Last week, we covered the short screen history of Plucky Duck as the Toxic Revenger. This time, we continue with more opportunities for the Tiny Toons to impersonate other superheroes, then into the TV World of Tom and Jerry and their entourage for more caped adventures. Rounding out our cast for this week are the Chipmunks, the Simpsons, Darkwing Duck, and the unlikely casting of the Tasmanian Devil in a super-role.
Despite his best efforts to milk the franchise for all it was worth, Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. was never truly able to recapture the spirit and inventiveness of his dad and his creations, “Alvin and the Chipmunks”, in their 1980’s series – though he tried virtually everything, including an entire final season of movie parodies, entitled “The Chipmunks Go To the Movies”. Among these episodes was the obligatory Batmunk (9/28/90). Casting is a bit unusual. Simon plays the role of the Bat/Brice Wayne (with one clever gag in the Wayne mansion – at night, he sleeps from the rods of a curtained bed, upside down.). Theodore is cast as “Happy”, an unlikely parallel to Alfred. Alvin (in so much makeup, you’d never recognize him except for the voice) gets cast as the Jokester. And just to find someplace for one of the Chipettes, Brittany is cast as a reporter. Much of the first half suffers from slow and delayed timing, hampered by the animation budgets, and from a considerable lack of inspired sight gags or dialogue. Brice Wayne is a millionaire toymaker, and the Jokester runs a rival line of toys. His idea of a crime wave is to replace Wayne toy lines with his own in the department stores. The theft of the Wayne toys is thwarted by the Batmobile, which in this version is a sort of Professor Pat Pending Convert-a-Car that transforms from car to plane to boat at the push of a button. The Jokester’s henchmen lead the chase to the docks and spread an oil slick for the Batmobile to skid into the ocean – but a submarine conversion sends it launching skyward again Batmunk stops the crooks with some well placed shots that puncture holes in olive oil barrels for some slippery tactics of his own, and sever a cable holding up a shipment of watermelons. Jokester is not amused after bailing his henchmen out, plus hearing a news report about a new supertoy to be unveiled by Wayne at a charity orphan’s benefit. His henchmen raid a safe where the toy is allegedly hidden for safekeeping.
Wayne, through Brittany, plants a fake news story that the stolen toy is counterfeit, and the real one will still be unveiled at the benefit. Jokester falls for the bait without opening the toy already in his hands. Flying over the event in a giant Jokester balloon, the Jokester fails to grab what is supposed to be the toy with a claw device, but gets the next best thing – Wayne and Brittany as hostages. Leaving a note at the scene to deliver Batmunk and the toy if anyone ever wants to see the hostages again, the Jokester departs. Happy obtains the note, and ponders what the master would do in such a situation. He returns to the batcave, and attires himself in Batmunk’s suit. He starts up the Batmobile – in reverse – and careens uncontrollably backwards out of the cave, down the road, and off a cliff. He manages to find a plane conversion button, but is still flying backwards. As he hurtles toward the ground, a dashboard voice-prompt suggests he try the grey button. “Which one?” says Happy, looking at two rows of such buttons. “All of them”, prompts the voice. The buttons finally fire the right thrusters, getting the plane in forward gear. Meanwhile, the Jokester imperils Wayne and Brittany in the passenger seat of a roller coaster car in an abandoned amusement park – on a track ending with a section missing entirely, for a sheer drop to doom. Happy arrives, posing as Batmunk, but as he does not have the toy to exchange, the Jokester realeases the roller coaster car. A wild ride ensues, with Happy doing his best to maneuver the batplane into position to lower a rope ladder to the hostages. The feat is accomplished a split second before the coaster car drops to oblivion. Wayne removes cape and cowl from Happy for his own use, though gullible Brittany assumes Happy is the secret identity of Batmink, and swears to keep it hush hush. Wayne drops from the plane to corner the Jokester, and turns him over to the police with the frustrating news that he had the real toy in his hands all the time. No surprise punch lines, and all ends happily- though we never even find out what the supertoy was.
SuperBabs (Warner, Steven Spielberg, Tiny Toon Adventures, 10/11/90) – High-spirited Babs Bunny takes on the role of Supergirl – average rock and roll loving teenager by day, high-flying foiler of evil bu night, or whenever. Her fiendish foe is Montana Max, umder the alias Wex Wuthor (with his head shaven bald for this special occasion). Plucky Duck, Hamton Pig, and Buster Bunny are each menaced by an endless black blob seemingly seeping from the ground, obliterating everything in its path. Buster gets in a funny line as he learns of the blob’s approach from a TV bulletin – even though he hasn’t been watching a broadcast channel. “Gee, this must be really important to cut in on a video game!” A wrist receiver sounds an alarm to Babs, as a digital readout reads, “Red alert – Film at Eleven.” Babs performs costume change – at first mistakenly emerging dressed as Batman, and flies to rescue her friends. Evacuating them to higher ground one step ahead of the oozing blackness, Babs informs them, “You mere mortals run and hide. I will use my superior powers to save you”, then adds “I am woman. Hear me roar.” Handed pages of the script for exposition in mid-air by a human hand, Babs learns that the evil genius behind the peril is Wex Wuthor. She infiltrates his lair with typical cheesy disguise, impersonating Joan Rivers, and drags “Wuthor” into the guest seat of a talk-show set. Max is encouraged to tell of his latest scheme, and by rolling a clip he has brought along for just such an occasion, shows that the source of the blob is an ink bottle which he caused to be overturned onto the cartoon background on the animator’s desk. Wuthor plans to substitute backgrounds after Acme Acres is obliterated, replacing it with his theme park, Wuthorland. Babs reveals her super identity – but Wuthor knew it was her all along, and came prepared with the one item he knows is Superbabs’ weakness – carrot cake!
Unable to resist, she gobbles down cake after cake – until she rests on the floor, six times her normal size, as a helpless roly-poly. Wuthor takes off to complete his background substitution, leaving a helpless Babs unable to walk. However, she is able to summon out of her outfit’s chest insignia a portable TV, complete with VCR, on which she plays an ersatz Jane Fonda’s Workout tape starring herself. Playing it in fast forward, she quickly burns off the pounds, then flies to the rescue. She engages in a paintbrush duel with Wuthor in the animation studio, Wuthor’s brush armed with ink, Babs’s with white-out, and ultimately prevails. Wuthor is given the task of repainting all of Acme Acres back to normal, while Buster, Plucky and Hamton ponder who SuperBabs really is. “That shouldn’t be too hard to figure out”, says Plucky. “Who do we know names ‘Super’?”
Bat’s All, Folks (11/15/90) – As millionaire Spruce Vain. Plucky Ducl plans to devote his life to battling the forces of evil. He searches for something to disguise himself as to strike terror into the criminal heart. Something guruesone. Something hideous. Something to mass-market on a T-shirt. A bat flies into the mansion, and he shoos it away (while ruling out the costume option of spider, as it’s already taken). The angered bat hits Plucky over the head with – a bat. “I’ve got it”, shouts Plucky – and returns a moment later, dressed as a Louisville Slugger, ‘Hmm…”, says Plucky, “Needs work.” He refines his crime fighting techniques. When he makes his first appearance as Batduck, on a high building ledge, a crook merely blows at him – and the force of the breeze pulls Plucky backward by the cape, and off the ledge. “You criminal scum” says Plucky before he falls. Next he invests in some cool sound effects, as we see the usual 1960’s “POW!” and “BAM!” appear on the screen. But Plucky points out that even these had their drawbacks – as a villain grabs the “P” off a “Pow” and clunks Plucky over the head with it. He adopts a sidekick – Hamton Pig, under the name of Decoy, in a bright red outfit with a target drawn on his belly area to “draw all the fire.” Hamton quickly realizes there’s little point in discussing retirement benefits. Their identies are known only to their trusted maid Alfmyra, who answer the phone “You have reached the secret lair of Batduck, who is really B…..”, and also has sent the batpoles out for waxing when Plucky and Hamton attempt to reach the Batcave. “Remind me to fire her”, Plucky tells Hamton from the basement floor.
They report to the scene of suspected crime – the Acme Museum of Really Silly Props. Plucky send Decoy Hamton ahead with a bat grenade to take care of two henchmen on the roof, whie Plucky waits it out in the “all-concealing shadows”. Hamton is forced to swing on a rope – mismeasured so that he crashes into a tall chimney. The grenade falls at the henchmen’s feet. Not knowing what it is, they dispose of it by tossing it into the “all concealing shadows”. A blasted Plucky falls from his hiding place, through a skylight and into the museum. There, he meets a gallery of Batman villains, introduced in the same fashion as the Duck Twacy villains in direct tribute to Daffy Duck’s “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery”. Jackster (a Jack Nicholson Jackass version on the Joker). The Puffin (a parallel to the Penguin, smoking as usual). Question Mark (counterpart to the Riddler). Polecatwoman. Their plan: do in the caped crusader – then everyone will buy their T-shirts. A wild chase winds through the museum’s giant props, including a humongous bowling ball and pins, and a line of dominoes toppled by Plucky, which knock over several more props, including a giant baby doll which lands diaper-first on the villains with crushing weight. Batduck and Decoy leap out a window to safety – except they’re about 40-stories up. While Decoy screams, Plucky nonchalantly searches his utility belt for a grappling hook, seeming to find everything else but. He finally locates a plunger gun, and lands an upwards shot on the nose of a building gargoyle. The rope from the plunger stops their fall inches from the ground, and as Batduck utters parting words to the audience, a bus zooms through the shot from nowhere, plastering Plucky and Hamton to its hood. It’s Alfmyra, apparently on her night job as bus driver, inviting the viewers to tune in next time, while Plucky again tells Hamton, “Remind me to fire her.”
Slugfest (12/10/90) takes off big time on the popular cult franchise. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, with Plucky’s favorite show, “Immature Radioactive Samurai Slugs”. Hamton whirls his finger around his ear to the audience, in the universal signal that Plucky must be nuts to watch this stuff. Plucky not only watches, but is the regional president of their fan club, and owns all of their merchandising. Except the latest – a real slug costume, made of durable paper mache (just send $29.95 to Drooling Fanboy Productions). Having no available funds between them, Plucky creates costumes out of materials cut up from his old sofa (forgetting one key component – no zipper). He applies the crowning touch to their appearance – a Samurai eye-mask, which he tightens to the point that their eyes bulge out like slug antennae. They respond to a nearby scream for help in a “slugmobile” (a slug-shaped vehicle that slinks instead of rolls, leaving a slime trail behind it). The scream is from Elmyra’s house – where she is already occupied whacking real slugs in her kitchen with a broom. Seeing two new giant-sized arrivals of seemingly the same species, Elmyra reacts identically to Hamton and Plucky, vowing “I’m gonna squish you.” Hamton and Plucky race outside, and through the knothole of a fence – which just happens to surround the venue of a Samurai Slugs stunt show. A grandstand audience cheers their arrival, and a horde of Ninjas close in for an attack.
Plucky and Hamton pathetically wave limp rubber swords at the oncomers – but, this being merely a show, the ninjas fall anyway, to the crowd’s enthusiastic approval. However, the cast member who is to portray the Slugs’ arch enemy, the Iodizer (with a salt carton for a head, and salt shakers for his fingers), is suddenly yanked away by an identically-dressed hand – and the real Iodizer appears to do the slugs in. (Why salt should seem such a threat to our heroes remains a mystery, as they are, after all, really a duck and pig.) Nevertheless, a nationwide chase ensues over the map of the U.S., coming to an end in Utah, when Plucky and Hamton find themselves on the Great Salt Flats. As the Iodizer’s fingers sprinkle a blizzard of white, an almost-rescue team arrives on the scene – mirroring the “League of Super Rodents” from Mighty Mouse referenced last week, but in insect form – “The League of Icky Crawly Things”. Sgt. Roach and his Cockroach Commandos. Captain Hookworm and Long John Silverfish. Superfly. Dung Beetle Bailey. Archie Leech. And the lowest life form of all – a TV executive. They converge on the Iodizer – who merely stomps on the lot of them with one foot, resulting in a tactical retreat. The only remaining refuge for our heroes is an Elks’ Lodge – populated by real elk, who just happen to be out of salt lick. Plucky points out an ample supply in the form of the Iodizer, who is deluged in slurping tongues, and takes off for parts unknown, the elks pursuing in Shriners’ cars. Hamton sums up the episode with a moral, which is a wicked jab at the then-current anti-drug campaign slogan – “Just say no to slugs!”
There’s also an honorable mention deserved for Hollywood Plucky (9/24/90). No, nobody actually acquires a superpower. But Hamton Pig does get to drive the Batmobile – as a Hollywood parking valet. It might have helped if Batman had fielded Hamton the question he once asked of Commisioner Gordon: “Can you drive a stick?” – as Hamton’s never learned to drive at all. He finds the button marked “Bat Ignition”, but can’t stop the thing as its jet thrusters zoom him around the restaurant. He starts pressing every button in search of the brakes, instead engaging “Bat Warp Drive”. The car angles upwards – and blasts itself into space. The car collides with the moon, leaving an imprint on it strongly resembling the bat-signal – and just to make sure there’s no confusion as to rights, the small letters “TM” appear from nowhere in space to the right of the moon!. Hamton’s reentry overshoots the film frame, exposing the film’s sprockets in a direct tribute to Tex Avery’s Droopy and Wolf cartoons, then he finally lands, smashing two other cars on either side in the process. Hamton is only happy that he wore his safety belt.
Tom and Jerry Kids, a Hanna-Barbera spinoff of the 1990’s, featured Tom and Jerry in junior form, and the adventures of Droopy, now accompanied by look-alike son Dripple. As mentioned below, it would also include occasional features for side-characters, including Spike and Tyke. While benefitting from animation budgets considerably increased over prior TV productions, and also far less restricted in the level of cartoon violence than its pacifist counterpart “The Tom and Jerry Show”, the writing suffered considerably from what I would call “derivativitis” – that is, borrowing too freely and obviously from past theatrical and television projects, making most episodes feel uncomfortably like you’d been there before. Parallels to the past are pointed out n the episodes discussed below.
Super Droop and Dripple Boy Meet the Yolker (Hanna-Barbera, Droopy, 9/22/90), from the “Tom and Jerry Kids” show, combines some originality with other elements which are purely derivative. Lampooning classic TV “Batman” episodes, The Yolker is a laughing rooster villain, whose vehicles include both a car and helicopter in the shape of a golden rooster, each of which shoots eggs in the face of the cops in machine gun style. The Yolker prides himself on bad egg jokes (”The Yolk’s on you!” “This cracks me up.”), with the running gag of the populace greeting each bad pun with a “Boo”, and in one instance, Olympic-style score cards awarding a point total of zero. The commissioner, whose office is being bombarded with eggs, lifts the Droopy-shaped receiver of the hot-line for the caped crusader. “You called?”, say Droopy and Dripple, already standing right next to him. Droop instantly surmises that the commissioner wants them to get rid of the Yolker, at which the commissioner and police chief stand amazed at his perception (in spite of the obvious stream of flying eggs shooting in the window). Droop sums up his “sixth sense” properly: “Lucky guess.” He leaps out the window toward the Yolker’s helicopter – stopping cold mere feet from the building, as Dripple observes, “Holy Power Dive. Pop forgot he can’t fly!” Dripple beats Droopy to the ground far below on a pair of jet skis, and cranks open a street awning to bounce Droopy skyward again. He bounces Droopy again off a fireman’s net, then jack-hammers a hole in the pavement for Droopy to fall into the jet of a broken water main, and finally extends the chassis of the “Droopmobile” on a vertical spring to catch Pop. The Yolker drops a giant egg on the Droopmobile, then a layer of chicken feathers for a tar and feathers effect that will “tickle him”. Droopy emerges from the feathers, responding “You know, now I’m steamed”, as a jet of steam emerges from each of his ears.
Chases abound. Running gags include Dripple chaining the Yolker’s helicopter to light poles, or pulling off its prop mechanism, between confrontations with Droopy, always causing the Yolker’s copter to dismantle. The Yolker always seems to have an emergency mode of transportation, like a motor scooter or skyrocket, in his pocket to get back to his lair for yet another helicopter. The chase leads through several countries (in France, for example, the Yolker’s puns are responded to by townsfolk carrying French breads, who shout in unison, ”Le Boo”). In derivative Avery style, Droopy is everywhere the Yolker goes, with Dripple always watching his back. The Yolker even goes through a duplication of Avery’s “take every mode of transportation possible in rapid fire cuts” sequence from Dumb Hounded and Norhwest Hounded Police, to no avail. Finally, in another derivative Avery gag, the Yolker locks Droopy in a safe with ten different-style doors, flies the safe over the ocean, and drops it towards the drink. He then tries for England’s crown jewels, only to find Droopy hidden in the display case. As he makes another helicopter getaway, he passes the spot where he jettisoned the safe – and sees it still falling through the air toward the ocean. “Wait a chicken-plucking minute!”, he says. ‘How’d he get out of that safe?” The Yolker dives out of his cockpit to reach the safe, and twirls the combination lock to look inside. The safe is indeed empty – but from behind the open door appears Droopy in mid-air, to push the Yolker in and lock the door. Droopy and the safe splash into the bay, but are rescued by Dripple, who raises them both on the deck of a surfacing submarine. In near duplication of Avery, as Droopy compliments Dripple on their teamwork, the Yolker comments from inside the safe, “Team is right. It seemed like there were a million of those guys.” An exterior shot of the sub shows the deck crowded with a swarm of Droopys and Dripples, responding “Almost.”
Bat Mouse (9/29/90) eventually becomes more or less a reworking of Jerry’s Cousin and Pixie and Dixie’s Judo Jack. Junior Jerry Mouse, who has acquired a miniature VCR in just his scale, sends away for a video tape course by superhero Bat Mouse on how to stand up to cats. It comes complete with its own super suit, which itself provides no superpowers except a psychological boost of ego. The real Bat Mouse on tape encourages Jerry to get out there and show the cat in his life who’s boss. Jerry marches out to where Tom is resting on a pillw, and snaps his fingers at the cat. Tom pulls out a fly swater and clobbers the mouse, who staggers back into his mousehole. Bat Mouse’s next lesson is in the fine art of Bat-Itsu – a judo flip just as in the Pixie and Dixie. As in its predecessor, Jerry tries it on the paw of Tom to no effect, and Tom merely flicks a finger to send Jerry slamming into his mousehole door. Bat Mouse’s next intimidation method is to teach Jerry “the horrible faces of Terror”. Jerry approaches Tom and sticks his tongue out at him. Tom responds by pulling out from under his pillow a Halloween mask, frightening Jerry home again. Only one trick left up Bat Mouse’s sleeve – but it’s a good one. Jerry’s utility belt features a musical “panic button”, which aitomatically summons Bat Mouse in person to thwart the villain. He obliges by pulling Tom’s whiskers, then clobbering Tom with his own fly swatter. A bowling ball attack also reprises similar gags in Kitty Foiled and Jerry’s Cousin. Also, as in Cousin, Tom calls for reinforcements, looking up superhero “Bat Cat” in the yellow pages. Both heroes are summoned for a showdown, and fly with fist extended directly at each other while Tom and Jerry watch. However, the power duel never materializes, as Bat Mouse points out to the rather stupid cat that they’re both super heroes, and that superheroes team up against super villains, not each other. They both leave to fight crime (Bat Cat making a sorry exit by knocking himelf out crashing through a window he forgets to open) and fly away. Tom is about to pounce on Jerry again, but Jerry points to his summoning button. Tom decides better to let Jerry alone than start the whole thing over again, and allows Jerry to exit into his mousehole. Tom in frustration kicks at the mousehole door, stubbing his toe, and hops on one foot in pain for the iris out.
Super Duper Spike (Spike and Tyke, 10/13/90) is a virtual remake of Augie Doggie’s Fan Clubbed, with the same twice-used premise of Spike doubling as superhero when the TV superhero is unable to make an appearance due to a cold. This one plays a little better than some remakes, due to the far-superior animation over the Augie Doggie original, and a bit more cartoon violence than its predecessor. However, it’s still a little distressing to hear a second-rate impersonation of Augie’s voice coming out of the normally speechless Tyke. Oh, well, I guess he had to find his voice sometime.
Aduckyphobia (Disney, Darkwing Duck, 10/7/91) – Although Darkwing Duck is already a superhero – of sorts – he actually gets a brief taste of real superpowers in this clever sendup of “Spider Man”. Professor Moleiarty and his hench-moles, wearing radiation suits, heist a supply of the rare element Canardium, as the only source of sufficient power to fuel the Professor’s newest device of destruction. While the robbery is in progress, a harmless spider crawls into the doorway, and finds himself locked inside the radioactive room as the thieves leave. Darkwing makes his usual colorful entrance with Launchpad to thwart the crime, but everyone is surprised when a five foot tall mutated version of the spider emerges from the radiation room. Darkwing confronts it with karate chops, and the spider instinctively bites Darkwing’s thumb in self defense. The spider, actually a peace-loving simple-minded fellow (voiced by Lorenzo Music) apologizes, but when again feeling threatened, spits out web that ties up Darkwing and Launchpad together, in a strand as tough as steel. Moleiarty sees possibilities in this pliable, gillable fellow, and takes him along with the promise of a cookie, to assist in his evil plan.
Eventually escaping, Launchpad brings Darkwing home to tend to the spider bite. As with Peter Parker, the bite has side effects – Darkwing sprouts four extra arms! He is hardly aware of the change, in the middle of pondering the possibilities on how to deal with Moleiarty. But as he numbers his options with the phrase, “On the other hand”, he chokes on his own words when he reaches hand #3. What’s more, he is having a great deal of trouble controlling his new appendages – particularly hand #6, which develops such independent behavior as grabbing onto objects and refusing to let go, and clutching Darkwing’s own throat in a stranglehold. Efforts to exhibit his karate skills result in his arms tied together in pretzel knots. Nevertheless, Darkwing attempts to adapt, and as he learns of further thefts of fan blades from a supply warehouse, and of the props off of planes caught in a giant spider web strung between buildings, he decides to incorporate his powers into a new persona – Arachnoduck. Moleiarty continues to “string along” the giant spider as a partner in crime, though he can barely stand having to act “nice” to keep the friendly fellow happy. The new and improved Darkwing catches up with them at a location where Moleiarty has erected a power station using the stolen Canardium. Darkwing finds he has yet another power – web spitting – and tries it out on the villains. Unfortunately, he hasn’t learmed to project it, and the spittle falls around his own feet to tie himself up. The real spider adds more, and Darkwing is again bound like a spool of fishing wire. Moleiarty reveals his super invention – a giant engine, to which he has attached all the fan blades and airplane props, with which Moleiarty promises to taise a wind of such force as to blow the surface dwellers off the face of the Earth, leaving the planet free for those who have stayed underground.
The playful spider suggests he’d like to fly a kite in the wind – and is provided with the end of the string of web tied to Darkwing, as the fans waft Darkwing literally to the end of his rope. Now Moleiarty’s through playing around, and cuts the webline holding Darkwing. The duck sails helplessly into the stratosphere – but the loose end of the web gets tangled in one of the propellers. Darkwing is relieved to feel himself being pulled back to Earth – until he realizes he is being pulled directly into the whirling blades. Hand #6 get a mind of its own again, and pulls from Darkwing’s pocket his gas gun. Darkwing, who hasn’t been using the gun since he developed his powers, tells the hand it’s useless, as the gun is empty. But instead of shooting, the hand tosses the gun at the controls of the engine, scoring a direct hit of the power switch, and stopping the blades. “Smooth move”, compliments Darkwing. But as he falls back to Earth. The taunts of Moleiarty inform him that by shutting the feed switch, he’s only succeeded in overloading the generator, which will blow all of them and the city to oblivion. Darkwing attempts to race toward the glowing generator structure, but is stopped by another binding of web. The spider warns that he can’t go in there, as there are deadly “radio actors” inside. Moleiarty is bound up by the spider too to keep him out of trouble, and the spider, who feels responsible for the whole mess, goes in alone. A blinding flash of light emits from the building – then a total quiet instead of an explosion. The spider emerges – and shrinks back to his normal size. Using his venom, Honker helps create an antidote for Darkwing, then the spider is released into the Mallard garden. But Launchpad suggests waiting one more day before administering the cure to Darkwing, as he’s become so “handy” around the house. Sure enough, in the kitchen, Darkwing’s talents have been exploited, to leave him in charge of using hiis many hands to wash all the dishes (except for the plate that breaks with a crash, dropped by – you guessed it – hand #6).
Droopy Man Returns (10/16/93) begins acceptably, but feels tired in a hurry. A Vincent Price wanna-be rodent named Dr. Ratt is the arch-villain of the story (delivering one clever line of dialogue – when the camera pans through his lair without focusing on him, he calls to the director, “Sling the camera over here, you fool!”). He works on a formula with which to spike the water supply of Gossip City, to transform all of its citizens into rodents. Needing a final ingredient of a rare and unobtainable scarlet Swiss cheese, he settles for a painting of one at a charity auction hosted by millionaires Droopy Von Droop and Dripple Dripson. The painting is heisted, and its painter, Cheetah Vavoom (an obligatory parallel to Tex Avery’s “Red”, wearing am ersatz Catwoman outfit), is kidnaped for good measure to paint Dr. Ratt’s portrait after he’s famous. The plot succeeds, and the populace begins turning into rats. The millionaires transform into costume in search of a conveniently-created second potion as the antidote. From here on, the episode is strictly routine, becoming dialogue heavy without any memorable punch lines, in place of any actual action or sight gags, and simply runs out of steam, without even a satisfying final gag or curtain line.
Early seasons of The Simpsons featured periodic appearances of Bart in cowl and cape, as his heroic alter-ego “Bartman”. While other episodes may have featured him involved in closer attempts to match his idol’s derring-do, my personal favorite of these “super” episodes was Three Men and a Comic Book (5/9/91). A comic book convention opens in Springfield. Lisa looks forward to stocking up on such items as what Bart refers to as “Casper the Wimpy Ghost”. (Bart even offers a theory that Casper is the ghost of a dead Richie Rich.) But Bart looks forward to taking in all things Radioactive Man, his wise-cracking super idol. At the gate, finding that admission is discounted for anyone in costume, Bart makes heroic change into his Bartman outfit. However, the gate attendant asks, “Who are you supposed to be?”, and, not recognizing a “Bartman”, charges him regular price anyway. He peruses a display case at Comic Book Guy’s booth, featuring several choice early issues of Radioactive Man. Comic Book Guy decides to show him something very special “if you put your grubby little hands behind your back and keep them there”. Opening a briefcase, he displays Radioactive Man #1. While claiming it must be worth a million dollars, Comic Book Guy offers to sell it for a hundred. Of course, Bart doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of money – and the briefcase is abruptly closed. Bart later keeps eyeing the comic inside Comic Book Guy’s shop, the Android’s Dungeon. He pesters Homer constantly for the dough, but Homer’s persistence in saying “No” matches Bart’s persistence in saying “Can I?” Marge remembers when she was a girl, and earned enough for an Easy Bake Oven by becoming personal slave for her sisters for a month.
Bart thinks she’s proposing to take on a part time job herself to help him, and declines in gentlemanly fashion – but is appalled when he realizes she is suggesting that he work. Nevertheless, after exhausting moneymaking options (including a lemonade stand which Bart converts to selling off Homer’s supply of Duff Beer for a nickel a glass), Bart sweats and slaves at degrading and menial tasks for an old lady for weeks – only to receive 50 cents in payment. With only $35.00 to his name, Bart continues to look longingly in the comic book store window, until to his surprise, the Radioactive Man issue is taken out of the window to show to another customer. It is his schoolmate Martin, who is able to outbid him with $40.00, but still turned down by the proprietor. Millhouse wanders in with $25.00, having no aspirations for the comic book, but seeking a Carl Yastremski baseball card back when he had sideburns. Bart does the math (probably more than he’s done in Miss Krabappel’s class in a long time), and proposes the idea that the three of them pool their finances and walk out with the prize comic book. The deal is closed, and they take in the aroma of the vintage comic from the top of its protective sleeve. “It smells like my grandpa”, says Millhouse. As rain threatens outside, Bart suggest they get this baby home – and all three attempt to carry the comic in different directions to their respective houses, but are stopped cold by the tugs of the others. Comic Book Guy pops his head out the door, saying, “Looks like you bought more than you bargained for”, and breaks into maniacal laughter while lightning from the impending storm dramatically lights his features.
As evening draws on, our trio jointly settle on Bart’s treehouse for a destination. There, they eagerly read the story of Radioactive Man’s origin (survival of an A-Bomb test while his pants were caught in barbed wire), carefully turning the delicate pages with a tweezer. Replacing the comic in its jacket, Bart says the others can come over to read it whenever they like. “Why can’t we keep it at my house?”, suggests Millhouse. To avert an argument, Martin suggests a daily rotation with each of them assigned possession of the comic two days a week. “What about Sundays?” asks Millhouse. Martin proposes determining Sunday possession by random number generation, assigning each of them a block of three numbers. “What about zero?”, asks Millhouse again. In the unlikely event of zero, Martin proposes a rock-paper-scissors competition, best three out of five – which satisfies everybody. At least until Martin points out it’s his designated day of the week, and starts to take the comic home. “Nice try”, says Bart, and, placing the comic on a table weighted down by a brick, says it’s not going anywhere tonight. “Well, neither are we”, says Martin. They decide to spend the night in a “friendly” sleepover. A comment by Martin that the last of them surviving will get the honor of being buried with the book makes Bart suspect a murder plot, and a brawl ensues with each of the three in a stranglehold around each other’s throats (emulating Homer’s trademark strangle of Bart). Only Marge’s intrusion with milk and microwave s’mores causes the combatants to catch their wind. They bed down for the night, but Martin tries to creep out the treehouse door, finding himself caught in the glare of Bart’s flashlight, Bart holding him at slingshot-point. “I have to go to the bathroom”, says Martin. “I have to, too, but you don’t see me getting up”, says Bart.
Millhouse buys into the idea that Martin wanted to make off with the comic, and together they tie Martin up. Bart says they’ll have to take turns watching him, but when Millhouse volunteers for first shift, paranoid Bart thinks Millhouse and Martin are teaming up to knock him off with the brick as he sleeps. Lifting such potential weapon from the comic book, Bart and Millhouse engage in a knock-down, roll on the floor battle, while Homer, seeing from the kitchen window below flashes of the violence above between lightning bolts, tells Marge the kids are doing fine. Millhouse rolls out the treehouse door and falls out, clinging to Bart’s sleeve. Meanwhile the comic, deprived of its paperweight, is whisked about by the wind, and flaps precariously in the breeze from the door frame of the structure. Bart is faced with a dilemma – pull up his best friend, or rescue the comic book. As Bart’s pajama sleeve begins to tear, he finally does the right thing, and grabs hold of Millhouse’s wrist, dragging him back to safety. At that instant, the wind catches the comic full force, blowing it across the yard and down onto the wet ground – where their dog Santa’s Little Helper chews the comic to shreds, followed by a bolt of lightning that burns almost all of what’s left into cinders. Next morning, the trio sadly concede the comic is beyond recovery. “We ended up with nothing ‘cause the three of us can’t share”, says Bart. “What’s your point?”, asks Millhouse. “Nothing. Just kinda ticks me off”, responds Bart. The three return to their normal lives and motivations, while above in a bird’s nest, one panel from the last page of the comic has been retrieved as nesting material, in which Radioactive Man observes, “Well, the world is safe again – – But for HOW LONG?”
The Tasmanian Devil a superhero? Yes, it had to happen – at least in a dream sequence. Taz-Mania was an odd series that provided many faces of Taz – among them a purely television sitcom of the beast’s domestic home life. Unlike the identical personality of Mrs. Taz in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, Taz’s TV family have personalities that are positively normal (by TV standards). Pop is an absolute caricature of Bing Crosby – down to the voice, Hawaiian shirts, golf cart, and horticultural affinity for growing orange trees – and full of meaningless cliche sage advice (which usually segues from a monotone drone into phrases like “yakety schmackety blah blah”). Mom is classic sitcom Mom – a cross between Gloria Henry, Barbara Billingsly, and Betty Crocker. Sister Molly is a boy-crazy bobby soxer, with crushes on hunks such as New Chips on the Block. Little brother Jake is your basic “Beaver” type. And Taz, in juxtaposition to it all, is just his same old slobbering self.
In Comic Madness (12/7/91), Taz has a problem – a not-so-secret addiction to comic books. He smuggles home latest issues to read in his darkened room by flashlight – seeming oblivious to the fact that if anyone looked in his room during the daylight hours, they’d see comic books stacked to the ceiling in three-quarters of the room. Mom and Pop (who obviously aren’t as dense and non-observant as Taz thinks) try to encourage him to get outdoors for some fresh air (and helping Dad tend to his orange trees). Taz has a reason for not wanting to shake any of the new orange crop down – as the slightest vibration brings from the tree branches a rain of more concealed comic books. Sis is no help to Taz’s habit – as she herself can’t get past her own hobbyist addiction to collecting every New Chips album, poster, and action figure. Jake is in on Taz’s secret – actually helping him bring in the latest wheelbarrow full of this week’s editions. Bit he is also careless as little boys will be, and almost gets a dripping ice cream cone on a rare first edition comic. Taz orders him out of the room, and Jake complains that “You love comics more than me.” Settling down on his bed, Taz glances at a family photo on the end table, and apparently wonders if what Jake said is true. Dismissing the thought, he turns the photo frame to place the family out of sight, and settles back to read a superhero comic. His vision blurs as he yawns – and suddenly he finds himself a character in the strip he is reading. Molly (in urban street garb, as a Lois Lane counterpart) tells him “If only Super-Taz was here”, running through the plot point that Bad Guy has kidnapped Super-Taz’s parents and is holding them in a castle – “conveniently located within viewing distance”.
Taz (also in city clothes and glasses, a la Clark Kent) splutters a non-understadable question to Molly. She replies, “Hey, it’s your dream. You figure it out”, and departs for an interview with the New Chips. Closing the office door, Taz zips into his usual whirlwind, and emerges as Super-Taz, with a slobbering, “Ta Daah!” He soars off to the rescue. At the castle he finds Mom and Dad tied to the sawed-off trunk of Pop’s orange tree, on a conveyor belt, headed for the cliche buzz-saw. Taz confronts the villain – but the villain has been expecting his arrival, and offers Taz a split-second choice that will not only keep him too occupied to pound the villain, but place him in the moral dilemma of being able to save only one thing he loves. Pulling away a curtain, the villain reveals on the other side of the room Taz’s entire comics collection tied in one giant bundle, about to be lowered into a pit of fire. The comics – or his parents (a close parallel to Bart’s dilemma of earlier in the same year, on the same network – any coincidence?). Which shall it be? The buzz saw draws nearer and nearer, beginning to carve through the tree trunk. The comics lower to mere inches from the flames. And Taz is sweating bullets, unable to make the decision. At the last possible second, Taz again “does the right thing”, and with a mighty pull on the ropes lifts the tree and his parents from the conveyor belt to safety – but witnesses his comics collection go poof. He takes out his wrath on the villain, with typical Batman-syle “Biff! Slam! Bam!” lettering filling the screen. Taz unmasks the villain – who turns out to be Jake, still complaining that “You like those comic books better than you like me.” Taz awakens from his dream – and resolves that the situation will not repeat itself in real life. With a pile of his latest editions, he trudges through the living room to dump them outside in the trash. But Pop and Mom intervene, realizing they may have been too harsh on the boy, and try to strike a compromise. Pop takes hold of a comic from the top of Taz’s stack, and finally opens a cover to look inside. He is suddenly struck by the realization that these publications have “fine artwork”. Mom tries to put Pop’s lecture another way, but catces glimpse of an issue titled “P.T.A. Strike Force”, and is absorbed in reading too. Molly reacts in disbelief at the situation – until Taz sees where this is going, and flashes before her the newest realease – a “New Chips” comic. Jake, who’s already more or less on his side of the cause, is happy just to be given any issue for his very own. The moral is that the family who reads comics together – reads comics together! And for an odd coda, the scene fast-forwards twenty years into the future, where Taz has become a comic book mogul with his own line of publications, all featuring himself, as TZ Comics!
Next Time: The Animaniacs and friends get into the act, more late Tiny Toons. and an oversize duck proves his powers to his papa.
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