Page 12

Published originally in ANIMAL MAN #2

If you’ve been reading comics for any length of time, you’ll probably already sussed that this is the part of the book where someone rambles on at tedious length about how they’ve wanted to write this or that particular character since they were able to read, etc., etc. You’re doubtless also aware that these things are simply eleventh-hour fillers that we throw together while we’re waiting for some letters to trickle in. I’d like to be able to tell you that this is going to be something quite different, but the plain truth of the matter is that it’s not, so those of you who, like me, actually enjoy reading things like this on the way home from the comic store are welcome to stay. Everyone else is free to go and do something more interesting with their lives. I suppose I ought to start by telling you how I first picked up STRANGE ADVENTURES #180 in 1965 and was so impressed by the “I Was the Man with Animal Powers” story that I decided then and there to become a comics writer, but that’s not actually how it happened. I first came across the original Animal Man stories when they were reprinted in ADVENTURE COMICS as back-up to Supergirl in the days when she was a swinging chick with temperamental powers and incendiary hot pants. Given my bizarre pubescent fantasies about Bob Oksner’s centerfold rendition of the Maid of Might, it’s a miracle that my powers of sight survived long enough for me to reach the back-up stories at all. But somehow they did, and it was there that I discovered Buddy Baker, the man with animal powers. There comes a point in every young comics fan’s life when his appetites become jaded with the same old familiar characters. Like a gourmet in search of ever more exotic dishes, the super-hero aficio-

nado grows eager for each new whiff of the arcane and the obscure, and for me, Animal Man was about as obscure as they came. I’d yet to experience the delights of real oddities like the American Man O’ Metal—who appeared in a 19471 comic that bore the highly suspect title Reg’lar Fellers—or the British Rocket Jock. I’m still not sure why those four reprinted adventures should have fascinated me quite as much as they did; despite typically vigorous art by Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino, the stories themselves were fairly standard 1960s SF fare, in which alien races regularly invaded Earth and visited all kinds of indignities upon a strangely unconcerned populace. Perhaps it was his roots as simply the lead character in one of those shorts that always began “I Was The...” (“I Was the Prisoner of the Atom Dwarfs”, “I Was the Love Child of Bigfoot”, etc.) that set Animal Man apart from his fellow crimebusters. Perhaps it was the fact that here was a character who spent his first two adventures in civilian clothes and who narrated his own stories in the first person—almost de rigueur these days but quite unusual for a super-hero comic back in those simpler times. Perhaps it had something to do with the surreal vision of American domestic life that was presented in these stories —I mean, we’re talking about the mid1960s here, when psychedelic drugs and the war in Vietnam were in the process of transforming a whole culture. In the midst of all this, Buddy Baker was nervously trying to work up the courage to propose to his “sweetheart”, Ellen. When he finally did manage to get the words out, he fainted. Critics often talk about the unrealistic portrayals of women in comics but you only have to look at characters like Barry Allen, Ray Palmer and Buddy Baker to see where the really weird stuff was happe-