Animal Man #5
By Jeff Lemiere and Travel Foreman
Out of all the 52 re-launches, I have been most impressed by Batwoman, Frankenstein, OMAC and Animal Man. Of course OMAC will end shortly (a greater crime against humanity I cannot conceive), but the other two are chugging along. An obscure superhero from the Silver Age of comics, Animal Man apparently gained the ability to tap into the abilities of the animal world via alien technology. When DC’s Vertigo imprint decided to revise a number of characters and make them more modern, Neil Gaiman tackled Sandman and Grant Morrison took Animal Man. He developed Buddy Baker into a family man who felt that in the story of his life, he wasn’t even a supporting character. The world was wild and out of control but he just couldn’t find his place in it. Struggling to make ends meet, he had a wife and two kids to support. His perceptions were stretched to the breaking point when he encountered the aliens responsible for his powers and broke the fourth wall into the realm of the writer. The Morrison run remains very impressive and showed readers that even the most obscure and random character could be crafted into an incredible story, given the right impetus.
I was confused as to why DC would relaunch Animal Man without Morrison’s involvement (though the work by Peter Milligan and Jamie Delano are also highly recommended). In Delano’s run, Animal Man became part of ‘The Red,’ a kind of animal-version of Swamp Thing’s ‘The Green’ and the series ascended to a cosmic level. Fan-favorite Jeff Lemiere (Sweet Tooth, Essex County, FRANKENSTEIN: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.) has proven me oh-so-wrong for questioning DC’s judgement.
The revamped series takes hints from the Vertigo run and adds a healthy dose of horror… actually make that a generous amount of spine-tinglingly terrifying imagery. Buddy Baker is still trying to make a living as a superhero with mixed results. The Red is tainted by something called The Rot, an infection that is causing a series of violent deaths, all with a pattern leading to Buddy Baker’s daughter, Maxine. Delving into the Red, Buddy and Maxine discover that Maxine is
the avatar of the Red, a position that Buddy failed to fill. The Rot are attempting to kill Maxine before she reaches her full potential and thereby take prominence over all creation. One of the Red’s ‘Parliament’ joins Buddy and Maxine in an attempt to assist them in evading the Rot, but the Baker’s have other plans.
In the corporeal realm, Buddy’s wife and son Cliff are threatened by an agent of the Rot who has infected a seemingly human being. The transformation is stomach turning as eyeballs roll, intestines unravel like snakes and sinew twists into a distorted nightmare if the human body. Buddy isn’t much help in battle, to be honest, as the Red is tainted by the Rot and suffering. Maxine attempts to help her dad by summoning an army of animals to attack the monstrous creature… and then things get really really bad.
Animal Man is about to formally tie into Swamp Thing as their story lines become more closely related. It’s an exciting time to read both monthly books as they are both so well crafted and drawn with an unsettling attention to disturbing detail.
By Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
Batman has discovered a myth as old as Gotham, the Court of Owls, is real. A story told by parents to scare children, any who have spoken of the Court of Owls as a reality were deemed as insane, including a member of Bruce Wayne’s own family, who was found raving in the streets despairing about the eyes of the owls following him everywhere.
All of this came to a head when Bruce Wayne and Batman both became the target of a killer named Talon, an agent of the Court of Owls. Looking deep into the history and architecture of Gotham City, Batman has discovered that not only is the Court of Owls real, but they have hidden bases in the 13th floors of many important buildings. It’s a terrifying moment that challenges Batman’s sanity and ego. The very city that he had long guarded and surveyed belongs to an ancient society operating in the shadows.
The latest issue sees Batman lost in a maze built by the Court of Owls, apparently for days as Commissioner Gordon and the other members of the Bat Family search for their mentor in vain. Batman is physically battered and beaten, but mentally he is entirely shattered, wandering the through labyrinthine halls, arriving at the same location on numerous occasions and remaining none the wiser. A wall of framed photographs depicting haggard and wan men driven insane by the Court. His own face joins the others, and the expression is one of madness and defeat.
The page layouts tip and turn throughout the comic, requiring the reader to turn the comic sideways and upside down in order to follow the story. It sounds intrusive (because it is) but it works marvelously with the tone of the comic. Unsettling and confusing, the story tightens around our hero and his grip on sanity loosens until it is too late.
As you may know, the current story involving the Court of Owls will soon expand into a full cross-over, stretching into the other Bat-titles. The threat posed by the Court of Owls is staggering and the normally composed and stern Batman is clearly frayed at the edges in this situation.
Batman has fought several super villains throughout his long career, many of which have opposed what is normal and sane. The Court of Owls is the apex of this concept, and promises a challenge that the dark knight will not easily survive. A relative newcomer to the realm of Batman, Scott Snyder has already earned his place as one of the most impressive writers to ever grace the pages of this series. His previous stories ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Hungry City’ have been named among the best of the modern Batman adventures. I have high hopes that the Court of Owls will soon join the others that reputation.
Thunder Agents #3
By Nick Spencer, Wes Craig and Walt Simonson
In the 1960′s Wally Wood created an entire line of comics designed to challenge the popularity and success of the characters created by Marvel and DC Comics. He created the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, an international organization consisting of super spies and soldiers along with remarkable individuals armed with the most sophisticated weapons and tools ever known to man. The catch was that the devices were slowly killing the users. Sadly, the initial experiment was a failure at challenging the sales of the other more established titles and the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Undersea Agent, NoMan and Dynamo all fell off the shelves. However, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is kind of the Velvet Underground of the comic book world. They failed to make a mark in the industry sales-wise yet everyone who has read those comics has recognized the genius inherent in the pages therein and the potential for more.
After as few false-starts, the new Thunder Agents series finally arrived last year and set the comic book world afire. Featuring dynamic artwork (including guest artists to depict flash-back sequences), Nick Spencer’s series wasn’t the edgy modern revamp fans of the classic feared, it honored and understood its precursor and built on the ideas born in those pages. The series ran for 10 successful issues. When it was announced that Nick Spencer would be working for Marvel on Iron Man 2.0, fans were nervous that comic was headed for the crap heap. Remarkably, it merely took a brief hiatus only to return in a new limited run.
The one problem I must admit to in the series is that I am intensely interested in the Thunder Agents NoMan, Dynamo and Lightning, but all too often the focus falls on the quirky Toby, the man with the Menthor helmet, a device of immense power. But Toby is reluctant to don the helmet as it seems to take him over, putting him in a kind of back-seat to his own psyche. That may be interesting, but what is not so interesting is what the reader is left with, endless scenes where Toby fails to flirt with fellow agent Colleen and his lame jokes. There’s a war waging under the Earth’s crust, a nest of secrets and lies hiding in the history of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents program… yet we keep coming back to this character who adds little to nothing to the story.
The saving grace is that this issue, the main plot involves a poetic meditation on NoMan, the only surviving member of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. An aged inventor, Dr. Dunn is haunted by his past invention, a technology that has made him essentially immortal. His consciousness converted into an electrical impulse, Dunn has become NoMan and is capable of ‘jumping’ between android bodies at will. It’s a remarkable achievement, but as the story unfolds Dunn ruminates on the fact that it is no longer his. His life has become an extension of his inventions and those now serve a higher order. He is, in essence, a tool.
The action continues to unfold slowly but surely which must frustrate some, nut I think that when the smoke clears this will be recognized as a great superhero comic book. Perhaps not as ground-breaking as the original, yet reverently paying homage to an obscure classic and continuing the hard work begun so long ago.