When superheroes aren't eating shawarma or saving cats from trees, they actually lead lives remarkably similar to our own. Peel away the spandex and you'll see that underneath, these noble vigilantes also swear when things go wrong, or even engage in some Netflix and chill with their loved ones. However, Hollywood only caught up to this idea fairly recently, finally portraying superheroes such as Wolverine and #Deadpool through the R-rated lens that they deserve.
The success of movies like Logan has kickstarted a whole new wave of more mature superhero films, including the upcoming movies #Venom and Justice League Dark. As two of the first titles to combine horror with the superhero genre, both films will undoubtedly bring the scares, but we can't help but feel that Hollywood is overlooking the very best example of this hybrid that comics has to offer.
Sure, we have Venom and Justice League Dark on the horizon, but what we don't have yet is an Animal Man movie, one which could truly encapsulate the brilliance of a superhero comic that also holds the power to scare. Laugh all you want, but trust us; Animal Man is the R-rated superhero movie we need right now.
Who Is Animal Man?
Mostly familiar only to hardcore #DC obsessives, Animal Man first appeared in 1965, gaining the power to mimic the ability of any animal after encountering a crashed alien space craft, because — comics. Initially known as A-Man, the long forgotten hero faded into obscurity for a few decades before resurfacing in 1988 as the star of his own solo comic.
After legendary author Grant Morrison took the reigns, Buddy Baker became so much more than just a superhero, championing environmentalism and animal rights in ways never before seen in mainstream comics. As if that wasn't groundbreaking enough, Animal Man then proceeded to shatter the fourth wall too, even meeting Morrison himself in a meta-mindf**k that predates Deadpool's shenanigans by a number of years.
Unfortunately, interest soon waned after Morrison left the book, and Animal Man was once again relegated to the wilderness from whence he came. It wasn't until DC rebooted its entire line in 2011 that Animal Man returned to the pages of his own comic. Written by Jeff Lemire, Buddy Baker's adventures under the New 52 banner took a dramatically darker turn, exploring genuinely unnerving storylines that brought Cronenbergian body horror to the vomit-inducing fore.
Of all the freaky new characters that Lemire created during his run, the Hunters Three are easily the most disturbing. After emerging from the pregnant corpses of three hippos, these evil beings fed on zoo keepers before unconvincingly wearing their skin as a disguise. All of those zombie animals that Buddy's daughter raised from the dead seem kind of cute in comparison, right?
Why Should We Care About Animal Man?
Despite remaining a low-tier hero, Animal Man is easily one of the most unique characters owned by DC, bringing something fresh and new to comics every time he's brought back from the abyss. Just his powers alone should be enough to pique the interest of those bored by the usual feats of flight and strength.
Yes, Buddy Baker can also fly like a bird or draw on the brawn of an elephant, but the menagerie of Animal Man's powers spreads far beyond that, including, but not limited to:
- The reflexes of a fly.
- The durability of a cockroach.
- The sonic blast of a pistol shrimp.
- The stench of a skunk.
- The color changing abilities of a chameleon.
Those who bemoan the current saturation of superhero movies would struggle to criticize Animal Man for being generic, particularly when you consider how a solo movie could follow some unusual routes while still remaining faithful to the essence of the character.
Remember that time Superman almost drowned a fisherman in order to save some dolphins? Neither do we, but that's exactly the kind of offbeat story that Animal Man would become embroiled in. From his compassion for his fellow creatures to the way in which Buddy quite literally questions his own existence, a movie adaptation could be the breath of fresh air that Hollywood needs — and that's before we even begin to discuss Animal Man's foray into horror.
How Would An Animal Man Movie Work?
Animal Man may possess the powers of every creature in the world combined, but Buddy's most extraordinary skill is his ability to understand the fictional reality of his world. Deadpool may know that he's in a movie, but Animal Man actually met his maker for real in the comics, something which could be exploited in bizarre fashion if he ever appears on the big screen.
Given the horror bent of Animal Man's most recent run in the comics, it would be fascinating if a movie adaptation broke the fourth wall by actively acknowledging the tropes typically associated with the genre. From creepy basements and immortal boogeymen to the concept of the Final Girl, Animal Man could easily poke fun at horror stereotypes in ways never seen before on screen, assuming of course that such a movie would be rated R.
Even if an Animal Man movie didn't draw from Morrison's meta-physical run and focused purely on Lemire's horror-based stories, there's plenty of scope for redefining the genre. Essentially, a movie could work on the premise that Buddy's power is derived from The Red, a life-force that bonds all life together. As The Red's chosen avatar, Animal Man fights to stop The Rot, which stands for the essence of Death itself. Along the way, Buddy would fight to protect his family and the Earth itself from The Rot and an army of grotesque creatures who are hellbent on upsetting the natural balance.
Sounds like nothing you've ever seen before, right? In theory, a R-rated Animal Man movie could change the landscape of superhero films forever, but there's just one problem.
Will Animal Man Ever Appear In A Movie Of His Own?
Warner Bros. already has a busy schedule in the coming years, taking their chances on a number of untested DC characters such as Batgirl and Gotham City Sirens, so is there any room for Buddy Baker in a R-rated movie of his own?
Let's face it; the chances aren't great. Even in their animated line, DC focus almost solely on characters who are explicitly linked with Batman or the Justice League, so the possibility of seeing Animal Man star in his own solo venture is next to zero, at least for the time being.
That said, DC's Showcase shorts could be the perfect platform for Animal Man. Running between ten to twenty minutes, these animated films star more obscure characters such as Jonah Hex and The Spectre. It's entirely possible that Animal Man could one day join their ranks, testing the waters to see if fan response warrants a longer feature.
In the meantime, the closest thing we'll have to an Animal Man movie is the new DC Nation shorts. Voiced by "Weird Al" Yankovic, these two minute cartoons star a PG version of Buddy Baker, who is far more concerned with saving animals than people.
Ridiculous, absurd and all kinds of hilarious. Check out one of the Animal Man DC Nation shorts below:
At the end of the day, the disturbing mutations and graphic murder that frequently appeared in Animal Man's most recent incarnation would certainly help a movie adaptation stand apart from others of its ilk. However, Buddy Baker's story is ultimately about far more than just R-rated horror.
Rather than just focus on the scares, Lemire did what any good horror writer would do, and consciously grounded the fantastical story of The Red and The Rot by bringing the Baker family to the fore. Instead of just treating Buddy's wife and children as background characters, Lemire gave them a voice, something which in turn helped give the entire mythos of Animal Man an even more unique identity of its own.
Speaking to IGN, Lemire explained how the focus on family makes Animal Man one of the most realistic superheroes of all:
“He has a real life: A wife, kid, a mortgage to pay. He doesn't dress up and fight giant cosmic despots, he is fighting to keep his family together and pay the bills amidst all kinds of weird and horrible things. In other words he is a character that most readers can actually relate to.
A father realizing that his children will surpass him. A brother consumed with envy of his sister. A mother torn between love and her maternal instincts... Whether you're a fan of the #DCEU right now or not, the success of Wonder Woman has proved that superhero films need the kind of heart that an Animal Man movie could deliver.
While the R rating would certainly help a movie adaptation stay true to the comics, this isn't the reason why we need an Animal Man movie so much. In truth, this superhero who happens to be gifted with the powers of the animal kingdom is more human than any other character on our screens right now. Among all of the god-like heroes, wisecracking mercenaries and alien symbiotes, an Animal Man movie is exactly what humanity needs right now.