The Princess, The Shaman King & The Spider Queen: Animal Man #86: Long Lost Longbox
Part two of the “Anima Mundi” storyline and the second to last issue of Animal Man before we move on to a new tile. Perhaps the will pick up and end with a flourish, it could happen. Hint: it doesn’t.
Jerry Prosser is not a bad writer. The problem is he’s not a very good one either. Or maybe he’s just trying to punch above his weight. He did, after all, have to follow Grant Morrison and Jamie Delano. That’s got to be intimidating. And he is filling these stories with a multitude of interesting ideas. But in the end that is all they are, ideas.
The 90s were big with conspiracy and fringe theory. The X Files was on TV, von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods was having a resurgence and the ‘Face on Mars’ was “proof” that aliens existed. The idea of virtual reality gave rise to the notion that we may be living in an alternate, computer created world long before the Matrix. There were hidden prophecies and ancient suppressed religions. There were secret drugs that could somehow connect you to the divine. And all the while the ‘government’ was trying to keep you from the truth.
Prosser seemed to want to put all these things into his run.
This is not a bad thing per se so long as the ideas were followed up on, made interesting and new. In the hands of a really good writer this could have been something special. Unfortunately Prosser just seems to put the ideas in the story and lets them linger there expecting them to carry the story by simply being a cool notion. But it simply made the plots confusing and clichéd.
Morrison made the title post-modern and gave it new life. Delano made the tile horrific and took it in a new creative direction. Prosser tried to make it spiritual and cosmic, but instead simply made the title pretentious and overblown. This brings us to…
Cover Dated: Aug. 1, 1995
Jerry Prosser: writer
Fred Harper: pencils
Jason Temujin Minor: inks
Tatjana Wood: colors
Richard Starkings: letters
Rick Berry: cover
Lou Stathis: editor
The Little Idea That Could: Animal Man #86
Previously on Animal Man: Scientific hippies drag Varma and Buddy to a virtual reality drug fest in the center of the earth. Meanwhile Maxine is possessed, Men in Black hang about in the background and we got a story of a Jesus ant.
On the Outside
The cover shows a cartoonish castle tower at a Dutch angle with a distressed princess staring from the lone window. In the foreground is a human hand, muscles and tendons exposed, reaching out to a knife-like claw dripping with blood in a parody of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. This is much comicier than Berry’s previous covers and I like it. I suppose it’s not as visually interesting as some of the earlier covers but it conveys the unreal, fairytale nature of the story inside. And it looks more like a traditional comic book cover; this is always a plus for me.
On The Inside
Down in the center of the earth “The Man” does some exposition in a rather annoying faux southern dialect. Apparently he’s from Kentucky, who knew? The place is called Pandemonium and the three (The Man, Varma and Buddy) follow a no-eyed blue demon to a whole bunch of other no-eyed blue demons swarming around each other like ants or something. This is meant to be important.
The Man explains that this world is a middle world between the spirit world and the material world and acts like a mirror reflecting both worlds’ imaginations. And believe me I have made this much clearer than the comic did. As an example of what happens here The Man shows Varma and Buddy a yellow demon (or “yellow feller”) and a red demon. Here is an example of said explanation:
“The red one is Maxwell’s Demon. He can separate hot and cold particles from a sealed environment, making the second law of thermodynamics and entropy run backwards. Now he just sits there…in a coma or something.”
There is a lot of this pseudo-scientific/mystical speak that passes for plot. I believe it is meant to be deep and philosophical.
Then the Spider Queen shows up and makes the blue demons white. By making them white she now controls the middle world; which makes perfect sense. She then puts Varma to sleep to remove him conveniently from the story for a while. Oh and to use him as a gateway to the material world; which makes perfect sense. She then explains that the world is as real as dreams and souls and imagination. Which makes perfect…oh you get the idea.
She then tells a story, told in the same fashion as Varma’s ant story from last issue, about an idea (or meme) that wants to live and be joined with the “Big Idea” and to do so joins other ideas and becomes part of people’s thoughts and makes them insane and…whatever. It’s all ridiculously convoluted and over complicated. Bottom line is (I think) the Spider Queen is an idea that wants to become reality. (There, was that so hard?)
To accomplish this she tears the skin off Buddy. His skin apparently holds his ego that she feeds to her babies to give them strength for a trip (to the real world I guess?) to infect people’s imaginations. A skinless Buddy then imagines himself in a fairytale, travels to the castle where Maxine’s soul is being held wearing a creepy mask and finally meets the Black Queen who is pregnant and needs help.
Which makes perfect sense.
This story wants so badly to be cerebral. It wants to intellectualize the spiritual and mystical with the scientific, but it just becomes a mish-mash of half-realized thoughts combined with random theories. It becomes confusing for no real reason.
The basic idea is simply this: ideas can take on a life of their own and become something more than what was originally intended. It’s a metaphor, I get it. And to be honest, it is not such a bad notion. This story could have been told in a straightforward way without adding all the convoluted crap on top of it making it hard, if not impossible, to comprehend. It is bizarre for the sake of being bizarre.
In the end it is just a mess. What was good in the story is lost in the telling.
Next time on an all new episode of Long Lost Longbox: We will look at Animal Man #87, discuss the legacy of this run of comics and do a little happy dance that it is over.