Today, Mikyzptlk and Scott are discussing Animal man 19, originally released April 3rd, 2013.
Mikyzptlk: In the modern world of superhero comics, it’s become the norm to inject “real world” elements into the story to make the fantastic characters more relatable to readers by bringing them down to earth. Most superheroes have a secret identity or some kind of life outside of the never-ending battle that keeps them grounded, but Buddy Baker has always had an entire family to help keep him in check. As much as he’s been the Animal Man, he’s also been the family man as writers have often chosen to focus not just on Buddy, but his wife and children as well. In the aftermath of Rotworld, Jeff Lemire explores what happens when the fantastic elements of the life of our hero ends up taking away everything else.
The funeral of Cliff Baker is as sad as you can imagine it. Words of consolation are given to the Baker family, but even the priest delivering them is aware of how little they mean without knowing the loss of a child. As services end, Ellen leaves without saying so much as a word. However, as Buddy attempts to stop her, she gives him more than he bargained for. Buddy tries to argue that it may be possible to bring Cliff back using Maxine’s connection to The Red. Ellen snaps back saying she doesn’t want to have anything to do with “powers” or “crazy stuff” and that Maxine is to be “normal.” Oh, she also says that she and Buddy are over. Viewing The Red (and his career as Animal Man) as the cause of all this suffering, Buddy takes a trip back to The Red and commands the Totems to find a new Animal Man and avatar. The Totems don’t take too kindly to these orders, and banish Buddy out of The Red altogether. They do let him keep his powers though, because as far as they are concerned, Animal Man is their puppet and Maxine belongs to them. In the end, Animal Man is left completely alone, cut off from his family and The Red. Before we get into all of that though, let’s bring everyone down for a minute.
Even though it’s just so damn sad, I wanted to start with the image above because of how it symbolically represents the division Cliff’s death has caused between Buddy and the rest of his family. Technically, the division is mostly between Buddy and Ellen with Maxine caught in the crossfire, so let’s talk about that. The opening scene of this issue showed Ellen lying in bed, clearly depressed. She’s so (understandably) upset that she barley even made it to the funeral. Only knowing that her daughter is probably just as upset gets her to go. Once there, no amount of words can comfort her, least of all Buddy’s plea to have Maxine try to bring Cliff back to life. Now, if this were a non-fictional mother and father going through this situation, there’s no way in hell I’d ever judge their actions, but since they aren’t actually real I figure I can let loose a little.
Again, I completely understand Ellen’s grief and anger towards Buddy. In situations like this, it’s natural to want to find something or someone to blame. The attention that Animal Man’s career brings to the Baker family seems like a logical place to go and I understand why Ellen wishes to distance herself and her surviving child from anything having to do with superpowers or any kind of weirdness. HOWEVER, Ellen has seen first hand exactly what Maxine is capable of. I mean, Maxine brought herself back to life as if it was absolutely nothing. I don’t have any children, but I have lost loved ones, and if I knew of someone with the kind of power that Maxine has, I wouldn’t immediately dismiss that option with such finality as quickly as Ellen does here. Granted, Maxine is an avatar of The Red so it’s possible that she’s exceptional in the coming-back-to-life department, also Socks seems to think ill of the idea. Regardless, Ellen doesn’t know these things so I find it off-putting that Ellen dismissed the idea so vociferously. This isn’t a criticism of Lemire’s writing as the way his characters interact is completely believable, I just don’t happen to agree with some of their choices.
Ellen’s anger towards Buddy is understandably placed as well, but it is probably directed more specifically towards his actions as Animal Man, which is a direct result of The Red. If Ellen blames Buddy for Cliff’s death, then Buddy blames The Red. As Buddy storms into the Totems “office” (I can probably find a better term for that), I couldn’t help but be reminded of the countless times that Hal Jordan has stormed into the Guardians of the Universe’s…um, clubhouse(?) barking orders at beings way higher on the cosmological scale than he. Normally, the Guardians would just humor Hal and let him go on protecting the universe, lately though, they’ve taken to trying to eradicate all sentient life. Similarly, the Totems of The Red have seemed to go along with whatever attitude Animal Man threw their way so long as he and Maxine got the job done. As soon as he asks (okay demands) to be “set free,” things turn ugly. I’m not sure if the Totems are going to go all villainous like the Guardians did, but threatening to erase Buddy and Ellen from existence if Maxine ceases to be the avatar is certainly the stuff of antagonists.
Also, anyone that calls you a “flea” probably isn’t your friend. So, issue 19 of Animal Man is depressing and brilliant at the same time. Depressing for the obvious reasons, but brilliant because of how Lemire beautifully uses the consequences of the last story arc to drive the events of the next. If it’s possible, this issue has gotten me more excited about this series than I’ve ever been. Scott, how has the latest entry of this series treated you? It seems like Jeff Lemire may be starting to take Buddy down a path that could potentially be darker than Rotworld itself, are you down for the ride?
Scott: I can’t wait to see where Buddy is headed, but I don’t know if Lemire is just starting to take him to a darker place- I think he may already be there.
Steve Pugh does such a great job of showing just how isolated Buddy is this vast, eerie, lifeless terrain, that I actually believe Buddy has never felt so alone, even after reading an issue that also featured this panel:
I didn’t realize things could get so much worse for Buddy so quickly. Animal Man 18 may have been the most tragic day in the life of Buddy Baker, but it’s turning into one extended nightmare. Watching Buddy try to try to bargain his relationship with The Red for that of his family, only to lose both, was tragic. It’s even more heartbreaking when you consider how futile the attempt was in the first place. Ellen lost faith in Buddy over the course of RotWorld. His life as Animal Man too frequently put the safety of their family at risk. By the time Cliff died, it was too late. Buddy had let his dangerous lifestyle go on too long, and there was nothing he could do to keep Ellen from leaving, nothing that could bring Cliff back. Perhaps that’s why Ellen refused to let Maxine try to help Cliff- she’d already given up on Buddy and just wanted to get him out of her life. Even if she could get Cliff back, it would just give Buddy another chance to put their lives in jeopardy.
Mik, you’re right about the brilliance of this transition between story arcs. It’s incredible how seamlessly Lemire has moved into the next phase of Animal Man. At first I found it a little strange how the Totems of The Red became so hostile, only to let Buddy keep his powers, but I’m very interested to see how Buddy operates without his connection to The Red. The Totems told him to go “play superhero” and I can see how his new role could make him seem more like a typical superhero, governed more by his own moral sense than by a connection to a higher power.
We’re clearly entering a new chapter of the Animal Man saga. Commitment to family has always defined Buddy Baker, and that’s not going to change. But while RotWorld placed primarily physical obstacles between Buddy and his family, this new arc will force Buddy to overcome more complex emotional conflicts. Rather than trying to save his family, he has to win them back. I think this makes the series more compelling, and I’m excited to follow Lemire and Pugh down this dark, desolate road.
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?