ANIMAL MAN #21

By: Jeff Lemire (story), Steve Pugh & Francis Portela (art), Lovern Kindzierski (colors)

The Story: Animal Man may need some backup from PETA on this.

The Review: Before I joined WCBR, there was a Justice League mini called Cry for Justice.  I don’t remember the experience of reading it, but it’s a safe bet that I glanced through the first couple issues, retched, and never looked at it again.  That didn’t mean I could remain completely ignorant of the events within the series, outrageously grim as they were.  This included the death of Lian Harper, Red Arrow/Arsenal’s daughter, and his subsequent quest for vengeance.

At the time, it struck me as odd that a person would lose his child and immediately start planning his revenge, perhaps after allowing himself a panel or two of teeth-gnashing tears.  I know I’m more given to schmaltz than most, but it occurred to me that if I lost one of my kids, there’d be a long period of me just lying in a dark room, curled in a fetal position.  The avenging part would have to wait, at least until I could summon the energy to put clothes on.

So I definitely found Buddy’s continuing grief over Cliff’s death very credible in this issue.  The most interesting part about it is how his celebrity both aggravates and distracts from his suffering.  Against his loss, the possibility of winning an acting award is incredibly meaningless, making his agent’s attempts to get him on the promo trail seem even more disgustingly heartless.  And that has nothing on the pointless cruelty generated from the internet: Buddy Baker’s nomination is total crap!  Only got nominated ‘cause his kid died.  Sympathy vote crap!!”  Even the compassion from Buddy’s defenders seems tenuous and superficial, poor solace for his troubles.  It highlights the fact that Buddy really only had his family to turn to for true companionship, and without them, he’s more alone than he’s ever been.

This is especially true now that he’s lost his connection to his Red, although that doesn’t stop him from putting on the costume (which we haven’t seen practically since the first issue) once more.  It’s a troubling decision in many respects, considering how it’s been implied time and again on this series that Buddy’s addiction to superheroism is what leads to his problems in the first place.  Still, it undoubtedly provides a welcome distraction from his loneliness, especially given how bizarre and horrible this newest enemy is.

Meanwhile, brighter days may be on the horizon for Buddy, as Ellen is obviously missing her husband and Maxine remains wholeheartedly loyal to her daddy, saying, “He was just doing his best.”  In fact, Maxine may just turn around the family’s fortunes altogether as she embarks on a quest to bring back Cliff from within the Red.  While Maxine’s youth and powers make it entirely natural that she’d want to make the attempt, I sincerely hope she fails.  To resurrect Cliff that quickly would just diminish the importance of his death.  Let’s hope Lemire sticks to his guns and keeps the kid dead for a while.*

Since this is a safe place, I’m just going to come right out and say it: I miss Travel Foreman.  There was something so uniquely stylish about his art that really made Animal Man visually stand out.  Pugh’s work is fine—and so is Portela’s, for that matter—but his soap opera approach to characters and expression often seems heavy and a bit lacking in energy, no matter how well he draws it or how well Kindzierski colors it.

Conclusion: An accurate depiction of grief in the wake of death, but not as emotionally impactful as it should be, and ultimately overshadowed by a plodding plot.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I do hope, however, that if Cliff does come back to life, then he’ll lose his mullet along the way.  Death seems the best place to leave it.

Grade

Conclusion