Friday, February 19, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #4

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.

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Brian Bolland captures the anxiety and conflict that runs throughout this issue. The shattered image of Animal Man into shards of mirror-like pieces by the hand of Mirror Mistress while he desperately holds Starfire’s inert body in his arms perfectly encapsulates the chapter of this tale. Ultimately it’s about breaking Animal Man down and finding out what he’s made of. As a side note on the cover illustration, I like how detailed Starfire’s hair is as is flows upside down. It must have taken a long time to get all those curls in there.

If you read issue three then you already know the shocker at the end. We open with Animal Man in the enviable position of being lip locked with Starfire. Now I don’t care who you are or the color of your skin or even your gender, if you ain’t in lust with Starfire, check your pulse. Of course the act is entirely forgivable. I checked with my wife and she said that she would absolutely forgive me if I ever cheated on her with Princess Koriand’r. (Of course I also told her that the same went for her if she ever found herself in that situation with Starfire – but she said that she prefers Wolverine. Hey, we all have to make concessions in life.)

Immediately Animal Man is faced with guilt and regret and it’s a long road he takes until he hits absolute bottom by the end of this issue. He questions everything. His fatherhood. His manhood and his herohood (I made that word up.) Gerry Conway has a quirky storytelling style that I happen to love. How many comic writers insert a double page spread flashback into a scene where a super hero is getting his ass kicked. In his painful euphoria, Animal Man confronts the ghosts of his memory to come to a stunning conclusion: Despite the fact that he is losing his powers, he’s still a man, with the emotions, desires and ultimately, choices that every man has. It’s this revelation that saves him and Starfire, but just barely.

The issue sees the return of Bloodrage and Mirror Mistress, both of whom give Starfire and Animal Man a run for their money, both villains equally matched to the heroes’ weaknesses, Mirror Mistress with her ability to control the power for light (including Starfire’s star power) and Bloodrage with brute force against Animal Man’s fading abilities.

There’s not much traveling in physical space for this issue, in fact it almost entirely takes place on the League of Titan’s island HQ off of Manhattan and inside Animal Man’s own mind. All the action takes place in one spot but of course the tension and angst provide enough power to drive the plot along, including some kick-butt fight scenes rendered in stark and classic comic style by Chris Batista. I like the way Batista has developed the facial expressions for the characters. They are expressive and telling, which is a good thing because Conway is long on dialogue and inner thought in his writing. The layout of the text verses the illustration is balanced and flows very well throughout the story. I have never written or drawn a comic (although one day I hope to do both) but I imagine there is a lot of planning that has to go into such a complex mechanism relying on a writer to limit his pen so it fits into little boxes and panels and the penciller’s ability to translate a writer’s instructions into panels and renderings that blend perfectly while not drawing (pun!) too much attention away from the story.

I absolutely love the comic illustrations of Alex Ross but I find that I gaze longingly at the rich, realistic renderings of heroes more than I pay attention to the story line. In Batista’s case, his drawings are very detailed and expressive but not too modeled and not too flat. Like Goldilocks – just right, making this a very enjoyable read. Not that his penciling is too mundane at all. In fact like I mentioned, the characters are very well drawn and consistently illustrated. The layouts make the story move along at a god pace and I really enjoy some of the decisions they have made in how to integrate scenes including the way the flashback sequence works.

I have never been one to notice the details of coloring and inking. I’m no professional critic who picks apart every comic detail but I have to say the shading and colors in this book so far are very good. With Batista’s detailed comic illustration style it might be hard to not go overboard with the inking and color choices. The color and ink job is certainly not flat. It’s done with a sense of depth and attention paid to the penciller’s style. Again, I’m no expert on this type of thing but this one seems to be very well matched to the Batista’s style.

Overall this book, as with the entire series so far has far exceeded my expectations.

In the end, Animal Man transports home with Princess Starfire’s unconscious body in his arms narrowly escaping death. A surprise shock to be sure for his family but one I am sure they are used to.

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

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