Today, Scott and Drew are discussing Animal man 20, originally released May 1st, 2013.
Scott: I guess Animal Man readers better have good memories. If you were caught off guard by “Tights: Part Two”, try to recall how you reacted to Part One, way back in Animal Man 6. At that point, the story of Chaz Grant bore little resemblance to the life of Buddy Baker, who had considerable power as Animal Man and good standing as a husband and father. Since then, however, Buddy’s life has fallen to pieces: he’s lost his son, his relationship with his family is in disrepair and he’s been cut off from The Red. Buddy’s life at the start of Animal Man 20 is eerily similar to that of his character in “Tights” midway through the film. The second half of the movie effectively shows us that there might still be hope for Buddy Baker, while even more effectively showing us that there might not.
Chaz Grant’s day brightens when he learns his hospitals bills have been covered by his ex-wife. Things get even better when he is approached by a talent agent, who has seen video of Chaz’s attempted heroics as Red Thunder and thinks he could cash in on his internet-fame. Chaz appears on talk shows, dates starlets, lands his own reality show, a movie and lucrative endorsement deals. Things are going great, only this was never the life he desired. When he sees the opportunity to save the day as Red Thunder, he seizes it, only to find out the man he has attacked is the head of a major Hollywood studio. His career ruined, Chaz disappears and is presumed dead, just as a “mystery hero” starts making headlines. Reminded of his own troubles, Buddy Baker turns off the TV just before getting a call from his agent: “Tights” has earned Buddy an Oscar nomination.
Buddy has hit rock-bottom, or at least as close to it as someone who still has superpowers can get. He is still grieving for Cliff, whose death is a greater hardship than anything endured by Chaz Grant in “Tights”. Still, the parallels between the film’s plot and Buddy’s life feel a little on-the-nose. I mean, if your son just died, you probably shouldn’t resume the movie he was last watching, especially if you are the star of the movie and it emphasizes your character’s relationship with his son, who starts crying at a climactic moment. Unless, of course, you want to be really sad.
For the most part, “Tights” serves as a cautionary tale. It shows Buddy what he could become if he embraces his burgeoning celebrity and neglects his responsibilities as a champion of The Red and a father to Maxine. It certainly seems like a real possibility — it’s not long ago that Buddy dreamt of being an acclaimed actor. With Hollywood stardom in his grasp and his relationship with The Red in turmoil, it isn’t hard to imagine Buddy pursuing the life he wanted before he became Animal Man. Chaz Grant sure makes fame look easy, even if it’s hard to tell whether he living a dream or just making a fool of himself for easy money.
Let’s not forget that “Tights” is thinly disguised as a Darren Aronofsky film, which should immediately tip you off that things won’t turn out well for Chaz Grant. Aronofsky’s films feature characters who gradually lose control of themselves as they move closer to getting what they want, ultimately reaching their lowest point at what they thought would be their greatest success. It’s interesting that Chaz loses everything because he never lost sight of what he truly wanted, which was to be Red Thunder. He made the choice that we hope Buddy would make in the same situation, but pays dearly for it. It’s hard to imagine Buddy following the same road as Chaz — could he really take orders from a publicist after living as Animal Man and seeing how badly the world needs him to be a hero? Fame has been thrust upon Buddy Baker, but he’s still Animal Man, and I just don’t think his road to redemption will involve selling razor blades or handing out roses.
Aronofsky’s films are also known for their distinctive visual style, which was emulated here by artist John Paul Leon. The heavy shadows and cold, muted colors add a gritty, cinematic quality to Animal Man 20 that distinguishes it from a typical Animal Man comic. Despite the similarities between Chaz’s life and Buddy’s, Leon’s art makes it easy to believe Chaz is his own character, with real emotions and motives.
So, Drew, were you surprised to see part two of “Tights” after such a long intermission? This is definitely the point in the series where this issue makes the most sense, but I can’t tell if it’s here to reinforce important themes or just to remind us that Buddy starred in a movie. Does any of that even matter so long as the issue looked cool and was enjoyable to read? Most importantly, do you think Buddy has a shot at the Oscar? Was Daniel Day Lewis nominated?
Drew: They can’t really give Day Lewis another Oscar. He already has 3 for best actor — one more than Brando, Hoffman, even Tom Hanks (who is so affable). If anything, Buddy will be beaten by Sean Penn, but only because Tights is an obvious stand-in for Wrestler.
Academy politics aside, I think the function of the film-within-a-comic here is to reminds us of the fiction, simultaneously pulling us into and pushing us out of the world it creates. It’s important that nobody take superheroism seriously in the world of Tights — a point Lemire repeatedly reiterates.
Yes, Paige is being philosophical, but I think she also literally means that “there are no superheroes.” The world of Tights also features Bachelor-type reality dating shows, viral celebrities, and an obsession with vampire movies (in a cute nod to Scott Snyder’s American Vampire), all of which reminds me more of reality than the DC Universe. Chaz lives in our world, which feels distinctly different from the metaphysical, apocalyptic scope of Animal Man. The effect is a much more relatable world, even as we understand it to be even more fictional than Buddy’s life.
Scott, I think you’re on to something in noting that Tights doesn’t exactly follow Aronofsky’s “get what you want at the cost of your humanity” trajectory. If anything, it goes in the opposite direction. Chaz moves steadily away from what he wants, getting caught up in the world of endorsements and publicists, before righteously reasserting his humanity. He’s not broken or dead — he’s doing exactly what he always wanted to do, and Lemire’s clear disdain for celebrity culture suggests that he’s made the right choice.
It’s curious, then, that Buddy doesn’t have that choice. He’s not hiding the Animal Man costume in order to land movie deals — he’s just straight-up lost his superhuman abilities. In that way, he might pursue his acting career not out of misguided decision making, but from a sheer lack of options. Of course, I can’t really see Buddy embracing celebrity in the wake of his son’s death — but as Scott pointed out, it’s kind of hard to see watching an Aranofsky film when you’re depressed, especially if you star in it, and especially if it expressly deals with subjects related to your depression.
In the end, this is just a difficult issue to evaluate. It’s clear that there are strong parallels to Buddy’s plight, but we’re not given much to do with those parallels. What do they mean? The fact that Tights is presented as entirely fictional makes drawing any conclusions perilous. Maybe it’s all about retroactive method acting? Life imitating art? I’m clearly grasping at straws here, so I’ll turn it over to the comments. What meanings can we apply to the similarities between Buddy and Chaz?
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