So as I’ve alluded to (if not outright stated) I knew absolutely nothing about this character before reading these comics. Or I should say I knew of Animal Man but nothing about Animal Man. After a couple of weeks of confusion I decided to engage in vigorous research. This is to say, I Googled quite a bit.
Animal Man made his debut in 1965’s Strange Adventures #180. Written by Dave Wood and drawn by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos Animal Man would have a sporadic history, never really taking off as a mainstream DC hero. Eventually in the 1980s he became a member of the “Forgotten Heroes” team in which he was able to participate in the crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths. FYI: a tell-tale sign you have become insignificant is you are part of a team called “Forgotten Heroes”.
Note: I thought about describing Crisis on Infinite Earths to give a little perspective on the shakeup in the DC universe but quickly realized that is far bigger than can be done here and probably deserves a whole article. Also, I’m not sure I understand it.
So who is Animal Man?
Animal man is Bernhard “Buddy” Baker. Buddy encounters a spaceship that blows up and infuses him with radiation that allows him to temporarily take on the abilities of an animal he is in close proximity to, as happens when spaceships blow up. So if he is near a gorilla he has gorilla strength. If he is near a cheetah he has the speed of a cheetah. Near a dolphin, swims like a dolphin. He once gained the ability to jump like a flea, which sounds stupid at first but is actually pretty impressive if you think about it. Now to be clear he doesn’t actually become that animal, like say Manimal, but simply exhibits the characteristics and abilities of that animal.
Post-crisis Animal man was rebooted a bit by Grant Morrison. He was now a teenager who was into punk rock when he gained his abilities because…Grant Morrison. Under Morrison the stories became hyper-aware of themselves. Themes of environmentalism and vegetarianism and animal rights were emphasized; things Morrison championed as well. And the series became surreal and psychedelic. Buddy at one point even becoming aware of his existence as a comic book character making him very Deadpooly (or Deadpool very Animal Manly, depending on how you look at it).
Post-Morrison the series moved to Vertigo where it took on a darker, quasi-religious tone with runs from Jamie Delano and Jerry Prosser. This brings us to…