READ MY LIBRARY ENTRY 28: The Last Days of Animal Man

Camped out at his in-laws’, Max spent a morning back on St. Patrick’s Day with The Last Days of Animal Man, a tale by comics and television scribe Gerry Conway and drawn by Chris Batista.  It tells the tale of Buddy Baker and his family in the future. Not only is Buddy older, his Animal Man powers are failing him when he needs them most.  Could this really be the end for Animal Man?

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Written 3/17/12

Well, it’s St. Patrick’s Day today, and I’m just sure I didn’t pack anything green for this trip—not even my Green Lantern shirt!  Oh well.  It’ll be long past St. Patrick’s Day by the time you read this, so it really doesn’t matter that much.

I got up after a bunch of restless dreams (more like annoying dreams than actual nightmares) today and dug right into The Last Days of Animal Man written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Chris Batista.

Gerry Conway

Gerry Conway, a writer who has definitely had an impact on comics by co-creating the Punisher for Marvel and Firestorm for DC. Perhaps best known as the writer who killed Spider-Man's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.

Conway has had a long and distinguished career in comics co-creating the Punisher character for Marvel with artist Ross Andru and scripting the controversial death of Gwen Stacy in his Amazing Spider-Man run (something that Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee never liked and still doesn’t even to this day), and for DC co-created Firestorm with artist Al Milgrom and wrote Justice League of America for eight years.  Conway also scripted the first inner-company crossover Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man—and that’s just his comics work!  Conway has also written numerous episodes of the Law & Order franchise, Perry Mason TV movies, Diagnosis Murder episodes among other television and movie properties.  Batista on the other hand has worked on Steel, JLA, issues of 52, The Legion, Robin and Booster Gold for DC as well as Thunderbolts for Marvel. While Batista has remained in the industry since he began, The Last Days of Animal Man marked Conway’s return to the comics medium after years of concentrating on television and film work.  But is it any good, and how does it fit in with the rest of the Animal Man mythos?

Last Days of Animal Man TPB

The Last Days of Skeleton Man! Er, um, I mean, Animal Man!

The answers are yes, it’s pretty decent, and it does fit okay into Animal Man’s life as a possible future ending to his career.  I’m not sure if this was meant as an imaginary story or an Elseworlds or what, but it’s not denoted as any of these things, so I just dug in and enjoyed it as a story and didn’t worry about any of that, just figured it was a possible future and left it at that.  Apparently, the lack of clarity about when this story took place was confusing for customers and readers when it was coming out according to Super-Fly head boss Tony Barry.  Lord knows things change, and things are already changing for Buddy Baker AKA Animal Man with the current Animal Man series by Jeff Lemire.  Still, instead of trying to decide how the story fits in, I just read it.  Although the story itself does not denote the year (or I did not notice it doing so at least), the back cover says the year the story takes place is 2024, 15 years after the story was written in 2009.

The story begins with a new villain Bloodrage creating a disturbance at a newly constructed dam in San Diego.  Animal Man jumps in to the rescue, but notices his animal powers fading.  Animal Man gets seriously hurt, but is able to tap back in to the morphogenetic fields that give him his animal powers and win the day—albeit just barely.  When his powers do come back and he’s able to fight Bloodrage, his attacks are extreme and are almost overkill; the cops end up having to shout at Animal Man to get him to stop.  The media picks up on Animal Man’s floundering, and when Buddy returns home, Ellen questions him about it.  Buddy just wants to ignore it.  Later Bloodrage breaks out of jail, and Buddy nearly dies trying to stop him when his powers fail a second time.

The League of Titans & Animal Man

Can even the League of Titans find a way to restore Animal Man's fading powers?

Buddy’s powers get worse, and that’s when Mirror Master’s crazy daughter Prismatik decides to make a name for herself by killing a super hero, and Animal Man just happens to be nearby.  Prismatik hated her mother for falling in love with the criminal Mirror Master McCulloch and then feeling like such a victim after she turned McCulloch in.  Even after Prismatik was born, her mother persisted in feeling like a victim all the time, which made Prismatik hate her.  Prismatik hated McCulloch even more, who went into the mirror dimension and went mad.  So, hating both her parents, after Prismatik’s mom died, Prismatik develops all this mirror laser technology herself and then goes into the mirror dimension to kill McCulloch.  This is all revealed in a dramatic monologue to herself.  What I’m trying to say here is that Prismatik is coo coo for Cocoa Puffs.  She manages to beat up Animal Man pretty bad, until he gets his powers back and he beats her senseless, until the Justice League of the era, now known as the League of Titans (possibly because former Teen Titans Nightwing and Starfire are members) intervene.  Once again, Buddy has overcompensated and attacked Prismatik pretty brutally and has to be peeled off by a wind storm created by Red Tornado.


Here Mirror Master's psycho daughter Prismatik catches Animal Man with his powers down

The League of Titans perform tests on Buddy and determine he’s losing his powers and there’s nothing he can do.  Buddy comes up with an idea; if he can get DNA from his kids, he may be able to stop the process, but all he learns while he collects the DNA from Maxine and Cliff is that he probably should have been around in his kids’ lives more while they were growing up.  Maxine resents that Buddy was never there, while Cliff admires his Dad but has become a complete workaholic with no regard for his personal life himself.

Things don’t go as planned, and then Prismatik is able to break out of jail, setting Bloodrage free in the process.  They decide to get revenge on Animal Man and attack the League of Titans HQ in New York, just as Buddy is contemplating, but resisting, infidelity with Starfire.  Both Starfire and Buddy get beaten badly, and escape via teleporter.  Then Prismatik decides to summon the rest of the League and capture them.

The conclusion is pretty crazy.  Buddy is powerless, Starfire is badly injured and the League is helpless, with Bloodrage and Prismatik ransoming their lives to the media.  Buddy decides he must face them, powers or no, even if it means his death.  While I won’t give away the ending, it is truly the end of Animal Man.

Last Days of Animal Man #5

Animal Man must take extreme measures to take a final stand against his foes!

This story was pretty good, as it does a good job of capturing the essence of Animal Man, albeit an older, powerless one.  The story builds on continuity somewhat (events in Countdown to Adventure are mentioned for example) and Animal Man makes some cool use of his fading powers.  However, I have a couple (small) complaints.  Buddy’s wife Ellen is now a travel agent apparently, where during Morrison’s run she was an artist and at the end of it, her book was about to be published.  I know people change careers but this seemed a bit weird.  A bigger gripe for me was that there were a few new super heroes in the story with cool designs, members of the League of Titans, who are never named.  It seems like a wasted opportunity to create a couple new characters. Perhaps Conway wanted to leave it up to the readers’ imagination? Seems like a cop out.  There’s even a giant whale Green Lantern who is only ever called “Lantern.”  Lame.

Yes, the story is decent and is an interesting one as it takes one of DC’s heroes to the end of their lives as we know it—something that really hasn’t been done a lot before, save for those imaginary stories and Elseworlds, outside of Mark Waid’s and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come (and come to think of it, that was an Elseworlds story too!).  However, while it’s an alright Animal Man story, it is nowhere near the mindblowing stuff that Morrison penned, nor the anywhere near the creepiness of Jeff Lemire’s current Animal Man run.  It’s definitely a good read, especially for Animal Man fans, but not quite the high caliber material that the same Animal Man fans may be accustomed to.  Plus, let’s face it, although it’s cool to see Animal Man triumph under adverse conditions of losing his powers, it’s a lot cooler to see him using his powers at full blast and doing interesting things with them.

It’s not a bad book, but hot on the heels of Animal Man Deus Ex Machina it is underwhelming.  Perhaps that’s Grant Morrison’s fault more than Gerry Conway’s—an industry great in his own right.

With The Last Days of Animal Man tackled, that’s it for my coverage of Animal Man for now.  While the Morrison trades only go up to issue #26 and the original Animal Man series ran for 89 issues, the later issues took full advantage of being under DC’s Vertigo imprint and took it to weird extremes, such as killing Buddy off, resurrecting him as an animal avatar and later making him a white haired shaman.  Since then, Buddy’s returned more to his roots, appearing in Infinite Crisis and 52 and prior to that he even saves the day during Morrison’s JLA run.

Of course, now Buddy and his family are part of DC’s New 52 revamp with a new Animal Man series that seems to be more horror than super heroing but it is easily one of the New 52 books with the highest critical acclaim.  It seems like we’ll be able to read about Buddy Baker and his life as Animal Man for at least the foreseeable future

I’d also like to wrap up by mentioning something about B’wana/Freedom Beast.  I read on Wikipedia last night that following Freedom Beast’s death in Justice League Cry for Justice, Congorillia who subsequently joined the Justice League later resigned to find a suitable successor for the next Freedom Beast.  Apparently, he found one, as Congorillia is seen standing next to a new Freedom Beast in DC’s New 52 Justice League International #1—a book I bought, but just probably overlooked (I didn’t have the passion for the Beast then!).  So maybe we can hope to see a new Freedom Beast someday in the new JLI, or at least the DCnU at some point?  Here’s hoping!  So not only is Animal Man’s future assured, it seems Freedom Beast has a future too.  Or again, here’s hoping.

B'wana Beast Action Figure

Here's the B'wana Beast action figure I *had* to have after reading all about B'wana Beast and Freedom Beast in the pages of Animal Man!

So that’s it for Animal Man!  Next up is Aquaman, who is probably regarded as the lamest hero in the DC Universe.  At least he doesn’t have to worry about wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day with those green webbed leggings he’s got, right?

I’ve got to get going with my day, but hopefully I’ll be able to crack into some Aquaman adventures later!

NOTES FROM NOW (9/9/12): This was an interesting book.  I read it through in one go and liked it fairly well, though again, I wish Conway had been a little more daring by introducing his new League of Titans members instead of them being generic stand-ins.  There is a new Flash, a black man in a slightly different costume, but no one talks to him enough for his real name or background to be dropped; it’s effectively a palette swap just to be different.  Not that I’m not cool with a black Flash, it’s just couldn’t he be more than just a silent token?  Then there’s the nameless whale Green Lantern…All this starts to add up.  Of course, this is an Animal Man story and I’m harping on a minor point, but Conway and Batista did create two interesting villains, (Bloodrage’s powers are pretty neat; the madder he gets, he causes the blood to boil in anyone nearby, killing them) why could they not flesh out this timeline and introduce their new heroes at all?  Or allude to why the League and Titans got together?  All it would take is a couple names and a throw away line or two.  Man, I’m really making a mountain out of a mole hill—it just still bugs me.

As an Animal Man story, there are nice touches, like Buddy running up his own stunt man company in the future and still doing the super hero thing on the side when this story begins.  You can’t let the vagueness of the story’s future setting distract you; I just viewed it as a possible future and read on.  Reading a good chunk of Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man run, it does seem like Buddy and the Baker family are certainly on a trajectory to a future different from the one seen in The Last Days of Animal Man.  But really, who cares?  It’s a story worthy of its own merit, an interesting take on Animal Man and his future, and a quick read.  There are some really cool moments, like when Animal Man has to resort to a baseball bat and a helmet to fight, and the story captures Buddy’s spirit well.

All of this said, I don’t recommend picking it up before any of the Animal Man Morrison trades and/or the Lemire New 52 book.  No offense to Gerry Conway, but Morrison’s and Lemire’s takes on Animal Man are much better purchases than The Last Days of Animal Man—especially if you are new to the character.  However, if you’re well versed in Animal Man, this is a neat little story, both as an Animal Man story and as a story about a hero at the end of his heroic career and possibly his life.  Not gripping, but good.

I guess it’s also worth mentioning that Justice League International has been canceled, which makes it impossible for Freedom Beast appear there.  I still hope he pops up somewhere though.  In the meantime, I’ll have my action figure of B’wana Beast to look at!

Oh, and Aquaman—he’ll become a bane to this blog’s existence here soon, but trust me, it’ll be fun when we get to him.

Past entries of the Read My Library Blog

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