Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #2

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.

So we open this issue with Animal Man falling out of the sky contemplating his own demise. Like many of us in this situation (facing death, not losing a super power) his thoughts turn to his family first, his wife and children and regret. If you’re going to write in a deus ex machina, then having it take the form of a Green Lantern who’s a giant whale will make most of us forget that little trick. This Green Lantern (it’s unclear if it’s Earth’s resident Green Lantern or some intergalactic patrolman passing by) saves Animal Man’s life and rids him of his a problem terrorizing him since issue one, a super villain with terrorist proclivities named Bloodrage. The little encounter is a great way for writer Gerry Conway to do his thing, namely making this super hero seem more like a normal guy. His reaction to being saved and the revelation by The Green Lantern that he is loosing his powers is anger, lashing out to the one who saved him. Lashing out at a hard truth. Of course he’s not a total dolt and the Green Lantern’s passivity shows Buddy Baker what a jerk he’s being to this animal-like alien.

Except for a side trip to explain the back story of the villain Mirror Master’s daughter as Prismatik - someone I assume who will be Animal Man’s main antagonist throughout the rest of the series - the entire book’s theme is Baker’s struggle with loosing his power and how he’s able to discover one clue to what’s been happening. I won’t spoil that minor point but when it does happen you get a sense of understanding about both Baker and the character inside the comic and out. What I mean is, the series seems to be addressing parts of Animal Man’s origin, regressing backwards in a way, which I hope will continue.

I do like the banter between the hero and his new villain. Also Animal Man’s thoughts behind his action are well written, feeling true to form for his current situation. He explains once that despite having no powers he teased Prismatik because he was angry and felt it was unfair what was happening to him. A little masochism can go a long way. In this case it helps him clear his head and figure out what’s wrong with his powers. By the last panel, Animal Man’s animal nature comes out while putting down his foe until some major forces show up to stay his hand, in the form of a selection of Justice League and Teen Titan members.

One thing I have to remember is that this series takes place ten years or so in the future so things may be different than they are now. The whale Green Lantern seems to be earth’s protector at the time and the heroes that show up in the last panel may all be part of the Justice League together now or some other group. Future issues will probably hash those details out. I really like the subtle hints of the future that this series throws at us. But more so I like how Conway is constructing his old character, building him up as real as possible for what I fear may be some sort of revelation and ultimately unfortunate ending. Again, it is called “The Last Days of Animal Man.” I like that Conway is getting to play with Animal Man’s character in this story arc – one he helped popularize and redefine twenty years ago. No one really has the knowledge and insight into a character like its creator or one who redefined that character to its modern incarnation. I also liked that the cover announces that Green Lantern is a guest star but the image is of a giant whale, like it’s normal that Green Lantern is a whale in the sky.

On Twitter I was speaking with a fellow comics reader after posting the previous article’s link. He pointed out that Conway had left comics writing to write for television and only recently cam back to comics, a fact I didn’t know. Digging deeper, I found out that Conway was the co-creator of one of my favorite comics characters in one of my favorite comic lines of the 1980s: Firestorm. After Teen Titans and All Star Squadron, Firestorm was probably my third favorite all time title. No wonder. Quirky, second tier characters and good characterization are all traits that Conway brings in full force to his books. I haven’t kept up with Firestorm since I was a kid except to in some of the titles he’s guest starred in but I know the character has changed quite a bit since teenaged Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein inhabited the nuclear man.

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

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