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?