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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Slapstick Week: Where are they now?

Sometimes, comic book characters are not well-received, and subsequently fade away; their solo series are canceled, and they're relegated to existing only as entries at the back-end of a volume of "Who's Who in the DCU" or "Handbook to the Marvel Universe." Sometimes, though, these characters aren't that bad, they just happen to be disliked by the Powers-That-Be, and no amount of popularity or profit can bring them back to the world of the relevant (I think I might be tempted to call this the "Quesada Effect" if it didn't apply equally to DC's editorial mandate to degrade and eventually kill every single member of Justice League International). Case in point: Slapstick.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Slapstick was apparently voted as the best new Marvel character of 1992, beating out Carnage for the title. So, you'd expect Slapstick to be given a solo series after his four-issue debut, maybe give him a chance to defend his title? No dice. Slapstick was, for all intents and purposes, never seen again. Oh sure, he showed up a few times in the pages of Marvel Comics Presents, where he joined up with the New Warriors (the super-team that gave a second chance to another short-changed hero Speedball), but since then, there's been nothing. Nothing. NOTHING!

Well, almost nothing. The Civil War event has made a habit out of taking previously established heroes and completely subverting them, having them behave in ways that send their fans into convulsive seizures. Civil War turned Iron man into a fascist; Captain America into a reckless, irrational nut; bouncy bouncy fun fun Speedball into a masochistic bore; and Spider-man into someone who's willing to do anything to avoid dealing with the responsibility of his actions. Yeesh.

Continuing in that fine tradition of artistic ruination comes Civil War's destruction of the one, the only, Slapstick. Within the pages of Marvel's Avengers: The Initiative, a character who's called Slapstick, and resembles Slapstick, lurks - but he sure as hell ain't my Slapstick. Let's take a look:

What the purple hell - why is Slapstick wearing fatigues!? Why did he even join the initiative? He wasn't what you'd call a "hero." He only intervened when it affected him directly, or if he found it amusing. And why does he need training? He's shown time and time again that he can survive having a hole blasted into him by a rocket launcher, being punted by The Thing, being repeatedly electrocuted, being set on fire... there isn't a lot that can kill him when he's in his "electroplasm" state. And since he never appears as Steve Harmon at the Initiative's base, this could mean that Stark doesn't even know who he really is, or what gives him his powers - so how can he possibly be a threat to him? There is simply no reason to believe that Slapstick would ever willingly register with the government.

While I'm grateful that Slapstick is making another appearance in Marvel continuity, this character might as well be Deadpool as far as I'm concerned. I haven't seen him do anything that could qualify as "cartoonish." The only scene that made me laugh was in Initiative #5, where Slapstick responds to Constrictor's insult when he calls the recruits the "kids that thought they could take on the Hulk" with "actually, they were - I just went along because everyone else was doing it and I wanted to be popular." And I think you'll agree that that's a pretty weak joke for Slapstick to make.

The Marvel climate after Civil War is not the place for Slapstick to participate in - Slapstick, being a comedic/satiric character, should be a commenter on the Marvel U. He should be looking at the seriousness of these comics from the outside and subverting it, making us wonder why Marvel comics aren't actually to be taken as fun anymore, but as serious, brooding texts where serious things happen and everyone is seriously not in the mood for Slapstick's shit. If you'll recall my post on why I thought Slapstick succeeded as a comedic character, then you'll remember that the most important part of Slapstick was irreverence. When Slapstick begins to respect what was previously mocked, he's no longer Slapstick. Now he's just insane.

I am so sick of comic writers taking previously established characters and, rather than giving them situations which might believably change their attitudes or beliefs (like when James Robinson turned Mikaal Tomas, one of the many Starmen, into a withdrawn, abused, former drug addict in the pages of Starman), simply change the character to fit whatever plot they've devised (I'm looking at Spider-man again). I'm not disparaging plot-driven stories at all, I'm just saying that if you're writing "Indiana Jones and the Book of Infinite Jest," you better keep Indiana Jones' personality in mind when you write the scene in which he encounters The Joker. If you want to have the man who encounters the Joker grovel in fear at the majesty of the Clown Prince of Crime in order to establish his fearsomeness - or something - then you probably shouldn't be using Dr. Jones for that one, because Indy ain't that kinda guy.

And Slapstick ain't even physically capable of being held in a prison cell, never mind being the kind of guy to sit quietly and wait to be interrogated.

You know what kind of heroes would register with the government and join the Initiative? The Great Lakes Avengers. And they did just that back in Cable and Deadpool. But they're completely ineffectual. They would be just the right sort of group to have to go through training with the Initiative, even though they wouldn't provide nearly the level of "angst" that the writers are going for. Maybe they could have just added Squirrel Girl, or Doorman - Doorman doesn't take a lot of things seriously, and Squirrel Girl is sweet and innocent. If they were looking for characters who would lighten the mood of The Initiative, those two would have been fine. Hell, you could re-write the entire run up 'til now with Squirrel Girl, and you wouldn't have to change a thing, since Squirrely had a crush on Speedball, and would have been just as likely as Slapstick was to attack Gauntlet for disparaging the name of the New Warriors. She actually has a bit of a vicious streak already, if you ask me - or Doctor Doom.

So, there ya go - Slapstick isn't dead, but he might as well be. Disagree with me? Think you can justify the complete change in Slapstick's character? Put your comments where - uh, well, where the comments are. In what conceivable universe would Slapstick ever agree to attend boot camp?

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At 31/3/08 9:01 PM , Blogger Stephen said...

even though i love slapstick i stopped reading as soon as he beat up gauntlet(i think it was). it seemed so stupid and dark and totally out of character not to mention not funny. i hope this current incarnation of slapstick turns out to be a skrull.

At 10/4/08 8:34 PM , Anonymous Hester Jester said...

I'm pretty sure this Slapstick is a skrull, his form is too far off from the orignal for comfort...
I miss his lilac hair...
Anyway, the attack could be a nod off to his original series, where he knocked out the Overlord of X, the overkiller, and the NB with his mallet.

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At 11/11/09 6:18 PM , Anonymous Robert Jung said...

My personal fan-wank idea (without pulling a bad Skrull duplicate retcon) would be that Nu-Slapstick is careening around the Marvel Universe, whereupon he runs into his old friend Mike Peterson. After Mike chews him out for turning into this wussed-out cheap-ass clone, Steve reverts to his original Slapstick appearance and personality, then decides that what the Marvel Universe *really* needs is a really big laugh.

Slapstick can then go recruiting all the fun heroes who've been turned off from this Civil War crap -- Squirrel Girl, The Fabulous Leapfrog, The great Lakes Avengers... heck, call in the Impossible Man while we're at it. They can then release the captured Marvel heroes from the Negative Zone, prank SHIELD, give Tony Stark a much-needed pie-in-the-face, humiliate Norman Osborn, and Make Right What Went Wrong. The capper would be a showdown at the New York offices of Marvel Comics, where the current editorial staff gets thrown into the Hudson River and Stan Lee descernds from the heavens to appoint Len Kaminski and James Fry III the new Editors-In-Chief.

Hey, Slapstick is all about playing tricks on Evil, and the current Marvel Universe is as evil as it's ever gotten...


At 13/8/10 1:00 PM , Blogger James W. Fry 3.0 said...

Hi, Michael. This is James Fry, co-creator of Slapstick. Wish I'd seen this post when you first put it up a couple of years ago. Frankly, I'm not crazy about what they've done to my character either. This being a public forum prevents me from saying more. In any event,I'd like to send you a sketch as a "thank you" for your kind words about my character. Please contact me at:

Best wishes, sir!

At 13/8/10 1:17 PM , Blogger James W. Fry 3.0 said...

Hi, Michael. I wish I'd seen this post back when you first put it up, but better late than never, I suppose. As it is, I just sent a link to Len Kaminski; I think he'll be every bit as flattered as i was. Frankly, I wasn't exactly crazy about the direction they took Slapstick in, either. This being a public forum prevents me from saying more.The one good thing that has come of it is that Slap has actually appeared in comics published more recently than the nineties. But that's all. In a better world, now that Disney owns Marvel, when they finally run out of A-List characters (in what---about twenty minutes?) someone will notice Slap (in his original incarnation, thanks) and have a Light-Bulb Moment. >sigh< A man can dream, can't he?

At 26/3/11 12:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

heres what i think. deadpool team up shld start back up and have deadpool team up with slapstick along with the impossible man 3 of my favorite marvel characters. i like slapstick he shld appear as guest star in most of the marvel books. helping x men, deadpool fantastic four etc.


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