Okay, so I read the first two TPBs of Animal Man courtesy of Spencer Carnage. (Thanks again, Spencer!) But, as I noted earlier, I'd never run across anything really worthwhile in Grant Morrison's writing; it was supposedly Animal Man that was key to understanding everything Morrison's ever written.
Let me say first that I'm going to focus on the writing and not the art. It was largely serviceable but lackluster (with the exception of two issues by Tom Grummett and the covers by Briand Bolland). There are a few instances where it's hard to tell where problems occurred because of the writer or the artist or some miscommunication between them, but I'm going to try to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt in those cases.
So, what do I think of Morrison now that I've read Animal Man?
I was decidedly unimpressed. Oh, the stories were definitely superior to what I'd read from him before, no question. I was coming to this with zero fore-knowledge of the character -- I've never read ANYTHING featuring him so it was a completely blank slate in that regard. But Morrison did make sure all the basic elements were there. He identified each character and their relationship to one another pretty readily; the stories were fairly clear about what was going on, and the Animal Man world, as it were, is fairly well-defined.
As I was reading the books, I was making some mental notes about things I felt worked or didn't. And I will say that there were bits that looked initially liked random elements or dangling sub-plots did wind up getting expanded on later, which was pleasantly surprising. I suspect, too, that some of the elements that did NOT get tied up in the first two collections are finished in the third. Seems to me a risky gamble to extend a sub-plot like that over several years, but I'll give Morrison credit for it.
But there were a number of things that I didn't like, too.
First, the book was preachy as all get-out on the animal rights issue. I whole-heartedly disagree with hunting for sport. I completely sympathize with vegetarians. I get disgusted when I see animals treated poorly. I appreciate that an "Animal Man" would get behind those types of issues -- and I'll give Morrison credit here for making that connection -- but it got really heavy-handed, I felt. Not that it was the focus of every issue, just that every time it came up, the message was very blunt and obvious. There was no nuance or elegance to it. I kept thinking, "Yeah, I got it. You could've stopped after he saved the fox, and not gone through the whole speechifying afterwards."
Second, I didn't feel the characters were very consistent. Animal Man himself seemed well-defined enough (with a few noticable gaffs in character, like dropping a couple of people from heights that would likely kill them) but everyone else seemed to go through variations of character. His wife was all over the map, and never did get around to dealing with any consequences of the near-rape she faced for the first three issues. She threw an enormous fit when Animal Man decided the family should become vegetarians, but didn't miss a beat when engineers showed up to install a laser-based security system that almost killed her son.
Third, there were some functional questions within the story that don't make sense. Why team up with water-breathing, dolphin-speaking Dolphin when Animal Man could (and did!) do the exact same thing himself? The "What If Wile E. Coyote Were Real" story? Why use that as an introduction to the comic-creator-as-God bit that the series was obviously heading towards? It's a pointless story aside from introducing the concept, which he went ahead and introduced again (much better this time) with the yellow aliens. Lots of stuff like that which didn't make sense structurally.
Indeed, that seemed to be a big problem throughout the series: the structure was poorly paced. Some ideas and concepts were introduced slowly, over the course of several issues, to the point where it really seemed disjointed with the main story. Other plot points were dropped in a bombshell fashion with little or no forewarning. The book kept shifting gears and never seemed to develop any sort of rythm and/or momentum.
I'll grant that Morrison (pun intended) isn't quite as miserable a writer as I had believed before; he can string his thoughts together sufficiently well to get his point across. I'll grant that he's actually got some good story ideas. But good ideas don't necessarily translate into good stories. I don't see in Animal Man anything that really says Morrison is a good writer. The execution of his ideas left a lot to be desired, I think, and it seemed a shame to waste some honestly good concepts on someone with his mediocre writing ability.