REVIEW: “Animal Man” #23

(DC Comics, 2013)

Review by John Monaghan

Writer:  Jeff Lemire
Art:  Steve Pugh & Francis Portella
Colors:  Lovern Kindzierski
Letters:  Jared K. Fletcher

The closing gambit of Animal Man #23 sees Lemire’s run entering its third year of readability, having already outlasted the majority of the New 52 titles on my pull list by over a year. Lemire took the re-launched Animal Man straight into a slow boiling build-up towards the high-stakes Rotworld crossover event with Snyder’s run on Swamp Thing. It was very well-paced through this despite the restrictions imposed by its constant mirroring with Swamp Thing. By the end of the event, Lemire slowed things right down to a snail’s pace and had us focusing on the aftermath: a distraught Buddy Barker sitting in his hotel room mourning his son, separated from his wife and daughter, disowned by the red, and haunted by his superhero-celebrity status.

Lemire’s breadth of vision dictates the need to slow it down somewhat in the aftermath of the Rotworld event. What makes Animal Man such a good comic is that the character development from issue #1 to the present has been constant. However, I have to admit that the three-part ‘Splinter Species’ arc, which issue #23 concludes, felt too slow for my liking. The plot – encountering a group of animal activists who were splicing themselves with animals, and who wanted to have Animal Man’s powers – felt like a placeholder for bigger events that must necessarily and eventually happen to keep Animal Man exciting. I have to admit I was a little concerned about what direction the title would be taking if the focus were to stay so small-scale. Mea culpa. The slowed down pace and the frustration of the reader mirrored the experience of Buddy, drinking in his hotel room,  angry, alone, inactive. Then in #23 there came the two-page set piece where Maxine,  Ellen and Buddy all sit up to attention as one of the totems of the Red is attacked. These two pages connect Portella’s world of the Red on the left hand page with Pugh’s real world. The real-world panels, stacked roughly aside and on top of one other, and against a backdrop of scratchy red veins and scrapes, forecast the Barker’s, like the comic, being dragged back in to the world of the Red. Everything is pulled out of stagnation, a sense of urgency and purpose is reintroduced, Animal Man is exciting again and… we have to wait two months to find out what happens.

I predict that as long as Lemire is writing Animal Man I’ll be reading it!

JM 09/13

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Follow John Monaghan on Twitter:  @concreatjungle

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