For the most part, I’m pleased with “The Last Days of Animal Man.” Few writers since Grant Morrison have made Buddy Baker an interesting character to read about, but Gerry Conway’s take on the hero losing his powers and going through the KÃ¼bler-Ross stages of bereavement mostly works. Buddy’s powers slowly unravelling as he ages works well as an analogy for aging in general, and considering that Buddy’s Animal Man alter-ego is in some ways “dying” with the loss of his powers, using the stages of grief feels natural here.
I was a little unsure as to why this was set in the near future in the first issue, aside from having Buddy be slightly older, but now that the second issue is here it all clicks into place. Conway’s freedom to not worry about current continuity allows for surprises just around the corner. The whale Green Lantern patrolling Earth both works as a, “Hey!” moment and as an element of the theme that the older heroes are starting to pass the baton along and make way for the younger generation. With old and new heroes mixed together, it’s a quiet and understated way for Conway to get his ideas across.
The one downside, though, is when Conway brings the comic to a screeching halt and uses five pages for the new villain Prismatik to recite her secret origin to the reader. It feels awkward and out of place here; while she’s a new character and her life story has a lot to do with the book’s idea of the young replacing the old, it stops the action and flow of the comic so thoroughly that it’s annoying. It’s a huge misstep for Conway, and it takes a while for the book to get back on its feet.
On the bright side, even when the story is flagging, Chris Batista’s always-excellent art is singing. I love how he draws people; there’s something about their poses and expressions that always feel real without coming across as stiff or artificial. Buddy in particular has a lot of emotions raging through him in “The Last Days of Animal Man” and Batista nails them all, from his annoyance as the Green Lantern explains that Buddy’s powers are going away, to his elation when he figures out how he can gain some rudimentary abilities. Batista is especially good in the final scene with Buddy; it’s actually more than a little disturbing, and I love that Batista was able to bring Conway’s script to life so well.
“The Last Days of Animal Man” is a mostly solid mini-series, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see the character getting this outing. Aside from the strange exposition dump in the middle of this issue, I’m enjoying it a great deal. Any doubts I had about Conway and Batista handling the character are long since gone, and I’m looking forward to next month’s installment already.