By: Jeff Lemire (writer), John Paul Leon & Travel Foreman (artists), Jeff Huet (inker), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

The Story: Well, Buddy, you’re giving Clooney a run for his money on that Oscar, I’ll say that.

The Review: I have a screenwriter friend who’s a big buff for the canon of artistic cinema—loves everything Stanley Kubrick, big Criterion collector, all that good stuff.  Because I’m a lit nerd, I tend to view movies with a pretentious sniff, but under his influence, I’ve grown to see film as the potential art form it is—Twilight movies and unceasing Alvin and the Chipmunks sequels be damned.  And anyway, as a comics reader, I can’t exactly stay on a high horse.

I will say, however, that the bulk of movies tend to be more formulaic, predictable, and given to cliché than almost any other medium, even the decent ones.  Three pages into “Tights,” the last (?) movie Buddy starred in before his run-in with the Rot, you already know the angsty place the plot is heading long before Chas (Buddy’s “character”) lands himself in the hospital with an estranged wife and crying kid beside him, begging him to stop his vigilantism before it’s too late.  The premise of “Tights” also comes a bit too late in the “superhero down on his luck”-type story.

The beauty of art, though, is that no matter how much it follows formula, it can still be affecting and powerful depending on its execution.  And Lemire sure knows how to execute.  He’s not the type to insert this kind of thing into an issue just as a fun gimmick.  What “Tights” really does is give you a character study on Buddy himself through the guise of his film counterpart.  The last five issues have been so chock-full of action and plot elements that we haven’t really gotten a chance to know our hero as a person, so this sequence comes as a quiet, welcome break.

Now, we’ve seen the Baker family in action, so we know the distant father, mother, and son in the movie are at least not true to life (so to speak).  We also know Buddy is a pretty wholesome and well-adjusted guy, compared to the depressed, falling-apart drunk on screen.  There is one thing they share: an addiction to heroism, one they can’t quit even in the face of very real danger.  Red Thunder finds himself incapable of dealing with even the youngest threats of modern society, while Animal Man is poorly equipped to deal with the abstract, overwhelming foe he’s up against.  Red Thunder gets beat up; where will that leave Animal Man, I wonder?

Two significant moments in the issue signal how this movie clip will play into upcoming story.  First is Red Thunder’s admission to his grieved ex-wife and son: “I—I can’t quit…I can’t do anything else.  Without the costume…I’m nothi—”  Whether this bears any reflection to Buddy’s determination to see this horror through, even with the risk to his family, we’ll have to see.  It’s also significant to learn Cliff’s the one watching his dad’s movie this whole time.  We’ve seen in earlier issues how taken he is with his dad being in the hero business, but he just had a scary run-in with the Hunters Three, and witnessed his dad getting beat around.  It may well be he’s having second thoughts about how cool any of this is.

Leon’s depiction of “Tights” has less of the photographic aesthetic and style of a true film, or even a storyboard of one, and is more traditionally comic-booky.  But that’s only a problem if you’re planning to get nit-picky, since it all looks fantastic just the same.  The focus on shape over line gives the sequence an old-school soap comic look that works very well for the drama-laden issue, and Kindzierski’s pastel colors enhance that drama by its restraint rather than boldness.  Foreman doesn’t get much to do, but you get to see his softer side, with most of the horror stuff out of the picture.  He has some sweetly endearing expressions for the characters, like Cliff’s rolled eyes (“…please never say ‘porn’ again, Dad.”).

Conclusion: Call it a movie or a comic, but either way, it makes great reading.  Lemire’s still redefining what it means to create a mainstream comic book, and if others take his lead, there’s a great future ahead for the medium.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I see Red Thunder as an unpowered Power Man, only with less pull with urban youth.