Forgotten Heroes – Why Animal Man Deserves A TV Show

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A key member of DC’s “Forgotten Heroes” Animal Man is not a character many know. Despite being created in 1965, Buddy Baker has never had his turn in the spotlight.  His origins and power set can be confusing to explain. Sadly with a lack of any stand out villains he’s easily overlooked by the masses. So why would he be the ideal character to make the jump from comic to screen? His family and the horrors that they have to endure to make him Animal Man.

More Heroes?

With the rise in popularity of mature comic adaptations such as Outcast, Preacher, and Legion, the TV landscape is once again changing. We already have our “superheroes” with Arrow, Flash, Legends Of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Agents of Shield, and The Defenders.  It’s safe to say that our quota of costumed hero’s has been filled. However the last thing we need is another person throwing on spandex and trying to save the world. What we need is a family man, who wants very little to do with the world of spandex and super-villains. A hero whose comic has covered social issues, family breakdowns and at one point being made up entirely of different animal parts. 

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Who is Animal Man?

Buddy Baker gained his powers from an exploding spaceship in his youth and as a result gained the ability to harness the attributes of any animal that has been alive. This includes being able to fly like an eagle, heal himself like an earth worm or breath underwater like a dolphin.Although these don’t sound like very effective powers, they lend themselves well to the tone of Animal Man. After a failed stint as a superhero he gave this up to become a stunt man and focus on his family with his wife Ellen and his two kids.  

What’s It About?

The pre-52 Animal Man touched on animal testing, the bonds of family and even religion. Whilst the New 52 version took the horror roots of the comics early days and firmly ran with them. Animal Man was one of the few comics to not have any major rebooting after the birth of the New 52. This allowed for the comic to merely continue as if it hadn’t been cancelled. Whilst not having to delve too much into Buddy’s Past. It is the new 52 version that we will be looking at to explain why Animal Man would make for a great TV show whilst dipping into some of the more iconic story-lines.

Why would it work?

Jeff Lamire’s run on the new 52 Animal Man could easily be transported from page to screen. From the first beginning of the issue there is no explanation or back story of who Buddy Baker is. There is none of the hiding the hero identity from his family, no grappling with the weight and responsibility of his powers. We simply get Buddy going about his business. His family know of his alter ego and support him. Ellen worries about his safety but is fully supportive, even as the story continues Ellen proves to be one of the best hero wives because she’s always got his back. There would be none of the usual hero cliché’s that TV often relies on to increase drama. This isn’t just the story of Animal Man, but rather the tale of the Baker Family.  

The Baker Family

From his onset as series writer Jeff Lamire said that he wanted to focus more on the family aspect of Animal Man and this is where the strength of the show would lie. One thing that made Outcast such a hit was its dependence on the support cast and allowing them to add to tension to the show.  Ellen Baker and her two children would be amazing to watch as they balance their own personal lives and the ramifications of having a superhero in the family.

The New 52 Animal Man comic spent a very large portion dealing with one ongoing story. There were very little filler issues and until near the end of the run had a single villain – The Rot. The story spans months and affects not only Buddy and Ellen but their children Cliff and Maxine. As well as a very disgruntled mother in law and the family cat. The material in the comics could easily span two seasons easily if the episode order was on the smaller side with only 10 -12  episodes per season.  If the show went in with a five-year plan, they could mine the early stories and move nicely onto the larger New 52 story arc. 

Fantasy Casting

A large part of the appeal of Buddy is that he is a tall blonde haired red-blooded American so casting him wouldn’t be difficult. That being said, Josh Holloway could breathe life to Buddy who is prone to letting his emotions get the better of him. Physically he would fit the bill perfectly.He’s got the presence of a hero, but has the acting chops to show the depth of the struggles that being the Avatar of the Red entails.  

Marcia Cross would make an amazing Ellen Baker, bringing sophistication and steel to the role of “superhero wife.”  Her time in Desperate Housewives showed the ability to bring dry comedy to a dark series.  Ellen Baker is not a woman to cross and she will do anything to protect her family. Marcia Cross could breathe life into this role while also being a perfect physical fit for Ellen.

Maxine and Cliff are harder  to cast as they are both quite young however Stranger Things has shown that there is no shortage of talented child actors out there.

The Big Bad

One problem with the pre New-52 Animal Man was his lack of regular villains. He dealt largely with social issue’s so the list of villains for him to fight is small! However this doesn’t mean there aren’t any. B’Wana Beast and The Spider Queen could both play the smaller roles. Both Brother Blood and The Rot could also serve as two larger than life villains. Especially as The Rot has The Hunters Three acting as its agents through the new 52 comic run.  Depending on the route that the show took, there’s essentially five season long villains on that list.

Mapping The Seasons

Animal Man’s first main villian B’Wana Beast
Season One

If the show had a five-year run, they could start with B’Wana beast as the main antagonist for season one, showing the audience the values and core dynamic for the Baker family. Introduce the power set of Animal Man and use the early Grant Morrison material for the tone of the show. Part comedy, part drama as Buddy deals with the financial problems of being an out of work actor. Whilst balancing a desire to do good and keep his family safe. The beauty of B’Wana beast being the main villain was his over all lack of villainy. He was misunderstood and trying to avenge his animal friends. The two ended up being friends in the comics, but not before battling it out. In the season one finale show that Buddy’s daughter Maxine has powers leading to a cliff hanger.

Season Two

Season Two could focus on the links to The Red, Maxine finding her powers and Ellen trying to ensure that her daughter doesn’t go down the same route as her father. With the introduction of Maxine’s powers, it gives the Spider Queen the excuse to become a feature. It would be a good chance to showcase the Baker family more as they have to bond together to fight a demon from outside of space and time. Bonus points for casting Lucy Lawless as Anasi. 

Season Three and Four

Third and fourth season’s could deal with The Rot. Taking heavily from the Lemire run – a family on the run from death itself. The scope and drama of this would translate to with characters we’ve grown to love and care for. The stakes would be high and if they stuck to the source material there would be casualties on all fronts.

Season Five

The final season could deal with Brother Blood and a broken Baker family trying to pull themselves back together. In  the New 52 run Brother Blood shows up during the worst period of Animal Man’s life. Thus pushing Buddy beyond to his physical and mental limits. For the final season  he would be able to show what Animal Man can really do. 

Why Now?

The time is right for hero’s to go darker. Shows such as Outcast and Preacher  show that adult shows make money. They attract an audience who wouldn’t watch Arrow or Flash. Animal Man is much more than a superhero. He’s a father, a husband and at his core he is a social warrior. Looking at Grant Morrisons run on the comic he had Buddy fighting for animal rights, social justice and his family at all costs. The Animal Man comic got people talking about the world around them. Surely the point of good television is to do the same.

Animal Man is just one of a number of “forgotten heroe’s”. Who else would you love to see given the spotlight? Do you agree with the fantasy casting? Sound off in the comments below!

Jamesey Lefebure
A Scotsman living in Liverpool who spends far too much time with his head in a horror book. Stephen Kings 2nd biggest fan and Wonder Woman enthusiast, I'm always happy to talk horror in any format, comics or cheesy TV.