Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Haven’t got much time- going to go to a conference this weekend. Which means lots of sitting around. Which can get kind of maddening. I suppose that introduction is just a weak ‘hook’ for who I want to bring up this week-

I was pretty frickin’ psyched when I was perusing the Omnicomic news roll this week and saw Madcap make headlines.

I know there’s like a million of those "I just enjoy making life chaotic for everybody, and dress in a child-like costume" villains and let’s face it, most, as compared to the late Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the Joker, are just pale imitations of the supervillian icon that is the Clown Prince of Crime. Still, I think there are a few of these crazed villains that carry a little pizazz worth checking out on their own. It’s just that people have a tendancy to not give credit where credit's due because, at a glance, initial reactions are likely to be ‘OH, this guy's just like the Joker’.

I was a big Arcade fan and I think his prolonged absence in the Marvel universe is a terrible mistake. A homicidal maniac with a perversely childlike sense of humor, Arcade was actually in the business of making the rough equivalent of superhero snuff films. Murderworld’s recent inclusion in the video game Marvel Ultimate Alliance had to be the first hint I’d even heard of Arcade since the 80s. And in truth, his presence there was really kind of a throwback to an old, old, OLD Marvel video game- X-Men: Madness in Murderworld (which I played on my commodore 64 and have never spoken to anyone who successfully finished).

I’ve got a special place in my heart for Madcap though.

It isn’t the get-up. Or the bad jokes. Or just the nearly senseless carnage that he tends to unleash. Maybe it’s the healing factor- I mean, every Marvel character’s healing has just a little bit of ‘flavor’, to it. Wolverine’s looks like it hurts. Deadpool’s looks like it DOESN’T- hence the name, you know? He’s just a walking bag of dead cells. With Ghost Rider I don’t know if it IS healing, exactly, you know? It’s sort of more like you can’t destroy a ghost (spirit/angel/whatever). You could hit, claw it, even blow it up. But that’s the whole thing- it’s already dead. So it kind of just forms over and over again.

And Madcap? It’s sort of inhuman. Like he’s some sort of violent, sick, cartoon character brought to life. But it’s also kind of like if those cartoon characters WERE brought to life, you’d see just how sick and screwed up those cartoons were? Yeah, I’ve seen Deadpool get arms chopped off and put them back in place like it’s nothing. But Madcap…

I think it’s that he wants people to SEE it.

He wants an anvil dropped on his head. Than he wants to get up, walk over, and SHOW you what it LOOKS like. And that way every time you watched Wiley E. Coyote get nailed on TV you’d cringe, not laugh. And that’s SORT OF Madcap’s goal, I think. If he has a goal. To expose you, to violence. To show you -by acting like a cartoon- that life is not LIKE a cartoon. So that you realize how many things you take for granted, on TV, at the movies…even in comic books. So that you’re gonna remember that all those seemingly innocent indulgences in the media are just attempts to desensitize you so that you won’t worry ABOUT violence. When in fact the danger of violence is all around you.

The fact that Madcap was originally a pretty straight-laced, religious guy is a nice touch. In fact this always really creeped me out. I’m not super religious myself, but just this idea that somebody that good and principled wakes up the next day and starts behaving like the ultimate representation of distorted media violence; it’s got "unholy" written all over it.

Of course, Madcap hardly has to get under people’s skin. I mean, the guy can just stare into your eyes and psionically/mystically/whatever trigger you to act crazy! It’s the simplicity, that makes it scary, I think. I mean how long can you avoid looking into somebody’s eyes? It’s unnerving to think about. Madcap’s attire and ‘bubble gun’ are just that too- things to get you to look at him. I mean, who wouldn’t stop and stare at a guy wearing that suit, squirting bubbles?

And maybe this is why Madcap doesn’t pop up in the Marvel universe that much. It’s like Grey Gargoyle- how DO you stop a guy who can turn anything he touches to stone (hell he can’t even STOP turning stuff to stone, for that matter)? Madcap isn’t exactly a "flavor of the week" villain, he’s more like an unstoppable force. Like so many great Marvel villains, Madcap has that kind of 80’s horror bogeyman feel that kept you awake at night as a kid.

And speaking of unholy. I’ve got a special place in my heart for a certain kind of villain. And those villains are:

The villian’s whose origins don’t make sense. And in this bit Madcap is my favorite. Nobody’s origins in comic books really make sense, I suppose. But usually there’s some kind of correspondence. Spider-man gets bit by a spider, Flash gets hit by a lightning bolt…there’s SOMETHING in there that you’re like "Oh, I get it." But I guess when there’s some kind of disconnect between an origin and the nature of the character it creeps me out.

So Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.- an interesting organization in Marvel that I could write a column about alone) was fiddling around with a ‘nerve agent’- compound X07. As far as I know, this compound has NEVER appeared in any Marvel comics story other than Madcap’s origin (Captain America- 1985). There is no explanation for what it was or how it was created. But- somehow- Madcap’s body is infused with the stuff. It did something to him (after a bus he was riding on collided with a not-so-careful A.I.M. truck carrying the stuff). It’s just so out there, you know? I mean what we’re talking about is a chemical or something close to it. But it’s like it got super-heated and grafted onto the guy’s body.

But still even then it’s like why WOULD a nerve agent create a villain who, as far as I can tell, roughly resembles the anti-christ? Madcap seems far more fitting in the pages of Ghost Rider or Doctor Strange than anything else. It’s a subtle point and easily missed but I just love the villains where the origin and the powers don’t quite sync, you know? There’s something creepy about it. And it makes you wonder if there’s more going on…