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Monday, March 03, 2008

Have a Nice Day: Mankind Saves the Dispossessed

When I was a kid, around the age of ten or eleven, there were two types of fiction that had me enthralled: one was Star Trek, a nostalgic remnant from even earlier in my childhood. The other was professional wrestling.

Don't snicker at me. The period from 1996-1999 was the second renaissance of wrestling; the "Attitude Era." It was mostly the product of Vince Russo, who was a story-telling genius when he was tempered by editors and Vince McMahon, but a complete idiot when he went unsupervised in Eric Bischoff's WCW. This period saw the rise of Undertaker's unstoppable and evil brother, Kane, who seemed to have a supernatural control of fire. There was the mighty Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon epic. And we were also treated to the aforementioned Undertaker abducting wrestlers and turning them into his minions for a stable called the "Ministry of Darkness," whose heinous deeds included chanting lines from movies in Celtic, and "crucifying" other wrestlers on a totally wicked "Taker symbol:"

The "Ministry" story enthralled me, but I could never be as cool as the Undertaker was. I was shy, overweight, and socially awkward (I know, I know - a guy who blogs about comics, wrestling, and Star Trek possessing these qualities is simply unheard of). So I couldn't identify with the awesome power of the Lord of Darkness, nor could I possess the bad-assery of that other pillar of "sports entertainment," the beer-swilling, uncompromising, disrespecting Stone Cold Steve Austin. Nope, there was only one character that I felt entirely comfortable playing, and I did it to the hilt:


He was insane, pitiable, and not only did he profess to love pain, but actually proved that he did. For somebody raised in the public school system, there wasn't any other character easier to portray than Mick Foley's old sad-sack in a mask.

And I wasn't the only one who felt the same way. The oafish Mankind, a second incarnation of the persona that was a bit chunkier and funnier than Foley's previous take on the character, became a marketing smash. His catch phrase, "Have a Nice Day," was shouted all over the school yard, while his initially one-off sock puppet friend, Mr. Socko, was recreated faithfully by your's truly.

But don't take my testimony: take Choas! (yes - their company's name has an exclamation mark in it) Comics'! The Mankind character was one of the few that was shoe-horned into a terrible line of WWF comics in 1999, along with The Undertaker (whose series also featured Kane and Paul Bearer). You'd think that if you wanted to make a comic about a man-child with a fetish for agony, you'd try for something, you know, funny. But the Chaos! Comics guys were too smart to fall for that attempt at mediocrity and predictability - they read Rob Liefeld's stuff, they knew what comics were, and that was grim 'n' gritty. Thus, we got this:

Oh boy. He's a friendly fellow, isn't he?

This train-wreck can be blamed on writer Steven Grant and penciller Jerry Beck (whose illustrious career would continue with such titles as Insane Clown Posse). Think I'm being unnecessarily harsh? That's because you haven't read this thing.

It doesn't even wait to start pissing off the English majors. On Page 1, right at the top, we're treated to this little introduction to the Mankind character:

The WWF's Mankind may not lool like a force to be reckoned with, but don't let that fool you. As many of his opponents in the WWF ring have found out, Mankind can one minute be as docile as a child and the next as vicious as any professional wrestler out there.

This story takes Mankind out of the squared circle and pits him against insurmountable odds.Though all he's really looking for is a place to call home!

Oy, my syntax.

Mankind's adventure begins as he comes flying out of nowhere to kick the crap out of some inconsequential muscle who are hassling the homeless population of - err, a park somewhere. It doesn't start off all that badly to be honest with you. The first page gives zero indication that it's going to be a period of your life wasted, forever gone and irreclaimable. Of course, that's before Mankind's entrance:

Errrrrr - what?

The tough guys are unreasonably calm about the whole "man in half a mask and a tie coming screaming out of the darkness" scenario, because they respond in full sentences punctuated with periods. The difference between the art and the dialog is quite jarring, as the men look like they should be shouting, but there's nary an exclamation mark in sight.

After a couple of pages of scaring the bejeesus out of the mysterious attackers (one's sporting an eye-patch, so I'm going with "pirates" on this one), Mankind arbitrarily exclaims to his pal, Mr. Socko, that he's crashin' in the park with the homeless. Why they're homeless we never find out, so I guess we're just supposed to be on their side without questioning why.

A side note: I don't think I have ever seen seen uglier art. Ick. Look at the guy at the right picking his honker with his crucifix:

My gawd. That's sickening.

None of this makes any sense. Mankind is supposedly a professional wrestler in the Chaos! (ugh) universe, but he's just bumming it with the homeless? Even the jobbers get paycheques, man. Plus, what about travelling?

But all that's small potatoes compared to the hideousness of the rest of the book. Page 7 introduces us to the man who's called the "hit" on the homeless, the Mayor of Unnamed City. He's discussing "business" with a man who only wants to be known as "the Director," which should be a dead give-away that he's evil. He talks about "subjects" and "research," so now we know that he's also an evil scientist. So he's going to be rounding up drifters like that guy from Doctor Who. Remember, kids - PETA only cares if you experiment on animals.

The mayor's complained that simply getting the police to evict the squatters from the park would be a "public relations nightmare," so he opts for the Director's less visible methods: sending a squad of helicopters to shower the park in poison gas and abduct them for experimentation. Because nothing says "subtle" like having people knocked out and dragged away from a public place by a flock of black helicopters. I mean, really, it happens everyday in Toronto, and nobody bats an eyelash. Although when we abduct our panhandlers, we have the good sense to give 'em free booze and cigarettes for their troubles.

Once the filthy hobos are all rounded up, they're taken to the Director's evil lair. It turns out that this isn't just an ordinary mad scientist. He's doing it to save the human race from a coming "cataclysm," so the homeless should be grateful that they're being sacrificed for the greater good. Can I get Stock Action Character Number 3 please?

Ahh, where would the villainous geniuses of the world be without the person that calls him a bastard and reminds him that he'll never get away with whatever he's doing? If she wasn't there, he'd have no one to be condescending toward. As a bonus, she also fulfills the "pathos through loss of a child" role nicely.

Meanwhile, Mankind has been locked in a cell on his own, while the other prisoners have been, I presume, allowed to wonder around in a big open pen. Keep that part in mind for later.

The Director reminds one his henchmen - whom I have dubbed "The Amazing Beard" for his facial hair's propensity toward having parts of it appear and disappear at random - that every government in the world is backing his research to create the ultimate soldier - which flies in the face of his earlier statement that he was trying to save the human race from extinction. I thought maybe he was lying to his prisoners, but then, what purpose would that serve? Nobody's going to willingly allow themselves to be experimented on by a madman who had them kidnapped, even if it'll save everyone else. You'd have to be even more insane than the WWF licensing commitee that approved this dreck. Besides, there's more proof that "the Director" is just insane when he states near the end of this issue that he's above the "selfishness" that causes the homeless to actually value their lives to a certain extent. You know, because building super-soldiers by treating other people like animals for hire isn't irrationally self-absorbed at all.

Plus, he believes that Mankind is a "missing link" in his research. So I guess he's aiming to make 300 lb. psychos who look forward to dying.

Our - err, hero, I guess, proceeds to knock himself silly in an attempt to escape from his cell. This prompts the Amazing Beard to intervene, along with two guards who are immediately overwhelmed by the masked maniac. Throughout the fight, Mankind spouts some "one-liners" that can't even qualify as humorous non sequitors. For example: "You put me through hell! And all I got was this lousy t-shirt!" Chuckle, everyone, chuckle.

Remember how I told you how the prisoners were all just kind of kept in a big room, and not locked up anywhere? Well, that comes into play now, when the guards are distracted by Mankind, which allows the transients to "escape."

To stop the rampaging idiot, the Director tells another henchman (or the same one, I can't tell with this artwork) to use "Brute Force," which is not a legitimate strategy, but rather the too-fucking-cute name for a tag-team of gigantic soldiers created by the director, named "Brute" and "Force." Brute is on the left, which the blond crew cut, and Force is the baldy on the right with the soulless eyes.

So, the Director already has some super-soldiers. Why does he need a bunch of skinny, hungry, badly-drawn homeless people, then? It makes even less sense when you find out that the first person he's experimenting on is a little girl.

Brute and Force proceed to kick the crap out of Mankind, and they win, and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief and stop reading.

Oh, wait. There are six more pages of this thing. I must have been day-dreaming again. Sorry.

Mankind manages to electrocute Force, thus:

Mmmm, Beefy? Yup, those folks like me who had wasted part of their Monday nights by watching wrestling will remember the time that Chef Boyardee's slogan was indeed "Mmmm! Beefy!" and, surprise, surprise, Mick Foley, in his Mankind persona, was the spokesman on commercials during broadcasts of Monday Night Raw.

Mankind manages to work his way into the Director's operating theater, hijacking the stretcher that the aforementioned little girl was placed on prior to the Director preparing to operate on her. Now, that just seems kind of silly to me. If I was going to cut somebody open, I sure as hell wouldn't be doing it with her still on a bed with friggin' wheels. That's just bad form. Unless it's a race car bed.

Anyway, Mankind is taking this stretcher for a spin, and actually gets Brute to push him out of a window - and remember, this stretcher still has an unconscious little girl on it - and plummets a couple of stories to Brute's death.

But don't worry, kids - your ol' pal Mankind's still alive, ready and willing to provide you with enough nightmare fuel to last through years of therapy!

The Director faces one final indignity when Mankind shoves his sock-covered hand into his mouth, killing him through the magic of professional wrestling.

And then the hobos kick him out of the tribe.

The end.

So, to recap, what we've got here is a wrestling comic book that throws away most of the wrestler's character, opting to Flanderize him instead, and includes approximately zero pages of wrestling. Everything that I loved about the WWE at that time, and Mankind, is absolutely nowhere to be found.

Maybe I'll have better luck with the Undertaker mini-series.

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At 4/3/08 7:32 AM , Blogger CaptainAverage said...

Damn you.Is the purpose of this blog solely to introduce excess pain and anguish into my psche? Damn you for introducing me to this pile of dreck. "Put a sock in it"? AAAAUUUGGGGHHHH! Damn you and damn me for reading.

But seriously,good review.


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