Last Days of Animal Man #1

Written by Gerry Conway
Penciled by Chris Batista
Inked by Dave Meikis
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I’ll admit it, I don’t get it. Of all of the titles to come out of DC Comics in the past year, one of the most puzzling ones is The Last Days of Animal Man. It doesn’t really tie into an event, the character isn’t terribly "hot," it just seemed to show up without a trace. About the only reason I can see for it being published, quite frankly? Gerry Conway and Chris Batista have put together a good, comic. And how often does that seem to be a green light these days?

In the near future, Buddy Baker’s life is going well. He and his wife are still together, Buddy’s stunt double agency is getting work, and he’s defending the city of San Diego from crime with his alter ago of Animal Man. When a villain named Bloodrage attacks the dedication of the new Southern Coast Sea Levee, though, Buddy’s powers start to falter, shutting down one minute and then working the next. Are Animal Man’s powers fading away? And what will happen if they ever go away entirely in the middle of battle?

I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Conway’s name in the credits of a new comic. As a comic writer, Conway was always been a solid, consistent name, and that’s still true here. In many ways this is a slightly old-fashioned comic; Buddy and his wife get along, Buddy has a good career, and the city of San Diego likes him. Or in other words, it’s a refreshing change. And while the plot itself is fairly conventional, there are lots of nice little touches throughout the comic. I like Buddy’s narration, with its down to earth nature. Watching Buddy deal well with people in the movie industry and the respect he gets from his stunt driver is also a nice touch, showing his competence in things non-superhero. Best of all is how he describes tapping into the morphogenetic field that he derives his powers from. The image of a thousand voices singing, from which you pick out just one, is both simple and pleasing, and I like how it plays out in the comic itself.

Batista’s pencils look as good as always. He has a classic look to his pencils, with angular but not sharp faces, and a real ability to draw every day and ordinary looking people. Ellen Baker watching her husband getting attacked on the television is dressed sharply, and is attractive while still looking normal and not a crazy supermodel fashion plate. Buddy looks good here too; he’s definitely a little older, and his hairline has started to recede a bit in a widow’s peak, there’s a little more skin around his chin and jaw, but he’s got that same flip to his hair as always. At the same time, though, his face looks a little older and you can see that he’s not the young guy he once was. Batista’s always been a good artist, and it’s actually a little frustrating at times to see someone so talented not getting the high profile assignments he deserves.

This first issue is titled "Deny," which is probably named after the first stage in the Kübler-Ross model for how people deal with grief and tragedy. The five stages in the model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, which shows us just how Buddy’s story is probably going to head. Of course, that still leaves the sixth and final issue’s theme to be anyone’s guess, right? I’m looking forward to seeing just what Conway has in store for us as readers. It’s a solid opening to the story, and well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the character.

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