Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Last Days of Animal Man – Issue #5

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.

Empire Strikes Back was the best movie of all of the Star Wars films. Know why? Because the good guys get their asses kicked and they’re mad, defeated and on the brink of total annihilation. Issue #5 of The Last Days of Animal Man has that kind of feel. From the cover image you kind of get the point. Animal Man has pretty much lost all of his powers and he’s in vigilante mode taking up a baseball bat and motorcycle helmet for defense. It’s not exactly Batman gear but it’ll have to do on short notice, especially since he’s got one last Ace up his sleeve.

One curiosity that runs through out the entire series so far is the inconstancy and utter uselessness of the Justice League/Teen Titan hybrid group that Gerry Conway has dreamed up. They seem only to serve as props to further the story along instead of characters. Even Starfire serves to show how far down Animal Man has gone and that his mind is not in the right place, rather than a fellow superhero. It’s big flaw in the writing of a series that show a high level of storytelling and creativity. But I forgive Conway because I know as a writer myself that sometimes you just have to rely on a crutch in order to keep the story moving forward.

Back to the cover. Another great job by Brian Bolland. It’s imposing and in your face style is perfect for the issue inside. There’s some great detail in the drawing once again. For some reason I found myself admiring the wrinkles in the jacket as Animal Man holds the bat up to his shoulder. Little details like getting those crinkles right really add to the power of the image. The slickness of the gloves holding onto the bat also caught my eye, but that may be a function of the inking job, which looks almost airbrushed to make the gloves from his uniform especially shiny. The best detail over all is on the tip of the bat where there are little blood splatters. It tells a little of the story with that one small detail. Obviously Animal Man had already taken a swing, struck true and is on his next head bashing.

In the opening, Superman and Power Girl fly into headquarters answering an emergency signal call. Power Girl looks hot as always in the capable hands of Chris Batista but her bust (let’s face it, Power Girl is all about the bust!) and the action doesn’t distract from Animal Man’s inner monologue telling us a little more about the character of his father.

It might be an understatement to say that things are complicated for Animal Man these days. He waxes nostalgic about how his father’s generation was one defined by quiet servitude, a sense of place in society and work ethics. People were very much more comfortable with the roles they played and the work they were destined to do and went about it without all the whining, crying and much of the medications we need today just to get through this thing called life. Asking his father on his deathbed if he had any regrets, Animal Man found this to be quite a foreign question for someone of his father’s generation. People didn’t regret, they just did. This bit of memory and his subsequent reunion with his family make Animal Man realize that it wasn’t necessarily the powers that made him the hero it was the man underneath the costume.

Back to superheroes getting their butts handed to them. Mirror Mistress and Bloodrage manage to subdue the heroes of the Justice Titan amalgam and things look dire. Starfire is still unconscious and Animal Man has all but lost his powers, not to mention he looks like hell. Someone has to do something and despite everything Animal Man’s family asks him what he’s going to do since it seems he’s the only hero in a one hundred mile radius who’s conscious and knows what the heck is going on.

Animal Man remembers a final bit of wisdom imparted by his father when he was dying. A man can’t choose how he dies. But he can choose how he lives. With this in mind, he kisses his family good bye and seemingly goes off – geared up in the old school vigilante style hinted at on the cover of the issue – to serve notice on the creeps who have been plaguing him ever since page one of the first issue. One thing I noticed is that on the cover, Animal Man sports a baseball bat and inside his weapon of choice is a crowbar. A minor distraction but one worth noting. There may be great debate in the vigilante world between the effectiveness of a baseball bat versus a crowbar but to me that’s splitting hair, really.

As I said, things don’t turn out so well and by the end of the issue Animal Man is hovering over Times Square with the villainous duo about to dispose of his body in a very public way so that the people of Earth make no mistake about their intentions, and their scheme to extort millions of dollars from the government for the release of the superheroes that Mirror Mistress happened to be holding in some crystal tubes back at HQ.

That’s the Empire Strikes Back moment. The bad guys have won. The good guys doing what good guys always do have rushed into a trap and gotten themselves all frozen in carbonite, er, crystal test tubes. All is lost… or is it? Well, of course it’s not. I mentioned that Animal Man has an Ace up his sleeve. It has something to do with a secret laboratory and a cryptic statement by Animal Man to the lab boys that he just wanted to see a dangerous biological sample to see if he could hear it sing.

To be concluded.

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

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