Friday, February 01, 2008

Mighty Mutanimals #8

Mighty Mutanimals #8, April 1993, Archie Comics
writer: P. Nutman
penciller: K. Mitchroney
inker: B. Thomas
letterer: G. Fields
colorist: B. Grossman
editor: D. Clarrain
manager: V. Gorelick

My mother still makes fun of me for talking to my action figures. What she doesn’t understand is, I was talking for them. As an adult, action figures have become nothing more than displayable statues that occasionally suffer from exclusive elusiveness due to the corporate-induced collectors’ market, but I will never forget their initial important in my life -- as a conduit for the superhero stories that I wanted to tell. Long before I knew anything about the Martian Manhunter as a comic book character, he was still an active member in the Justice League of My Bedroom Floor, battling the likes of Darkseid and Brainiac, and, yes, I reenacted these adventures out loud. “You’ll never get away with this, Kalibak!” Red Tornado would say before I’d squeeze his arms together, which spun his legs around and induced a paralyzing windstorm around Apokolipis’ most desperate son. Somewhere within earshot, my mom would roll her eyes and wonder why her son didn’t stick with Little League.

But the emphasis in that anecdote shouldn’t be my social inadequacies. Instead, note how I adored J’onn J’onzz even before I knew that was his real name. How many action figures did you play with (assuming you’re a geek like me) that represented characters you didn’t even know? Thankfully, those Super Powers figures came with little introductory comics; other series, like Playmates’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, came with bio cards kids could cut out of the package (a phenomenon, incidentally, that I miss -- so much cardboard space is wasted on today’s toys, I say). Those cards were often necessary for effective play, considering the obscurity of characters like Mondo Gecko or Walkabout. Still, their descriptions were often limited to the mutants’ origin and weaponry, so I often made up their personalities based on their appearances. Honestly, these interactions were half the fun and the closest any child could get to seeing their stories in real life.

While even as a kid I suspected that many of these characters were made up by action figure designers simply to expand the highly profitable TMNT franchise, little did I know that many of these mutants were inspired by, or at least destined to become, real comic book characters! (Well, not “real,” but you know what I mean.) Fugitoid, for example, was another Eastman and Laird creation that starred in his own 1985 one-shot long before his action figure incarnation, and Usagi Yojimbo and Panda Khan already had impressive reputations as independent comic book characters. My most recent revelation came as I was flipping though twenty-five cent back issues at the Frank & Sons Collectibles Show (where O.J. had planned to hock his “stolen” wares a few months ago), when I discovered an issue of Archie Comics’ Mighty Mutanimals. My inner child practically squealed when he saw Mondo Gecko, Man-Ray, and Leatherhead on the cover -- until then, they’d been nothing but static action figures. Considering their longevity in my collection, I always thought they deserved more. Looks like they got it.

I’ve read some of Archie Comics’ Ninja Turtle adventures before, most notably the installments about the mutant/alien wrestling ring on Stump Asteroid. The Mighty Mutanimals were formed as a result of the series’ expansive supporting cast, with the Spanish-accented Jagwar, the Jamaican wolfman Dreadlock, Wingnut and Screwloose rounding out their ranks. In this issue, Man-Ray vows revenge when he discovers a minke whale abduction-and-slaughtering ring, and, despite penciller Ken Mitchroney’s very cartoony style, this story is anything but child-friendly. First of all, when Man-Ray suggests that they steal a boat to expedite their mission, the group engages in an ethical debate about whether the ends justify the means. Secondly, the gang’s adventure takes a violent turn when the aquatic terrorists pull guns and their leader yells, “Die, hell spawn!” I would expect to find that kind of language in a book like, well, Hell Spawn, but not here. Finally, Man-Ray’s gets political to the point of preachy when he responds to Jagwar’s claim that God had helped them, “Maybe you’re right, but we should never forget . . . justice is a double-edged sword.” Okay, we get it -- life is hard, and bad things happen to good people, er, I mean, whales. Now can Bebop or Rocksteady just shoot a gun or something?

Seriously, I was pleasantly surprised to discover these potentially throw-away characters handled with such maturity. I certainly didn’t put such sophisticated words in their mouths, but if I had continued playing with those action figures into my teens and twenties, who knows? Maybe I’d have the creative versatility to brainstorm a character worthy of the old TMNT action figure line! My mom would’ve been proud of that!

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