Before we begin, I want to apologize for a lack of embed episodes this week. The folks that own the rights seemed to have done a pretty good clean sweep of You Tube and DailyMotion. Hopefully my descriptions of the following episodes will suffice.
Now, continuing into the mid-1980’s. Animation had begun to take a turn in the right direction (though still with a good deal of straggling, struggling projects from studios of lesser renown, as will be seen in our first installment below). After being absent for many years from the television scene, a resurgence of interest in animation (generated at least in part by the production and success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit) resulted in two of animation’s biggest players reopening TV divisions for the first time in nearly two decades, since the days when their work product was primarily used only to provide bridging sequences for TV re-premieres of their old theatrical cartoons – Disney, and Warner Brothers. Their influence would entirely reshape the sagging interest in TV fare that had prevailed for the previous decade, which had reduced daily and Saturday morning lineups to a point where nearly every new show was nothing more than a half hour excuse for product placement of some toy line (for example, G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, Strawberry Shortcake, Teddy Ruxpin, and the infamous Rubik, the Amazing Cube!) Many classic characters would receive successful revivals in adaptations to weekly and daily schedules. And many new ones would join their ranks, proving worthy contenders for the comic crowns of their Golden Era counterparts. Most importantly of all, the industry would begin to put its back into such projects, with increasing budgets, artistic sophistication, and a feel that the writers and directors were enjoying themselves and expressing their creativity, rather than just going through the motions. And perhaps the greatest driving force for this new creative spark was the industry’s realization, through the massive audience reaction to Spielberg’s feature classic referenced above, that cartoons weren’t just for kids anymore, and that an adult audience, not seen since the days when theatrical cartoons were a regular part of any adult theatrical program, was ready to come back into the fold.
Amidst this atmosphere of rejuvenation, the superhero satire began to re-emerge. Though “real” heroes of course persisted (and would achieve new life and vitality, particularly in the hands of Warner Bros. re-development of the DC Universe), it was also a time of loosening up, when writers could begin again to laugh at hero cliches, rather than expend all their efforts on dreaming up the next ratings go-getter who had to prove himself more powerful than all who had preceded him. Comedy was again reborn in the world of the super suits.
As I mentioned, there were still some who lagged behind. I was never much of a follower of DIC’s Inspector Gadget. A promising character concept, but seemingly done in by repeatedly formulaic writing, lackadaisical gag timing, and often sub-par animation. Even the voice choice of comedy veteran Don Adams, who had previously scored in animation with winning reads for Tennessee Tuxedo, couldn’t seem to save the show, as the uninspired writing staff would hardly ever feed him a good line (where were all those memorable comic catch phrases from the “Get Smart” days?), leaving the character virtually expressionless and bland. The staff was equally incapable of building real character in any of the supporting “good guys”. Chief Quimby and Penny were essentially mired in one expression at all times. The long-suffering guard dog Brain was left the unenviable task of providing all the “laughs”, but the animators were not up to the job, having no real sense of talent for either true action animation or expressive wild takes and extremes. Even the villains didn’t help much. Dr. Mad was always on the periphery calling the shots, and never really got into the action. And the Mad agents were all cut of the same cloth, with no truly unique personalities or powers. One quickly got the message that if you’d seen one episode, you’d seen ‘em all.
In a ditch effort to dig themselves out of a rut, a cast addition was made in scripts of the late run of the series (by which time I’d already tuned out), by introducing a “sidekick” for Gadget. Their concept of a sidekick was to find someone even more helpless and clueless than Gadget himself – no doubt to ensure that Brain would still have plenty to do to anonymously save the situation from behind the scenes. The result was an overweight juvenile fanboy in thick goggle-style glasses, wearing a bicycle helmet with Mercury wings, a supersuit and cape, and riding in a swept-back but squeaky-wheeled bicycle, who has dubbed himself “Corporal Capeman”. In The Capeman Cometh (10/5/85), Capeman first volunteers his services when he spots Gadget en route to a crime scene. Gadget first insists that he works alone – but later relents at the scene of crime, seemingly impressed with Capeman’s absolute lack of powers and inability to spot all but the most obvious clues (for example, both of them pass multiple armed guards securely bound and gagged, yet neither untie them nor consider that anything is out of the ordinary). In an odd running-gag feature of the series, Gadget, despite hearing both others and Capeman himself properly pronounce his heroic name, never gets the character’s name right, and always refers to him as “Cap Man”. Having no crime-fighting abilities, Capeman is quickly captured and tied from head to toe by Mad ninjas. He only serves a purpose in defeating them when a squad of Quimby’s helicopters surround the roof, and the wind force of the helicopter blades blows the overweight bumbler into the ninjas and down on top of them in a fire-escape staircase. Later, he does absolutely nothing to help during a nighttime raid on Gadget’s house, just happening to walk in at a moment when the gadgetry of a self-playing automatic ping pong table, a gadget exercise bike, and a series of mechanical hands providing weights for weight lifting and a virtual boxing sparring partner, have already brought the villain into a state of submission. Capeman thus keeps showing up in the right place at the right time to be mistaken for a valiant hero – and is more than anxious to take credit where it’s not due. Years before, DeParie-Freleng, in the Super Six series, was able to generate some laughs out of Captain Zammo, another hero who takes all the credit while someone else takes all the falls. Yet Capeman’s accidental fortune really adds no genuine laughs whatsoever – demonstrating the difference between approaches and results of animators of vision versus underpaid hacks just earning a paycheck. While Capeman would appear in several more episodes of the Gadget series, you’ll probably have to drag me screaming and kicking if you think I’m actually going to sit and watch them.
Superdoo! (Disney, DuckTales, 10/9/87). While Disney first tried to get its feet wet with the product-driven “Adventures of the Gummi Bears” and “Wuzzles” on Saturday morning, their first major breakthrough without merchandising ties was DuckTales – a daily series paralleling the comic book adventures of Carl Barks’ Scrooge McDuck, and firmly entrenching the character as as much a superstar in animated form as he had previously been only in print. This, along with Gummi Bears, would also be the first in what was to become a long and distinguished line of development of fine ensemble animated casts, each offering a gallery of varying and distinctive memorable personas with a wide array of character traits, providing the writers with the luxury of never having to fall into one set of patterns or formulas, but instead able to spin story lines off of any character in the group, in multiple directions at the same time. This “bible” of series development would overflow into the competition, also becoming the standard for most of Warner’s biggest successes (among them, “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Animaniacs”, each featuring a massive cast), and further heavily influencing some Nickelodeon product, such as “Spongebob Squarepants”.
“Superdoo!” provides an example of how even supporting players could provide plot ideas. Scrooge, Donald, the McDuck Manor staff, and the usual villains rogues gallery, make no appearance at all. Only the nephews and new emerging star Launchpad Mcquack remain essential to the script – but the real center of attention goes to a minor player only seen in a small number of episodes – Doofus, an overweight, uncoordinated duckling pal of the nephews. The Junior Woodchucks are on a field trip to earn their geology merit badges. Doofus brings up the rear in the hiking line – from way back. His attempts to gather firewood result in an unexpected exhibition of log rolling down a hill, rolling over and wrapping every one of the other troopers’ pup tents around the log, then sending the whole roll over a cliff into the river far below. One of the troop comments that Doofus will never earn a merit badge unless they start giving them for goofing up. That night, a pair of comically fish-faced alien invaders appear above in a small ship while the troop sleeps. They are space criminals who have stolen a power crystal with which they hope to rule the universe – but the crystal’s powers are not due to activate for several hours. To evade space police and not get caught with the evidence, they jettison the donut-shaped jewel-like crystal in a small pod to the “puny planet” below, intending to return for it when the police are gone. Next morning, as the Woodchucks search the canyons for rock samples, Doofus encounters the hot pod by accidentally sitting on it. Cooling it off with some water, the pod opens to reveal the crystal. “That looks like geology to me”, says Doofus. But scoutmaster Launchpad can’t find the substance listed in the all-knowing Junior Woodchuck manual, so he can’t issue Doofus a merit badge – the only one of the troop to fail. Doofus nevertheless strings the donut gem around his neck for a good-luck charm.
The next evening, back at base camp, Doofus studies the manual by flashlight in preparation for the next merit badge test, while his sleepy troopmates insist he turn out the light so they can sleep. Doofus reluctantly complies, but as he nods off, the “donut” begins to glow brighter than the flashlight – finally activated. The troop hollers for Doofus to douse the light again, and Doofus pulls the blankets up over him. When next he opens his eyes, he discovers himself and the blanket having floated out the window. Startled, he loses control of direction and falls into a canyon. There, a pack of wolves approach and snarls menacingly. Normally slow-as-a-snail Doofus suddenly finds himself able to outrace the wolves like a streak of lightning. He begins to catch on that he has acquired strange powers, and tests them by lifting a boulder with ease, and also launching himself for another flight into the sky. Putting two and two together, he also deduces that his“donut” is the power source. He flies back to camp to tell the others – but the still sleepy troop won’t listen, and insists he go to bed. Doofus hatches a plan – if he doesn’t let on about his powers, and holds back from showing off his full abilities, he can win every merit badge in existence!
Next morning, Doofus acquires his first badge – by tying up all his fellow troopers and Launchpad in the knot-tying test. He next shows up the rest by starting a fire with sticks with the precision of a high-speed drill. Jet propels a canoe through pylons for a speed record. Juggles yarn balls into an instant carpet for the weaving badge. And mass produces a pancake breakfast for the troop for his cooking badge. Soon, he has a sash full of badges, with only one left to go. The troop is completely puzzled, and Launchpad is showing unexpected signs of severe nervousness. Meanwhile, the aliens have returned to find their pod empty, and use an alien-technology flashlight to illuminate footprints of Doofus on the canyon floor straight to Woodchick camp. One of them raises a devastator ray, which shall obliterate the camp but leave the crystal unscathed. However, he foolishly holds the gun backwards, and fires a ray over his shoulder – igniting a forest fire. Launchpad orders the troop to evacuate, as the fire heads straight for camp. Doofus knows he could save the day. but would run the risk of losing his badges if his secret is discovered – so assumes a super disguise with some flannel underwear, goggles and a blanket, becoming Superdoo! Before the startled Woodchucks’ eyes, he flies to a water tower, lifting its top off. Though the water merely falls to drench the Woodchucks, he carries the structure to the river, inverts it to refill it with river water, then quenches the flames. His disguise, however, is not impenetrable, as the nephews suspect the pot-bellied hero to bear a strong resemblance to you-know-who. As the frustrated aliens hatch a new plan – to blow up a nearby dam and wash the encampment away – the nephews plot to keep an eye on Doofus. At their next merit badge event, Doofus again shows up everybody at basket weaving, calling it “too easy” while everyone else can barely get started. His belittling attitude has by now gotten on everyone’s nerves, and no one is in a mood to congratulate the gloating champion. The aliens blow the dam (forgetting they are still atop it when the detonator goes off), and the wall of water races into the valley. Launchpad sends the troop to higher ground – but Doofus again lags behind, and takes his super suit to change in an outhouse. Emerging as Superdoo, he blows the water back behind the dam line with super breath, then grabs a mammoth pile of earth from a mountainside, and using his pottery merit badge skills, molds it into an Earthen plug to make the dam stronger than ever. He returns to the outhouse to swap clothes again – but the nephews lie in wait for him, and open the door. So much for secret identity.
Despite his super powers, Doofus finds they are of no use in producing friends, as everyone realizes he cheated on the merit badges – yet he still claims his powers make him better than they are. He goes to Launchpad to claim his last merit badge. Launchpad can find no rule in the book precluding a superhero from being a Woodchuck too, and awards Doofus the basket-weaving badge, making him the all-time merit badge champion. “Who was the old champion?”. asks Doofus. “I was”, replies a disheartened Launchpad. Realization finally hits Doofus that his abilities are causing more personal harm than good. Friendless, he removes the “donut” and tosses it away off a cliff. Coincidentally, below are the drenched aliens, and the crystal conks one of them on the head, then bounces into a hole in a tree. As the other alien reaches in to retrieve the gem, his hand is ferociously chomped on by the jaws of a squirrel – around whom the crystal has come to rest like a collar. The angered creature takes off after the aliens, chasing them back into their saucer and entering with them. The ship takes off, zigging and zagging through the heavens in obvious signs of a brutal scuffle continuing within its walls. Back on Earth, a repentant Doofus gives up his merit badges to Launchpad. “You know, it takes more than super power to make a decision like that”, says Launchpad, congratulating Doofus on his integrity. Doofus reveals his surrender of the powers and badges to the troop – who are glad to welcome the old Doofus back. One more obstacle presents itself – the wolf pack has been washed out of the woods, and threatens the camp. Now powerless, Doofus backs away, bumping into the water tower and its now empty upper structure. Getting an idea, he charges into the foundation pillar again, vibrating the upper structure loose – which falls over the wolves as a trap. He’s a hero even without the donut. At night around the campfire, Doofus is his old bumbling self, stumbling over popcorn cookers in the middle of a ghost story. One of the nephews comments they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Neither would Doofus”, chimes in another.
Honorable mention goes to The League of Supet-Rodents (11/7/87), from Ralph Bakshi’s/John Kricfalusi’s Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. While its inclusion here is a stretch, considering that all participants are nominally career superheroes or supervillians, this Justice League/Legion of Superheroes spoof assembles such a motley crew of unlikely hero candidates that it might as well be a masquerade party at that, and provides one of the farthest-out storylines of the series. To impress a seductive villainess (Madame Marsupial), arch-villain The Cow (a strange name considering he’s male) takes on a dare to attempt to defeat the entire League of Super-Rodents single-handed. The league meets at their headquarters (the Hole of Multitude) on a super-secret tropical island (so secret, it has a chain of other islands shaped like arrows directly pointing to it, and is itself shaped like an X, with a neon sign on the hole yet). As Superman would preside over the Legion, Mighty Mouse is senior officer of the League. He comments that business has been slow lately, and asks if any members know of any good jaywalkers. Nope. He wishes someone would hurl a challenge at them. Up through their meeting table smashes the Cow, and delivers his ultimatum – with qualifications. He has the hole surrounded by his minions (a swarm of horseflies). As Mighty is pretty-near invulnerable, the Cow fields his dare at the rest of the league members – to defeat them all, one at a time. Mighty admits the league members are long overdue for a workout, and decides to sit this one out and watch. Madame Marsupial also appears, and bides her time with Mighty over a spaghetti dinner, as the monumental event gets under way. Gas Gopher is first. His costume comes equipped with various squeeze-nozzles from which he can shoot a gas attack, similar to the weaponry Darkwing Duck would come to rely on. As he flies around the cow, shooting trails of gas, he crosses his own gas path, and loses visibility of his subject, crashing into three other league members.
The Cow emerges from the gas cloud with nose plugs and an electric fan, and calls for the next combatant to bring it on. (We begin to see periodic shots in the background of a muscular looking rodent on a pedestal, who appears to be a statue. However, a very close inspection may detect slight differences in his position from appearance to appearance.) A hamster tries to dazzle with his “scamper power”. An unimpressed Cow merely picks him up in a stranglehold, and tosses him out a window. Mighty begins to worry at how this is going. Bernie Badger is a muscle-flexer. But so is the Cow. The two appear on stage in the spotlight, while a panel of judges take notes, in a “Body Beautiful” competition. The Cow flexes three huge muscles right down the stem of his tail. Bernie strains with all his might for a super-muscle in his arm – until it pops, deflating Bernie like a balloon, and ending him up looking like a limp noodle mixed into the strands of spaghetti. Mole Mom launches her suckling babies as “mole missiles” at the Cow. They are flattened by a “baby-proof vest”. “Is that it?” taunts the Cow. “C’mon, make it happen for me.” He challenges the remainder of the league to all take him on at once, while he has three hooves tied behind his flank, and his tongue taped to the ceiling. The league throws everything they’ve got left at him. Wonder Chuck. Guinea Pygmy. Power Possum. She Shrew. G.I. Gerbil and his Howling Groundhogs. A war zone erupts, with every variety of bullet, missile, arrow and other deadly weapons flying. The Cow zigs and zags in his suspension from the ceiling, dodging them all. The league lies collapsed on the floor, exhausted, as the Cow celebrates. “I did it. I did it.” He shows off, jabbing like a boxer, and approaches the statue we’ve seen throughout the film, just for fun placing his chin within reach of its outstretched fist. At the tiniest touch, he is blasted backwards, leaving holes in his silhouette through a forest of trees (and a bear), several walls, and finally, the wall of a prison cell, where he is dressed in prison stripes and working on a rock pile (along with his minion horseflies, working with smaller sledge hammers). The “statue” turns out to be the Rampaging Sloth, whose powers defy all physical laws of momentum. His Super Slow-Motion Slam takes a while, but when it gets there, it packs a wallop. Madame Marsupial takes the Sloth and his pedestal home for a momento – and dessert – asking what kind the Sloth would like. In his only line of dialogue, the Sloth slowly answers, “Mole-lasses”, as the dripping stuff blackens out the screen for the fade out.
Orson Pig, from the U.S. Acres segment of Garfield and Friends, would periodically adopt the super alter-ego, “Power Pig”. In Return of Power Pig (11/5/88) (interestingly named as it is difficult to tell if there was ever a prior appearance of the character on the show), Orson battles what a wartime Private Snafu episode would have called “Rumoritis” – a rumor blown entirely out of proportion, which he inadvertently started. Sheldon (the half-hatched chick in a shell) asks to be told a scary story. Orson obliges by begining, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall”, which is too traumatic for Sheldon. He tells hs brother he was scared by Orson’s story. Roy Rooster overhears, and wonders what kind of a monster the story must have been about. His references to a monster lead sheep siblings Bo and Lanolin to believe a monster is loose somewhere in the barnyard. And coward Wade Duck panics at hearing of the monster, and brings the distorted story back to Orson. “This looks like a job for Power Pig”, declares Orson. Directly lifting Tedd Pierce’s gag from “Super-Rabbit”, Orson darts into a shed for a costume change, mistakenly emerging as a ballerina. Donning the right uniform, he does battle with the “monster” – a scarecrow Lanolin has constructed in the scariest image she knows – a dead ringer for Roy. As nearly the entire cast is swallowed in a fight cloud, Lanolin shouts out that it’s only a scarecrow. Tracing backwards from Wade, the origins of the rumor lead back to Orson’s story. A disgusted Orson trudges off, stating he’s going for a walk in the country. By the time this comment is repeated among the group, they’ve reinterpreted the story as Orson leaving the farm, for Spain, permanently.
In Origin of Power Pig (10/28/89), a flashback shows a young Orson trying to escape from the daily poundings by his oversize mean brothers into the world of reading books – many of them superhero comic books. Inspired by such reading, he worked out, made himself a super suit, and adopted his super identity. He tells Wade, “Anyone can be a superhero, if you only believe in yourself.” Meanwhile, his mean brothers have invaded the farm in the present, using cheesy disguises as giant monster Knockwursts (and one Vienna sausage) to scare Roy from his position of guarding the annual harvest. Another job for Power Pig, who fearlessly faces his brothers – only to get caught in a sack. Wade panics as usual, but then remembers Orson’s words. Developing uncharacteristic confidence in himself, Wade grabs various articles of old clothing, including an old drooping sock for a mask, and becomes “Wonder Wade”. When one of his “muscles” (a bowling ball inside his sleeve) rolls out while confronting the villains, Wade resorts to normal form and faints, at the foot of a large cart the pigs have filled with a tall stockpile of this year’s watermelon crop. While the villains wheel off the rest of the crops with intent to come back for the melons later, Wade manages to pull a lever on the cart which releases the tail gate, sending the watermelons rolling down a hill. They overtake the brothers, and roll them helplessly over the horizon. Orson is released, and congratulates Wade on following his advice. “I guess you were right, Orson. Anone can be a superguy.” At that moment, chickenhearted Roy returns, also in a new supersuit, as the “Red Rooster”. “Too late”, observes Wade, with the villains already gone. Under the circumstances, Orson revises his sage advice to Wade: “Well, maybe not anyone.”
For Butter of Worse (10/19/91) once again brings back Power Pig, this time in a dream sequence. The farm’s butter supply has been stolen (Wade narrowing the suspects by pointing out this is not the Garfield cartoon). The obvious – and actual – culprit is Roy Rooster, who keeps a hidden safe/cooler behind s pull-down curtain painted to look like the back wall of the chicken coop. But how ro prove the theft? Orson dreams such a task would take a superhero – and transforms his imaginaty self into Power Pig, this time with full tweak of the Superman opening. “It’s a bitd.” “It’s a plane.” “No, it is a raccoon. I’m sure it is a raccoon!” As mild mannered Saturday morning cartoon star, he hears of a Butter Burglary from Bo’s Bakery – leading to a parade of endless tongue twisters. “This looks like a job – for the police” – but Power Pig takes it on anyway. Roy, as Margarine Man, has cornered the city’s supply of butter, so now everyone will have to buy his imitation stuff. As he turns a heat ray onto the stolen butter to melt it, Power Pig at least manages to save it from total waste by using his heat vision to pop a cornfield into popcorn, then spreading the golden liquid across acres for a supply guaranteed to please many a theatre audience. He awakend from his dream, with the inspired idea how to reveal Roy as the butter thief. He delivers to Roy a free bag of popcorn – unbuttered, as the farm’s supply is exhausted. Roy just can’t eat the stuff in bare white – and his craving causes him to dart under the curtain for the safe, revealing its position. Roy is sentenced to operate an exercise bicycle harnessed to multiple butter churns to replace the stolen supply – and exercise pounds off that “butter belly” at the same time.
Garfield himself tries the hero role in Caped Avenger (12/3/88). A typical evening dinner has Garfield insisting to Jon that a second helping of food be served at the dinner table – to his teddy bear Pooky. Of course, since Pooky isn’t able to eat it (Garfield attesting that Pooky is on a diet), Garfield devours the extras himself. Jon has bigger worries, as a publisher is coming over to review Jon’s latest ideas for a comic book. Later, as Garfield settles down in his bed with Pooky for an “after dinner, pre-snack nap”, a shadowy figure creeps into the room while he sleeps, and takes Pooky. Garfield awakes to discover the shocking crime. Deciding that one usually finds lost items in the most stupid of places, he looks down Odie’s gullet. Finding no clues, he decides this is a job for the “Caped Avenger”, and ties his blue blanket around his neck for his transformation. Realizing he needs a sidekick, he looks for someone loyal, brave, and smart. As Odie romps around him ready to volunteer, Garfield settles for “loyal and brave”, naming his assistant “Slurp”. He suggests that Odie needs a costume too. Odie reappears in a Binky the Clown outfit, causing Garfield to shake his head that Odie has the entirely wrong idea. They proceed to investigate the kitchen for clues, Garfield insisting that nothing gets past him. Except that he entirely ignores Jon’s full confession while washing dishes at the sink, stating that he tidied up for his big meeting tonight by putting Pooky in the washer. While Garfield and Odie “digest” every clue in the refrigerator, the comics publisher arrives. Garfield again tells Odie to get into costume, and Odie appears in a Roy Rooster outfit – another wrong idea. The publisher is displeased with Jon’s presentation, especially taking dislike to one about a bear. When Garfield overhears him referring to being glad to get rid of “that stupid bear”, Garfueld assumes the man is a “bad guy” who has tried to do in Pooky. Odie appears in a third costume – this one actually a flashy glitzy superhero outfit. Garfield angrily reminds him of the first rule of being a sidekick – never dress better than the hero. Nevertheless, they attack the publisher. While Garfield stands on the man’s chest and tugs at his shirt, Odie accidentally trips him, causing him to fall into Jon and a refreshment tray he’s just bringing in. Jon apologizes for the mess, but the publisher thinks it’s a clever stunt to spring his new idea of a pet superhero – which he loves. Only one repercussion – the one he’s convinced will be the next new thing is flashy Odie, not blanketed Garfield. Garfield’s temper is about to flare – but is pacified by Jon handing Garfield Pooky, fresh from the wash. The next day, Odie poses for Jon in his studio, on the road to fame and fortune, while Garfield sulks in his bed with Pooky. He tells the bear, “From now on, you’re my new sidekick. You know enough not to upstage the hero – – and you smell good, too.”
It’s a Bird. It’s Insane. It’s Dale! (Disney, Chip ‘n’ Dale’s rescue Rangers, 12/22/89) – A meteorite shower passes through the solar system. Two small chunks penetrate earth’s atmosphere. One crashes through the roof of a second-rate travel agency. The other lands in the city park, where Dale is gathering nuts. Dale almost burns himself by accidentally sitting on it, then as it cools, extracts a flowing crystal from the ground. “Wow, a night light”, says Dale. To his surprise, as he tries to move, he stretches and bounces off objects like a rubber ball (his elastic powers rivaling those of another animated counterpart, Plastic Man). Uncontrollably bouncing into the city, he lands on the head of a purse snatcher making a getaway – and gets wrapped in an elastic knot around the crook’s face. A news van gets some shots of the amazing sight; then, as the woman who lost the purse holds Dale up in her hand as a hero, Dale bounces again amd disappears from view before anyone can identify him. Realizing his rubber powers, Dale hurries to ranger headquarters to tell the gang. Chip, Gadget, Monterey Jack and Zipper are inside, glued to the TV set, as the report comes in of the foiled purse robbery. They keep shushing and ignoring Dale, despite Dale’s attempts to demonstrate he’s the hero by stretching his face out of shape, and winding his arm into a rope lariat. On the chance that the news story is true, the rangers decide to seek out the new superhero to see if he’ll join their ranks. A frustrated Dale is left behind, who decides if they want a superhero, they’ll get a superhero. Quickly taking a refresher speed-read of 137 issues of superhero comics in his personal collection, Dale learns all there is to know about the superhero racket. He concocts a supersuit, and adopts a name to strike fear into the hearts of criminals – Rubber Bando.
Meanwhile, the second meteorite has struck a crooked and considerably unsuccessful travel agent, proprietor of the “See More With Seymour” travel agency. His usual clientele are phoning in the usual complaints – at flights that reach their destination but don’t necessarily land there, or with such attractive itineraries as the Bermuda Triangle. While he phones his lawyer as to who he can sue from being bopped on the head, he picks up the meteorite shard, and discovers he has the same type of powers as Dale. He sees a “world” of possibilities quite different than Dale’s – a new and more profitable way to benefit from people wanting to see the wotld’s landmarks.
En route to meet up with the rangers, Dale also discovers that a career move presents itself as an alternative. Spotting a police car proceeding to a robbery in progress, Dale (who has discovered a power of flight by filling himself with air like a balloon) grabs hold of the squad car and tags along. As two robbers proceed down the steps of a bank with stolen loot, Dale flips off the roof of the braking police car, and lands on the stairs in front of the hoodlums. His elastic arms and legs trip the crooks and cause them to drop the stolen cash. With a perfect heist ruined, the crooks open fire with a revolver at Dale. (Standards and practices had changed drastically from the 70’s when virtually all characters were weaponless, and this scene still seems unusually violent for a Disney show.) Fortunately, Dale’s new power causes the bullets to merely stretch his body, then bounce backward at the villains, trimming the moustache off one, and shooting off the belt buckle of the other to make his pants fall down. The crooks surrender, and Dale makes the news for a second time. He finds his powers can also be adapted to life saving – filling himself up as a water bag by drinking from a fire hydrant, then spitting out the water at close range to extinguish a high-rise fire. Dale receives cheers from the public as he glides like a flying squirrel through the sky, and decides being a super hero is more fun than being a rescue ranger.
The gang finally catch up with their super-powered objective when Dale struggles with a phone-booth door to costume-change back to himself (commenting that the phone booth bit always looked easier on TV). Spotting him from the ranger plane, the rangers descend to attempt to recruit him for membership. Not sure now he wants the rangers to learn his identity, Dale ducks inside the phone itself – but Zipper locates him and ejects him through the coin return chute. The rangers fly Dale home, only to find that Dale’s new ego is as “super’ as he is. Not only will he not stop talking about his powers, but he now views his partners as appropriate material for “sidekicks” and “comic relief”. Chip deliberately loops the plane to bounce Dale around. “Hey, what’d ya do that for?”, asks Dale. “Oh, just comic relief”, wisecracks Chip. Gadget observes that anyone close enough to the meteorite would have the same powers, demonstrating with some arm stretching of her own, and also speculates that Dale’s may have broken off a much bigger piece, leaving the possibility there are others. Yes indeed there are, as in New York, an inflating baloon-like something slips under the foundation of the statue of Liberty, floating it away. Soon elsewhere, Big Ben, the San Francisco bay bridge, the Eiffel Tower, and even the Sphinx, all disappear from their respective locations. All suspicions point to only one suspect – what the press call “the Rubber Rodent”. In reality, it’s Seymour, on a travel-related crime spree to hold the world’s landmarks hostage.
Personalities flare among the rangers, as Dale solves minor crimes single-handedly without the rangers’ help, belittling their spirit, and building Dale’s boasts to the point of going solo, and maybe getting his own TV series. However, news flashes about the monument thefts transform Dale into an instant criminal, causing the public to run in fear and the cops to close in with a dragnet and weaponry such as flame throwers – more than Dale can handle. Dale comes crawling back to the rangers for help, and they make him squirm to ensure that there will be no more super-belittling of their efforts. Inspecting the crime scene in New York harbor, Garget finds one of Seymour’s travel folders dropped behind, and a trip to Seymour’s agency finds deposits of red desert sand on the floor. Gadget deduces the perfect destination where a travel agent would hide monuments – Monument Valley. There they discover the landmarks, and Seymour phoning ransom calls to the various authorities. Dale is assigned to provide a diversion, while the rangers plan a trap. Dale engages in a rubber-vs-rubber duel with Seymour, including both of them rolling like basketballs and bouncing all over the monuments and terrain, while Gadget flies the ranger plane in and out of the monuments with an attached rope, stringing one of the old rope-line obstacle courses dating back to such films as Terrytoons’ “Club Sandwich”, or Chip and Dale’s own “Three For Breakfast”. As Setmour finally succeeds in grabbing the meteorite chip off Dale’s chest, hoping to become twice as powerful, Chip slips one end of the rope around Seymour’s foot, while Monterey and Zipper tie off the other end to a heavy boulder on the canyon wall and push it off a cliff. Seymour goes flying through the structural maze of the Eiffel Tower, around the spikes of Liberty’s crown, and finally smack into the face of the Sphinx, upon which the two meteorite shards shatter. Seomout is knocked cold, and Gadget leaves homing transponders on the monuments to lead the police to the scene of the crime. The team flies off into the sunset with another job well done, and Dale admitting that the rangers are pretty super themselves. (How the monuments ever get back to their original places without super-powers remains an untold super-story.)
Tiny Toon Adventures, a joint venture between Warner Brothers and Steven Speilberg, would be the studio’s answer to the successful franchises which would form the nucleus of the Disney Afternoon. The series would reunite classic WB characters as professors of comedy at Acme Looniversity, teaching their craft to a younger generation of mostly direct counterparts to themselves. Daffy’s counterpart was the equally egotistical Plucky Duck, who would often venture into flights of fancy envisioning himself in positions of heroic grandeur. Such fanciful adventuring provided several opportunities for lampoons of the super-hero genre, such as The Re-Return of the Toxic Revenger (9/28/90), an eco-friendly takeoff upon the Toxic Avenger mB-movie franchise, with possible nods to the overly politically-correct super series, Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Perhaps this first effort is a bit more distant from its source material than what would follow below. Plucky holds a block party for his swamp neighbors, who cavort in the waters of the swamp like a pool party. But rich-kid gone bad Montana Max has a plan to save on water bills for his luxurious oversize pool – hijack the swamp’s water supply with a mile long hose and high-pressure suction pump. His motto: “If you can’t pave it, don’t save it.” The swamp drained dry, Plucky dons superhero outfit, and flies to the rescue as ‘The Toxic Revenger”. The usual battle of wits ensues. Plucky uses super speed to return all the water to the swamp, two buckets at a time. Montana turns the pump on at high speed, bringing the water back, as well as Plucky, and dumps the duck out in the trash. Plucky reverses strategy, bringing the party to the pool, and filling it with his swamp friends. Monty plots to drop a heavy anvil on their heads from the high-diving board, but the anvil is so heavy, the board droops down all the way to the pool. Plucky merely slides the anvil off the board, allowing the board to catapult Monty into the stratosphere. Meanwhile, Plucky shifts the pool pump into reverse, sending all the water back to the swamp. Monty plummets into the concrete canyon that was his pool, emerging battered and with teeth missing. He shifts the pump into forward gear again, and its speed past the meter limit. Plucky ensures that the pool will never cause a problem again, rerouting the suction hose to a nearby rock quarry. Not only is Montana’s pool quickly buried in rocks, but his whole mansion is covered in a mountain of same – which grows to a replica of Mount Rushmore, except with one head replaced by an effigy of Plucky, which Plucky comments “improves the view.”
Originally aired out of sequence, Return of the Toxic Revenger (10/22/90) pits Plucky against Max again, this time in a battle more suitable to a “Captain Planet” epic – against air pollution. Montana Max operates a donut hole factory, whose product works just like Professor Calvin Q. Calculus’s in Robert McKimson’s The Hole Idea (1955) – a portable black hole into which anyone can hide or fall. Unfortunately, it also smogs up the surrounding atmosphere. Enter Plucky Duck, amidst a flock of coughing birds, vowing to right the wrong. He pulls the old “wrong costume” gag, switching into a sexy female outfit with blonde wig, which he apologizes was left over from last Halloween. Not convinced his re-entrance in proper attire is majestic enough, he turns on a wind machine in the clouds to let his cape flap properly in the breeze. The speed switch, however, shifts out of gear to “Tsunami (heck of a lot of wind)”, blowing off his costume, feathers, and bill. He meets up with Max, and his attack dog “Muffin”, for a battle in the main production room, along an assembly line of the portable bottomless pits. The episode takes McKimson’s gag one better, with some interesting profile shots of holes in midair, with the characters entering one side, battling in a bulging blob of black, then sticking their respective heads out both sides of the hole at the same time. Finally, Muffin attempts to shake Plucky down from the tank tower holding the donut hole formula, and pulls out one of the support pillars, toppling the tank’s contents. A pool of black spreads across the floor, and Max and Muffin disappear into it. The pool spreads around the factory building, causing the whole structure to fall in. Before we know it, from a vantage point in space, we see the puddle expand larger than the diameter of the globe, and the world falls in, then the stars, and the entire universe. But Plucky’s head pops out of a bare white emptiness, and he emerges with a spare background (“Don’t leave home without one”), restoring the scene to normal, and Montana and Muffin to duties of sweeping up the mess.
In Duck In the Muck (11/14/90), the Revenger returns once again, against dumping of toxic waste in the swamp. Max is now in charge of the Acme Ice Cream Spoon Company, with machinery resembling such prior Warner toons as Lumber Jerks that devours whole trees just to produce one spoon, plus emits barrels of waste in the process. The swamp is quickly covered in brown sticky goop which produces mutations (such as a two-headed giant frog, to whom Plucky awards a loving cup for best costume, and causing Plucky’s bill to fall off yet again and his tongue to expand like a rope, leaving him “tongue tied”). Max jettisons Plucky out a waste pipe, at which Plucky comments, “Now that was downright bio-degrading.” He gives Monty a dose of his own medicine – by rerouting a waste pipe into Max’s board room. Max emerges from the muck with two heads, and a backside of dinosaur scales. He attempts to follow Plucky through the pipe system, but is too big, and rips up all the feeder pipes in the process, demolishing the factory. Plucky claims credit for saving the river. but at that moment sprouts a second head of his own, which informs him, “Don’t look now, but you just became a duo.” The two headed frog awards him the loving cup as more deserving. And Plucky bounds over the horizon, conversing with his alter-ego: “I smell a spinoff – Twin Beaks!”
When next we meet, more Tiny Toons mayhem with Plucky and others in new heroic roles, unlikely herodom for Droopy and Taz, and the dawn of “Bartman!”