Animal Man


Animal Man (Bernhard “Buddy” Baker) is a fictional DC Comics superhero. As a result of being in proximity to an exploding extraterrestrial spaceship, Buddy Baker acquires the ability to temporarily “borrow” the abilities of animals (such as a bird’s flight or the proportionate strength of an ant). Using these amazing powers, Baker fights crime as the costumed superhero, Animal Man.

Animal Man is also the name of a monthly comic book series featuring Baker. It was released in DC’s high quality New Format, and was published without the Comics Code Authority seal of approval, later becoming one of the first titles in the Vertigo imprint.

Created by writer Dave Wood and artist Carmine Infantino, Buddy Baker first appeared in Strange Adventures #180 (September 1965) and adopted the name Animal Man in issue #190. Animal Man was a minor character for his first twenty years, never gaining the popularity of other DC heroes such as Batman or Superman. However, he became one of several DC properties, such as Shade, the Changing Man and Sandman, to be revived and revamped in the late 1980s for a more mature comics audience. As seen in the comic below, he was billed as a “full time hero”, an aspect that would be the most changed by Morrison’s revamp.

Grant Morrison’s Animal Man was innovative in its advocacy for animal rights, willingness to break the fourth wall and portrayal of Animal Man as an everyman hero with a wife and children. After that series ended in 1995, the character has made brief appearances in DC crossover events. Animal Man recently was a major character in the weekly series 52.

Although Morrison’s issues are the better-known and higher selling, the title’s entire run maintained a general consistency of themes, content, and narrative structures. These included social consciousness, metaphysics, deconstruction of the superhero genre and comic book form, postmodernism, eccentric plot twists, explorations of cosmic spirituality and mysticism, the determination of apparent free will by a higher power, and manipulation of reality including quantum physics, unified field theory, time travel and metafictional technique. The series is well-known for its frequently psychedelic and “off the wall” content.

A majority of the series’ cover art was done by Brian Bolland, often portraying intentionally unusual or shocking imagery with no text blurbs.

Publication history

Animal Man debuted in Strange Adventures #180 in 1965, in a story written by Dave Wood and drawn by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos. Animal Man was given his costume and name in Strange Adventures #190. He continued as a semi-regular feature in the book, making occasional cover appearances, until the introduction of Deadman, who became the main feature with issue #205.

His subsequent appearances were sporadic and sparse. In 1980, Animal Man made a notable guest appearance in Wonder Woman #267-268.

His main appearances in the 1980s were as a member of the “Forgotten Heroes”, a team of minor DC heroes. It was in that capacity that he appeared in the company-wide crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Revival

In the late 1980s, following the slate-cleaning Crisis on Infinite Earths event, DC began employing innovative writers, mostly young and mostly British, to revamp some of their old characters. In the period that saw Alan Moore reinvent Swamp Thing, and Neil Gaiman do the same with The Sandman, Animal Man was re-imagined by Scottish writer Grant Morrison. Morrison wrote the first 26 issues of the Animal Man comic book, published between 1988 and 1990, with art by Chas Truog and Doug Hazlewood; Brian Bolland provided the covers.

Although the series was initially conceived as a four-issue limited series, it was upgraded into an on-going series following strong sales. Consequently, Morrison developed several long-running plots, introducing mysteries, some of which were not explained until a year or two later. The title featured the protagonist both in and — increasingly — out of costume. Morrison made the title character an everyman figure living in a universe populated by superheroes, aliens, and fantastic technology. Buddy’s wife Ellen, his son Cliff (9 years old at the beginning of the series), and his daughter Maxine (5 years old) featured prominently in most storylines, and his relationship with them, as husband, father, and provider, was an ongoing theme.

The series championed vegetarianism and animal rights, causes Morrison himself supported. In one issue, Buddy helps a band of self-confessed eco-terrorists save a pod of dolphins. Enraged at a fisherman’s brutality, Buddy drops him into the ocean, intending for him to drown. Ironically, the man is saved by a dolphin.

Buddy fought several menaces, such as ancient, murderous spirit that was hunting him; brutal, murderous alien Thangarian warriors; and even the easily-defeated red robots of an elderly villain who was tired of life. The series made deep, sometimes esoteric, reference to the entire DC canon, including B’wana Beast, Mirror Master, and Arkham Asylum.

During his run on the title, Morrison consistently manipulated and deconstructed the fourth wall the imaginary barrier separating the reader from the setting of the story which also extends to the characters and their creators. One visual expression of this theme was to present characters in a state of partial erasure often juxtaposing the artist’s pencil drafts with the finished art. Additionally, some characters become aware that they are being viewed by a vast audience, and are able to interact with the borders of the panels on the page. The series notably contained the only overt references to the various Earths of the pre-Crisis DC Multiverse.

Issue #5, “The Coyote Gospel,” features Crafty, a thinly-disguised Wile E. Coyote (of the Road Runner cartoons). Weary of the endless cycle of violence which he and his cartoon compatriots are subject to, Crafty appeals to his cartoonist-creator. A bargain is struck: he can end the violence only by willingly being condemned to leave his cartoon world, entering Animal Man’s “comic” world instead. The issue concludes with a series of “pull-back” shots beginning with a close-up of Crafty’s bleeding body (and white blood), culminating with a panel depicting the cartoonist’s immense hand, coloring Crafty’s blood with red paint. The issue is partly a religious allegory and partly a juxtaposition of the various layers of reality: cartoon to comic book, comic book to real life. It was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Single Issue of 1989.

The culmination of this self-referentiality is Animal Man’s eventual discovery that all of the inhabitants of the DC universe are fictional characters. He even meets Grant Morrison, the callous “god” who controls his life.

Buddy suffers a tragedy when his wife and children are brutally murdered while he is away on a case. [1] Buddy tracks down the killers to exact vengeance. His search leads him into a comic book limbo, a plane of residence for characters who are not actively written about. Animal Man ultimately confronts his writer in issue #26, and his family is restored to life, as Morrison finds he cannot justify keeping them dead simply for the sake of “realism”.[2] (See comic book death)

Grant Morrison also explains to Buddy that he writes him as a vegetarian only because he himself is a vegetarian too, and every trait Baker possesses could be changed at a whim. “They might do the obvious and go for shock by turning you into a meat-eater,” Morrison says. In issue #27, the first of Peter Milligan’s run, Buddy indeed bites into a horse.

Following Morrison’s run, Peter Milligan wrote a 6-issue story featuring several surreal villains and heroes, exploring questions about identity and quantum physics and utilizing the textual cut-up technique popularized by William Burroughs. Tom Veitch and Steve Dillon then took over for 18 issues in which Buddy goes to work as a movie stuntman and explores mystical totemic aspects of his powers. Jamie Delano wrote 29 issues with Steve Pugh as artist, giving the series a more horror-influenced feel with a “suggested for mature readers” label on the cover, beginning with issue #51.

Vertigo

After Jamie Delano’s first six issues, wherein, among other things, he killed off the central character of Buddy Baker, created the “Red” and resurrected Buddy as an “animal avatar” (analogous to the “Green” of Swamp Thing), the series became one of the charter titles of DC’s new mature readers Vertigo imprint with #57, and its ties to the DC Universe became more tenuous. Vertigo was establishing itself as a distinct “mini-universe” with its own continuity, only occasionally interacting with the continuity of the regular DC Universe. The title evolved into a more horror-themed book, with Buddy eventually becoming a non-human animal god. The super-hero elements of the book were largely removed — since Buddy was re-born as a kind of animal elemental, and legally-deceased, he discarded his costume, stopped associating with other heroes, and generally abandoned his crime-fighting role. He co-founded the Life Power Church of Maxine to further an environmentalist message, drifting along Route 66 to settle in Montana. In Delano’s final issue was #79, culminating in Buddy dying several more times.

Between issues #66 and #67, Delano also penned the Animal Man Annual #1, focusing on Buddy’s daughter Maxine. It was the third part of Vertigo’s attempt to create a crossover event titled The Children’s Crusade. This event ran across the Annuals of the five then-Vertigo titles – Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Black Orchid, The Books of Magic and Doom Patrol – book-ended by two Children’s Crusade issues co-written by Neil Gaiman, and starring his Dead Boy Detectives.

A brief run by Jerry Prosser and Fred Harper featured a re-re-born Buddy as a white-haired shamanistic figure before the series was canceled after the 89th issue due to declining sales.

Morrison’s run on the series is collected into three trade paperbacks entitled: Animal Man, Animal Man: Origin of the Species (which includes the Secret Origins #39), and Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina.

Back in the DCU

After the cancellation of his own series, Animal Man made cameos in several other titles. Baker continued to split his time between his family, his career as Animal Man, and regular stunt work for films. He occasionally lent his talents to various super groups, including the JLA, Forgotten Heroes, and played a prominent role in the Swamp Things’s task force, Totems. [3]

This marked the reappearance of Buddy in costume, and heralded his return to the mainstream DC Universe (although his Vertigo appearances were clearly meant to take place inside the DCU as well). He subsequently appeared alongside Aquaman, Hawkman and Resurrection Man.[4] In JLA #27 (March 1999) Buddy officially joins the League to battle a rampaging Amazo in the Florida Everglades. He, and many other emergency recruits, are defeated and their powers copied on a conceptual level; since Amazo is programmed to copy the League, anyone who is a member can have their powers copied. Superman literally disbands the entire team, defeating Amazo. Buddy does not stay for the reorganization. During a JLA crossover event, the Martian Manhunter seeks out Animal Man’s expertise in the morphogenetic field to assist the League.[5] During this encounter, Martian Manhunter was disturbed by his accidental glimpse of Buddy’s understanding of the true nature of the DC Universe.

Animal Man also makes an appearance in the Identity Crisis limited series, helping to search for the murderer of Sue Dibny.

After encountering danger signs from the animal world, Animal Man is recruited by Donna Troy as part of a team journeying to New Cronos to stop the Infinite Crisis, mirroring his role in Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which he journeyed into space with the Forgotten Heroes on Brainiac’s ship. During this adventure, he formed a mentoring friendship with Firestorm, Jason Rusch.

Due to a malfunction of the zeta beam which Adam Strange deploys to return the team to earth, Animal Man, along with most of the heroes, go missing after Infinite Crisis. Eventually some of the heroes are recovered but Adam Strange, Buddy and Starfire are still missing. They become core cast members of DC’s weekly series 52.

52

In 52, Animal Man, Starfire and Adam Strange are stranded on an alien planet. The trio escape, but are pursued by bounty hunters. They are joined by Lobo. In issue #36, during a battle with Lady Styx and her horde, Animal Man is killed by a necrotoxin, which causes its victims to rise again in the service of Lady Styx. Animal Man makes Starfire promise not to let him come back as a zombie. He gestures to the reader, saying, “Look, they’re cheering us on. I told you the universe likes me.” At the moment of his death, Ellen, still on Earth, senses his death and begins to cry.

In issue #37, moments after Starfire and Adam Strange leave Animal Man in space, Buddy comes back to life. The aliens who originally granted his powers stand next to him, saying: “And so it begins.” After plucking him out of the timestream and repairing his body, they leave him in outer space. Animal Man must reach out to another life form in order to survive, and claims the abilities of a group of Sun-Eaters, including their homing sense. He observes his wife from a wormhole in space; Ellen is seeing another man.

Buddy returns to earth, describing the marvels of space to his delighted family. Ellen throws a party to celebrate his return, but some followers of Lady Styx appear, bent upon killing the family. They are eliminated by Starfire, who has only partially recovered from wounds suffered in space. She delivers Buddy’s jacket and faints from weakness and surprise when she sees him alive, leaving the family to care for her.

Countdown to Adventure

Animal Man is to join Adam Strange and Starfire in the upcoming series titled Countdown to Adventure written by Adam Beechen. The first issue reveals that his family has been caring for Starfire, who still has not regained her powers. Buddy convinces Ellen to let Starfire stay and act as a nanny to his two children. When a strange form of madness infects the people of San Diego, he and Starfire team up to stop it. Buddy’s closeness to Starfire has made Ellen disgruntled, and thinks that Buddy is in love with her. Buddy’s powers have been in a state of flux, not working at all at times, and manifesting strange abilities at others, such as creating a whirlwind, or firing energy beams. Once their extraterrestrial trip is done, Starfire leaves the Baker home, telling them that they will always be in her heart.

Fictional character biography

Pre-Crisis

Buddy Baker gained animal powers when he encountered a spaceship which blew up, infusing him with radiation. He used his powers to fight crime and ward off alien attackers.

He then joined the Forgotten Heroes group prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Post-Crisis

Baker’s post-Crisis origin was slightly altered, but retained the essence of the original. While hunting with his father as a teenage boy, he encounters a crashed spaceship which apparently endows him with his abilities. (The slight discrepancies between the two were addressed as variations on Earth-2 and Earth-1, and were acknowledged in-story, with the “original” Buddy Baker appearing, and not wishing to be written out of existence.) After an apparently unsuccessful stint as a superhero, followed by a hiatus where he utilized his powers to work as a film stuntman, Baker decides to restart and make a career out of it; this is where his self-titled series begins.

He is married to a high school sweetheart, Ellen, an illustrator for children’s books (and later, comics). They have two children, Cliff and Maxine, who are a pre-teen and toddler, respectively, when the series starts. They live in a suburban area outside of San Diego.

Through the series, Animal Man becomes a man of great compassion toward all creatures, an ardent animal rights activist, an environmentalist, and a vegetarian. Later, he finds his link to the M-field has been passed on to his daughter, Maxine, who is also connected to the animal kingdom. Although he wears a mask, he goes to no great lengths to conceal his true identity. A jacket was added to Animal Man’s costume (so he could have pockets and a place to put his keys). However, this jacket was not a leather jacket: Buddy specifically discusses that he won’t wear leather, he considers this immoral.

An early aspect of the character was his desire for fame, and is manifested by his wish to be in the Justice League. He is initially driven by a desire for the publicity from interviews and public appearances more than any altruistic impulse. Buddy joins the newly-formed Justice League Europe and bonds with Dmitiri of the Rocket Reds over the shared experiences of being fathers.[6] However, he soon resigns due to personal problems.[7]

After a brief period of re-conditioning and exploration of his limits, Baker’s first work is a job from S.T.A.R. Labs investigating a break-in in an animal testing facility. He traces it to B’wana Beast, who he is able to befriend. The conditions he witnesses at the testing facilities compel him to become vegetarian, a sudden decision that briefly puts him at odds with his family.

During his further adventures, he experiences glitches with his powers. He also begins experiencing evidences of his existence within a comic book, although he does not immediately understand them for what they are. He is targeted for murder by a mysterious organization, and is also pursued by Dr. James Highwater, a man with no memory of any prior existence, and seemingly no purpose other than to contact Baker. A parallel story involves a pair of yellow aliens (described as “agents of some unspecified ‘higher power'” that engineered the spaceship wreck which granted his powers) who are aware of the events of the Crisis and monitor Baker’s actions. They are aware of “a second Crisis” coming which they believe only Animal Man can revert. They reconcile the two variations of Animal Man’s origin through an unexplained “surgery” which also extends his abilities. Elsewhere, in Arkham Asylum, the Psycho Pirate, aware of “continuity” and his fictional environment, opens a gateway into the real world and other comic book realities.[8]

While away on a vision quest with Highwater, Baker’s family is brutally murdered. His investigation leads him into the rift in Arkham, through a comic book purgatory, and to the home of his current writer. After this encounter, his family is restored back to life and he has no memory of their deaths or the aftermath.

Next, after falling into a coma, he finds himself in a strange alternate reality, which he correctly deduces is a divergent phase of existence and is then able to return home.

Having since left the Justice League, Baker resumes his stuntwork career. He also finds himself frequently displaying uncontrolled animalistic behavior. He is assaulted by a neighbor, Travis Cody, a burnout with a PhD in electronic engineering from MIT. Cody has deduced that Baker’s powers have become skewed, and that unfocused usage of his abilities kills the animals. After reaching an understanding, the two work together to measure and enhance Animal Man’s powers. They are themselves targeted by a group of shamans, one of whom was present at Animal Man’s origin, and who are aware of the yellow aliens and the writer. During this time, Baker’s daughter Maxine begins demonstrating powers similar to his own, and is able to communicate with the shaman, who is attempting to bring Baker to him.

S.T.A.R. Labs again contacts Baker, offering a position as their spokesman on environmentalism, but he declines. After an accident in which Baker kills the entire population of the San Diego Zoo, his wife takes their daughter to live with her mother in Vermont to avoid the media attention. Baker descends into a depression and his son runs away. Baker goes to Vermont as well, where he finally meets the shaman. Meanwhile, Cody has been hired by S.T.A.R. Labs for his expertise, and while there he uncovers a conspiracy involving one of the shamans.

Powers and abilities

Buddy can mimic any abilities of any animal as a result of his encounter with a crashed alien spacecraft. He does this by either focusing on a specific animal near him, or, as he learned later, by drawing power from the animal kingdom in general (this enables him to even mimic animals that are extinct). The nature of these powers has been described in various ways, including the superficial “alien radiation” explanation of his early appearances, the reconstruction of his body by aliens with “morphogenetic grafts” at the cellular level, and currently, mystical access to a “morphogenetic field” created by all living creatures, also known as “the Red”. He does not grow wings to fly as a bird (instead he flies in classic “Superman style”), nor does he form gills to breathe underwater when mimicking a fish, but he has occasionally been known to mimic the actual appearances of animals, such as adopting the claws of a wolverine temporarily, or his metamorphosis toward the end of Delano’s run on his series.

Among the “animal powers” Buddy has been known to use are:

  • The strength of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
  • The flight of a bird.
  • The swimming ability of a fish.
  • The speed of an ant.
  • The reflexes of a fly.
  • The wall-crawling of a spider.
  • The sonic blast of a pistol shrimp.
  • The sense of smell of a moth.
  • The stench of a skunk.
  • The color changing of a chameleon.
  • The agility of a snake.
  • The electricity of an electric eel.
  • A worm’s ability to re-grow lost body parts.
  • The reproduction abilities of protozoa.
  • The durability of a cockroach.
  • The ability to “fire lightning from his face” from an unidentified alien creature.

The level of Buddy’s abilities are proportional to the size of the animal they are drawn from. Hence, drawing the jumping ability from a flea would allow him to cover great distances. However, taking the abilities of a larger animal does not result in diminished power for him. In some appearances, he can also talk to animals and enter their minds.

Tapping into the Red, Animal Man can also fire blasts of force or unidentified energy. He can even use the primordial energies to start a new universe.

In 52, Buddy experiences an upgrade that allows him to connect to the Universe’s morphogenetic field, providing him unlimited access to all animals in the universe regardless of origin. Though he gains their abilities, Animal Man knows nothing about the creatures he’s taking them from.

Awards

Animal Man won the Squiddy Award for Most Improved Series in 1992. In addition, issues #5 and #19 tied with eleven other comics for the Squiddy Award for Favorite Single Issue of Any Series in 1989. [9]

Brian Bolland won the Eisner Award for Best Cover Artist in 1992 for his work on Animal Man.[10] The series also earned several nominations in 1989, for Best Single Issue (#5), Best Writer (Grant Morrison), and Best Series.[11]

Other versions

Animal Man appears in Justice League Unlimited #29, helping Superman and B’Wana Beast against Queen Bee.

In the Titans Tomorrow alternate future from Teen Titans vol. 3 #17-19, Buddy Baker died in a crisis along with most of the other main DCU superheroes. His replacement as Animal Man in that future was Garfield Logan (aka Beast Boy).

Collected editions

Grant Morrison’s run on the series has been collected in the following trade paperback:

Volume Title Material collected ISBN
Vol. #1 Animal Man Animal Man #1-9 ISBN 1-56389-005-4
Vol. #2 Origin Of The Species Animal Man #10-17 plus the 19-page story from Secret Origins #39 ISBN 1-56389-890-X
Vol. #3 Deus Ex Machina Animal Man #18-26 ISBN 1-56389-968-X

Notes

  1. ^ Animal Man #20
  2. ^ Animal Man #21-26
  3. ^ Tom Peyer’s one-shot Vertigo Totems
  4. ^ Resurrection Man #24-27
  5. ^ JLA #40
  6. ^ Justice League International, vol. 1 #24
  7. ^ Justice League Europe #12
  8. ^ www.io.com/~woodward/chroma/crtanimal.html
  9. ^ The Squiddy Award Winners
  10. ^ www.hahnlibrary.net/comics/awards/eisner92.php
  11. ^ www.hahnlibrary.net/comics/awards/eisner89.php

References

  • Animal Man at the Comic Book DB
  • Timothy Callahan, Grant Morrison: The Early Years, (Sequart.com Books, [Masters of the Medium], 2007); ISBN 0615140874



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