Saturday, September 23, 2006

Mr. T #1

Mr. T #1, May 2005, AP Comics
writer: Chris Bunting
penciller: Neil Edwards
inker: Randy Emberlin
colorist: Don MacKinnon
letterer: Richard Emms
editor: Rick Bumston

Avid readers of my blogs (Hi, Mom!) know that I have been faithfully watching The A-Team on the Sleuth Network for the past few months. Two episodes air daily, at 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. PST, and again throughout the day while I’m at work, so I usually record them – I’m still operating pre-TiVo – and watch them when I come home. George Peppard is my new hero, but I admire the entire cast, especially the tireless Mr. T. Somewhere in my bedroom closet at my mom’s house I have a Mr. T action figure, and sometimes when I burp I can still taste the famous Mr. T cereal from my childhood. So, you can imagine my excitement when I found a Mr. T comic book at the shop earlier this afternoon. At $3.75, just a quarter above its original cover price, this issue was the most expensive book I’ve purchased in awhile, but by far the most priceless in the sentimental department.

All that said, I wish the issue actually delivered more Mr. T. In this story, our urban hero is in seclusion after doing some time for a crime he didn’t commit, and he’s apparently given up on pitying the fools. An old friend, a doctor torn between the threats of a drug-dealing mob and its young, ailing victims, solicits the T to come out of retirement to expose and defeat the peddlers; this convicting conversation is the whole of issue #1. I understand that the writer, no doubt a diehard fan of Mr. T as well, is trying to build anticipation for the big T’s premiere action-packed appearance, but when I turned to the last page – a splash of Mr. T out of the shadows for the first time in twenty-two pages, his fist cocked back, ready to throw down – I was disappointed that I’d have to pick up the next ish for a true taste of some exciting fist-T-cuffs. In any given episode of The A-Team, you’re guaranteed a token toss-a-crook-over-a-car scene before the end of the first act!

An interlude of thought: I wonder if the writer intended to pick up where Mr. T’s campy cartoon series left off. Where else would Mr. T have a reputation as an urban do-gooder, unless future issues feature flashbacks aplenty of a heretofore unseen continuity? Do I smell a Mr. T: Year One on the horizon?

Visually, this issue was lacking the solidity that a well-known character like Mr. T is due. The problem may have been in the inking. Randy Emberlin, who I fondly remember from his critically acclaimed work over Larsen’s and Bagley’s pencils on The Amazing Spider-man, turns in a sub-par effort, with lines so thick that details look muddied, and with characters so heavily inked that some pages look like work I’ve seen in promotional comics of products, department stores, or nonprofit public service causes (i.e. “Wal-Mart Presents Spider-man Defeats Mysterio with Twinkies and Reminds the Kids to Say No to Drugs!”). Since Mr. T dwells in the shadows for most of the issue, undoubtedly so his appearance on the final splash page would pack more of a punch (pardon the pun), the inconsistent illustration didn’t affect his caricature too much – another disappointing reason why I’d have to pursue another issue. More than what the story entails, I want to see Mr. T in action!

Interlude #2: Is Mr. T the comic book based on, or inspired by, Mr. T the real, gold-wearing person? I originally typed “based on,” but since I’ve never heard a news story about the T beating up drug-dealing punks in the streets, I assume he is more of an inspiration, based on the positive messages he’s promoted. Just like I think 8 Mile is more “inspired by” than “based on” Eminem’s rise to power in rapdom. A needless thought, perhaps, but one that has struck me in the context of a comic involving such a well-known celebrity. This is caricature, as I said before, rather than biography.

Speaking of caricature, I’m reminded of the celebrity-as-fiction phenomenon that I briefly discussed in my review of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #141, featuring Don Rickles. Now, Don Rickles was a hero in concept only – hilarious insults don’t count as a superpower. In this case, I’m thinking of the larger than life celebrities that have actually boasted an image akin to a comic book hero, like Mr. T, Sgt. Slaughter, or one of my current favorites, Dog the Bounty Hunter (who deserves his own comic book, too, if you ask me). In their prime, these celebrities pitched feel good, kid-friendly morals, positioning them for cross-medium opportunities, like Mr. T’s cartoons, comics, and cereals, or Sgt. Slaughter’s involvement with the G.I. Joe crew. The problem is, celebrities like this must maintain a high standard of morality in order to assure the stability of their success. Consider the recent controversial arrest of Dog and his bounty hunting pack. Or what if Mr. T ever really did time for a crime he didn’t commit? These comics would be worthless in the face of his tarnished reputation. Don’t believe me? Do you think TV Land will air an episode of Berretta any time soon? Blake was found innocent in criminal court . . .

Fortunately, Mr. T is the type of static celebrity that has stood the test of time and maintained an image of integrity, even if it is only a character he has stuck with for nearly three whole decades. In fact, speaking of TV Land, Mr. T has apparently scored his own reality show, in which he actually pities fools. No joke. Frankly, I’m looking forward to seeing the T on TV again. I haven’t caught all five seasons’ worth of A-Team reruns yet, but that is a finite goal. (And I am still on the prowl for an A-Team comic book, if anyone can help.) I can rest assured that Mr. T isn’t finished with us yet. You can pity us when he finally decides to throw in the towel. Yes, pity us then.

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