The New 52 volume of the adventures of Buddy Baker draw to a close in “Animal Man” #29 by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman in a tale titled “…Goodnight, Animal Man.” Lemire pitches in on the art chores, drawing the main image of the cover and eleven of the interior pages.
That cover, with the blood-speckled tear and crack through the modest Baker family photo, separating Buddy Baker and his deceased son, Cliff, from Buddy’s wife Ellen and daughter Maxine, summarizes the course of this series: being Animal Man tore the Baker family apart. Jeff Lemire put them back together as best he could, but not every death in comic books should ever be undone, and change is really what drives memorable stories. Lemire uses Buddy and his family to produce a great deal of emotional resonance, especially with readers who are parents themselves. The emotional impact of losing his son changed Animal Man forever, and Lemire delivers one last peek into the depths of that change. As the Red struggles to revive following the abuse it suffered from Brother Blood, Buddy Baker makes a pact with Shepherd and Socks, swearing to fight for the Red so long as Maxine is left out of it. Shepherd and Socks agree, but ask Buddy to be the best daddy he can be for Maxine in return.
That leads to Buddy checking in on his adorable daughter. Lemire fills Maxine with the innocence and hope of a child and the pure thinking that filters the horrors she has endured. Maxine turns the tables on Buddy and decides to tell him a bedtime story to ease his worried mind. Lemire draws that in a style not unlike his work on “Sweet Tooth,” but uses the space of each page to project the tale into a format similar to a kids’ book, complete with mixed case type set by Jared K. Fletcher and full-page images digitally painted with watercolor textures that encapsulate the goings-on in deceptively simple imagery. The creative team captures the sentiment of old-school Golden Books with almost magical ability. For his part, Travel Foreman delivers enough realism to tell the story, but rather than submerse the reader in detail, he leaves the characters as the center of the action. Kindzierski provides a fine assist, right down to the freckles on Ellen’s shoulders.
The final issue of any series is never going to be the most accessible issue, and Lemire proves that, but in place of accessibility, he provides readers with emotionally vibrant characters that serve as proxies for Lemire himself in his exit from this title. Ending the series is the only thing that could be done at this juncture. Lemire, Foreman, Villarrubia, Kindzierski and Fletcher handle that assignment with class. More seasoned readers with time and continuity invested in Animal Man’s adventures since 1985 need no other issue of this series save this one to understand the impact and scope Lemire and company brought to “Animal Man.”
In essence, Lemire closes the book not only on his own adventures with Animal Man, but also wraps up the adventures Grant Morrison opened so many years ago and, hopefully, ushers in a new era for Buddy, Ellen and Maxine Baker. There won’t be another Animal Man series in the foreseeable future, but Lemire will be keeping in touch with his former charge in the pages of the upcoming “Justice League United.” I look forward to some actual superhero adventures from Animal Man, but will always have “Animal Man” #29 to return to, much as I do “The Coyote Gospel” in Morrison’s “Animal Man” #5.