37 years ago - Buddy Baker is born.
22 years ago - 15-year-old Buddy is taken by aliens while hunting & given an innate connection to the planet's M-fields. He begins an unspectacular and short career as Animal Man.
19 years ago - 18-year-old Buddy marries Ellen, his high school sweetheart, and begins a career as a stuntman.
15 years ago - 22-year-old Buddy becomes vegetarian & animal rights activist.
12 years ago - 25-year-old Buddy's son Cliff is born.
10 years ago - 27-year-old Buddy, inspired by the Justice League and with his wife's support, becomes Animal Man again, this time focusing on animal rights. Evan McCulloch takes a contract on his life, but Buddy convinces him to use his talents elsewhere.
7 years ago - 30-year-old Buddy's daughter Maxine is born.
5 years ago - 32-year-old Buddy is taken to the home planet of the aliens that originally abducted him. He is permitted to leave, but must find his own way home. He is mistaken for a target by Lobo, and only survives thanks to Adam Strange & Koriand'r, who comes back to earth with him and becomes his children's nanny.
3 years ago - 34-year-old Buddy steps from the Justice League after the White Martian attack. He helps 24-year-old Mari Jiwe McCabe better understand her powers & inspires her to become Vixen.
Buddy doesn't have a unique power set, or even powers that make any amount of sense. The thing that makes him a great character is his unique perspective on BEING a superhero. I've enhanced it a bit, but it's always been part of his story that he had a brief career as Animal Man when he was younger, and then approached it again later on. He's a father, and a family man, and that's always mattered, always been a part of who he is. He might not be the only superhero that's also a parent, but he IS the only one that approaches his career as a superhero with a healthy amount of distance. Becoming a parent gives you a view on the world that you don't seem to get anywhere else; the volume knob seems to be turned down. Buddy has that. He's a superhero because it's the right thing to do, but he chooses the terms of his career and how it affects him, and that gives him a perspective that you just don't see anywhere else.
It's pretty much impossible to talk about Animal Man without bringing up Grant Morrison. Most of the time, when I'm researching a character and I discover a period of their history that involves Morrison, it's time to take the rest of the evening off, because stuff is about to get weird. The guy lands like a bomb on every book he writes, and continues to produce some of the greatest, most cerebral mainstream comics ever.
His work on Animal Man was part of a large upswell in Scottish & British writers taking over obscure DC properties and reworking them into postmodern masterpieces. Of all of them, Grant's work stood out because it was such a meditation on superhero comics. Buddy discovered that he was a comic character. He came to question his own reality, his nature as a living piece of fiction & his relationship with the reader. Buddy turned and gazed at the reader in shock, shouting "I can see you!" Grant wrote himself INTO the comic, ruminating on his motivations as a writer, chatting with his own creation.
Ultimately, for Buddy to exist in the collective story that is the DC universe, these elements can't hold. But they are absolutely amazing, and the clarity of purpose Buddy has regarding his role as a superhero and as a father will always owe a little bit to the incredible stories Grant told.