Animal Man #25: Hollywood Babylon
(This review contains some spoilers for Animal Man #25: a plot event, and character interactions.)
I enjoyed the high point of the story in Animal Man #25 – in the face of his life falling to pieces, Buddy Baker – AKA Animal Man – makes a decision to not violently use his animal powers to take revenge. Instead, he reigns himself in, and looks after his partner – Ellen, his wife.
The scene is similar to one in The Incredibles. Bob Parr won’t let his wife join him in battle agains the Omnidroid because he is afraid she might be injured, or worse. The bonds between partners, and their children, are at the core of Animal Man. Combined with the Hollywood setting, the fantasy action, and the intimidating villain, the comic presents a strong story with excellent sequential art.
What’s most effective about the colour in this comic book is that uses different shades to indicate the power of the emotions that the DC super heroes are dealing with. When Buddy is faced with a man who taunts him relentlessly about the death of his son, he comes close to loosing control. It’s a part of their ritual – they need Buddy to lose control, and they need to broadcast the act to the world through television for their magic to work.
The panels depicting Buddy’s violent attack are a sequence that descends down the page. Each one is about the same size. As the readers eye moves downward, the colour background for each panel turns a darker shade – first a warning yellow, then a wary orange, followed by darker shades of red.
It’s a great method of using colour to set a tone. Colourful backgrounds are consistently strong throughout the issue. The larger pages of the comic have good brush work, with red and black painted into the backgrounds. Character positions in each panel make logical use of the space available, which results in no cluttered artwork – If the comic was movie, the camera angles would be fitted and economic. Faces that characters pull while talking, fighting, or searching for answers showcase a range of emotion.
The core relationship in Animal Man is between Buddy Baker and his wife Ellen. The comic revolves around their partnership, and key plot points play out of how they react and treat each other. Building and growing relationships becomes a core value of the comics as a result of Buddy and Ellen’s interaction.
A sense of adventure and fantasy comes from watching the Baker’s daughter, Maxine. She is exploring another dimensions with her talking pet cat named socks. On a pirate ship sailing over a sea of blood, she is running from the clutches of a villain named Brother Blood. There is a twisted, fairy tale sense to her brief scenes, like a darker, inverted Peter Pan story.
Brother Blood is a suitable villain. To raise an army of followers out of Hollywood, he will have his cult demonstrate the weakness and savage truth about Animal Man. The plan seems to run on fantasy: it is a ritual where a hero is shamed in a show broadcast for viewers around the world.
Themes, Ethics, Values.
A Hollywood setting sets up strong themes such as fandoms, the media, and celebrities. Animal Man’s villains make multiple references to Hollywood royalty, and Hollywood kings and queens, which introduces a key theme of celebrity worship. The ethic presented here is that worship of celebrity actors can be transformed into a dangerous weapon. This is because Brother Bloods plan – the ritual – is to capture an army of followers through celebrity worship. He offers them power if they join his cult, and tries to show his prowess be shaming Animal Man.
In the book Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader, Chris Rojek links together celebrity and worship and religion, stating that it involves emotional dependence. There is a “grounding, affirming quality”, he states, when fans create artificial or imagined connections and ties to celebrities. The celebrity can offer the devoted a resource to turn to amidst lifes hardships. Rojeck has effectively summarised a battery of reasons why an individual would be motivated to begin celebrity worship. Brother Blood’s generals, however, are taking that connection, and twisting it for there own ends.
Lynn E. McCutcheon, Rense Lange, and James Houran developed a scale for measuring celerity worship. Using their scale, they can test the extent that a person is engaging in celebrity worship. What they identified in their research was alarming: Celebrity worship can extend to the extreme of addiction and even “Psychological Absorption”: a person believes they are actually in a close relationship of some kind with a celebrity.
This is the degree of adulation that the villain of Animal Man #25 was no doubt aiming for. The comic has a solid ethic: celebrity worship can be taken advantage of, and used to control behaviour with addiction, absorption, and even delusion. Celebrity worship is destructive and negative when taken too far.
A bit more on Animal Man #25
Despite the plans of the villain, Buddy Baker deserves to be called a Super Hero. His story also shows the value of Fatherhood. In the face of terrible loss and hardship, Animal Man stands up to the Brother Blood’s generals. With the intervention and support of his partner Ellen, he does not resort to extreme violence. Animal Man presents a vital Super Hero comic, with a formidable hero at it’s centre.
Rojek, Chris (2007) Chapter 14: Celebrity and Religion. Sean Redmond, and Su Holmes (Eds.) Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader. Sage Publications: Los Angeles. McCutcheon, L. E., Lange, R. and Houran, J. (2002), Conceptualization and Measurement of Celebrity Worship. British Journal of Psychology, 93: 67–87. doi: 10.1348/000712602162454