Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Last Days of Animal Man #2 review

Eating my words department: I had no interest in this mini series. DC has made continuity so much the be all and end all of their line that I saw no use for a short run set in the future of the DC Universe - if stuff in it comes to pass, I've been spoilt a couple of decades too early; if it doesn't, it's just an irrelevant imaginary story.

Then I began hearing good things about #1, so bought it. So, did I find the book irrelevant? It turns out that was the wrong question, I should have been asking, do I find it good? And that's a definite yes. Very good. This book marks the return to comics after years in TV drama (only bloody Law & Order!) of Seventies and Eighties DC writer Gerry Conway, and it's turning out to be a terrific calling card. The first issue was clever and fun. The second issue, I like even better, as ageing superhero Animal Man, aka Buddy Baker, must fight the ludicrous but deadly Bloodrage and, more significantly, his self-denial. He's refusing to acknowledge that his powers are fading, and that attitude's been hurting his relationship with wife Ellen. Here he can no longer deny that his ability to instantaneously tap into the morphic field that unites life, and borrow the abilities of any creature, is on the outs.

Luckily he's given a hand here from fellow Justice Leaguer Green Lantern. But it's not Hal Jordan, or any of his human replacements. It's . . . well, check out that gorgeous cover. God knows how this guy fits round the table at meetings, but he's good. The new GL is a surprising but logical change for this future DCU, and just one of the signs that Conway knows what he's doing. Another is the characterisation of Buddy as very much your ordinary guy, even after all his years running, flying and swimming with the super-pack. He's not brilliant, hence his needing a hand when his powers go kaput while fighting Bloodrage. He's not the most emotionally intelligent guy, which is why he won't open up to the always understanding Ellen about his fears.

But he has a big heart, and whatever happens, he tries to do the right thing. If his spotty powers are going to get him killed, he's willing to go out fighting. And when the second of this issue's villains appears, a new legacy character, it looks as if he might do just that. We're introduced to Prismatik (who's her bad guy relative? Not telling, buy the book!) via an awfully long speech she makes to her dead mother, a device I found rather clunky, possibly indicative of Conway having an old-school moment. Or perhaps he was showing us that the new girl is actually rather old school and corny; certainly she's a tad mad.

That one scene's forgivable, as the rest of the storytelling is so good. Buddy's dialogue and narration had me warming to him for the first time in many a year, even when he's crankier than he should be (there's that humanity again). And the direction in which Conway takes the man with animal powers is clever, and welcome. There's even a shocker of an ending which has me wishing this was one of those biweekly series DC have been turning out of late.

Pencilling the book is Chris Batista, producing the best work I've seen from him. Yup, his Buddy looks nowhere near as old as he should but he's the man with animal powers, he's probably channelling a tortoise's longevity or something. The character work is great, the layouts smart and, under inker Dave Meikis, there's an echo of longtime Animal Man cover guy Brian Bolland (back for this mini) with a smattering of original series penciller Charles Truog. Mike Atiyeh's colours are bright without being garish, always appropriate for the scene and - Lord, it really is old home week - the book is lettered by DC legend Clem Robins. Huge credit to editor Joey Cavalieri and assistant Chris Conroy for assembling this team and I'd be delighted to see them together again, and back with Buddy, after these six issues wrap.

3 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed issue 1, so I'm going to grab the trade when the series wraps up. I also sought out some of Conway's old work in Fury of Firestorm #1-7. Those are great comics! Products of the time for certain, but I finally understand why people like Firestorm!

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  2. I loved FoF and it just gets better. If you can afford it, try to track down the entire Conway sequence, to #53, and annuals #1-4. You can ignored the fillers until John Ostrander came aboard and made Ronnie and Mart and others a boring fire elemental.

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  3. Gerry Conway is one of my favourite writers, I bought this Animal Man series just for him. Conway writes really good "low-brow" comics, rather than desperately worthy, deep stuff.

    Conway's run on Spider-Man is my absolute favourite, even though (1973 spoiler warning for the slow readers) he killed Gwen Stacy!

    He's the man behind Justice League Detroit!

    He wrote Scalphunter, the greatest western comic ever. You read that right - ever!!!

    Conway even made Visionaries readable. Visionaries! Six issues, based on a toy line no child even owned!

    In short, Conway is a comic book genius and I'm so glad he's come back home.

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