Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Animal Man 28, originally released February 19, 2014.
Buddy Baker, Animal Man 28
Shelby: I feel like this quote from the latest issue of Animal Man perfectly sums up my experience with Buddy Baker in the hands of Jeff Lemire. Buddy’s defining characteristic has, for me, always been his connection to his family. Nowhere else have we seen someone forced to balance a spouse and family with being a superhero, occasionally having to go to space, etc. Mostly, Buddy’s balancing act has brought a lot of suffering to the Baker clan, so it’s nice to see our favorite family man finally get a real win.
While Maxine struggles against Brother Blood, the dying Shepherd sends a message to Buddy, who is facing off against the remaining totem. Knowing the last leader of the Red will never stop until Maxine is dead, Buddy does the logical thing: tears off the dude’s eye-horns and stabs him with them.
With the death of the Totem, Maxine is able to hold her own against Brother Blood. That is, until he yanks Ellen into the Red and threatens to gut her. Luckily, with the help of Shepherd’s messenger Buddy arrives just in time to kick some more ass and save the day. When it’s all over, we finally get the touching Baker reunion we’ve been waiting for, with Buddy telling Maxine he’ll be there for her always. It’s sweet and beautiful and a relief to see Buddy back with his family, his true source of power. Naturally, Lemire and artist Rafael Albuquerque can’t let that stand, and pan out from the tender hug to remind us of the stakes.
Buddy, you just can’t catch a break, can you? He has been separated from his family since the end of Rotworld, and now that he has finally fought his way back to them, we get a reminder of his bargain with the Bridgewalker on the Seed Planet. Heartbreak of the impending good-bye aside, it was awesome to see Buddy and Maxine both kicking some serious ass. Maxine’s declaration that she was Animal Girl was adorable, as was her telling Brother Blood he was a “bad guy and … in big trouble now!” Even Ellen gets in on the fight, kicking her Splinterfolk captor in the gut as he tries to haul her away. Not only has Buddy’s family inspired and motivated him in this fight, his own strength and determination has inspired his family to fight by his side. He fights for the family, and they in turn fight for him. It brings us back to the Bakers we knew when this title was first relaunched over two years ago; they are a family who supports each other, even when things are horrifically awful.
Speaking of horrific, Albuquerque continues to knock it out of the park with his art. The first panel I posted is amazing; I love his sketchy motion lines, there’s so much energy there. Colorist Dave McCaig adds to it with a perfect, lurid red wash. It’s a powerful image for a powerful point in the story, but I think Albuquerque really shines in one small panel later on the same page.
Buddy has just slain the Totem and transformed back to his human form. You can see the physical and mental exhaustion in his face and posture. Even with Albuquerque’s looser style, the sheer difficulty of what Buddy just accomplished is plain to see; to me, this moment of rest after the huge action we just saw is easily as powerful. Not only are we seeing just how much it took out of Buddy to kill the Totem, we also see his resolve and determination to continue, all in that upraised hand at the bottom of the panel. He was just in the fight of his life for the lives of his family, he is victorious and completely drained, and yet he’s ready to do what’s next, whatever that may be. He will not stop fighting, especially for his family. It makes it that much more heartbreaking to think of what he’s going to have to do next. What did you think, Patrick? Were you as pumped as I was to see so much ass-kicking from Buddy and Maxine? Do you think there’s a way Buddy can worm (no animal pun intended) his way out of his deal with the Bridgewalker? Do you think he’ll even try, or do you think he’ll consider it a fair trade for this one last chance to be there for his family?Patrick: Buddy knows what he’s done. 100%. The deal he struck with the Bridgewalker is what allowed him to kick so much ass just now. I mean — did you get a look at that bear-gorilla-rhinoceros-thing he turned into? That’s some straight Alien-Red he’s tapping into right there. It’s interesting that Buddy’s using those kinds of powers while dueling with the Totem, but not while kicking the shit out of Brother Blood. The way I see it: there are two reasons for this. First, is that it’s personal with the Totem, and Buddy actively enjoys rubbing his superior knowledge of the red in the Totem’s face. But second is that he doesn’t want Maxine to see him tap those powers. She’s the damn Animal Girl (a-fucking-dorable, by the way), and then there’d be some explaining to do. Actually, everyone seems a little cagey about how Buddy takes down Bro-Blood.
It’s kind of a combination of the single-strike Samurai duel and the Dragon Ball Z-esque warriors’-energy-creates-a-weird-explosion-when-they-hit-each-other. I suppose it stands to reason that a fight that takes place in a metaphysical space representative of all animal life between two creatures that channel the power of that same space is going to be a little difficult to actively depict. What happens in this conflict — what exactly occurs during that SHRACK — is effectively unknowable. Is it just one punch? A thousand lifetimes of endless punching? Maybe some kind of bloodsplosion? It’s a deliberate choice — Shelby’s been more than generous with sharing Albuquerque’s gleefully detailed battle between Buddy and that Totem — but I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to make of it. The message of the end of this is that Buddy — despite how he may have felt — was never alone in this fight. Ditto Maxine, she was also never alone. The victory here isn’t just one for Buddy, and it isn’t just one for Maxine, but the creatures of the Red all actively play their part. So I think this final battle itself isn’t supposed to matter all that much – it’s over by the time Buddy flies in and kicks the guy in the face.
I know that’s a silly thing to spend time on — who really cares what outer space monster’s strength Buddy channeled to win this fight? It’s just very different from the other big brawl in this issue.
Also, hey guys, there goes the Parliament of Limbs. All of them have been straight up murdered now. Between Charles Soule’s work on Swamp Thing and this series, the mythology on which the New 52 versions of Swamp Thing and Animal Man is being erased. We’ve grumbled about the similarity between these two series following the events of Rot World, but it only occurred to me with this issue how necessary it is to release these characters from their respective Parliaments and centuries-long history. If there’s discord in the Red, it wouldn’t make sense for Buddy to do anything other than address it: the concept is too big and too important to allow for individual characters with individual needs. It’s power so great, the responsibility has become all-consuming. Which doesn’t leave much room for Buddy’s family or his acting career — y’know, the things that make Animal Man unique as a hero.
One last thing I wanted to point out before we all start speculating about he future of Animal Man in the comments (I know, I know, I’ll be there too). I love Albuquerque and Lemire’s commitment on this issue. There’s a lot of crazy stuff happening in the Red, but there’s the teenciest bit of action in the real world. Moments before getting sucked into the Red, Ellen is about to meet her defense attorney — look at this poor schlub.
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?