After last issue’s brief intergalactic interlude, we’re thrown right back into the mix here as all the intertwining plot threads are picked right back up and we find ourselves thrust headlong into the final two issues of this series. There’s an overwhelmingly epic feel to the battle and, with the series ending in March, a powerful sense that every small decision and occurrence truly matters.
Buddy Baker is noticeably changed as a result of the events of last issue, and – enhanced abilities aside – his newfound sense of perspective and confidence is fantastic to see from a character who had previously been at such a low point that was almost uncomfortable to read at times.
With so many different threads running simultaneously, Lemire deserves extra credit here for keeping everything moving forwards smoothly. Ellen gets her moment to shine, showing her visible frustration and a growing sense of helplessness; Maxine and Socks have a extremely poignant exchange during their attempt to flee the clutches of Brother Blood; the remaining Totems make their tense last stand against Blood’s forces, and – of course – Buddy’s battle with the remaining Avatar of the Red is jaw-dropping, air-punching stuff.
Sadly, just when we think we know where we’re headed, and just when we’re beginning to entertain the notion that the Baker family might actually catch a break, the bottom drops out with an absolute gut-punch of a finale, throwing the prospect of the final two issues into absolute disarray. Some masterful storytelling here, and with Lemire promising that the finale will provide a “perfect ending for the Baker family”, there’s literally a hundred different ways that particular statement can be interpreted.
Personal favourite Rafael Albuquerque makes a welcome return to the art duties, employing his trademark ‘chaotic’ style filled with scratchy line-work and kinetic impact, while also managing to cram almost every panel right to the brim with emotion. His panel layouts are also typically inventive, particularly during the battle between Baker and the Avatar of the Red, with the action overflowing and the panels bleeding into one another as each gargantuan blow is landed. Credit must also be given to colourist John Kalisz, who really makes the issue come alive with his rich, moody red-hued palette.
This isn’t a jumping-on point by any means, and new readers would do well to head all the way back to the beginning of the series (or at the very least to the conclusion of the Rotworld saga) to find their footing. But for long-time readers who have become so invested in these characters since issue one (if not before), this final conflict is utterly, utterly compelling.
While it may not be for everyone, Animal Man has undoubtedly been one of my personal favourite titles since the beginning of the New 52, and while it’s sad in a way to see the end just around the corner (even if the main character will live on in the pages of Lemire’s Justice League United), it’s also great to see the series going out on such a high.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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