It’s the final issue of this future-set storyline which has seen Buddy Baker struggling to deal with fading powers and fraught family relationships while being targeted by new villains. Last issue ended with Buddy being thoroughly stomped by Mirror Master’s daughter Prismatik and the brutish Bloodrage. This issue he saves the day in a clever way that makes sense for his powers and the story, after meeting some old sort-of friends from way back. We also see the final fate (I so want to capitalise those two words) of the odious villains and the resolution of Buddy’s personal issues, both super and domestic.
It’s a thoroughly satisfying end to a series which should have generated a lot more buzz among fans. The Last Days of Animal Man was a terrific tale, well told. Writer Gerry Conway eschewed flashy storytelling and look-at-me twists to tell his story in a straightforward but engrossing manner. And he didn’t shirk, delivering on the threat of the book’s title. This is indeed the end for Animal Man, and it’s affecting to see Buddy accept his fate in a scene which doesn’t hit you over the head with its symbolism.
I’m not always the biggest fan of narrated stories but the technique works well here, putting us right by Buddy as he faces up to a tangled present and an uncertain future. He’s been far from the perfect husband and father, but always a good man and a great hero. It’d be a shame if Conway, whose screen background stands him in excellent stead here, didn’t get to do some current continuity stories with Buddy, wife Ellen and kids Maxine and Cliff.
And if he does I hope Chris Batista is along as co-driver. This is the best pencilling job I’ve ever seen from him, with Buddy apparently modelled on the work of longtime Animal Man cover artist Brian Bolland. He’s been appropriately aged for this mini, but Buddy’s the same guy we saw on all those gorgeous covers. Like Conway’s script, Batista’s work isn’t showy but the storytelling is superb, with expressive characters moving through well-drawn landscapes, whether in the real world or of the mind. Dave Meikis and Wayne Faucher share inking duties, providing an attractive finish; particular credit to whoever handled the Starfire close-up, as she’s not looked this good in years. And I’m not just saying that because she’s full of attractive Bolland stroke-shading.
The man himself provides his final Animal Man cover (for now, he said optimistically)and it’s a keeper. I especially love the brilliantly corny use of the leaf to hide Animal Man’s birthdate.
If you ever enjoyed an Animal Man adventure, I hope you’ve been reading this smart series. If not, grab the back issues or get the collection when it appears in March (someone really should give DC’s trades schedule a kick up the arse). Either way, join Buddy for Animal Man’s final days. I’ll miss him.