Today, Scott and Drew are discussing Animal Man 21, originally released June 19th, 2013.
Scott: We’ve reached a historic lowpoint for privacy. Every phone call, email, text message you send can and will be recorded and filed away in some classified government database. It’s ironic, I think, that the harshest condemnations of the NSA I’ve come across have been voiced on Facebook and Twitter, forums infamous for their users’ public over-sharing of thoughts better kept private. The rise of social media has made privacy invasion a daily risk for nearly everyone; most of us can only take solace in knowing our every thought is of little interest to anyone but our inner circles. But it’s enough to make you feel bad for celebrities, who must pay for their time in the spotlight by never being able to truly leave it — their privacy always at the mercy of any bystander with a smartphone. Animal Man 21 explores the potential dangers social media poses for newfound celebrity Buddy Baker and his fans.
Fresh off a Best Actor nomination, Buddy is inspired to get back to work — but instead of doing a press tour, he’s investigating the disappearance of LA’s pets and zoo animals. The recognition for Buddy’s acting has turned him into a trending social media topic, and as he follows a trail of clues to a downtown factory, he himself is being followed by a trail of tweets. Buddy finds the animals butchered, and is attacked by the monster behind the act — a Frankenstein-esque amalgamation of animal parts. The beast escapes but Buddy is soon swarmed by another foe — the paparazzi. Meanwhile, Maxine defies her mother and enters The Red, determined to revive her dead brother. After reaffirming her commitment to The Red, the Totems grant her permission to look for Cliff.
The use of the twitter-feed-style messages could have easily become too gimmicky, but it ended up working because of Lemire’s commitment to the idea. I’m glad Lemire didn’t merely try to tell the story with tweets, using messages that perfectly fit the action of a scene or reinforce a particular theme. Instead, he painted a broader picture, vividly recreating the unpredictability of following a trending topic on twitter, with a lively back-and-forth amongst Animal Man haters, die-hard fans, and looney conspiracy theorists, like the girl who thinks Buddy’s superpowers somehow let him “cheat” at acting. Right down to the misspellings, Lemire didn’t miss a detail, even using the opportunity to create some funny — and all too realistic — characters, like the one tweeter who signs off all his messages with “God Bless,” regardless of the content of the message.
There is something odd about watching Buddy’s fame explode in this issue. I recently experienced a strange phenomenon while at a play that a friend was starring in. My friend’s character was a rockstar, and throughout the first act the other characters were eagerly awaiting his arrival. So, while I was excited to see my friend, knowing him in real life made it harder for me to understand everyone else’s excitement over him. He was already famous in my mind because he was the one face in the play that I recognized, so for his character in the play to also be famous just seemed like overkill. There’s something similar going on in this comic. Buddy already seems famous to me for two reasons — he’s a superhero, and he’s the protagonist of a comic book that I’m reading — so it just doesn’t carry a ton of impact when he suddenly becomes so much more famous in the universe of the story. It’s a weird feeling that I don’t quite know how to articulate — maybe someone can help me out in the comments. Part of the issue is that our society doesn’t have a category of celebrity comparable to what superheroes are in the DC Universe. How would a “z list” superher compare to an oscar nominated actor, in terms of fame?
In other news, I’m continually impressed by Maxine’s strongheadedness. She’s incredibly smart and mature for her age, but there’s also a childish simplicity to the way she conducts herself that allows her to get away with just about anything. She lacks tact while insisting to The Totems that she’s “the boss” of The Red, but she more than makes up for it in her eagerness to take on the responsibilities as The Red’s avatar. She drives a hard bargain and gets her way this time, and it’s not hard to imagine the power going to her head. Sure, The Totems need her, but it’s probably foolish of her to think that she’s really the one in charge, considering how The Totems severed ties with Buddy.
The splitting of artistic duties means that Maxine’s pages are handled by Francis Portela who, despite otherwise solid pencils, delivers some very awkward renderings of Maxine’s face. She looks unrecognizable and far too old, diminishing the impact of seeing such a young girl undaunted in the presence of The Totems. Buddy’s pages are drawn by Steve Pugh, and are straight up horror. The factory full of slaughtered animals will be a hard image to forget. Pugh’s greatest accomplishment, however, is depicting the pain of those tortured animals that Buddy feels inside his head.
So Drew, what did you think of this issue? Did you experience the same disconnect that I did, as far as Buddy’s rising fame being hard to grasp? I’m fully prepared for the possibility that I’m the only one who felt this way. And regardless, I liked this issue quite a lot. Also, what creeped you out more, that beast made of animal parts or Maxine’s weird face?
Drew: You really aren’t kidding about Maxine’s face — she kind of reminds me of that smushed baby Super Bowl commercial that caused some controversy a few years ago. Still, there’s something profoundly disturbing to me about any “body mods” (including, but not limited to “feet hands“). The thought of somebody swapping in parts of other animals’ bodies icks me out something fierce, so I found this villain to be particularly effective.
Moreover, I spent about the first half of my life as passionate animal rights activist. I don’t think this is particularly unusual — kids love animals — but I went a little overboard. I invented words to describe animals. I stopped eating animals. I even have a vivid memory of lecturing an adult about smoking because I was so concerned about the effects of secondhand smoke on animals. Point is, I’m especially sensitive to images of hacked-up animals (which may be a bit counter-intuitive, as that love for animals led me to pursue biology in college, which meant I had to dissect my share of animals, but I never piled them unceremniously like they’re shown here).
Actually, I suppose one of the reasons the horror elements are so effective is that they immediately follow the absurd premise of Buddy Baker chasing down missing pets. I suppose I should add at this point that when I saw Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, I failed to see the inherent ridiculousness of the premise — of course there are pet detectives, right? Being a bit older and wiser, I couldn’t help but smile at the idea of Buddy getting back in the game by saving a bunch of house cats. Lemire and Pugh milk the humor here for all it’s worth, taking pains to show a super serious Animal Man communing with Mr. Whiskerface via his favorite snuggle toy.
Between the goofiness upfront and the tweets sprinkled throughout, this issue shifts gears suddenly — and effectively — when Buddy arrives at the warehouse. This monster is a brilliant twisted reflection of Buddy (like Man-Bat is to Batman), but we’re left mostly with questions: why is this monster doing this to his body? How does he vanish so suddenly? How did he perform the surgery to attach that zebra leg to his left arm if his right hand is a bear paw?
I trust we’ll get the answers soon, but in the meantime, I’m excited that Animal Man has his groove back. Don’t get me wrong — I thought the few slower issues in the wake of Cliff’s death were totally warranted — I’m just happy his return to action is so thrilling. I’m also happy that action is still so outside the superhero box. Every other superhero is saving the world — or at least people — but Buddy is sticking up for our pets. Lemire is making a concerted effort to keep Buddy “z-list,” and I think it’s going to allow him the freedom to keep up the strange humor/horror hybrid he’s perfected on this series. This continues to be one of the most surprising title on my pull, and I can’t get enough.
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?