"Animal Man" No. 20, written by Jeff Lemire, finds superhero / actor Buddy Baker at a personal low as his renown reaches new heights. (Jae Lee / DC Comics)Link
"Animal Man" No. 20 Page 1 shows someone resuming a viewing of "Tights," starring Buddy Baker as Chas, who has fought crime as a vigilante called Red Thunder. The film sequences are drawn by guest artist John Paul Leon. (DC Comics)Link
"Animal Man" No. 20 Page 2. (John Paul Leon / DC Comics)Link
"Animal Man" No. 20 Page 3. (John Paul Leon / DC Comics)Link
"Animal Man" No. 20 Page 4. (John Paul Leon / DC Comics)Link
"Animal Man" No. 20 Page 5. (John Paul Leon / DC Comics)Link
"Animal Man" No. 20 Page 6. (John Paul Leon / DC Comics)Link
Jeff Lemire, who has written the current "Animal Man" series since No. 1, says Buddy's "not in any place to deal with" celebrity. (Michael Jara Photography / DC Comics)Link
Success couldn’t come at a worse time for Buddy Baker.
As “Animal Man” No. 20 lands Wednesday, its titular superhero/actor is still grieving the death of his young son Cliff, who was felled trying to protect him. He’s also newly estranged both from his wife, Ellen, who has their child daughter, Maxine, and from the Red, the fauna life force that continues to give him his power to draw on animals’ abilities. At the end of the wrenching, funeral-centered Issue 19, the hero remarks, “I’ve never felt so alone in my life.”
But soon, the trappings of newfound fame may make him wish the world would leave him alone.
“It’s really using Buddy and using the superhero genre as a way to explore celebrity and our modern society’s obsession with celebrity,” series writer Jeff Lemire says of the new story line.
After all that the Baker family has been through in the recent “Rotworld” event and its aftermath, readers might be forgiven for not recalling that at the beginning of the series in DC Comics’ New 52 reality reset, former stunt man Buddy had a nascent acting career – indeed, the first page of Issue 1 has Lemire interviewing the character for the culture magazine the Believer about the indie project “Tights,” in which he stars as a washed-up vigilante called Red Thunder.
“The film itself kind of echoes his real life in interesting ways, and sometimes contrasts and sometimes reflects it,” Lemire says.
Hero Complex readers can exclusively check out the first six pages of No. 20, which show “Tights” scenes drawn by guest artist John Paul Leon, who also penciled sequences from the film seen back in No. 6.
Lemire spoke with Hero Complex by phone about the Baker family’s current and upcoming struggles, his artistic collaborators and the box-office prospects of “Tights” against “Man of Steel.” (And though he refers to being in “the middle section” of his greater Animal Man story, the writer says there’s no set end date for his time with these characters: “I really want to just keep writing them as long as I can.”)
HC: Last issue saw Buddy Baker bury his son Cliff, and then it saw him being turned away by his wife and the Red. Can you talk about where Buddy is as Issue 20 opens?
JL: Well, obviously, he’s at his lowest point personally. What I really wanted to do with this next series of Animal Man stories is contrast Buddy’s personal life, which is at an all-time low, and then as that’s happening his professional life, his acting career, his celebrity, goes the other way – it explodes and becomes huge, and Buddy’s not in any place to deal with it. So that’s kind of where we’re at with Issue 20.
HC: Early in the series, readers saw that Animal Man had become sort of a cult figure in youth culture. But now it seems he’s getting toward genuine movie stardom.
JL: As the series started, he really was sort of this C-list kind of celebrity. He had been a stunt man and he had just starred in his first movie, which was just coming out. He was really known in the counterculture as this animal-rights spokesman and symbol. … The counterculture adopted him almost as this punk rock idol of anti-establishment stuff. So he really wasn’t a household name, but now we’ll see over the course of Issue 20 – something happens, we won’t spoil the ending – that takes that sort of mild celebrity that he has and just pushes it into the mainstream. And he becomes sort of this overnight sensation.
HC: “Animal Man” has been very much a family book, and certainly in 18 and 19 readers saw the beginnings of dealing with the tragic loss of Cliff. I think earlier in the series Buddy referred to Ellen as his anchor. So now he’s without his anchor, he’s separated from Maxine. Are readers going to see what Ellen and Maxine’s lives are like in this time?
JL: Yeah, we are. Issue 20 will focus on Buddy alone, but then the next arc, 21 to 23, we get back to the family and we follow both story lines: Buddy, sort of rudderless and drifting while the culture is descending on him and the paparazzi won’t leave him alone — you know, he just can’t even cope with it – and he gets caught up in a new series of adventures; but at the same time we’re really going to follow Ellen and Maxine as well and see what their lives are like now that Cliff’s gone and now that Buddy’s gone, and see them struggling as well. The big Animal Man story I want to tell, this is sort of the middle section now, where the family’s been torn apart, and it’s been broken, and we’re going to have to see how they all cope and what can bring them back together at some point.
HC: John Paul Leon, who drew the sequences from “Tights” that readers saw back in Issue 6, is back. What in particular does his style bring to the book, and how does his art work with that of regular series artist Steve Pugh?
JL: I think something Steve and John Paul both have in common is they really have an ability to do some really good acting with the characters, and by that I mean showing real human emotion and the quiet, more intimate moments in addition to the more bombastic superhero stuff. They both really have a knack for doing that and creating real people on the page. When you’re doing a story like the stuff I do with Animal Man, which is all focused around family, you need that, and those guys both definitely bring it. In terms of the movie stuff, I think John Paul’s great because his stuff has a real lifelike edge to it, it’s almost photorealistic in a way, even though it’s kind of abstract. He really gets a sense that they’re real people and he really gets that cinematic kind of feel.
HC: On that cover by Jae Lee, we see in the background a listing of movie times, and “Tights” is sort of locked in between showings of “Man of Steel.” How do you think it fares at the box office against that one?
JL: [Laughs] Well, after the final page of Issue 20, I think it’s going to do really well at the box office, I’ll put it that way. Because something pretty big happens, which we’ll be exploring in the next arc.
– Blake Hennon
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