Why Animal Man Is The Next DC Superhero Who Deserves A Movie

The DC Universe has gone through some major upheaval of late. Some issues can be credited to the merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery, while other problems have existed for a while. Between shelving the nearly-completed "Batgirl" and the continually-troubled production of "The Flash," not to mention the spotty quality of DC movies overall — read our review of "Black Adam" here — Warner Bros. didn't seem to have a clear direction for its comic properties. That may all be changing with DC Studios, which will be headed up by auteur James Gunn and producer Peter Safran. This begs the question, what's next for the DCU?

We know sequels to the company's more successful films such as "The Batman," "Joker," and the long-gestating "Wonder Woman 3" are in the works, and that "Shazam! Fury of the Gods," "Blue Beetle" and "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" are set to hit theaters next year. Then there's the recent return of Henry Cavill's Superman, which raises more questions than it answers. Unlike Marvel, whose master plan stretches years into the future, DC seems to be driving without much of a roadmap. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticized for churning out projects that are becoming increasingly homogenized.

Gunn has acted as a major creative force for both Marvel and DC, having helmed two "Guardians of the Galaxy" films — with a third on the way — for the former, as well as "The Suicide Squad" and its spinoff, "Peacemaker," for the latter. The filmmaker has a talent for turning lesser-known characters into household names and it's fun to consider where DC could go heading into this uncharted territory. So, what DC superhero should be next in line to receive the live-action treatment? I would like to present for your consideration, Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man!

Who is Animal Man?

Buddy Baker was created by Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino, and debuted in "Strange Adventures" #180 in 1965. In typical comic book fashion, Buddy gained his powers from a crashed spaceship and as his name suggests, he can borrow abilities from animals. Those powers make him far more formidable than you might expect. Imagine having the flight of an eagle, the strength of an elephant, and the speed of a cheetah all at once! That said, Buddy began his existence as a pretty goofy character.

Buddy appeared sporadically over the decades before being completely reinvented by Grant Morrison during their groundbreaking run on "Animal Man," which began in 1988. Alan Moore had left superhero comics forever changed not only with "Watchmen," but with his unparalleled work on "Swamp Thing" as well and in the wake of this, DC hoped to find more British scribes who could revitalize some other characters that no one cared about.

Morrison treated Buddy as an everyman: a stuntman-turned-superhero trying to balance his family life at the same time. Buddy's wife, Ellen, and two children, Cliff and Maxine, also played major roles in the series. Morrison used the book to champion their own causes, namely animal rights. These issues are very close to my own heart as well and Morrison would further explore them in subsequent works, one of my favorites being "We3," which has stunning art from Frank Quitely.

Morrison redefined Buddy, using his empathy for the creatures he was so closely linked to completely change who he was and enabling him to find a new sense of purpose. Like Morrison, Buddy became a vegetarian and fought on behalf of animals. The series had great art from Chas Truog, Doug Hazlewood, and Tom Grummett, among others, and featured stellar covers by Brian Bolland.

Redefining Buddy Baker

Morrison, better known for their work with bigger heroes like the X-Men or Batman, has largely made a career of redefining characters. They explained in their introduction to the first collected volume of "Animal Man" that their original intent was "to radicalize and realign the character of Buddy Baker and then leave him for someone else to pick up and develop." However, after being asked to continue the book on a monthly basis, Morrison needed to incorporate some other ideas. Having "no desire to produce yet another grittily realistic exploration of what it is to be superhuman and/or an urban vigilante with emotional problems," they went in another direction entirely.

What was initially intended as a four-issue miniseries grew into something else altogether, beginning with the excellent "Animal Man" #5, "The Coyote Gospel." The book would become very meta from here, playing with the form in new and exciting ways. This issue in particular set the pace for the rest of Morrison's run, which culminates in something truly wonderful and unexpected that I won't spoil here. 

Morrison even joked that the story's popularity encouraged them to "go on to produce the entirely unreadable gibberish" that they have since become known for. Their run is absolutely brilliant, but other talented creators have tackled the character as well. Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman also did an awesome run for DC's New 52 beginning in 2011. The point being, there's lots of great material to draw from for an Animal Man movie.

Why we need an Animal Man movie

DC's got plenty of sequels in the works, but what about adapting new characters? Other than "Black Adam" and the upcoming "Blue Beetle," there don't seem to be many. As much as I'd love to see my main squeeze Nightwing starring in his own movie, I do think that would work out better if it was something DC built up to over time. We've seen what happens when the company tries to do too much too quickly.

Buddy is fairly unique in his struggle to juggle his home life, career, and superheroics, especially in comic book movies. This makes him an interesting character to adapt. Not only is he actually relatable, but Buddy has a very different perspective from what viewers are used to seeing. Aside from that, an Animal Man film could be super fun! Grant Morrison paved the way for smart, meta-commentary on both storytelling and life in general. After all, has there ever been a more cruel god than a writer? Later stories from "Hellblazer" scribe Jamie Delano proved the character can be compelling in a horror narrative as well. Plus, the way Jeff Lemire expanded on Animal Man's mythology, even crossing an arc over with my other fave, Swamp Thing, could also make for a pretty extraordinary movie or three.

Another aspect of Buddy that makes him an exciting candidate for adaptation is his dedication to the animals he fights for. It would be very on-brand if the film made people actually consider how much our lifestyle costs the creatures that are regularly consumed or experimented on in the name of it. Much like Morrison's run did for comic readers, an Animal Man movie could give audiences an education in animal rights.

It's the perfect time for Animal Man

Honestly, I love DC and Marvel Comics equally, and would rather see comic fans unite than argue over which company is better. Even those behind making these movies will tell you that this rivalry primarily exists within the minds of fans. That said, though I've loved a couple of them, I don't have a ton of faith in DC movies currently. As a huge fan of James Gunn's work, I'm hoping this will change now that he and Safran have taken over this new film division.

I'm a firm believer that spectacular writing and art can make one fall in love with any comic book character. This is why I tend to follow writers and artists rather than specific heroes or villains. I never thought Swamp Thing would become a favorite, but then I read Alan Moore's run early on in my comics journey and it was revelatory. The characters are not the problem with the DC movies that haven't resonated with fans, but rather the way their stories are being told. Much like with the source material, you need creatives who either understand these characters or have the ability to redefine them. The best comic runs are those that completely reinvented already established heroes.

If anyone understands what makes Animal Man such a fun and complex character or could hand the project to someone who does, it would be James Gunn. After all, he's managed to make us all care so deeply about quite a few D-listers for both Marvel and DC at this point. Buddy Baker could bring something truly fresh to the DCU and for the record, an Animal Man TV show also has the potential to be amazing. Come on DC, make this a reality!