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 red, a field of elemental animal energy. 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 a 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. He finally crosses space by confronting the Controllers, freeing their Sun-eaters, and copying their navvigation abilities. Kori comes back to earth with him and becomes his children's nanny.
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. He might not be the only superhero that is also a spouse and parent, but he is generally one of the only ones that treats his time as a superhero as a JOB, not a calling. It's not the most important thing to him. This shouldn't be as revolutionary an idea as it is, but in practice it makes him something truly unique and very worth exploring.
Animal Man's Comic History
Animal Man (or 'A-Man', as he was originally called) debuted in 1965 in a back-up story in Strange Adventures #180. He was a pretty simple character; a stuntman who gained the ability to adapt animal traits after he was caught in the blast radius of an exploding alien spacecraft. It's kind of a tricky power set to invest in; animals don't exactly have superpowers. The character only appeared occasionally, five times in Strange Adventures and then six more times in different series over the course of the next twenty years or so. He did eventually change his name to 'Animal Man', but the character was basically a non-starter.
In the late 80's DC went through the Crisis of Infinite Earths and went about redefining itself. One of the changes that was made was to hire a bunch of young, experimental writers out of the UK to take over some of their lesser-known properties. The result was a ton of wild experimentation from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Peter Milligan and so on, and Animal Man was first introduced to the writer that would go on to largely define him.
Grant Morrison & Animal Man
A lot of the writers of what I'm just now deciding to call the 'UK Invasion' brought in a lot of innovative concepts, but it's hard to find one that used more meta commentary than Morrison's Animal Man. He redefined Buddy as a working-class family man with a wife and kids living in a surreal comic book world of aliens and super-criminals. Eventually Buddy discovered his own reality as a comic book character and met Morrison himself. It remains one of my favorite comic books to read and a big reason that I am such a fan of his. Obviously, the meta ideas of Animal Man can't really be stretched out into the larger DC universe, but the initial characterization of Buddy has proved a reliable premise. He's gone on to be featured in several ongoing series right up to the New 52 and beyond. While many of the UK Invasion creators would go on to define DC's Vertigo imprint, Animal Man stands out because he's also a regular part of the DC universe proper.
Our Animal Man Story
While Animal Man has appeared in the DC universe at large, he's really a much better character within the confines of his own narrative. While his brief membership in the Justice League is a cool idea and should absolutely be part of his story, Buddy's perspective on his carrier and the world around him is simply way more interesting when he's a perpetual outsider.
Because our timeline is structured primarily around all the major interactions a character has with the other characters around them, Buddy's timeline actually looks pretty spartan. He has his own early journey, of course; getting his powers thanks to alien experiments, his failed attempt at being a superhero, his career as a stuntman and building his family. When we come to his modern superheroic career, though, it doesn't really have the same dense level of crossover that other characters might have because it's just not as high a priority for him.
There are few major storylines we included. His time spent in space with the weird but oddly satisfying Starfire / Adam Strange team-up was a popular one, and by including it we also have a reason to bring Starfire back to Earth from her home planet for a time. He also serves as a great gateway for the introduction of Vixen, another character with essentially the same powers but who is much more dedicated to her career as a superhero.
Animal Man's Costume
There's a little more costume variety available for Animal Man than you might think. the overall shape of his basic jumpsuit is pretty well established, with the mask that covers his goggles and the A-shape on his chest. What you sometimes see, though, is a difference in color. Sometimes it's completely blue with white details, while more classically it's orange with blue trim. Also there have been times when his goggles have been depicted with some rather lunatic proportions, although this is more of a holdover from his time as a vertigo character when weirdness was the name of the game. We'd like to basically keep the orange costume (although he could have worn the blue variant in his earlier, non-successful attempt at being a hero), and while his goggles might be a little wider than you might normally see (probably derived from something he used in his career as a stunt person), they're going to at least fit on his face.
And of course, he's going to have that jacket. It might be a relic of the 90's, but it's one of my favorite parts of his design.
Animal Man's Future
The New 52 series Animal Man took the character into a really bold new direction. It featured a story where the Red started to go haywire, leading to some really fantastic body-horror stories and some almost cronenberg-level monstrous transformations for Buddy. It wasn't for everyone, but Buddy is such a weird, quirky character that having such a bizarre tangent in his narrative and visual style totally worked. I'd love to see our version of the character have to undergo a similar trial.
Of course, that series was also fun because it managed to really show how Buddy's relationship with his family defines him. The absolute best Animal Man stories are completely focused on his wife and kids. They aren't perfect, they fight, they react like real people to the nonsense of having a superhero father and husband. In the end, when they pull through, they're all the better because of it.