Animal Man first appeared in Strange Adventures #180 (Sept 1965), in a story entitled “I Am the Man with Animal Powers!” There, Buddy Baker, while hunting, was caught in the blast of a crashing alien spaceship. Reviving, he found that he had the power to duplicate the abilities of any animal near him. For example, he could acquire the ability to fly from a bird (despite not having wings).
Buddy Baker lost those powers at the end of the story, which wasn’t intended to have a second chapter. But the character returned, regaining his powers and battling the yellow aliens now associated with his origin. Only in his third story did Buddy become a proper super-hero, with a costume and a name: A-Man. The name Animal Man was first used in his fourth story, though only in the titles. In his fifth and final story, in Strange Adventures #201 (June 1967), Animal Man fought Mod Gorilla Boss, a talking gorilla gangster in a zoot suit.
Buddy Baker had only appeared in five stories in the anthology Strange Adventures, spaced over the course of two and a half years. When the title shifted formats and his stories stopped, he disappeared, and there was no reason to think he’d ever be seen again.
And he would stay absent throughout the entire decade of the 1970s. Everyone, it seemed, had forgotten this obscure character.
That is, until Animal Man resurfaced in Wonder Woman Vol. 1 #267 (May 1980), the beginning of a two-parter. Animal Man would return again in the pages of Action Comics; this time, however, he would appear along with other forgotten heroes who would team together. This team, christened the Forgotten Heroes, also included the Immortal Man (the team leader who reincarnated again and again after dying — again and again — in his battles), Rip Hunter (the time-travelling scientist), Rick Flagg (the former Suicide Squad leader), Dane Dorrance (the former leader of the Sea Devils, an undersea team of scuba men), Congorilla (Congo Bill, a mercenary whose mind had been magically transferred into the body of a gorilla), Cave Carson (a spelunker), and Dolphin (a water-breathing heroine). After four appearances in Action Comics, the team appeared in DC Comics Presents #77-78 (Jan-Feb 1985). The team battled foes such as Vandal Savage and their opposite number, the Forgotten Villains. They also appeared in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but seemed to have no place in DC’s revised post-Crisis continuity and new focus.
Animal Man next appeared in his own ongoing series. How could he go from such obscurity to his own ongoing? Well… DC, following the success of Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, began to recruit British comics writers. As Moore had revived a dying title, so these creators would be given obscure characters who could be recreated with impunity. This initiative led to Neil Gaiman‘s work on The Sandman — and it also led to Grant Morrison‘s work on Animal Man.
Beginning with #5, Morrison began to execute a roughly two-year plan for the series — a great rarity at the time. The series was a stunning artistic success. But Morrison, who had taken the job of writing DC’s Doom Patrol, left the title as his two-year plan concluded.
Writer Peter Milligan performed the difficult task of following Morrison, who had severely undermined the notion of the series’s reality by the end of his run. Following his six-issue rehabilitation of the characters, Tom Veitch took over as writer. Veitch continued until issue #50, at which point Jamie Delano took over as writer. Delano did for Animal Man what Alan Moore had done for Swamp Thing, giving Animal Man the animalistic Red, a field of connected consciousness and his equivalent of Swamp Thing’s vegetative Green. After half a year, Animal Man became one of DC’s six ongoing mature readers books that formed to core of Vertigo, DC’s new mature readers imprint. When Delano left a couple years thereafter, the scripting reigns were handed to Jerry Prosser, who continued until the series’s cancellation. But none of these writers, while on the whole quite capable, could match in fame what Morrison had done on the title.
Animal Man subsequently appeared in a number of standard DC Universe titles, as well as the Vertigo one-shot Totems, but he would finally return to prominence as part of the ensemble cast of 52, a follow-up to Infinite Crisis co-written by Grant Morrison. Although the writers of 52 generally refused to reveal who among them had written what part of the series, they revealed that Morrison had written Animal Man’s dialogue, out of respect for his work on the character. Animal Man later returned in the 2009 mini-series The Last Days of Animal Man.
When DC relaunched its entire universe in 2011, Animal Man got his first ongoing title in 16 years, and it became one of the best-reviewed of DC’s new titles.