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Animal Man #20 – Review

ANIMAL MAN #20

By: Jeff Lemire (story), John Paul Leon (art), Timothy Green II (pencils), Joseph Silver (inks), Lovern Kindzierski (colors)

The Story: Step aside Daniel Day-Lewis—here comes Buddy Baker.

The Review: Every story, to a certain extent, tends to veer away from its original course somewhere along the way.  In most cases, this is a good thing; it’s a sign that creative energies are at work and the writer is not afraid to let them guide his work.  In some cases, however, a story can get so far off its path that it risks taking a completely different direction altogether, one that might lead it over a cliff.  In these cases, some course correction is necessary.

Animal Man’s problems may have started even before the Rotworld arc, but at some point, the series was no longer the deeply touching and horrifying title we fell in love with.  At some point, it became melodramatic, derivative, and gratuitous, all qualities better left to the raucous plots superhero books rather than one with potential for truly compelling and complex storytelling.  Lemire needs to regroup and center his protagonist once again, lest he totally loses our interest.

To do that, he cuts Buddy off from all the distracting connections of his life: the Red and his family.  With that, he can completely focus on who Buddy is as a man on his own.  In this issue, he starts with the basics: an actor turned superhero.  That in itself reminds us of how interesting Buddy is as a character, not just in his costumed antics, but simply as a person.  If Lemire wants us to see Buddy as an everyman, it’s crucial we see more of his ordinary life.

In that respect, choosing to explore Buddy through the movie he stars in is a rather clever move.  The work and lives of film actors in our world are about as close as we get to the glamour and awe of superheroes, and often they seem as unreal to us as people flying in costume.  But for Buddy, his life in film seems normal, even banal, compared to the stuff he gets up to as Animal Man.  Because the essential story of Tights is so fundamental—a man and his values beaten down by life, estranged from his family, and trying to maintain both—Buddy’s acting is actually a way for him to reconnect to his own humanity.

Of course, Tights isn’t entirely independent from Buddy’s life as Animal Man, otherwise Lemire wouldn’t be so committed to showing so much of it.  There are clear reflections between Chaz Grant, the character Buddy plays in the movie, and Buddy himself: the heartbreaking distance between him and his wife, his addiction to costumed heroism.  But what should we take away from the film beyond the parallels?  What does the film offer us for the story going forward?  It’s significant that Chaz realizes losing the Red Thunder name is not the same as losing his identity.  It’s especially significant that Chaz ultimately severs his already tenuous relationship to his family to pursue his ideals.  Should we take this as a portent or a warning?

I have another question as pertains to the art: why doesn’t Leon have an ongoing series at DC?*  The man is a wonderful combination of David Aja’s sparse, retro-cool style with Yanick Paquette’s lush, almost beefy flair for drama.  He brings some nice detail to his art, the kind that not only makes a comic fun to look at, but also to encourage putting your own imagination into the story.  In Chaz’s apartment, you can see a motorcycle parked in his room, a telephone with the receiver dangling off the hook, spilt beer bottles in the corner…all these things give you a glimpse of a life beyond the plot at hand.  They give you a world.

As for Green, I must say that I liked his work—all two pages of it—here, a lot more than anything he’s done before.  It’s tighter, more expressive, perhaps the result of being more time to lavish attention on a smaller amount of material.  Kindzierski transitions his colors well between both artists, using neutral, pastel colors to give a sense of artificial warmth to Tights, while the thin, vividness of colors in the final pages brings you back to the stark life Buddy must exist in.

Conclusion:  A much simpler, cleaner sort of tale, and, not coincidentally, something of a return to form for Lemire, with strong artistic aid from Leon.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I ask this of a lot of artists: Ryan Sook, Javier Pulido, Victor Ibáñez, Amanda Connor, CAFU etc.  Unfortunately, the grind of an ongoing can be too much for any artist’s work, no matter how great he/she is, to bear.

- For any of us who’s ever misread a moment, Chaz’s attempt to kiss her should bring back a lot of squeamish, cringing memories.

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