Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Tedd Riccio is a comic book aficionado chock full of useful comic history knowledge. So why not tap into that knowledge for the betterment of you, the reader? Appearing weekly will be a column by newly appointed Assistant Editor Tedd (just Tedd will be fine). This column will be called “Hank McCoy (Before the Fur),” so be sure to keep your eyes open for his unique insights into comics. On the Eighties, Giant Robots, and Hasbro When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch G.I. Joe. I’m totally serious. I mean, I still did here and there at my friends’ houses, whenever I could. But mostly, my parents were alarmed at the war-like content of the show. Now this was ironic, because I was given full reign to watch it’s counter-part, The Transformers- you see, people shooting at each other with make believe lasers wasn’t okay, but gigantic alien robots shooting each other with lasers, rockets, and the occasional machine gun fire was totally okay. What my parents failed to recognize was that the guys who drew and wrote G.I. Joe had their hands tied because they had to obey the cardinal rule of ‘no one can get hurt’ or they would isolate eighty percent of the families watching at home- the end result was a cartoon show in which people were blown clear from explosions that wrecked F-18’s they were flying in the cockpit of at 10,000 ft, only to land miraculously in a vast ocean of cartoon blue water and swim to safety (that is not to say that the drama and action of G.I. Joe was lacking, as I will get to). Now for the cast of Transformers, in which the nature of life and death was somewhat less fixed, violence could be found in abundance. Death rays and missiles impacted on their targets head on (although with little permanent damage) and giant robots went for the face if they ran out of ammo (or energon) (or…whatever). Needless to say, such television moments actually became the standard by which future children’s programming has been modeled against. However, Hasbro managed to crank out a pretty addictive formula that a lot of us grew up on- Good guys have new invention/ unresolved emotional problem, bad guys have discovered the invention/ are researching ways to draw power from natural disasters and weather patterns/ have discovered an ancient Incan temple with a mystical force/ etc., Good guys head out to stop bad guys (roll stock footage and cue fight sequence), good guys use invention to save the day and/or realize that their character weakness was really their greatest strength all along, bad guys run away and swear revenge (because the fight goes on!). (Trite Public Service announcement) (Credits) Now here’s the thing- certainly, these shows were designed to sell toys more than anything else. The end result were convoluted plots that involved dozens of characters that really didn’t serve much purpose to the story other than to demonstrate you, the viewer, age 5-11, could own and play with said characters. Selling the large (and I mean, large) collection of toy soldiers with guns and robots that turned into cars, jets, and giant animals that these shows characterized took some serious creative genius. But somehow, Hasbro managed to fill children’s toy boxes between 1984 and 1988 with the same concepts, marketed over and over again. How did they do this? The characters were COOL. No one working on these lines were thinking too hard about being politically correct (a fitting moral for a typical G.I. Joe episode could have been ‘kids, terrorists are evil, mutated snake people who deserve no mercy’). But they did take the time to give each character their own personality and quirks. I mean, okay, it wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but what do you expect? The end result of trying to sell toys instead of morality to the American public was the creation of stories that sometimes showed as much insight into the psychological depths of its villains as it did its heroes and that carried themes that were probably age-inappropriate. I still remember an episode where Cliffjumper became convinced that Mirage had become a traitor to the Autobot cause, and considered taking sniper shots at him from a distance before hearing his side of the story. And those were just Hasbro’s flagships. Does anyone remember that show Inhumanoids? Well, neither do I, save for a few feint images in the deep recesses of my mind. But all I can say is that even at age eight I remember very clearly thinking ‘this is some serious s*!%’ while the Inhumanoids plunged into the deep, dark corners of the Earth’s center (I think?) and tangled with bizarre, lava-monster things. Or was that show Centurions? Well, whatever it was, it wasn’t Jem. But I digress. While I love the gritty, brutal Transformers movie, it’s the cartoony, character-laden eighties Hasbro universe that I’ll always have a weak-spot for. And apparently, the people over at IDW comics feel the same way. Because I’m going to go on record as saying that the current Transformers series is highly, highly kickass. The art is beautiful, an excellent touch up of the anime-esque style the show was originally animated in- but what I love the most is that the character designs, personalities, and even relationships are all how they remembered them. But this stuff isn’t meant for kids per se- this is all out, hardcore intergalactic warfare on a scale that you always imagined it would be. Yes, the cheese remains in small doses- but I was somewhat floored when Prowl, Ironhide, and Sunstreaker arrested Ratchet and charged him with treason for disobeying direct orders during the writer’s first arc. But if you are really looking for the hard-liqour of the Transformer’s universe, then you should pick up Stormbringer because really, words fail. There are cameos, often well-plotted ones, by characters that only the most hardcore collectors will notice. Of course, if anti-terrorist para-military science fiction is more your thing, Devil’s Due has done some impressive revamping of the Joe team itself. Again, fabulous art in these books- and unlike it’s cartoon counterpart, this is the adult-themed, ninja-fighting, laser-gun toting, military drama you’ve always hoped you’d see. Granted, this sub-section of entertainment in the comic-verse is perhaps a passing fad. Nevertheless, when you get tired of watching guys in tights struggle with intense moral dilemmas, these pseudo-anime-action-movie comics really hit the spot. If you grew up in the era I’m talking about, you get it. If you didn’t? Then you probably think these stories are among the strangest, needlessly over-done tomes of obscure character designs you’ve ever seen. But what can I say. Till All Are One.