The Ant Mystic: Animal Man #85: Long Lost Longbox

By Last Updated: October 11, 2020Views: 2348

As Animal Man winds down and comes to a thankful end we begin a three part story called “Anima Mundi”. This will be the last three issues covered in this feature although the actual end of Jerry Prosser’s run has two more issues after that. But they are not in the Longbox and so not covered. Small blessings.

By the time issue #85 was released sales were declining and the writing was on the wall. Animal Man was not long for this world. Prosser was to wrap up has storyline and the comic would be cancelled at issue #89.

The post-modern re-imagining of Grant Morrison a distant memory and the gothic horror take of Jamie Delano making the character in to an animal totem rather than a super hero made for a difficult continuation of this series in the first place; and Jerry Prosser’s attempt to make the character of Buddy Baker into a new age shaman simply didn’t click with readers.

What was once a charter title in the new “for mature readers” approach of Vertigo fell to being an odd leftover of an interesting experiment. Animal man had lost its power.
This brings us to…

Cover Dated: July 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 Ant Mystic: Animal Man #85

Previously on Animal Man: Child molestation and hallucinations on an alien craft. And Maxine is possessed by the Spider Queen, or something.

On the Outside

The cover shows a shiny, silver skull half submerged in a dark liquid. The skull is reflective, almost metallic and in the sockets you can just barely make out a pair of brown eyes. The liquid itself is murky and vicious like oil, very dark. In fact the whole cover is dark. Deep blues and blacks and browns make the whole thing look rather muddy. It is not bad mind you; it just might be better as a heavy metal album cover than a comic.

On The Inside

We open with Buddy, Dr. Varma and Not-Maxine in a field watching an ant seemingly wanting to be eaten by a sheep. Varma then tells the tale of the “Ant Mystic.” A rather convenient story of a sort of Jesus ant who has a vision of the World Soul, gathers a bunch of followers, is persecuted and cast out, and finally allows itself to be eaten by a sky mouth to prove a truth that we are all connected. You see Simba the sheep eat the ants and the lions eat the sheep and we are all connected in the great Circle of Life. Or something like that.

Not-Maxine runs off allowing Buddy to wonder aloud that Not-Maxine seems different and if it because he’s a bad parent. Varma then waxes philosophical about children growing up because it is their nature and some other ridiculousness.

Then hippies arrive at the gate in a multicolored school bus. A heavily pierced bald man named Phester spouts hippie stuff and demands to give Buddy a message. In the lab Phester sets up a hologram projector because he’s not just a hippie he’s also a scientist who wrote he doctoral thesis on Dr. Varma’s work because plot device!

The hologram is of “The Man,” a traditional guru looking guy who talks in a down- home southern accent because quirky! He tells Buddy he has vital information but won’t give it to him unless he comes to where “The Man” is. He also warns of danger which immediately shows up in the form of Men in Black who are so dangerous that they are only defeated by Buddy telling then to leave politely.

Phester then drives Varma and Buddy to Fort Wilson, California, to a converted military base that the hippies bought from the government “for a song” because that happens all the time.

The hippies are doing advanced work in virtual realities and psychedelics to enter the inner reaches of one’s consciousness which is totally not the plot of the film Altered States in any way.

Buddy and Varma then enter the virtual reality world where they meet “The Man” in the center of the earth because there was not enough fringe theory in this story.

Thoughts

Cliché hits maximum saturation with the addition of Men in Black and the Hollow Earth theory. Prosser seems to want to add every crackpot new age conspiracy theory into the mix with every opportunity. I’ve tried to remember if any of this was novel at the time or if the ideas were just as overused and dull as they are now. As I recall it was overused and dull. I guess I should say it is overused and dull in the hands of a mediocre writer.

There were many people at the time – Morrison, Moore and Gaiman to name a few – who were taking cliché and tropes and subverting them, turning them on their heads and making them into something new, exciting and interesting. But unfortunately there were many more who were just regurgitating various worn out fringe theories, infusing them with a few curse words and sex and pretending it was radical and edgy. Prosser being one of the latter.

And it’s not as if he isn’t trying. It seems to me he wants so badly to be cerebral and intellectual. But just throwing in a few technical terms and making everyone a scientist doesn’t make it intellectual. Explaining shamanism as if it were quantum physics doesn’t make it cerebral. In the end it becomes just a confusing mess.

This is a shame because as I said at the start the ideas had promise. And some of the techniques he is using – the story within a story frame for instance – could have worked and could have been an interesting way to expand the story he was trying to tell. The “ant mystic” tale in this issue, although heavy handed, was an interesting idea; a bit more subtlety perhaps and it could have worked.

The bottom line however, and the reason I think this run is not working, is the plain and simple fact that the main character is not allowed to be the main character. Buddy Baker is a super hero with animal powers, but in this run he’s just a lame guy who frets all day that he doesn’t understand what is going on around him. He’s not super, he’s not a hero and he very rarely is an animal, man.

And that is a problem.

Next time on an all new episode of Long Lost Longbox: We will look at Animal Man #86 and a little discussion about Jerry Prosser.



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