Animal Man: 1972: When Trouble Comes Calling, Prologue: A Forgotten Hero

by Doc Quantum

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It had been a long, strange road for Buddy Baker, the man with animal powers, and it all began seven years earlier.

By the mid-1960s, Buddy was a just an ordinary young man from Deep Hollow, California, who liked to go hunting with his best friend Roger Denning. It was Roger, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, who had introduced him to the right people so Buddy could begin his career as a freelance stuntman right out of high school. And under the tutelage of the legendary stuntman extraordinaire Hudson Pyle, Buddy’s career really took off. It was thanks to Pyle, in fact, that Buddy was offered one of his first big jobs, working as a stunt double during the filming of Doctor Zhivago at Pinewood Studios in England.

By the time he was nineteen years old in 1965, Buddy was already doing so well for himself that he decided it was time to take the next step with his girlfriend, Ellen Frazier, and ask her to marry him. The two had met a year earlier when Ellen, then a college student and teacher’s assistant, had been hired as a tutor for several child actors and extras at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios during the filming of a movie in which Buddy was working as a stuntman.

Buddy was known as a brash young man always willing to go the extra mile to pull off a dangerous stunt, and make wisecracks while doing it. But despite his bravery as a stuntman, Buddy was terrified about popping the question to Ellen. Each time he tried to do so, he found himself about to faint. The young redhead was just so beautiful and wonderful in every way that Buddy didn’t think he could handle it if she turned him down. She was, in fact, the only person in the world who could reduce him to a quivering mass of nerves.

That was when fate stepped in. In this case, fate took the form of an alien ship that crash-landed on Earth. It happened when Buddy and Roger were out hunting deer in the San Bernardino National Forest early one morning in July, 1965. Roger had been needling Buddy about chickening out of proposing once again when they split off to hunt for tracks, with Buddy taking the ridge trail. But when Buddy reached the ridge, he saw a blindingly bright light and heard a loud explosion, and then nothing.

By the time Buddy was able to see again, his momentary surprise at finding himself now standing in a clearing somewhere else was quickly overshadowed by the threat of an approaching tiger. Buddy was sure he was a goner when the tiger sprung at him, but he still took a chance and leaped out of the way, amazed to find his leap as powerful as the tiger’s had been. That was a proverbial leap out of the frying pan and into the fire, however, since he now found himself facing not only the tiger but also an angry gorilla. Desperately, Buddy fought back and was shocked at his great strength when he grabbed the tiger and swung it around and into the gorilla. It was as if he’d somehow absorbed the abilities of both animals just by being near them.

Roger and a group of men carrying nets ran up just then, and while the men netted and caged the animals, Roger explained that a few circus animals had escaped from a nearby train wreck. He’d also witnessed Buddy’s feat of strength, and Buddy’s only explanation was that a strange explosion near the ridge had given him animal powers. Returning to the ridge, they saw that the explosion had been caused by a crashed spaceship.

Later on Buddy would learn that, in the time between the explosion and his encounter with the animals, several unaccounted-for minutes had elapsed, during which time he’d somehow moved away from the ridge. But that was a mystery for another day, since there were more animals on the loose, and Buddy was nothing if not a brave young man willing to put his newfound powers to good use.

After helping to round up some other circus animals and discovering even more animal powers, Buddy then encountered a strange, feral alien creature with incredible powers at a nearby logging camp. Buddy surmised that the creature had come from the crashed ship, but he found the creature to be much more powerful than he, having similar animal powers amplified tenfold. There was no way to defeat the creature, especially when Buddy felt his own powers start to fade. But Buddy was as clever as he was brave, and he managed to turn his weakness into a strength by tricking the alien creature into taking on the characteristics of a timid mouse, then frightening it into falling over a cliff to its doom.

Buddy was determined to be just as brave when he again saw Ellen later that morning. And so he finally popped the question, then fainted a moment after Ellen accepted his proposal. Thus Buddy reached two turning points in his life that day. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “I Was the Man with the Animal Powers,” Strange Adventures #180 (September, 1965).]

It seemed that he had lost his animal powers forever, but a mere four months later, fate would step in once more in the form of another alien ship. Buddy and Ellen had just been talking about the strange experience that had led to their becoming engaged when Roger Denning ran up to Ellen’s house to find Buddy. While hunting just south of Deep Hollow, Roger had come across a fantastic-looking alien ship looking much like the one that had crashed nearby four months earlier and exploded.

Soon Buddy found himself encountering two strange-looking, yellow-skinned aliens with large, bald craniums who rode into Deep Hollow upon the xtona beast, a giant, pinkish-red, four-legged, insect-like creature, while shooting ray-beams that instantaneously caused people to viciously hate each other. Only Buddy found himself immune to the hate-rays. Moreover, he discovered that his exposure to the alien rays had somehow caused his animal powers to return.

The man with animal powers was soon able to use those abilities to outwit the aliens, who seemed to be searching for a lost alien device that would enable them to conquer not only Earth but other worlds as well. Getting his hands on that device himself, Buddy found that it was a small ray-gun that forced anyone shot by the ray to obey his will. After forcing the aliens to obey him, Buddy used his powers to subdue the giant alien beast, then forced the two aliens and their xtona beast to return to their ship and leave Earth, never to return. Watching the aliens fly into space, Buddy then crushed the ray-gun and realized that he could use his animal powers for good. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Return of the Man with the Animal Powers,” Strange Adventures #184 (January, 1966).]

It took a few months of preparation before Buddy Baker was ready to officially begin his career as a super-hero. There had been other super-heroes before him, of course, such as Captain Comet, Plastic Man, Air Wave, and TNT and Dyna-Mite, but the most famous of them all was Superboy. Of course, by May, 1966, even though few of those heroes were still around, Buddy was never one to heed the warning signs, and forged ahead with the new costumed identity of Animal-Man.

Better known at the time by the nickname of A-Man, Buddy began his costumed career as a professional super-hero in earnest, recruiting the help of his best friend Roger Denning to act as his agent, and even setting up his own headquarters in a secret cavern in the woods south of Deep Hollow, while operating as a hero in nearby Los Angeles. (*) For a time he even postponed his engagement with his fiancée Ellen, thinking it was the right thing to do. After all, he’d grown up reading comic-books featuring heroes like Ultraman, the Night Wizard, and the Flash, like other young men his age, and he knew romance only complicated a super-hero’s life.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “A-Man, the Hero with Animal Powers,” Strange Adventures #190 (July, 1966) and “Animal-Man, Hero or Freak?” Strange Adventures #195 (December, 1966).]

His career as Animal-Man had been a thrilling ride, though it wasn’t nearly as active and colorful as he’d thought it would be. Even in the big city of Los Angeles, California, you didn’t stumble across all that many life-threatening situations on a routine basis. His only real cases were few and far between, and they all involved garden-variety hoodlums and criminals — all but one.

That case was a real doozy. Animal-Man found himself fighting an out-and-out super-villain, just like in the comics, when he faced the Mod Gorilla Boss. (*) Here was a crook who was not only a crime boss, and a gorilla, but one who had been inspired by the Mod subculture imported from the British Isles. As far as Buddy was concerned, this case was the one that would make or break him as a professional super-hero. In hindsight, he should have known something was fishy from the start, when he was unable to absorb any gorilla strength from him.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Mod Gorilla Boss,” Strange Adventures #180 (June, 1967).]

The case had earned him a great deal of fame when he brought in the Mod Gorilla Boss, but he gained even more notoriety when it turned out, shortly after the arrest, that the so-called Mod Gorilla Boss was just an actor in a gorilla suit. In fact, the whole crime spree had been staged as a publicity stunt for an upcoming Hollywood movie, with nearly everyone but Animal-Man in on the joke.

Mocked and hounded by the media and the general public, and treated more like a public menace than a hero by the LAPD, Buddy decided to call it quits as Animal-Man right then and there, preferring to let himself become nothing more than another forgotten hero. It was over five years ago now since Buddy Baker had last donned the costume of Animal-Man.

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