RETRO REVIEW: Strange Adventures #180 (September 1965)

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Or – “Buddy Baker Overdrive!”

Younger comics readers are always a hoot.  Recently, I was privy to a conversation between two 20-ish readers about how stupid it is that they put Animal Man back in a costume in his New 52 incarnation, because “Vertigo guys don’t have costumes.”  Laying aside that Animal Man’s original duds are both iconic and goofy, it’s a good example of how you can’t get used to the status quo of comics, because it will change.

Ironically, there was also a grain of wisdom in the conversation, as well, because, in his first appearance, Animal Man DIDN’T have a costume!  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

StrangeAdventures180CoverSTRANGE ADVENTURES #180
Writer: Dave Wood
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: George Roussos
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Stan Starkman
Editor: Jack Schiff
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $260.00

Previously, in Strange Adventures:  In the early 1950s, the superhero star had faded, and publisher had to find new ways to bring in readers.  EC Comics, under the leadership of the late Bill Gaines, had massive success with their ‘Tales From The Crypt’ and related horror titles, caused DC to follow suit with their own tales of the uncanny and frightening.  By 1965, though, the superhero had started to return to vogue, thanks to Stan Lee and his stable of talented artists at Marvel, and many of the old horror books began to once again convert to tales of super-powered antics.  As we’re about to see, the transition was not as cut-and-dried as it might have been, and some stories ended up straddling BOTH genres.  Meet Buddy Baker!

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And, that, my friends, is how we handled exposition in the Silver Age.  Two panels of setups, a hunting trip and BANG!  Massive explosion gives you super-powers.  Faced with the surreal prospect of being eaten by a tiger in the Midwest after being bathed in alien frap rays, Buddy reacts with pure instinct, leaping away with strength and agility equal to the tiger’s own.  When a gorilla suddenly appears and goes for the pincer maneuver, Buddy is forced to get physical with the big cat…

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Using his keen Silver Age exposition sense, Buddy realizes that he managed to channel the powers of BOTH beasts into one superhuman effort, and also that a circus train has crashed, freeing its animals to roam the countryside.  Heading back towards the mysterious explosion, he finds an alien spacecraft has crashed into the hillside, but before he can deal with that situation, receives word that the circus elephant is about to kill an innocent man…

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Carmine Infantino’s art is something of an acquired taste, but you have to love his rendition of that elephant, especially the “WTF?” look on its face as Buddy punches it in the breadbox.  Buddy saves a bunch of kids from being eaten by a sea-lion (I don’t think that’s how sea-lions work, by the way) and heads to the source of the next disturbance, only to find that THIS animal isn’t really isn’t really an animal at all.  At least, not an animal from our world…

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Buddy puts two and two together, dividing alien ship by freakish mutant and finding the square root of his new super-powers, and realizes that there’s only one valid response:  Swift and blinding violence.

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Buddy engages the creature in battle again, realizing that they both have the same abilities, but as the alien leaps away, Buddy discovers a frightening truth about his new animal powers:  They may not be permanent.

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The future Animal Man’s brainstorm actually reminds me of an episode of Gilligan’s Island, as he quickly finds a shoebox and steals a fire-engine before setting off to confront the alien monster again…

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Luring the creature out of the city, D.J. Buddy B calls on his ultimate weapon:  TINY RODENTS!  (Anyone who has ever tried to take out an infestation in their basement or garage would tell you he’s on the right track, though.  Those things are indestructible.)

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Having saved the Earth, Buddy returns to Ellen’s house to pop the question, but faints when she said yes.  Much like Hank Pym before him, our future Animal Man was seemingly never intended to BE a super-duper, but eventually took on a costume in issue #190 and made only sporadic appearances until the Crisis On Infinite Earths in the 80s.  The second story in the issue deals with a vaguely racist story about Indian burial grounds and demonic possession…

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The rather forgettable story ends with the oil barons instead finding an ancient indian treasure horde, and laughing about the silly superstitions of the people who sent a 40 story creature to kill and eat them all.  Bygones…  All in all, this origin tale doesn’t do too much in the way of origins, but it does leave Buddy Baker enough of a blank slate that the iconic Grant Morrison interpretation of the character (still the basis of his current incarnation, one might add, including his long marriage to Ellen and a couple of kids) had a decent framework to hang on.  Strange Adventures #180 is a pleasant enough Silver Age anthology diversion, with some cool-looking art, a bizarre premise, and an unexpected relevance to the modern collector, earning 3 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s a pretty solid book, especially if you enjoy the strange lyrical poetry that is Carmine Infantino’s art…

Rating: ★★★★½

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