REVIEW: Animal Man #19

by

Or – “What The French, Toast?”

The WTF month gimmick has some potential to it, although I’m not sure that I’m on board with everything they’re working on.  This issue follows up on the tragic events of Rotworld with a focus on the personal toll for the Baker family…  Your Major Spoilers review awaits.

AnimalMan19CoverANIMAL MAN #19
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Steve Pugh
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in Animal Man: The Man with the Animal Powers has had a hard row to hoe in the New 52, finding his powers fritzing, and getting involved in a long and taxing war with The Rot.  Last issue ended with a somewhat shocking moment as Animal Man’s son Cliff was killed, ending the war between The Red and The Rot, and shattering Buddy Baker’s world again…

EVERY PARENT’S WORST NIGHTMARE…

I often talk about how annoyed I get when writers use the injury/death of children as an awkward plot point, and how it can easily drag me out of even a good story in sheer frustration.  I started to get that feeling, but the very first page squelched it, as Buddy Baker silently plods through the preparations for his day, while wife Ellen refuses to get up at all.  “I don’t have to do anything anymore,” says Ellen with the proverbial thousand-yard stare, breaking my heart for the first of many times this issue.  It gets worse, though, as we see the funeral proceedings, and read the silly, empty words, while the Bakers try to communicate.  Steve Pugh is no stranger to Animal Man, having drawn his original book back in the day, but his work here is subtle and emotional, really torturing the reader with each consecutive page.  When Buddy tries to talk to his wife after the funeral, things quickly escalate, and Ellen first slaps him, then informs him that their marriage is over.

YOU CAN’T JUST QUIT YOUR DESTINY…

Things get worse, if you can believe it, with Buddy Baker accosting a horde of paparazzi (which won’t win him any points in the public opinion polls) before stalking off to the Red to confront the Parliament Of Totems, or whatever they call themselves.  (On an off-topic note, I like that fact that they nod to Vixen’s Tantu Totem with the avatars of the Red, as well as the powers of pre-Flashpoint Animal Man villain Taboo.  It’s a respectful bit of business that enriches the story for me.)  Things don’t go much better there, with the Totems informing Buddy that he cannot resign.  Not only that, but his service is merely a placeholder until his daughter Maxine is old and powerful enough to take his place.  Also, he’s a jerk and his mother dresses him funny, and it’s not really a good idea to anger a room full of elder gawds, y’all.  Animal Man is booted out of the Red, with a permanent demerit on his record and his link to the Red severed save for the conduit that gives him his powers…

THE BOTTOM LINE: THIS… IS A DEPRESSING ISSUE.  BUT NOT IN A BAD WAY.

The last panel of this issue says it all, with a dejected Animal Man standing alone on the plain where the tree of life that he used to access The Red used to stand.  It’s a stark and disturbing panel, a perfect dark and depressing end to an issue that sets out to break your heart in the most powerful way possible.  As with any story-telling device, the loss of a child can be used terribly and awkwardly, and I hate it when it’s haphazardly tossed in as an afterthought.  Jeff Lemire uses Cliff’s demise organically and powerfully, making it feel more real and horribly true-to-life than any comic death in recent memory.  Animal Man #19 cracks it’s protagonist on the skull over and over, adding insult to injury while working with some temperamental tropes, but nailing the landing for a dark and tragic 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!


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