Friday, February 12, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #3

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.

One of the things I’m still undecided about by the third book is the way Gerry Conway is mucking around in the way the near future of the DCU might look. In this issue it’s revealed that Red Tornado, Superman, Starfire, Power Girl, Nightwing and The Flash are all part of a hybrid super group called The League of Titans. Obviously a melding of the Teen Titans and the Justice League, from which the members were drawn (zing!) While the other heroes seem basically the same, The Flash is now African American, clearly not the Barry Allen or Wally West versions of the Flash.

What I’m getting from these subtle unexplained changes is that Conway wants you to know that this is just enough into the future that things will be different but not so far that we’re going to be meeting the Legion of Superheroes any time soon. (Though I’m only halfway through the series so there’s still time for that!) Things change over the years. It’s inevitable. Sometimes change happens without explanation and most times, it’s not fair. I guess Conway wants us to be clear about that. It’s a central theme to the book.

It’s something that Buddy Baker needs to learn to deal with.

Interestingly, I am just starting to read David McCullough’s “John Adams.” The beginning deals with Adams’ youth. He’s astute, quick, intelligent and verbose. In one part he writes a letter to his cousin about what he perceives of the future of America. In those times, still a young collection of colonies of England, no one but a few “Americans” – as they were starting to call themselves as opposed to “colonists” – could see the greatness of the properties across the ocean from Europe. History tells us that no matter how great a nation that exists it must start from somewhere and in another place a nascent town – or colonies – is growing into the next great nation. “All that part of Creation that lies within our observation,” Adams writes. “Is liable to change.”

So as great nations change, so do great men.

The book mostly follows Animal Man through his painful personal journey while he is seeking a solution to his super power problem. In the meantime, we get a glimpse into what it was like to be stuck on an alien planet together with Adam Strange during the events of the yearlong comic series 52. Oh boy! Don’t get me started on my teenaged fantasies about Starfire during the 1980s when I voraciously read Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Teen Titan run. By the stars could Perez illustrate hot, orange alien babes with big, um, assets and abilities. I know what I’d be thinking that whole time. “How can I get rid of this square Adam Strange and make time with Kory.” Seems that’s exactly what Baker was thinking. The sexual tension between Kory and Buddy was palatable and surprising to me. I found myself thinking, “Did I just see that?” In the end, Conway makes good on that promise in the panels and proves the point that if you hand a gun over the mantle in Act 1 you should have it go off by the end of the play, which it definitely does in this case.

Over the course of the book, things go from bad to worse for Animal Man. Not only is he losing his powers but Nightwing addresses the elephant in the room by asking, “Does anyone even know what a Morphogenetic field is?” Subsequently Animal Man’s idea to heal himself by taking samples of his children’s DNA proves to be an eye opening experience as both his kids tell him exactly how it is. Again, Conway delivers an emotional punch by addressing the issue that every police detective and noble politician has since the dawn of time. Mainly how do you balance a duty to public service with your commitment to family? In a way the interactions between Baker and his wife and children reminded me a little of Scrooge’s in A Christmas Carol, where he’s confronted by his past, present and future in his daughter, wife and son learning too late that while his business was being a hero he should have made his family his business all along. One scene reflects the classic Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” that always brings a tear to my eye. When speaking with his son – now an attorney fighting for the rights of environmental groups – he’s confronted with a mirror of himself. The man he was while his son was growing up is the model his son now uses in his own life, too busy saving the world to think about himself or his father’s feelings. Animal Man laments but is he learning from the experience or going right back to the place he was before, in denial of the truth.

This is a comic book after all and so by the end of the story the tension ramps up when his two former nemeses from the first two books now join forces to defeat the Animal Man. Sure kick a man while he’s down.

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

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