It seems strange to say this, but the death of Cliff Baker has really given Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man a new lease of life. The series has been much improved ever since Rotworld, and that’s mostly down to the emotional turmoil Buddy Baker is going through. It’s an awful thing to have a child die, but this is fiction, and it’s making for very strong, emotive stories.
This issue opens with Buddy continuing to wallow in self-pity and getting drunk, and when he spots a trashy tabloid claiming that perhaps his son’s death was a hoax, he flips out, destroying the liquor store. But then he spots a spider, and the real story begins in flashback. Animal Man has always been a strange series in terms of tone, it’s a dark story about a very goofy superhero, so it’s always fun to see what Animal Man was like before things got dark, when he was just a C-List loser having fun fighting awesome villains like ‘Biowulf’ and using his powers in cool ways.
The story here sadly isn’t about Biowulf, but about the Baker family, as this story takes place on the day Maxine was born. Buddy picks up Cliff from school, and as you’d expect, every interaction between them is tinged with sadness. We know that Cliff will die, and it actually made me very emotional. Before they can get to the Hospital, a weird Spider-Monster attacks and kidnaps a load of people, including Cliff. Animal Man goes to fight ‘Anansa’ but it turns out she’s not really a villain, she’s just a part of the red, and she feeds on dreams. Buddy solves the problem non-violently, which is a nice Animal Man touch, and sends her on her way.
Then, back in the present, he goes to visit her in order to see Cliff’s dream that she ate, and man, it’s a sad scene, if you don’t get emotional at the ending here, you’re some kind of monster. In the main Animal Man series, Maxine is trying to bring back Cliff, and I’m not sure I want her to, his death is leading to amazing stories like this one. Do I want Buddy Baker to suffer for my enjoyment? I don’t know, perhaps I’d feel differently if this wasn’t the one character who could see me! Travel Foreman returns to draw this annual, and he does an excellent job, his art-style is so weird, it’s perfect for the messed-up stuff Animal Man faces, the monsters look truly monstrous, and when Buddy’s body morphs into a spider… man, that’s creepy and awesome.
This was another excellent issue of Animal Man, it doesn’t really tie-in to the ongoing story, but in terms of emotional depth, you’re not going to find many superhero comics that hit harder than this annual.