Monday, February 08, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #1

By Lon S. Cohen

Spoiler Warning: In this series of posts on “The Last Days of Animal Man” limited series comic book, there will be periodical spoilers. If you haven’t read the series and intend to, please be advised that I will discuss plot points and surprises.

This is an ongoing review of the series in six parts. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

I have to admit, before picking up the first issue of this mini series, I really didn’t know anything about Animal Man. He was a secondary character in the DC Universe in my mind and I had never come across him in any of the adventures I’d ever read in all my years, or at least any that stuck out in my mind.

A Little Behind The Scenes History.

According to Wikipedia, Animal Man’s first appearance was in Strange Adventures #180 in 1965, in a story written by Dave Wood and drawn by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos. He was a very minor character until the late 1980s when Grant Morrison revived him eventually penning an Animal Man title from 1988 and 1990. Animal Man was aligned with animal rights causes in the book. Morrison also experimented with story telling in this book, sometimes breaking the “fourth wall” of reality for the character. Other authors continued to write the series until it ended some time later in 1995.

Animal Man plays a part in the universal story arcs involving many if not all of the DCU characters of Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis , the weekly series 52, Countdown to Final Crisis and Blackest Night.

Origin of Animal Man.

Like all things in the DC Universe, there is a Pre-Crisis and Post Crisis version of the story. With Animal Man, his origins are almost identical in both. The crux of it is that Buddy Baker encounters a crashed spaceship that gives him with his ability to tap into the morphogenetic field of energy created by all living creatures. While doing so, he can gain the powers and abilities (but not the physical form) of any animal in the universe, including aliens.

Buddy Baker is just a regular guy in the DCU. He’s a father of two kids and husband. In his day job he works as a stunt coordinator for movies and he lives in San Diego. He has some normal problems like paying the bills, fighting with his wife and kids, a personal mission to advocate for animals (no surprise there) and a desire to make his name known in the superhero world.

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #1.

Like I said, I had not really heard of Animal Man much before this. I read most of the DCU changing titles listed above but his character didn’t stick with me. So why did I start to read a mini series based on what was a third-rate DCU character I only knew in passing? Because I’m a sucker for a well-told story about a minor character. Don’t get me wrong, I love a comics universe shaking story as much as the next guy, but give me a well written, well drawn, personal story and I’m yours.

I’ll also admit I can get burned this way, wasting money on a story that’s pretty blasé. I’m happy to say that the first issue of the series was terrific. It combined some of the best elements I find in a comic book. There’s plenty of great panels to look at, there’s lots of good dialogue and the story line looks to be a major shift in this character’s life. Granted, the title is “Last Days of Animal Man” do I’m expecting something big for Buddy Baker, but the way they launched this one was spot on.

It’s hard to balance great visuals with a good story and dialogue that doesn’t intrude too much into the panels and also keeps my interest. I hated reading plays in high school. They made us read Death of a Salesman, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and I was bored. A good comic book is like a play on paper but with the biggest difference being you get to see the visuals in the dialogue, along with some ass kicking. This titled has real depth and drama so far. Perhaps that’s thanks to Grant Morrison who had done a lot of work with the character in the late 1980s making it easy for the current team of writers to jump off. Still, it’s hard to balance the mundane life of a super hero’s alter ego and the big action of that same hero in conflict with a villain all the while telling a cohesive story and writer Gerry Conway gets it right. The art, by Chris Batista & Dave Meikis, is also a nice balance between words and visuals.

Animal Man is losing his powers. At crucial times his connection to the morphological energy field becomes cut off. His ability to reach out beyond earth’s animals into space is also limited. Obviously this is affecting his abilities as a super hero but it also intrudes on his professional and personal life as well. The story takes place in a near future so it doesn’t affect any of the ongoing DCU story lines.

I’ve collected all 6 issues in the series and have just completed the first issue. I generally do collect a few issues in a title or an entire short series before reading it because from month to month you can lose the thread of a story and I like to read them straight through.

Issue #2, which I already cracked open features a visit by a whale-like alien Green Lantern. Looks to be interesting. Judging from the first in the series, I expect it to be just as good. I’ll check in when I read it for an update.

Notes on the Cover by Brian Bolland.

The cover of the first issue is very cool because it’s a play on the first issue of the Grant Morrison series. Issue #1 of that late 1980s series shows an introductory pose of Animal Man running at the viewer surrounded by various animals. In the “Last Days” cover, Animal Man and all the animals are in a similar pose but they’re skeletons. A foreshadowing? Or just an inventive Easter Egg for astute fans by the cover artist, Brian Bolland? Either way it’s really creative. Bravo to Bolland who did the covers of both the original series and the “Last Days” cover. It just shows how a talented cover artist can make something very interesting out of the mundane.

The Last Days of Animal Man is a limited series published by DC Comics.

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