Animal Man 18

Alternating Currents: Animal Man 18, Drew and Shelby

Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Animal Man 18, originally released March 6th, 2013. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage. 

Drew: Many fans were dismayed when DC spoiled the end of Batman Incorporated 8, but it really wasn’t just that they had made those spoilers available — it was that they made them unavoidable, popping up when you accessed their website with no way of avoiding the information. Sure, you could argue that the cover to that issue (which had, unfortunately, already been leaked) gave the ending away, but it’s not exactly like comic book covers have to be representing actual events in the issue. Case in point: Batman R.I.P., which — contrary to what the title suggests — [SPOILER] doesn’t feature the death of Batman. In fact, the well-known hyperbolic nature of comic book covers is precisely what made me so skeptical that Animal Man 18 would actually feature “the most TRAGIC DAY in the life of BUDDY BAKER!” (Spoilers after the jump)

Turns out, I was wrong about that one, much to my reading pleasure. Any fans doubting DC’s ability to not spoil character deaths need look no further than this issue, which arrived with exactly no fanfare, in spite of the incredibly tragic (and surprising) ending. Granted, “Cliff Baker” isn’t the household name that “Robin” is, but his death is every bit as heartbreaking — especially when his father just spent countless months trying to get back to see him.

The issue picks up as Buddy and Alec are leaping into the time portal created by the Parliament of Decay, landing Buddy back at the precise moment where Maxine was giving herself over to the Hunters Two. Buddy successfully prevents that from happening, but Socks is quick to point out that Buddy can’t defeat these monsters alone. Maxine steps up, and heals the Hunters back to human form, revealing them to be Taproot agents, and NOT former Avatars of the Red, like everyone thought. The villains vanquished, the Baker family heartwarmingly exchanges hugs and noogies.

The Bakers

That happiness is short-lived, however, as Ellen takes Buddy to task for putting them all in danger. Unfortunately, William Arcane shows up to put a rather fine point on her argument, killing Cliff.

Poor Cliff

That kind of post-climactic out-of-nowhere death scene is always a big surprise — I’ll spare listing any memorable ones for the obvious reasons — but it also runs the risk of feeling totally tacked on and arbitrary, a cheap ploy to turn a happy ending into a tragic one. What really sells it here is just how well we’ve gotten to know Cliff (stupid haircut and all) over the past 18 issues — and the fact that his death will have a profound effect on the series going forward.

Earlier in the issue, Buddy reminisces about Cliff’s early childhood, specifically about a how-to book of finger paint animals that Cliff loved. At the time, it seems like a clever (and effective) way to tie Buddy’s powers to thoughts of his family, as he drew strength from those memories to call forth animal abilities. In light of the ending, however, those memories take on an added poignancy. It’s a beautiful idea (one I suspect may have some autobiographical significance for Jeff Lemire), but I’m most impressed by the subtle way it emphasizes Buddy’s relationship to Cliff just in time for the unthinkable. It’s a key structural component of this issue, but it’s so well disguised as a character moment (and so well complicated by that foreshadowing) that I didn’t even notice.

Buddy will obviously be devastated by Cliff’s death, but I suspect that might not be the only family member he’ll lose as a result of this issue. Ellen had already had it with the danger that seems to follow Buddy everywhere before this tragedy, so it seems clear she’ll blame him for Cliff’s death. The prospect of loosing Ellen and Maxine — in addition to Cliff — is particularly devastating for a man (and a series) so defined by his family. More importantly, Buddy’s experience in Rotworld found him placing a renewed emphasis on the importance of his family, asserting that “they are all I care about now.” I’m not sure what Buddy (or this series) will look like without his family.

What I am sure of is that shutting Buddy out of her life won’t solve Ellen’s problems. Sure, Buddy often speeds headlong into dangerous situations, but Maxine is the one with the target on her back. In spite of all that has happened, Ellen hasn’t quite been able to accept just how important (and powerful) her four-year-old daughter really is.

Ellen and Socks argue

Maxine is the most powerful animal on Earth, but Ellen can’t help but see her little girl. She wouldn’t let her use adult scissors, let alone fight undead monsters. It’s a large, operatic tale of parents learning to let their children take risks, which I’m maybe also sensing some autobiographical significance for.

Okay, Shelby one last point before I turn it over to you: Steve Pugh is an absolute rock star — the horror is appropriately horrible, the layouts are propulsive, and the acting is spot-on. I could single out every single one of his panels for something I loved, so I’ll just point out how expressively anxious Ellen’s hand is in the above image. Colorist Lovern Kindzierski deserves equal praise for the subtle, detailed colors that make this issue such a pleasure to look at. Shelby, I know this is a super down issue, but maybe I can set you up on a positive note with the artistic team? Aren’t these guys nailing it?

Shelby: Absolutely. I feel like the whole creative team, both here and over at Swamp Thing, really brought out their A-game for these issues. Pugh has always impressed me with both his gore and his expressive characters, but I would be remiss to not point out the guest artist on the cover, one Jae Lee. I was actually pretty disappointed to see the text of the “most tragic day” added; the image alone is so haunting and so powerful.

animal man jae lee

I’m most familiar with Lee’s style through his work on Ozymandias, where Adrian is depicted as haughty and cold. But here, the power of Buddy’s anguish is visceral and moving. It leaps off the page and cuts right through you. The empty background that Buddy is fading into, the tribal tattoo map to the Red, everything works together to create a depiction of a father’s grief which is awesome in every sense of the word.

As powerful as that cover is, I don’t think it’s enough to really depict what this is going to do to this family. Drew is completely correct; I did not for a second see this coming. I also don’t get the sense that Cliff’s death was tacked on just for the sake of drama; like Swamp Thing 18, I think the ending here grew very organically out of the Rotworld story, and provides the appropriate, though heart-breaking, closure that story demands. While I’m satisfied with the ending from a story-arc standpoint, I’m so concerned for the Baker family. Will Ellen and Maxine really leave Buddy? Or, perhaps sadder, will Buddy take this as a “lesson learned” moment and leave them for their own safety? Most importantly, where will this title go from here? We have been working towards Rotworld since issue one; now that it’s over, where will Lemire take this character next? I had never heard of Animal Man before this title, and if you tried to explain him to me, I would probably have thought he was stupid. “His name is Animal Man, and he has the power of …uh, animals!” But Lemire, you crafty dog, you win; I am a die hard Butter Baker Blondie Man convert, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store for him.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

22 comments on “Animal Man 18

  1. Ooof. What an ending. So good…so tragic. I think it hit me more than Damian – perhaps because it was unspoiled and so out of the blue. Also, perhaps because, despite the numerous assurances that Robin is dead forrealz, we all know that it is unlikely to stay that way for too long. Unless Maxine works some Red magic here or something, Cliff is really, really dead.

    Other than a mention of Taproot by Black Orchid (I think) in one of the early Rotworld issues, do we know anything about them? Is it something that exists in the DCU that is well known and I missed, or is Lemire setting up a mystery?

    • That mention by Black Orchid was the only mention of them I could find in all the corners of the internet, so I think it’s something new for the next arc. I love how Lemire diffused the potential confusion and intrusion of these brand new characters by having Socks be just as confused as everyone else. If this god-like entity doesn’t know what the hell is going on, then obviously I’m not supposed to either.

      • Lemire also dropped a mention of it in Justice League Dark, on Constantine’s big board (I forget which issue — the one right after the Annual). Point is — he’s clearly been thinking about this for a while, and it’ll have fun repercussions between those two titles.

        • Oops, you’re right. It looks like I was misremembering references to “project ascension.” But hey — at least looking back at that reminded me that Lemire actually dropped a hint about the villains team up in that spread, too. What a fun little trove of Easter eggs.

    • heh. I just realized I started both my comments the same way. Suppose I should proof my comments a little better. But seriously…WHAT AN ENDING!!

  2. Oh man, what’s with DC killing off kids lately? Really though, I can’t wait to see where this goes next. I’m so glad Animal Man is back. He’s been one of my favorites since Grant Morrison’s run. That is one of my all time favorite runs and it’s extremely difficult to explain exactly why it’s so great. Have you read it Shelby?

  3. Standard “I LOVE THIS ISSUE, BUT…” warning.

    Cliff’s death is so arbitrary and after-the-fact as to feel unearned to me. The heartbraeking conclusion of Swamp Thing is the necessary way to prevent Rotworld from happening over and over again – and both of those characters have been building toward fully-accepting their destinies since issue 1. But in Animal Man, not only is the problem of a recurring Rotworld solved in a different series, the immediate threat is appropriately quashed (and by family teamwork no less!). Also, it’s not even one of the Hunters 3 that fells Cliffy, but William Arcane (who originated in, and has a much bigger presence in, Swamp Thing).

    • I’m with you. Like, it is totally after-the-fact as you said. The only defense I can give it is that at least it does come out of the RotWorld stuff and will have repercussions going forward. In the end though, Swamp Thing was just poetry man. I think it might be the most beautiful DC comic I’ve ever read.

        • I’m with you guys on this one. Coming into the issue, I kind of expected Maxine to die, but then Ellen’s speech to Buddy had “I love you but we can’t be together anymore” written all over it and I felt that would have been a tragic and fitting ending to this arc, losing his whole family through seperation, rather than a seemingly tacked-on death (although don’t get me wrong, it’s still heart-breaking.)

          Also, what’s with everyone dying in the DCU the last few months? Knight, Robin, Cliff, Abby and Alec (although they both live on in ways). Perhaps DC is looking to kill off everyone this year and launch “The Newer 65” in 2013 :p

        • I think the thing that redeems Cliffy’s surprise death here is that it’s sorta been telegraphed for a long-ass time. Remember that issue that was just the movie Buddy made, called TIGHTS? In our conversation about the issue, Drew noted that the film is directed by the DCU’s Darren Aronofski surrogate, and we all know what happens in Aronofksi movies – the heroes get FUCKED UP (and/or die). The ends of the issue reveals that this is Cliff watching the movie. And there are so many little moments between Buddy and Cliff where they connect as father and son – the biggest possible loss would be Cliff dying (Maxine WOULD be a close second, but, y’know, she already did die and is totally fine with it).

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  5. No one else thought it was strange that directly before this happened Maxine was just showing off her amazing healing powers, but then just sat there and did nothing as Cliff died right in front of her?

    • I mean that kind of killed the whole thing for me. Not even a “oh no I just drained all my strength healing those other guys!” excuse. Just sat there and watched him die without even trying to help.

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