Grant Morrison made Animal Man’s support for animal rights a running element in the series, and as I’ve mentioned before, he was often heavy-handed about it. But here he takes it a notch further.
In earlier stories, he showed animal-testing in science is evil because scientists who do it are cold-blooded fiends. Hunting is bad because hunters are sick psychos who like to kill kittens and rape women. These are a good example of why ad hominem arguments (based on the person, not the argument) are bad: if you meet a nice scientist or a non-evil hunter (I have), the argument collapses.
In this story about dolphin hunting, we learn that just like scientists who use animal test subjects, and regular hunters, people who participate in dolphin killing are sadistic psychos. The villain of the piece is a brute who, at the climax, defies Animal Man and Greenpeace and guts a pregnant dolphin while laughing evilly.
He winds up drowning. But never fear, the dead dolphin’s mate rides to the rescue and—because dolphins are spiritually evolved beyond hate and revenge—saves the man’s life. OMG, the species humans are killing is our moral superior!
This is a very old shtick. In one of L. Sprague deCamp’s books, he points out C.S. Lewis uses it in Out of the Silent Planet: take an evil human being devoid of moral virtue, then use as a comparison a fictitious species that’s pure and good and everything the human is not. Ursula LeGuin did in in the 1970s with The Word for World is Forest: the human villain is xenophobic, sexist, bigoted and murderous, the alien race is peaceful and spiritual.
Of course a lot of “Western Union” fiction has some element of this: the contrast between human predator and prey, saint and sinner, family man and womanizer. But making a point by comparing a token representative of human evil to an entire fictional race is much more stacking the deck. A well-done Western Union has to offer believable humans on either side because we have some idea what humans are like. If you make up a race or impose a fictional personality on another species as Morrison does, you can make them as saintly as serves your purpose.
And it’s unnecessary too. Morrison could have argued that dolphins are intelligent (though as Carl Zimmer’s book points out that’s a tricky question) or that it’s wrong to kill them even if they’re not. He could have contrasted the brute with the decent humans. Instead, he tries to show us that dolphins is wrong because dolphins are saintly, spiritual beasts and killing them is about one step short of crucifying Jesus.
Morrison said in the intro to the TPB of his initial stories that his animal rights themes hadn’t gone over as well as he expected, and guessed that it was because the topic was just too big. I don’t think it was, it’s just that he did a crappy job.