Monday, February 11, 2008

Mr. T and the T-Force #1

Mr. T and the T-Force #1, June 1993, Now Comics
writers: Neal Adams & Pete Stone
artists/colorists: Neal Adams & Continuity Studios
letterer: Andrea Albert

Blogger's note: Entry for Sunday, February 10, 2008.

I make no apologies for my love for Mr. T. Mr. T appeared three times during last year’s A Comic A Day project, and I really can’t promise any less this time around. The guy’s a real-life superhero, plain and simple. He has a costume, a torrid origin, and best of all a motto that ranks right up there with “In brightest day . . .”

Yes, I dare say that “I pity the fool” should make its way onto U.S. currency. Recession would be a problem of the past.

I can understand the criticism. To say that Mr. T is nothing more than glorified cartoon character is an understatement. He was a cartoon character, complete with his own cereal. He’s been a bobblehead and two action figures that I know of, he’s headlined lunchboxes and children’s puzzles, and he’s even tried his hand as a motivational drill sergeant on his short-lived TV Land reality show. Some might call him a sell out for any multi-media opportunity to come his way. I call him a proud self-promoter. Really, what could be more successful than making yourself the product of your own business? You are a resource you produce in abundance! Mr. T has embraced this concept and applied it to television, film, animation, and comics. He’d be a fool not to.

Further, and most importantly, Mr. T has made himself into a product he can live with. His message has always been a positive, all-ages friendly mantra about self-respect and determination, with a pinch of “love your mother” in there for good measure. Corny it may be, his sense of morality is also timeless, assuring the solidity of its multimedia success. Seriously, have any other black celebrities achieved as diverse an entertainment career? Yet Mr. T is often considered a “black celebrity,” perhaps because the purity (and camp) of his persona elevates race altogether . . . which, in my opinion, makes him an incredibly noteworthy black celebrity.

Yet, to say that this first issue of Mr. T and the T-Force is strictly a vehicle for Mr. T would be an injustice. With critically acclaimed artist Neil Adams at the helm, a certain level of comic book clout graces the project. Unfortunately, the sway ends there; in this issue, like in #3 I reviewed last year, Mr. T inexplicably demonstrates inhuman strength, stopping a gang of drug runners by smashing their car, shaking off a taser blast, and bending back the barrel of a gun. Later, when trying to talk a member of the gang straight, Mr. T finds an abandoned crack baby in a dumpster with seemingly little more than some sort of “T-sense.” He actually trusts the infant to the drug peddler, effectively recruiting the wayward kid into the T-Force, and just when this urban fairytale couldn’t get weirder, the story ends in a cliffhanger that pits Mr. T against a shadowy, Kirby-esque crime lord. If only an Intergang crossover were possible.

Yes, Neil Adams and his Continuity Studios provide some dynamic visuals, yet at the same time some of the panels are sloppy, almost just barely post lay-out stage. The caricature of Mr. T maintains its consistency, but the proportions of the supporting cast vary from standard comic book fare to almost satirically cartoony. Perhaps this is the style that best suits such a story, one that balances urban warfare with the exaggerated tactics of Mr. T’s ambiguous superheroism. Still, T’s methods remain just this side of vigilantism, since, rather than a firearm, he lugs around a huge video camera, capturing inarguable evidence against all of the criminals he encounters.

So, no, do not write off Mr. T as some mascot for the bygone ‘80s. He’s more than B.A. Baracus and Clubber Lang. Mr. T is quite simply your inner child grown up, and his T-Force is that reckless defense to his right for self-preservation -- and everyone else’s, too. His lesson? As long as you stand for what you believe in, you have no reason to feel sorry for yourself. It’s those other fools you should pity.

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