I know what you’re thinking: “Animal Man… isn’t that the lame fish guy?” Nope, that’s Aquaman and he’s awesome. “Oh, so it’s that green dude from Teen Titans?” Sorry, you’re thinking of Beast Boy. But that’s okay, you’ve come to the right place, because today I’m going to tell you all about one of DC Comics’ strangest heroes: Animal Man!
Buddy Baker (… yup) first appeared in 1965’s Strange Adventures #180. In the beginning, he was just a guy who went hiking and… somehow gained the power to channel the abilities of animals. How this happened has been the source of some interesting retcons and revisions over the years. Sometimes it’s an alien experiment, sometimes those aliens are agents of a universal life-energy.
What kind of energy? It’s called The Red. Or the Lifeweb. Or possibly the Morphogenetic Field, depending on who (or what) you’re talking to. Basically, The Red is an energy field that encompasses the entire animal kingdom. Buddy Baker can tap into that field and gain, say, the strength of a gorilla, the flight of a falcon, or even the jumping abilities of a grasshopper. What Buddy seldom realizes is that he can tap into all non-plant life (that’s The Green, which is exactly what it sounds like) meaning he can tap into things like star whales and sun-eaters, essentially making him one of the most (potentially) powerful beings in existence.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
See, after Buddy gets these powers, he decides to do the logical thing and call himself The Man With Animal Powers. Which is a terrible name. So his best friend tells him to put on a costume and become a superhero named Animal Man instead!
And, to be perfectly honest, he was kinda lame for a while. He did the superhero thing, got married, had a couple of kids, retired from the dangerous superhero lifestyle and became a stuntman to support his family.
He dipped back into heroics from time to time, saving people, helping to fight off alien invaders, joining a crew literally called the Forgotten Heroes because… well, no one cared enough about Animal Man to give him his own comic book.
And then, in 1988, Grant Morrison, rockstar of the comic world, showed up and started writing an Animal Man book as a part DC’s more mature “Vertigo” line. It was absolutely insane in the best possible way, just like 99% of everything Morrison gets his hands on. Morrison’s run is a must-read for any comic fan — 26 issues of absolute brilliance, making Animal Man one of the most nuanced and exciting heroes in the DC universe. Issue #5 is widely regarded as being one of the single greatest standalone comics of all time.
Other than a handful of other appearances in team books, Animal Man largely disappeared after that. After all, how do you follow up one of the best runs in comic history?
Fortunately, DC didn’t forget about Animal Man. With their 2011 line-wide New 52 relaunch, there was a brand new, critically-acclaimed Animal Man series written by modern comic superstar Jeff Lemire. It lasted for 29 issues, often alluding to Morrison’s stories while still being new-reader-friendly.
Since then, Animal Man has, again appeared in a handful of team books. Who knows where he’ll show up next? Well…