“Ani-Max” is no “Ben 10” no matter how hard it tries, but it does have its charm. Nothing about this comic comes off as remotely original, but the execution is solid enough to make for a decent reading experience.
Max Duncan is a 12-year old who, while on a trip to the Amazon with his parents, receives an odd gemstone from a half panther/half human that turns out to be an elderly man. This stone, attached to his chest, allows him to store the traits of animals and access them for a period of seven minutes up to three times per day. In this issue, he uses his powers to save his classmates and others while on a field trip to the zoo where all of the animals have been let loose. At the same time, a larger story involving a group called the Locusts is hinted at, which would presumably be the larger story if this continued as a comic series or an animated TV show.
While Max’s story is very similar to that of Ben in “Ben 10,” Ron Marz does a good job of imbuing the character with playful charm, especially when everyone’s first reaction to him is one of fear. Max is somewhat confident in his abilities, but it comes off as putting up a tough front as he struggles to play the hero at such a young age. The part where he tells his origin to two classmates that recognize him despite his animal features is something of a drag on the issue, but a necessity. It doesn’t really work given that it’s told in the middle of a crisis. The reactions of his friends are well done as they simply accept what they’ve been told and go along with Max’s request for secrecy, a seemingly unrealistic response, but I attribute it to the idea that kids have seen so many stories just like this that they would naturally fall into the pattern of ‘friends to the hero.’
Jeevan Kang’s cartoony, animated art is hit or miss. I don’t know if beginning with Max as a tiger in that blue outfit with the red stone is a purposeful visual allusion to “Thundercats,” but it did make me wonder briefly if this was just “Thundercats: The Next Generation.” There’s a lot of energy in his characters and he’s great at animated, lively movements and facial expressions. A scene where Max scares a tiger by roaring is sold entirely through the art. However, his figures at times look rough and not completely polished. They’re misshapen in ways that don’t seem cartoonish or exaggerated with a purpose, but seem more like bad anatomy.
“Ani-Max” #1 has its charms, but the concept is blatantly unoriginal (doubly so if you consider Animal Man), not just in the powers the character has, but in the way he obtains them. If you ignore what came before, this is an entertaining comic, though the art has some noticeable rough patches and the origin story seems crammed in. It will be interesting to see if this continues as a comic series and how the story develops since a pilot/origin is limiting to a degree.