This third issue of The Last Days Of Animal Man sees writer Gerry Conway and artist Chris Batista continue to explore the notion of a middle-aged superhero experiencing a midlife crisis, with each chapter based around a different stage of grief from the Kübler-Ross model.
As the title suggests, this chapter sees a Buddy Baker, who’s gradually losing his powers, attempt to bargain his way out of his inevitable fate. He rejects the advice of Red Tornado and the rest of the League of Titans in favor of a desperate attempt to regain his powers via a complicated process that involves taking DNA swabs from his children.
Whilst previous issues have explored Buddy’s middle-aged woes from the point of view of him losing his superpowers and no longer being able to be the hero that he once was, this issue is far more focused on his family life and his relationships with his loved ones. This more personal angle makes for compelling reading, with Conway bravely depicting the Buddy Baker of the future as a flawed human being who didn’t always put his family first, and who didn’t necessarily make the right decisions in bringing up his children.
Whilst it’s normal for superhero books to mix their action and adventure with a certain amount of soap opera, this issue goes further than most, wringing some complex and sincere emotion out of Buddy’s predicament, as he realizes that he can’t recapture the years during which he neglected his children (and, in the case of his son, set a questionable example for him to follow).
The book’s artwork also remains strong, with my feelings on Chris Batista and Dave Meikis’s work remaining much the same as when I reviewed the second issue: It’s bold, clear, and tells Conway’s story well, with a hint of a Sal Buscema influence in the angular style of the linework and the characters’ facial expressions.
In fact, the only element that really lets the story down is the supervillain subplot involving Prismatik and Bloodrage. Not only is there no explanation for how Prismatik is able to recover from the injuries that she sustained last issue so quickly, but it’s also unclear how she’s able to free Bloodrage from his restraints--or why her doctors were so careless as to leave her in a room with several obvious reflective surfaces that she could use to escape. It almost feels as though Conway might have been asked to bolt this plot strand onto the basic outline for his story in order to make it more appealing to readers who were looking for some traditional superhero action. But even if that is the case, it would have been nice to see them worked into the story a little better.
Even these weaker scenes don’t stop The Last Days Of Animal Man from being an interesting and fairly original read. The cliffhanger to this issue suggests that we may be in for even more soap opera next issue and, to be honest, it’s a development that doesn’t interest me as much as the ongoing saga of Buddy losing his powers. Still, I’d much rather see the book concentrate on its characters than on its more derivative superhero/villain conflicts, so I’m not unhappy that Conway also seems to be more interested in that side of the story too.
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