Today, Scott and Patrick are discussing Animal Man 23, originally released August 21st, 2013.
Scott: Nothing rocks us harder, on a personal level, than a betrayal of trust. A cheating spouse, a conniving business partner — nothing is harder to grapple with than the idea of someone you trust working against you. It’s distressing to both your head and your heart. A similar effect can be had on a community, or an entire society, as the result of a security breach. When a place we trust is safe- a school, a temple, a movie theater- is marred by an act of terror, irreparable damage is done to our collective trust. In Animal Man 23, writer Jeff Lemire combines these two types of betrayal in one fell swoop, destroying a place we thought was safe and pulling back the curtain on someone we thought could be trusted. It’s fantastically horrific, and will make you question whether anything you believe about this title is truly as it seems.
While the social media sphere is busy speculating as to whether Buddy’s fight with the Splinterfolk was real or just a pre-Oscars publicity stunt, Buddy pays a surprise visit to Clinton Hogue, the head Splinterfolksman, at a special prison for superhumans. Hogue tells Buddy that his blood has been taken to Brother Blood and a reckoning is on hand, and right on cue, Buddy feels a disturbance in the Red. Maxine and Socks, meanwhile, enter the Red and ride a giant manatee out onto the Sea of Blood (you read that right) in an attempt to find Cliff’s soul before it’s reincarnated. They too, sense a disturbance, as Brother Blood forces his way into the Red, causing incredible destruction while exhibiting seemingly unlimited power. Turns out, one of the Totems has double-crossed his peers and chosen Brother Blood as the champion to lead the Red to new heights, by any means necessary.
Take it away Ron Burgundy. I mean, just, wow. Animal Man has gotten dark before, very dark (see Cliff Baker’s death), but nothing could have prepared me for the end of this issue. That was coldblooded. Seeing Brother Blood go on a murderous rampage through the Red would have been enough, but finding out one of the Totems is behind it is icing on the cake. Seeing that Totem then break another Totem’s neck? That’s icing on the icing. Double iced- that’s cold! This was the Red Wedding. This was the last segment of last Sunday’s Breaking Bad. Everything is different now. No one is safe. There’s nothing you can do but feel lonely for a while and hope everything gets better soon.
Lemire and artist Francis Portela deserve applause for the long game they’ve been playing for several issues now. They’ve established Maxine’s Red as a safe place- a place where she can explore and be celebrated and learn valuable lessons about life and death, all at her own pace. It’s a place where you might meet a peg-legged Giraffe who captains a manatee-mounted pirate ship.
Now that’s just delightful. Portela’s depiction of the Red feels like a child’s fantasy. Maxine is so desperate to get back to the Red she doesn’t even sleep at night. It’s enough to make you wish you were a kid again so you could go explore with her. For Lemire to subvert that feeling so completely- at the end of the issue Maxine is crippled, apparently dying and calling for “Mommy” – is so evil it’s brilliant. Everything we thought we knew about the Red was stripped away in an instant.
For better or for worse, Maxine’s innocence is likely lost. The tragic thing about the timing of Brother Blood’s intrusion is that Maxine didn’t get a chance for closure in her experiments with resurrecting Cliff. Last issue, we saw her attempt to reconstruct Cliff’s body; this time, she’s going after his soul. I can’t tell if Socks and Shepherd truly believe Cliff can be brought back to life or if they’re just humoring Maxine — it’s hard to say no to the Queen, after all — but it’s gotten harder and harder to watch her try and fail. Now, her fun time in the Red is over and she might not get another chance at finding Cliff.
Everyone’s focus now will be on stopping Brother Blood. Needing all the help it can get, I imagine the Red will finally welcome Buddy back into the fold. I don’t fully understand how power is dolled out in the Red — if one Totem can give Brother Blood so much power, can the others take it away? For the sake of this story, it can’t be that simple, right? Regardless, I’m looking forward to a potential team-up of Buddy and Maxine. Honestly, I’d take a team-up of Buddy and any other human being at this point. I’ve had enough of mopey, lonely Buddy. It’s getting real sad.
So Patrick, did your jaw hit the floor as hard as mine did during the last third of this issue? Also, with the Oscars just a few days away, is there any chance Buddy shows up for the awards? And hey, I live in LA, I know about the hype leading up to a big awards show, so I understand why people might believe Buddy’s fight with the Splinterfolk was a fake. But does anybody really think it’s ok for a publicity stunt to involve actually killing an entire city’s worth of pets??
Patrick: Oh, maybe. I live over on Hollywood, by the 101, like a mile from the Kodak Theatre, so I’ve gotten damn used to the idea of the whole world shutting down around me on Oscar Night (which, through the miracle of Time Zones and Red Carpets, actually gets started closer to 2:00pm). My point is: shit gets real strange real fast around show time. Murdered pets might be a bit much, but weirder shit happens in this town every day.
Sorry, we were talking about superheroes, weren’t we? I find it fascinating how little Buddy Baker there is in this issue. Scott, you mention that Buddy’s turning into to kind of a bummer to be around — what with having just lost a son. As Shelby and Mik discussed yesterday, that’s the kind of grief that doesn’t go away so easily. But Maxine’s the real star of the show here, and her relationship with death is pointedly different from Buddy’s. She doesn’t have to wallow in despair, she gets to relish the possibilities. Obviously, we don’t know all the rules that govern this world (Scott raises several good questions), but it’s starting to feel like the moral of this story is that there are some things that you can’t take back, no matter how powerful you are: actions have consequences. It’s important to remember that Maxine is so young – she’s like 4 or 5, right? It’s not just that she has growing up to do, it’s that there are fundamental, common realities she has yet to even examine with a critical eye. Hell, she might be a few years away from being able to apply said critical eye to any experience she’s going through right now.
And then it’ll be her turn to go through that long, unending darkness. Yay! While the trauma that this incident will inflict on Maxine down the road is, like, the worst thing ever, Buddy’s actually stands pretty well poised to get something positive out of confronting this pretender to the Red. We haven’t been totally clear on the nature or volume of Buddy’s connection to the Red lately, but it looks like he’s been sporting the full range of powers. Maybe now, he’s just not quite as married to the “place” as he once was. That could leave him in an advantageous position – remember that Brother Blood assumes (as we all once did) that Animal Man is the avatar of The Red. Not so: Buddy is a stop-gap solution until Maxine comes of age. What if Buddy keeps his powers, and his able to catch Brother Blood by surprise? Then he’s able to prove his value to his wife again, and what’s more – prove his value to himself. Maybe I should know better than to hope for happy endings in this series but… well… I hope this one has a happy ending.
And if it’s not a happy ending, then everything’s fucked. Animal Man is no stranger to gore, but the violence in is usually pretty toned down in this series. In fact, 9 times out of 10, when we see blood, it’s in the abstract – the aforementioned Sea of Blood. Or we’ll see Buddy’s body misshapen to resemble a spider or some other nightmare creature. Or there’s the horrific example of the Splinterfolk – this is all very gruesome, but it’s not particularly violent. It’s another thing altogether to see the Blood Brother rip the head off one of those flying guard dogs.
I guess that’s the way we know that he’s bad for the Red. Posing a weird question: how can someone with so much invested in the Red not value life so much as to avoid killing at all costs? Follow-up question: why is the Red more of a place than the Green? (Or presumably, as the Rot?) Has the Kingdom of the Red taken only bothered to take shape at all because Maxine needs to understand it as such? If Blood Brother usurps her power, does the landscape change to reflect that? I’m a little miffed that we have to wait two months before we get anything close to a proper answer to these questions. There’s a lot to grumble about where Villain Month is concerned, but I think “there’s no Animal Man on the shelves” speaks for itself.
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?