Among the new recruits of the Justice League, perhaps none drummed up more fanfare for themselves than Buddy Baker, the Animal Man. Spending the days leading up to his official induction to the League on a media tour, the metahuman maverick's brand was at the highest that it had ever been though this was not without controversy. The criticisms were many, only a few were valid - why wasn't he out there stopping crime on the streets, why was he wasting time stopping petty crime, why would he push his political agenda of animal rights so blatantly, et cetera.
Indeed, even before he was part of the League, Buddy had always been a very divisive figure and this new chapter of his career would only increase his notoriety. He knew this though as the last twenty years of vigilantism had prepared him for this.
So what exactly was the newest signing of the League doing right now? Why, scrolling through his social media feed while slacking off on paperwork of course. Crossing T's and dotting i's wasn't exactly the most exhilarating work in the world. In fact, a headache was slowly creeping up on him that was somehow getting worse by the second... Wait. This sensation was familiar.
Instinctively, Buddy would activate his powers and cycle through a variety of immune systems. Within the passing of a second, he had shifted through a honey badger, a mongoose, an octopus, a pig and a snake. Still, this was not enough to completely block the effects of what he now realized was an airborne poison. He would use his remaining strength to stagger out of his room and trudge his way to the main lobby, having a coughing fit along the way.
With each step however, a gruesome scene was developing right in front of him. Blood was everywhere - splashed on the walls, seeping through the ceiling, even leaking through his eyes and the taste of it lingering on his mouth. All of this was a grim reminder of the worst day of his life.
"Show yourself, beast! I'm ready this time!" he would shout from one of the hallways.
Name: Bernhard "Buddy" Baker Alias: Animal Man Age: 43 Personality: Sanguine, courageous, self-assured, somewhat condescending and "ostentatious" - a word a tabloid critic used to describe Buddy when he was first breaking in to super heroics that has stuck with him for all these years. He would lean into this as a foundational part of his public persona during his early pursuit of fame.
Powers: Buddy is able to copy the capabilities of any creature that has existed on the planet at any point in time. He has publicly stated in interviews that he achieves this by tapping into a cosmic force known as The Red. While he doesn't need to shapeshift in order to have feats of strength, speed or flight, Buddy can most definitely change parts of his body to copy those of any animal.
Aside from his actual superhero abilities, Buddy has cultivated an underdog persona throughout his career. When most think of Animal Man, the image conjured up is that of a local hero (literally) prowling the streets of West Coast cities beating up petty criminals during the night while showing up to animal rights protests for photo ops during the day. Secretly, underneath all the glamour and glitz, is a man who has been through hell and back, battling incomprehensible horrors across dimensions and saving the mortal realms from their grip.
But this all works to his advantage. Let them all think lowly of Animal Man but like the mighty ant, he has more strength than meets the eye, specially when in the realm of The Red.
Weaknesses: While he is definitely wiser and more versatile at this point in his career, Buddy is also more jaded and set in his ways after 20 years of being a solo, journeyman, non-caped crusader. While his reflexes are arguably the same due to the nature of his powers, he has rarely needed to innovate his tactics specially with regards to collaborating with other heroes on the scene.
Buddy has also been through a lot, more than anyone can ever know and he did it all while being on the outer periphery of the Justice League. To that effect, Buddy has a bit of a better-than-thou complex that he needs to keep in check.
Background Hero: Dr. Alec Holland aka The Swamp Thing - a man who has gone through similar trials as Buddy though has turned to a more private personal life than his contemporaries. Little is known of both the doctor's personae aside from the fact the he controls plant matter and lives somewhere in the New Orleans area.
The main overarching theme for Animal Man will be acceptance - not just from his peers but also from himself. Is he satisfied with his lot in life resulting from the decisions he has made so far. To explore this, I propose these storyline ideas:
First Blood Part II : A string of strange abductions and brutal murders have convinced Animal Man that The Cult of Blood, once led by Brother Blood, has re-emerged after years of hiding. Having once sought to usurp control of The Red, Animal Man was able to barely stop them before they succeeded. Can Buddy do it once more?
Possible Worlds : In a different world quite similar to this one, Solomon Grundy was made champion of The Gray - the source of rot and decay, the antithetical nemesis of Animal Man's source of power. With the knowledge of another Solomon Grundy in this world, the consciousness of The Red demands that Animal Man dispose of the problem permanently before it gets worse. Is Buddy willing to cross the line, knowing the possibility of what might happen if he refuses?
Fire Walk With Me : The Red has tasked Animal Man to defend against an invasion launched by The Gray. However, the battleground is not located on the metaphysical plane - it is within the border realms of the Dreaming and he can only access it while asleep. Unfortunately, this leaves him exhausted during the day and is taking a toll on his heroics. Can the rest of the League help Buddy catch a wink of sleep or will this be an unending nightmare?
Which Side Are You On? : Animal Man is actively making the media rounds to promote his admittance to the Justice League. However, the Screen Actor's Guild is on strike and he's getting flak for undermining the spirit of it. Trying to minimize the damage, he attempts to cancel the remaining bookings but one contractual obligation refuses to budge - "What's Up, Jack? with Jack Ryder" on the Luthor News Network. How will Buddy Baker address this controversy and what will he do moving forward?
BRIEF Bio: Around 20 years ago, a man stargazing under the Nevada desert sky sees a shooting star flying by and wished for fame. Being an aspiring actor who just finished a day's work of filming a TV series pilot, such a wish didn't seem that farfetched. Little did he know that the shooting star was actually a spaceship and he had caught their attention. His memories are fuzzy of what happened next but the following morning would be Buddy Baker's first day as Animal Man!..
This origin story is from the official ghostwritten autobiography of Animal Man. Nowadays, some details of his story doesn't hold up to scrutiny but Buddy insists that this was what truly happened. While the highlight of his superhero career has been a few team-ups with the Justice League, Buddy Baker's acting career did see him star as a bit player in a few long running sitcoms, one of which has even reached syndication. What more can someone really want from life?
Notes: This version is based on a post-Lemire run Animal Man, years after the finale of the book.
Sample Post: "And we're back from the break." says the man sitting opposite to Buddy Baker. The superhero finds himself in a somewhat compact recording studio, made only smaller by the fact that both he and the podcast host were north of six feet. Even moreso the host due to the fact that his shock of red hair gave the illusion of him being at least two inches taller. Still, he had been having fun with recollections of his past adventures and a few non-sequiturs but the big story surely was next. "Buddy, I have to ask the question most of the public are wondering about... Were you auditioning for the part of Air Bud in the new reboot? I imagine the savings alone for the CGI would make you a frontrunner."
Buddy couldn't help but chuckle. "Yeah, actually I've been shooting scenes between Justice League missions for the last few months already. But, um, for legal reasons, this is a joke and, uh, I'm not breaking the strike guidelines... Actually, who even owns the rights to that franchise?" Asked Buddy in an effort to pivot from the topic. While the question was directed at the host, it would be shifted it to his assistant immediately after. "Sonia google that so we can talk about it after the actual big news that you just mentioned: Animal Man in the Justice League!"
"Yeah, the Justice League." Buddy would repeat. "It's a big change, absolutely, and it comes with heavy responsibility. We all know the circumstances that led to this but I do see it as a big opportunity. Y'know, the main reason as to why I decided to specifically come on your podcast is because I see a similarity with what you had done years prior." The host earnestly smiles at the comparison. "Oh? I don't quite recall getting a phone call from Wonder Woman after getting fired from the Tonight Show but I suppose I need to clear my voice mails or check if carrier pigeons from Themyscira got lost on the way to Los Angeles."
Another joke and even more laughter from Buddy. "Well, if you recall, you spent roughly around two decades hosting late night television and a big change put you in circumstances that were quite vexing to say the least. I'm also just about to hit the big two-oh for my career in both acting and heroics and, well, I've also hit a crossroads that has forced me to re-evaluate everything that has led up to this point." Buddy would take a pause, collecting his thoughts.
"You've said it multiple times on the podcast and at least one time while behind a tree stump podium: it is in our perceived failure to become our ideal self that ultimately defines us. Since starting this career, I've suffered a number of injuries, I've faced eviction from my home because I endanger those around me, I've seen the faces of people I have failed be disappointed in me, and I've even gotten divorced from my high school sweetheart a few years ago... Yet, I continue on. The League has suffered a major setback but we'll bounce back."
Silence fills the studio, but only because those present could not help but admire the candidness of Buddy Baker in his declaration. Listeners couldn't see it but the host would be beaming with a smile, knowing that hope will continue in the next era of the Justice League.
Oh great, everyone here just can't mind their own business , Flynn thought to himself. He'd damn himself if he gave any hint of disdain towards somebody else today though. Now was not the time to lose his cool, specially when the object of his fury draped itself in blue.
"Yes to everything above." he would state, keeping his calm facade. "Flynn's the name. Yourself?" While he awaited for this fellow Ra Yellow's response, Flynn was already beginning to form an opinion about this duelist based on this seemingly indomitable aura she was giving off. Unlike his roommate Chris, Flynn had a feeling that she had even more potential than even himself, a fact that he would not freely admit. Of course, this begs the question why someone like her ended up here as well.
Something about this kid was...off. She couldn't put her finger on it, but Valerie just got the feeling that this Flynn guy was ready to explode at the drop of a hat. Or maybe she was just psyching herself out over nothing.
"...Valerie." She responded to Flynn's query before taking a sip of her iced tea. "You duel anyone yet? Can barely afford something from the vending machine off one win. Thinking the school wants us to seriously grind matches out if we want to get anywhere."
Meanwhile, Ceruli popped back up once more, the spirit perched on Val's shoulder as he peered straight at Flynn. He could've sworn he'd just felt the presence of another spirit in this room, minutes ago. But now the feeling had passed. Odd. Had they left already?
"I figured at least water would be free but I'm still up for a challenge." Flynn retorted."As for if I've dueled anyone yet, you're lucky number one, miss Valerie."
With drained lethargy and false bravado, Flynn booted up his duel disk and inserted his deck which he had kept inside of a deckbox attached to his belt. Having thoroughly shuffled his deck throughout the ocean voyage, one can only wonder what his luck would be with his starting hand and starting call with the customary coin flip.
"Call it, heads or tails." Flynn would state to his opponent as he initiated the duel.
"Tails. And drop the 'miss', would you?"
"Fine by me." Flynn quipped as the coin decidedly landed on heads. "I'm starting first."
Drawing five cards from his deck, Flynn started by playing out one of his favorite cards. "Silver Gadget in attack position, and with his effect I follow up with summoning Green Gadget which gets me Red Gadget from deck. They won't be here for long though as I link them away for Platinum Gadget!" The combo was a basic one but it was going to be enough with what Flynn had in his hand. "Next up, I use Platinum to summon Red Gadget in defense which allows me to retrieve Yellow Gadget from my deck. I set two facedown backrow cards to end my turn." The gears were turning and soon his war machine will be going into overdrive.
Another Machine duelist, huh? Was this going to be a trend? Valerie looked over her starting hand with a critical eye. Not bad. Topdecking the MST on her turn 2 draw was an absolute godsend with two facedowns on the other side. The board wasn't that threatening on its own, so she just had to hope she hit a battle trap or something.
"Alright, let's start this off with Mystical Space Typhoon. I target the facedown in the middle." She pointed, and it turned out she'd blown up Crusher Run. Damn, that was lucky. That would've been rough, especially if she couldn't topdeck a decent monster with the amount of draws she was about to have.
"Next up, I activate the Field Spell The Gates of Dark World and set two cards facedown. Then I play Dragged Down Into the Grave. We show each other our hands and each pick one card to discard from the opponent's hand. I've only got the one, and it's Broww. On discard, I draw one. Now let's see..." Valerie looked over Flynn's hand as he showed it to her, her face impassive. Oh, wow, that really didn't matter either. Just two Yellow Gadgets. "Yeah, sure, I'll pop the Yellow Gadget on the right. Now we both draw one off Dragged Down and I draw a second off Broww."
She regarded her two draws with a raised eyebrow. Oh, damn. This could actually work. "I activate The Gates of Dark World, banishing Broww from my graveyard and Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World to draw one more. On discard, Grapha lets me target one card on your board and destroy it, and I pick your other facedown."
Faced with a decision in his current agitated state, Flynn activated Metalhold The Moving Blockade before realizing his mistake. He couldn't take it back but he had to justify it as the play resolved before his eyes. "... I activate Metalhold as you pop it, targetting Red for its effect. Upon chain resolution, both cards are sent to the grave."
"Uh...sure." Valerie murmured, taken aback by the apparent misplay. Unless this was some weird four-dimensional chess strat, she couldn't see why he would've ended up losing a monster he didn't have to. "Moving on, I normal summon Beiige and activate Grapha from the grave to return Beiige to my hand and special summon Grapha. With my Field Spell on, Grapha goes up to 3000 attack. Battle phase, Grapha attacks Platinum Gadget."
[Flynn: -1400 LP, 6600 LP]
"Tch. As Platinum was the only target you had for Grapha's attack, you've triggered his grave effect. With my free pick of any Gadget to take his place on the field, I choose Gold Gadget. Just like Silver, he allows me to play another Gadget from my hand and you already know what's coming. Yellow to the field in defense and Green to my hand." Surely Valerie would believe that this was all according to plan. At the very least, Flynn managed to delude himself into thinking that this was the superior play by eliminating the alternative of Grapha being able to attack Red Gadget.
Well, she would have attacked Platinum regardless. Leaving a Link 2 on the board able to climb next turn was just asking for trouble. Still, Valerie frowned slightly at dealing with yet more swarm. Her facedowns weren't exactly conducive to handling that, although Mind Crush would trash his search.
"Fine, fine. Turn end. Your go. On your draw, I activate Mind Crush and declare Green Gadget. Into the grave he goes."
"Mhm, fine by me." Flynn stated as Green departed from his hand. He was not phased however as his resources were keeping up with Valerie's, at least on paper. Just by card count alone, he was deeper into his deck than his opponent. "I have a replacement ready to go as I play the Red Gadget I drew for turn to grab me a Yellow. Of course, I build the overlay network with Red and the Yellow on the field for Gear Gigant X and activate his effect for Ancient Gear Box. Furthermore, Gear Box's effect activates and allows me to add Ancient Gear Gadget to my hand. I set one facedown to end my turn." It was now six of Flynn's cards in rotation against Valerie's five cards.
"Alright. Draw, standby main." Valerie looked over her new hand, forming her play in her head. This wasn't exactly the best use of Ceruli, but she needed the Synchro at the moment more than opponent discards on monsters she wasn't guaranteed to draw. "I normal summon Fabled Raven and activate its effect, discarding two cards for one level and 400 attack each to my monster. On discard, chain 1 Beiige, chain 2 Ceruli." She picked up Ceruli's card and tossed it towards Flynn, much to her Duel Spirit's protest.
"Girl, be careful with that!" Ceruli spluttered, desperately hoping the boy at least caught the card without damage.
Oh no... Who the hell plays this card?!, Flynn thought to himself as he did managed to barely catch it. Perhaps unbeknownst to Valerie, she had just turned off his hail mary in Boot-Up Order - Gear Force's stringent requirement of only having Machines on his side of the field. He was silently livid.
"Beiige special summons to the board on discard, and I synchro summon my two level fours into a level 8. Get out here, Dark End Dragon. Battle phase, Grapha attacks Gear Gigant X, then Dark End Dragon attacks Gold Gadget."
[Flynn: -700 LP, 5900 LP]
"Gold effect which retrieves Silver to replace him on the field. Silver effect, of course, to summon out Yellow from hand which in turn grabs another Green."
"Main 2, activate Dark End Dragon's ignition to destroy Silver Gadget. Dark End Dragon loses 500 attack and defense. End phase."
There were a few cards in Flynn's deck that could turn the tide and he was almost half way through it: Limiter Removal, Gear Charge, even Solidarity. When he drew the second Gold Gadget for turn, Flynn could not believe the rotten luck he was dealt with. "... You win. There's no way out of here with what I have in hand." The only consolation prize he had was the fact that Valerie was no blue.
Wait, what? Seriously? She had zero cards in hand, and there was still a good chance of her next draw being a brick. This guy's loss wasn't assured, but Valerie supposed she shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. "Well, if you're sure, I'm not gonna bitch about the win. Good game, I guess." Not really. This guy probably could've been a better challenge if he'd drawn better. Or if he hadn't blown Metalhold for whatever reason she still didn't get.
Valerie took Ceruli's card back and deactivated her Duel Disk, tucking her deck away. "Think I'll go explore around campus for a bit. See you around, yeah?"
"Don't forget to take your iced tea or whatever... I'll see ya around." Flynn was dejected and exhausted enough to crash the moment he would reach his dorm room. At least he believed so in the face of Chris' shenanigans.
Flynn could only stand there, his face slowly blushing as he tried to find the words to express his bewilderment at Chris' audacity. Moments would pass before he would simply turn about and head for the door.
"You won this round, giant boy." he'd state before heading out. Normally, Flynn would be quick to find a witty remark to deflect such a dumb bit but perhaps he was still tired from the boat trip. Since he wasn't gonna find peace in his own room at this time, he decided to just find the nearest piece of furniture and simply crash there. While it wasn't exactly luxury decor, the Ra Yellow dorm did have serviceable common areas.
Surely the rest of the yellows weren't as weird as his roommate.
The sea breeze did little to calm Flynn's nerves. Multiple colossal chartered ships carried many of the freshly inducted students of Duel Academy to their island destination. Most would use their trip to socialize with their new peers and classmates. For the capricious Ra Yellow student, Flynn had decided to spend the last leg of the trip alone while overlooking the ocean from the vessel's portside — gazing into the blue with uncertainty and envy. It still didn't make sense to him.
Tried as he did, Flynn would have to carry this doubt with him as the ship reached the shore. It felt like a blur, walking from the pier to suddenly receiving his uniform. He was now wrapped in the glimmer of false gold. Reality had began to set in but he supposed that this was better than delinquent red. Curiously, the chancellor also wore red. What was up with that?
The rest of the orientation was standard fare and Flynn would uneventfully make his way to his dorm room. Seemingly arriving first, he would be ready to crash face first on to the bed closest to the door but he would be interrupted with the arrival of...
"Yo. I'm Chris, you?"
"Flynn... So, we're roommates. Any boundaries you want to establish? I'm cool with anything."
He wasn't. Flynn was already formulating a list of rules that would ensure that this titan of a man he was saddled wouldn't interfere with his studies. However, he figured it was the smart thing to make Chris think that they would arrive to a mutual agreement.
Just like a duel, Flynn had passed the turn back to his roommate.