So Comicon has wrapped up again for another year, passing into memory with a whiff of body odour and the squeaking of more PVC than is generally wise. It’s brought another flurry of announcements from major comic publishers and movie studios, getting people exciting for movies about to drop like Guardians of the Galaxy, and movies further off, like every other Marvel movie for the rest of time.
DC’s contribution has been mostly spruiking their upcoming Superman V Batman movie, which has included revelations that Batman looks like Batman and Wonder Woman looks like Xena. So when one of the most iconic superheroes of all time has to be snuck into a different movie because DC isn’t sure she could support her own franchise, it’s fairly unlikely we’ll see any movie starring…
Who the Hell is That?
Buddy Baker was just an average guy until strange yellow space aliens bathed him with cosmic rays, as sometimes happens. He found that he now posessed the power to mimic the powers of animals, for example the strength of a gorilla or the flight of birds. The way his powers work and their limits are kind of vague,and seem to change depending on whatever the person writing him thinks is cool. He’s not a very good superhero.
What Makes Them So Special?
However he has been written extremely well over the years, and has become the poster-boy for obscure characters saved through reinvention. Of course it didn’t start off so well. After just a handful of adventures in the 1960s and 70s, poor old Buddy found himself consigned to the scrap bin of forgotten comics characters.
Then, as part of the British Invasion of comics in the 80s, led by now-forgotten nobodies like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, Animal Man was chosen by Grant Morrison as a character he could play around with and break if he wanted to without jeopardizing DC’s Bat-shaped money machine.
Morrison initially turned Buddy into a part-time superhero, who had to hold down a job and take his kids to school while also occasionally fighting crime. He then became an animal rights activist and used his powers to fight for green causes. That alone would have been an interesting hook, but Morrison went one further.
Buddy started to suspect there was something wrong with his life, something that didn’t add up. He goes on a quest to find himself, and then, in an unusual twist, actually does.
This meeting leads Buddy to realise that he’s a fictional character, who exisits in a comic book universe. The page where this happens is one of the most iconic in comics, so I won’t spoil it here. Also, in a spooky development, every time I tried to load an image of it the site wouldn’t let me. So go find it for yourselves. It’s worth it.
The series wraps up with Buddy literally talking to his creator, Grant Morrison, getting to ask the questions we all wish we could ask of our creator, but not liking that most of the answers to all the death and destruction in his life boil down to “it made a better story.”
This sort of fourth-wall breaking was revolutionary at the time, and Morrison used it to inform the rest of the run, using Animal Man to comment on superhero comics specifically, right up to the nature of stories in general. Like a guy with “animal powers” it works as well as it’s written, and it was written very well.
After Morrison’s groundebreaking series, Animal Man continued as a fairly straight superhero again for a few years before getting rebooted along with the rest of the DC Universe for the New 52, where he’s got his own ongoing series by Jeff Lemire, who’s taken more of a horror approach, looking at the visceral impact of a man who can take on the aspects of animals.
So yeah, another radical departure from what’s come before. Basically, an Animal Man movie has the potential to be balls-out crazy in at least three different ways. In the right hands.
Why It’ll Never Work
As I’ve lamented before, DC has been caught with its pants down on the whole superhero movie thing, which, again, given it’s the company that has Superman and Batman at it’s disposal, is fairly embarrassing. They’re now struggling to catch up, but they’re hamstrung by the fact that they seem kind of embarassed by their characters. Man of Steel was an attempt to make Superman look “cool” by changing that stupid, iconic costume of his, and having him snap 100% more necks than before.
In an era where that stuff is happening, something tells me a movie that could very likely be one large critique of the horrors of actually living in a comic book universe is fairly low on DC’s priorities.
What We’ll Have to Settle For Instead
There actually is a movie about a guy who can adopt the attributes of different creatures. Unfortunately, it’s Rob Schneider’s The Animal.
Truly we live in the worst of all possible worlds.