks. And do I even want to know what's going on between Sans and the Great Mighty Poo?"
You know the song, and that somebody has already drawn that.
"But seriously, what about Sans and Papyrus?"
You have brain cells dedicated to it, right? Didn't South Park do a trilogy on this?
Yeah, yeah, old lady yells at cloud, I know. I'm a nobody in a sea of nobodies rambling about a man who's had his music played to the Pope. I just think there's more Fox can do with Deltarune beyond "evil human child is evil again."
Or maybe all this talk of Kris being the player's puppet is wrong, Deltarune is going to end in some Panzer Dragoon Saga plot twist where the player is the human of the prophecy and we're there to liberate the characters from Gaster, and I've wasted my and everyone who's reading this's time at best and traumatized you with the mental image of a giant turd monster shoving the lazy meme skeleton up his butt at worst.
There's a bunch of little things I wanted to touch on. Comic Book Limbo is full of characters killing time and wandering around aimlessly without writers to give them purpose like the Darkners of the unused classroom in Deltarune Chapter 1 (and yes, Buddy's guide to Comic Book Limbo is a jester). The Psycho-Pirate acknowledging Morrison messing with his head is like when you ask Spamton about the Knight and he starts pleading with somebody messing with his head. The inscription on the trucker's cross turned into "meaningless hieroglyphs" when he melted it down to create the silver bullet he uses to kill Crafty, and hey, where else have we seen somebody's words turned into "meaningless hieroglyphs" not to mention a few crosses. Morrison telling Buddy they can get into the comic but Buddy can never get into the real world is like Lightners being able to enter the Dark World while Darkners are unable to enter the Light World. When Morrison throws that rock into the stream while telling Buddy he's realer than they are, a bunch of superheroes erupt from the water in a way not unlike a fountain. Buddy is forced to be whatever a given author makes him be the same way Kris is forced to do whatever a given player (or fanfic writer) makes them do.
I especially wanted to keep the tinfoil hat stuff to a minimum. Deltarune's staggered release is a bit like a comic's monthly publication releasing the story a little at a time down to each portion having its own title like "The Coyote Gospel" or "A CYBER'S WORLD?" When Kris and Susie enter Dark Worlds, they fall in similar to how Crafty falls into the "second reality." God tells Crafty his judgment will be tempered with Mercy. The Time Commander is carrying around an hourglass the same way Queen always has her wine glass, and a wine glass is just an hourglass with the lower bulb collapsed. Fox releases Deltarune development updates in September, and when Lennox assassinates Buddy's family the calendar is set to September. "Buddy" sounds a little like "Berdly." One of the names Highwater gives for the higher reality is the "Dreamtime" which is a compound word with nine letters, five consonants, and four vowels that begins with D and ends with E like "Deltarune." And could that easter egg where the Annoying Dog runs over Kris in the Little Tykes coupe be an homage to the trucker running over Crafty with the human and the canine switched around? That even happens in the room where you get the Thorn Ring from Spamton in the Snowgrave route.
I also had a tangent about Berserk frequently comparing the Astral World - the world of human dreams and fantasy - to water that I cut because it was a complete derailment. And there's more I could say about Flex Mentallo and its own similarities to Deltarune, or how the first major arc of Morrison's Doom Patrol is about the real world being slowly consumed by a fantasy world that became real when its creators started taking the series bible they wrote too seriously. I'll talk about this stuff in the followup, but it's really getting time to wrap up with Animal Man.
Buddy's resolution is another thing I'll refrain from spoiling, and while I could link it to Deltarune Chapter 2's ending and all the "I'm giving Spamton some happiness because screw you" fanart, I'm not devoting a spinoff page to it because it's not as wild as the idea that comic panels could have inspired Undertale and Deltarune's entire battle system. The comic ends with Morrison reminiscing on Jarmara and Foxy, but before that...
"Ms. CK, is Spamton supposed to be the coyote, Highwater, the Red Mask, or Morrison?"
Class is back in session with more Deltarune/Grant Morrison weirdness!