Animation Trails
December 2, 2020 posted by Charles Gardner

Reign of the Supertoons (Part 9)

The century is about to turn – and still the ‘supers’ soar above the animated world. Several classic characters continue to appear in revivals, taking their respective at bats at comic power-ups. But Nickelodeon really sets the pace, with new franchises which manage to go a bit super-crazy in their number of power-packed outings.

Super Hog-O (Disney, Timon and Pumbaa, 3/5/99) – Reading his favorite comic book, “Lightning Lard”, Pumbaa ignores an impending storm above, despite Timon’s urgings to seek shelter. He recounts his hero’s origin story, with powers acquired by being struck by a bolt of lightning. No sooner is his plot exposition completed, than the storm delivers him a parallel electrical jolt. Believing he has been chosen for destiny, Pumbaa shakes off the ashes, and declares, “I feel SUPER.” Before Timon can quite fathom what’s going on, Pumbaa produces a super-suit from nowhere, and becomes the real-life counterpart of his comic book hero – Lighning Lard, the Pig Powerful. Timon chalks up this delusion to Pumbaa’s traumatic experience of having electrical voltage jolting through his noggin, and declares that Pumbaa is no more a superhero than he is – “And do I look like a superhero?” “No”, replies Pumbaa, “You look like – a sidekick.” Pumbaa ties a cape on Timon, and dubs him “The Boy Furry”, then drags him away to do battle, over Timon’s futile protests that “I am not doing this-s-s-s-s.”

Repeated mishaps occur as the pair encounter a baby bear who has an absolute knack for wandering into peril. As the bear chases a butterfly over loose boulders precariously perched on a mountainside, the vainglorious Pimbaa hesitates at launching himself into the fray, stuck for words at composing a heroic catch-phrase for his entrance. Against his better judgment, Timon realizes it’s now or never to rescue the bear, and scampers up the mountainside. All he gets for his troubles is a bite on the arm from the bear cub, and a tumble down the mountainside in an avalanche. But the bear tumbles out of the rocks at the foot of the hill, unharmed. His mother arrives and lays praise upon Pumbaa, who is there to present her cub to her, and casually ad-libs “I leap into danger as I would a pair of pajamas.” “Nice catch-phrase”, says Mom. As a somewhat worse for wear Timon crawls out of the rocks, the cub finds more danger – now pursuing the butterfly onto a branch overhanging a river infested with crocodiles. Pumbaa again delays his rescue, insisting on performing stretching exercises first so he won’t ruin his entrance with a non-heroic cramp. Timon again pinch-hits, performing a variation on the old shell game in and out of three crocs’ mouths. Finally getting the baby bear back to the shore, he insists (despite another bear bite) that he’s not letting go, so at least this time, he’ll get the credit. Famous last words, as Timon happens to be standing in quicksand. Pumbaa again finds the baby just as Mom arrives, and receives another round of praise, while Timon barely escapes his predicament alive. Timon has had it, and tells Pumbaa to his face that he’s no superhero, and hasn’t performed one feat of strength.

“But the lightning…” protests Pumbaa. “Fried your little brain”, says Timon, completing the sentence. “You mean I’m just a warthog?” Timon raises his arms in heavenly praise: “Give that pig a brownie, he’s getting a clue.” A dejected, demoralized Pumbaa trudges back toward home, convinced that nobody needs him. Timon realizes he may have overdone it, and tries to make Pumbaa feel needed, by pretending to drown in a puddle only two inches deep, and faking that a tree branch is a man-eating plant about to attack him. But Pumbaa is not taken in. However, a real danger lurks – as the electrical storm is circling back, and the baby bear is as usual right in the path of it. Timon races to the rescue again, but slides off a wet ledge with the bear, falling into a canyon. He clings by one paw precariously to a cliff face, while the bear maintains a chomping grip on his other arm. Timon screams for Pumbaa’s help, but Pumbaa still moans that nobody really needs him. Timon hits on the solution – “But if only Lightnig Lard was here”, and shouts for the superhero’s help. The call to duty arouses Pumbaa’s spirits, and he dons his old costume again. After several reassuring inquiries to make sure Timon really believes he is Lightning Lard, Pumbaa finally makes a rescue with a heroic swing on a vine, carrying Timon and the cub back up to the mountain ledge. Mama arrives again to reclaim her cub, and for once, Pumbaa insists that Timon receive credit too. Mama lowers the cub to Timon to give him a reward kiss – but instead Timon receives the usual baby bear bite, for the iris out.

Some “super” franchises have had such longevity as to defy complete coverage within the pages of this series of articles. One such instance would be Spongebob Squarepants, in which the franchise characters Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy were introduced in the first season (8/1/99). This underwater dynamic duo was augmented by the inspired voice casting of reuniting the two principals of “McHale’s Navy”, Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway. Often, the superhero role play of hero-worshippers Spongebob and Patrick Star would remain on the periphery of the storylines, with most of the screen time going to the veteran guest stars. So we’ll take a few representative samples for examination, rather than cover each annual or semi-annual revisit of the characters.

In their debut episode, we meet the title characters by way of a TV episode Spongebob and Patrick are watching. The show is a direct take-off on Filmation’s “Aquaman” series of the 1960’s, its footage looking as if it was lifted straight out of the original credits sequence – sonar summoning power and all. The camera pulls back to reveal Spongebob and Patrick, dressed as best they can in the style of their heroes – Spongebob with a starfish placed over his nose, and Patrick with a flowing cape. They float out Spongebob’s front door to patrol for signs of evil. Next door neighbor Squidward is outside relaxing in a lounge chair, with sunglasses and a sun reflector, attempting to get as much of a tan as a squid can obtain underwater. Engrossed in his role play, Spongebob declares that the squid is the evil Reflecto, and must be dealt with. Spongebob opens a box, which, instead of power rings which his heroes use in their adventures, contains donuts. He and Patrick put one on their respective fingers, and touch them together to “power up”. (Patrick adds to his own power by taking a bite of his own donut before the ring ceremony.) Spongebob and Patrick strain their brains (what little they have) in attempt to generate a summoning wave, and for their efforts find only one passing jellyfish for their “assembly” call. The jullyfish provides no threat to Squidward, who casually exhales and blows the creature away. Believing Reflecto has become too powerful, our “heroes” deprive him of his power source – by erecting a cabaña over Squidward’s head and blocking off the sun. Furious Squidward tears the tent to shreds, and Spongebob wisely orders a hasty retreat to the “seacave”. As he and Patrick barricade themselves inside Spongebob’s pineapple. Squidward pounds furiously at the door. “What would the real Mermaidman do?”, asks Patrick. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”, yells Squidward, revealing that the show they were watching was actually so old, the real duo now live in a retirement home on the other side of town. Retired or no, the sponge and star are thrilled with the idea of meeting their idols, and head for the Shady Shoals Rest Home.

Inside its quiet walls, Spongebob and Patrick find the former crusaders – huddled on a sofa, lost in watching a commercial on a beat-up black and white TV. Mermaidman has gone to pot – with a wide belly where his trim muscular figure should be, hard of hearing, and nearly a candidate for dementia. The younger Barnacle Boy still seems to be in possession of his mental capacities, but is also well matured in years, and takes resentment at still being called “boy”. Spongebob and Patrick stand in front of the TV screen, staring at their heroes in awe. Mermaidman believes they are repairmen sent to fix the TV set. Spongebob asks them why they retired, since the world still needs them to stop the forces of evil. Upon hearing the word “evil”, Mermaidman nearly freaks out, going into a bewildered fit all over the room. An attendant throws Sponge and Patrick out for causing the commotion. Spongebob sneaks back and tries again, suggesting the two come out of retirement. All Mermaidman wants to do is eat his daily meat loaf, and Spongebob is again forcibly ejected. Next, he and Patrick wait until the heroes are outside for some recreation (in rocking chairs, which Mermaidman directs in synchronized rocking with Barnacle Boy on the command, “Up, up, and away!”). Spongebob appears before them in drag, as a little old lady with a purse, and Patrick, dressed as a holdup man, takes it away. But Mermaidman sleeps right through it – with his eyes open. The final straw is broken when Spongebob announces a surprise for the retirees – he and Patrick are nearly through applying a coat of paint to the invisible Boatmobile – of course, making it visible in the process. A furious Barnacle Boy announces to his partner that it’s time to come out of retirement to fight the forces of evil – namely, Spongebob and Patrick.

Barnacle Boy opens the wooden case in which the pair’s power rings have been stored (though Mermaidman now thinks they’re donuts). They attempt their ring link – but are so out of practice, it takes them three attempts before they can aim the rings properly to unite. They commence an attack by throwing water balls at Spongebob. Being a sponge (and already underwater at that), Spongebob merely absorbs these weapons harmlessly. In a feeble-looking dog paddle, Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy swim in circles around Spongebob and Patrick , producing their “Raging Whirlpool”. Spongebob and Patrick whirl around like a top – and actually enjoy it, yelling for the heroes to “Do it again.” Emergency help is in order, and the heroes issue their summoning sonar to the creatures of the deep. The sonic waves project into the doors of the Rest Home, and summon all the geriatric in-patients, who emerge in slow motion with canes and walkers. “The creatures of the deep seem to have lost some of their luster”, says Barnacle Boy. Nevertheless, Mermaidman orders them to attack, and the old brigade picks up Spongebob and Patrick on their shoulders, then boots them back across town where they came from. Spongebob and Patrick nevertheless view the attack as a “dream come true”, and feel their mission is accomplished. Sure enough, Mermaidman feels five years younger, and the superheroes come out of retirement for a new series of shows – which are not exactly the action-packed epics of yesterday. The two spend their time locked in a game of checkers with each other (with Batman-style on screen word effects such as “Clack!”. and “King Me!”), and never receive calls for help on their hot-line, as Mermaidman can’t hear the phone. Spongebob, however, thinks the new episodes are even better than the old ones, and Patrick credits him, “It’s all thanks to you.” With a last Batman-effect, Spongebob gives us a “Wink!” for the black out.

Fast forward about nine seasons later, and Spongebob and Patrick would get to do a super-heroic venture on their own (owing considerably to the fact that their guest voice talent had moved on to that big seacave in the sky), in Mermaid Pants (10/29/16). 17 years to grow up has had no effect whatsoever upon Spongebob and Patrick, who still live and breathe in everything Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy, to Squidward’s continuing consternation. They scale Squidward’s walls with grappling hooks like Batman and play that he is the evil “Dr. Negative”. They destroy Squidward’s garden, believing he is raising an army of mutant vegetables. And they drive Squidward crazy in the Krusty Krab as they sing endless choruses of the Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy theme song. When asked to take out the trash, the two interpret “take out” as “beat up”, and smash the trash bag, spewing soggy garbage over all the customers, who walk out. Mr. Krabs emerges, wondering where his customers went – and how the place became a pig sty. Squidward tattles on the culprits – but surprisingly, Mr. Krabs doesn’t explode. Instead, he understands – taking Squidward aside and revealing a secret room adjoining his office, packed with Mermaidman collector’s comics. And Krabs has carried his secret fandom to an even higher level – revealing a costume he created himself in the image of his favorite Mermaaidman villain – Captain Tightwad from issue #53 (a villain Krabs insists is just misunderstood). With some spare material, he’s also created an outfit for – Dr. Negative – which just happens to be Squidward’s size. Squidward now finds himself recruited for a playdate between these three super-cuckoos.

Spongebob and Patrick won’t accept Krabs as an evil villain unless he can demonstrate that he’s committed a crime. Krabs empties the money from the cash register into his costume – until Spongebob points out its not much of a crime to steal your own money. Spongebob suggests something more significant – to engage in a pretend holdup – of a real bank. Making it pretend is easier than Krabs expects – as the bank branch is fully automated in the form of an ATM. But the security guard decides, pretend or no, there’ll be no sham robberies on his watch – and flattens Krabs and Squidward aganst the bullet-proof glass window. Battered and bruised, they are nevertheless accepted into the dream world of Spongebob’s imagination. Spongebob suggests they cut to the end of the story – after loading up on a few super props at a supply store. The Krusty Krab is converted into The Krusty Lair, inside which has been erected a device to bring about our heroes’ doom. Spongebob and Patrick are tied back to back in a giant French Fry cooker basket, suspended by the handle from a mechanical tower, which is prepared to slowly lower them into a giant pot of boiling oil below. Squidward, at the controls of the device, is finally starting to enjoy his role, and while Spongebob expects him to let them out so they can all fight, Sqidward replies, “I don’t think we will do that. I’m being evil. Isn’t that what you wanted? Aren’t you scared, Boo Hoo?” “You expect us to cry?” asks Spongebob. In best James Bond villain form, Squidward responds, “No Mr. Bob. I expect you to fry!” While impressed at how much Squidward has committed to his role, Spongebob knows something must be done – and coordinates Patrick to swing the basket back and forth, toppling the elevating tower. The floor of the Krusty Krab cracks, toppling the platform on which Krabs and Squidward are standing into the pot of oil, while the walls and roof of the restaurant collapse. Spongebob and Patrick fish the would-be villains out of the soup with a spatula, golden brown. But fortunately, their batter cracks off revealing both of them in underwear. Spongebob declares this the best playdate ever, while Patrick says next time, they won’t be so easy on the villains. Mr. Krabs decides there’ll be no next time, as he’s going back to just reading comic books. Spongebob and Patrick exit together, dragging their bottoms down the road as if riding in the invisible Boatmobile, while an announcer decides he’s got to look for another job, and maybe should go back to college.

Thunder God Johnny (Johnny Bravo, 1/28/00), takes some quick shots at Marvel Comics’ “Thor”. Johnny is talked by a geeky friend into a trip to Nordic Town, where his friend stocks up on exotic cheeses and duty-free sturgeon. All Johnny has to show for the day is a bag of Scandinavian jalapenos. As Johnny heads back for the parking lot, he is mysteriously transported into a dark forest. A hooded troll addresses him, informing him he is the chosen one to pull a magic hammer from a glacier pedestal. Johnny mistakes him for the parking attendant, and tells the troll to find him the blue Pinto. When the troll inquires whether Johnny is afraid, Johnny’s macho gets him boasting that no man can call him a fraidy cat, and he pulls the hammer. He is instantly transformed into the outfit of a Norwegian god in the flash of a thunderbolt. The troll informs him he has received the powers of Thor, and hands him a business card for a helpline if he has any questions. Johnny is returned to the parking lot, and, finding his car boxed in, lifts all the other cars in the lot out of the way with one hand. “Being a God rocks”, says Johnny, determined to use his powers randomly and recklessly. However, from the skies descends Brunhilda, with instructions to bring the chosen one to the court of her daddy, Oden. Johnny tries his usual passes at the hot chick, and gets only a blow that knocks him unconscious. Brunhilda places the limp Johnny across the saddle of her steed, and they ascend to the world of the gods. Presented before the throne of Oden, Johnny, realizing Oden’s her “daddy”, insists that “Nothing happened! We’re just friends. She tried to kiss me. I said Nooooo!”

Oden states that’s not why he’s been brought here. Every 100 years, a mortal is chosen on a recruiting drive for new membership. However, there’s just one proviso – he has to battle to the death Chip, the horrible frost giant, who has a track record of swallowing all of Johnny’s predecessors whole – without even bothering to chew. Johnny insists that’s not going to happen – A, because it’ll hurt him, B, because it’ll make him scream like a little girl – and nobody wants to hear that. But a snap of Oden’s fingers transports Johnny to the field of battle. Compliments fail to dissuade the ice giant from his looming approach. Johnny tosses his hammer at the beast, and it just bounces off. Finding himself being lifted in the clutch of the giant’s icy claws, Johnny wishes he’d had the time for a last meal – then remembers the bag of jalapenos. He swallows the same, with slight steam emitting from his ears, but his hunger is satisfied. “Umm, jalapenoey!” True to form, the ice gant swallows Johnny – but with Johnny having absorved the jalapenos, Johnny becomes a too-firey treat for the giant, who melts into a puddle on the spot. Johnny is brought back to the palace of Oden, and inquires if now he gets to hobnob with the gods and be waited on all day by gorgeous Viking chicks. Oden replies, “Normally, except you are a doofus, and I’m afraid the gods cannot abide a doofus.” Johnny, outraged, calls the stuck-up gods every bad name he can think of – until Oden and his palace guards grow 20 times their size and approach to teach the upstart some manners. As Johnny stands in their shadow, the iris out finds him again resorting to hopeless flattery – “Did I mention you all have very lovely speaking voices?”

Super Woody (11/18/00) – Woody’s trying to watch a TV show, but the channel turns to static just before airtime. Woody assumes his antenna is to blame for the umpteenth time, and struggles with the antiquated apparatus on his roof. Buzz Buzzard saunters along below Woody’s treehouse, and hearing Woody fuss and fume, remarks, “I love the sound of a sucker in the morning.” Reaching into a nearby trash can, he assembles miscellaneous junk into a makeshift satellite dish, complete with a mouse dropped into its inner gears to make it rotate. Impressed with his own creativity, he states, “When you’re good, you’re me.” He offers it to Woody, as powered by a “solar plutonium reactor”, which “gets eleven hundred thirty eight channels, does your dishes, files your taxes, takes out the trash, and raises your children”. He pockets $50 in cold cash. Suddenly, the sky is engulfed in storm clouds, and a massive lightning bolt strikes Buzz’s “dish”, zapping both Buzz and Woody. The “dish” is a battered wreck, and Woody demands his money back from the groggy Buzz, who has fallen to the base of the tree below. Woody jumps down after him – but rebounds off the grass and ricochets and caroms off everything in sight – finding himself rubberized. Buzz also notices something strange, as his beak falls off, talking independently from his body. He says now he’ll really need the $50 – for a nose job. Woody grabs Buzz’s shoulder, and with arm stretching elastically, will not let go. Buzz tosses his beak at Woody, which flies around like a boomerang, repeatedly clunking Woody in the head. Buzz also finds he has super speed, and realizes both of them have become super-powered, which Buzz vows will make him rich. Woody finds another new talent – he can eject his feathers like darts at a target, and launches a volley at Buzz (though hiding his embarrassment as he finds himself temporarily bare).

Woody’s feathers return to reinsert themselves, but initially reinstall in inverted form, leaving Woody with a white body and a blue belly. Buzz uses his super feet to outmaneuver Woody, and ties Woody’s arms in a bowknot around a lamppost. Then Buzz speed zips into every store and bank on the block, emerging as “a bullet train full of money”, with a huge sack of stolen loot. Woody escapes from the lamppost to block Buzz’s exit. Buzz tosses his beak at Woody again, but it bounces into Woody’s chest, dragging Woody back to its owner. Buzz is plastered against the wall, covered by an expanded Woody as if someone had pasted Woody over him like wallpaper. Buzz pries Woody loose, compressing him into a basketball, and tosses him into a trash can for two points. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to recucle your woodpeckers until they’re finished? And I’m not finished!”, says Woody. He expands his arms in a double line around light poles on four corners of an intersection, converting the block into the elastic ropes of a boxing ring. Buzz bounces off the ropes, and back into the waiting clutches of Woody. He finally relents, and gives Woody back his $50. Then Woody stretches his foot into the shape of a bow, and shoots Buzz from it like an arrow – straight into another cloud from the lightning storm, which zaps Buzz again – not only cancelling his powers, but releasing him over the yard of a prison, into which Buzz falls in a charred frazzle. Woody uses the $50 for a real satellite dish, but is also struck by lightning again in the process, losing his powers too. But the new dish pulls in the signal from his favorite TV show – which had been knocked off the air and delayed by the freak electrical storm, so is resuming right from the beginning – and Woody hasn’t missed a thing.

Powerprof. (The Powerpuff Girls, 2/9/01) – Professor Utonium is sensing a pattern that seems to be interfering with his family life with the three “perfect little girls” he sired through science. Every time they plan a day of frivolity together, something happens. The Powerpuff hot line from the Mayor’s office rings just as they are about to embark on a day at the beach – and the girls don’t get home until bedtime. Taking in a 3-D movie turns more realistic than expected, when a real monster bashes his head through the movie screen and swallows one of the patrons. Always, the girls are called on to save the day, and the Professor spends a lonely day at home. But if science can create such a problem, it can solve it, too – or at least so thinks the Professor. He labors in secret in his lab – and invents an all-purpose super suit, rivaling the girls with a wide array of powers. He informs the girls, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and help ‘em beat ‘em.” The girls think it’s a neat idea, though Bubbles ribs the Professor about being a Powerpuff Girl. So Utonium adopts the new name, “Powerprof.” They seem to make a winning combination, the Professor’s suit adding a little more might when it counts, and the quartet rack up victory after victory over the monster and criminal element. Even the narrator offers approval: “Well, it looks like the family that slays together, stays together.” But having a protective and old-school father around all the time starts to intrude on the girls’ style. For one thing, Utonium is mired in dated 1970’s (or earlier) expressions while fighting that leave the girls exchanging looks and sheepishly wondering if anybody noticed. For another, the Professor begins using “little-girlie” terms of endearment as his words of fighting encouragement to his partners, including “sugar muffin”, “dumpling”, “lumpy pie”, and even worse, embarrassing Bubbles in front of a yard full of escaped convicts she is trying to intimidate, who begin repeating the Professor’s words to her complete mortification. And Bubbles wants to merely melt away when the Professor, bragging to Townsville’s townsfolk about her, lets slip that only a few months ago, she had a bedwetting problem! To top everything off, the Professor begins to express overprotective concern about the girls’ exposure to danger every day, and insists on taking on himself all the “dangerous” jobs, leaving the girls contributing nothing to the battles. When he finally insists they wear protective helmets and elbow pads, the girls have reached the breaking point, and secretly hatch a plan.

A hot-line call comes in that Mojo Jojo is up to his old tricks. The girls wearily tag along behind Daddy with the helmets and protective gear. The Professor busts into Mojo’s observatory lair, from which Mojo has been firing off super ray-gun shots at random. Mojo states surprise at seeing the Professor there, but that he was anticipating the trio who float in behind him. Turning the ray on the girls, he blasts each of them backwards into respective holes in the wall, where electric beams are activated to serve as cell bars to encase them in their own respective mini-prisons. Mojo turns his attentions to the unexpected fourth at this game. “Bring it on, daddy-o”, says the Professor. “Oh, that is so lame”, responds Mojo. “You will pay for your use of inappropriate dialogue.” Mojo tries the ray on the Professor, but he launches a counter-attack and super punch that knocks Mojo through a door – into a room marked “Arsenal”. Mojo emerges armed to the teeth with weaponry, and blasts the Professor with everything he’s got. The professor is stunned – and falls helplessly to the ground. Mojo proclaims his victory, and states, “You needn’t worry about your little pumpkins. I know the perfect recipe for Powerpuff Pumpkin Pie!” With his girls in peril, the Professor musters every last bit of his strength, and lands a telling right cross upon Mojo’s jaw, leaving him with no weapon in his hand. The Professor finishes the job with a combination of further blows, and an eye-beam blast that leaves Mojo a charred mess, nearly unconscious against the wall. His suit squeaking like a rusty hinge, the Professor pushes the control buttons to deactivate the electrical bars and free his girls. But he announces that he’s giving up being a superhero, as he’s just not cut out for this like they are, and he’s really going to be feeling it in his back come the morning. The girls feign calls for him to come back – then exchange knowing looks between them, and fly over for secret confidences with Mojo – with whom they set up this whole event just to coax the Professor to retire. Bubbles, however, apologizes to the nearly incoherent Mojo, adding, “Who knew he would put up such a good fight?”

Following in the footsteps of Spongebob, “The Fairly Oddparents” also found that featuring a recurring superhero with a celebrity voice was a guaranteed ratings-getter. Chin Up (4/27/01) introduces The Crimson Chin – voiced by Jay Leno – a buffed superhero in red tights, with a chin so large, it looks like a concrete block extending from his face. He actually doesn’t exist in the real world, but is Timmy’s favorite from the comic books. Timmy attends the “Comic Book Fantasy and Reality Avoidance Expo” where fans can get together and prove they’re not geeks. Cosmo and Wanda, Timmy’s good fairies, are along for the trip – in plain sight. They get away with it every year because everyone’s in costume, and no one knows they’re real. A “personal appearance” by the Crimson Chin turns out to be a middle aged dork with a protruding beer belly. Disappointed Timmy wishes the real Crimson Chin was here. “Hey, we can do that”, says Cosmo. “One hero, with everything on it”, says Wanda, as they wave their wands – producing the genuine article out of Timmy’s comic book.

Looking around at costumed kids, the Chin thinks he’s surrounded by a bevy of his arch-villains, and launches himself to do battle. To ensure no one gets hurt, Timmy wishes the Chin’s powers taken away, neutralizing the attack. The Chin lands next to the comic book, and opens its pages. There, he finds his secret identity revealed, along with the location of his secret lair, and his dimple size. “How? That’s so personal”, the Chin asks. Timmy reveals to him that in Timmy’s world, the Chin is a made up character. The Chin becomes totally demoralized at dealing with the fact he doesn’t exist, and asks to go back to his world so he can be “fictional”. Timmy wishes him back into the book with all his powers. But life does not resume as the Chin knew it, as he refuses to battle the villains, too busy with dealing with his own personal “crisis.” A news bulletin is broadcast at the convention, that in the Chin’s just-published latest edition, he spends all 32 pages sucking his thumb in a fetal position, and cancellation of the comic is imminent. Timmy wishes himself into the comic book to try to snap the Chin out of it, but has little luck with the Chin’s despondency and cries of “What’s my motivation?” Timmy decides the Chin needs someone at his side, to kick him into shape – a “Side – Kick”. With another wish to the fairies, Timmy is transformed into Cleft, the boy chin wonder – complete with a utility-chin attachment full of useful gadgets. As super villains expand a crime wave across town, Timmy tries one more appeal to the Chin by flashing the “Chin signal” from a flashlight in his utility chin. But the Chin still fixates on it being “all a lie”, and prefers to watch his favorite afternoon soap operas. Timmy decides to fight crime alone – or not, as he is quickly tied to a villain’s runaway rocket. From a microphine in his chin attachments, Timmy broadcasts a last call for help to the Chin. “The world needs you. I NEED YOU!” The Chin arrives in the nick of time, bringing the rocket to a standstill with a direct hit on his protruding jawbone. Timmy and the Chin join forces, and vanquish all their foes. The Chin is revitalized again from the realization that at least he’ll always be real to Timmy. And Timmy is accepted in his sidekick role, the Chin noting that “You’re now part of my continuity.” All ends happily, with Timmy transported back to reality with his new Cleft outfit, winning the costume prize at the convention, while Cosmo enjoys a hero sandwich.

Mighty Mom and Dyno Dad (9/6/02) – With their new middle-management positions, overworked Mom and Dad barely have time for breakfast – let alone spending any time with Timmy. “They’re just normal people” says Wanda, realizing there’s a limit to what even they can overachieve. Timmy decides if they were above normal, like the Crimson Chin, they could buzz through their work without breaking a sweat – and have plenty of time left over for him. The next morning, Mom and Dad awaken in super suits. Dad tries to shut off the alarm clock – and smashes it to bits. A burst of speed, intended only to get them to the shower and kitchen, sends each of them into orbit six times around the world. They catch on that they’re now supers – but with power comes responsibility to keep their powers secret. They each adopt Clark Kent-style business suits and horn-rimmed glasses, and try to spend a “normal” morning with Timmy. Using x-ray vision, Dad discerns from inside Timmy’s schoolbook that Timmy is trying to write a report on the exact distance to the sun – and provides the answer by flying there, burning off all this clothes in the process. Mom tries to quick-fix breakfast for Timmy, but instead of finding herself with mere heat vision, discovers her power to be meat-vision – producing instant bacon and sausages on the plate. The couple soar through the ceiling to work – and wrap up their entire day’s work in five minutes, returning before Timmy’s school bus has even picked him up. After some quality time until the bus arrives, the couple realize they have the rest of the day to do anything they want – and, like any good superheroes, choose to use the time to fight crime. They become the protectors of Dimmsdale – the town even adopting a “MM & DD” searchlight to summon them. At night, Timmy finds them not home – and is stuck with Icky Vicky for a baby sitter while Mom and Dad continue to battle the forces of evil into the night. “They’re busier than ever”, says Timmy to the fairies, and tries to wish them back to normal. The fairies’ wands go limp on such command, and Timmy says, “Let me guess…”, then they all state in unison, “They’re so super-powerful that they’re invulnerable to magic.” According to the Crimson Chin comic book, the only way to make a hero lose their powers is to have them give up the powers voluntarily. To “convince” them to do so, Timmy transforms himself into a giant robotic alien “eater of worlds”, and engages in a manic battle of powers with his parents, amounting to something of a stalemate. However, Timmy saves the best for last – Wanda and Cosmo appear as his minions, dressed as twins in the style of the Silver Surfer, holding between them a stuffed pull-string talking doll of Timmy, which beckons to the parents, “I love you. Give up your superpowers.” For the sake of Timmy, Mom and Dad surrender (although Pop takes one last sample of meat vision before acquiescing), and they are returned to normal. No apparent explanation is provided to the parents as to where the villain disappeared, but they are satisfied to be reunited with their son, and partake of a picnic lunch where they stand, despite the city behind them experiencing a simultaneous tornado and prehistoric monster attack, with the MM & DD searchlight still flashing.

The Crimson Chin Meets Mighty Mom and Dyno Dad (5/9/03) – Timmy’s room is a horrific mess, enough so that Dad has to shield Mom’s eyes – thanks to Timmy spending all his time as the Cleft (with Wanda and Cosmo as the chin-hound super-dogs) inside the pages of an unabridged reprint of the complete adventured of the Crimson Chin since his origins in the 1920’s. (Curious how cartoon writers tend to get comic book origins at least a decade earlier than they really were, as this would far predate Superman. Similarly, an episode of “The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat” claimed to have Felix’s first issue in 1923!) Within the pages, the Crimson Chin reveals his suspicions that a recent super crime wave can only be masterminded by his arch-nemesis, the Nega-Chin (a gray-costumed evil look-alike). The Chin suggests Timmy and the “dogs” look one way while he looks the other for such villain. The group merely turn their backs in opposite directions – allowing just long enough opportunity for the Chin to be abducted by Nega-Chin, Timmy hears the sound of his parents looking for him, and wishers “we” were back in his room. The fairies interpret the wish literally, and poof the Nega-Chin back with them. (Cartoon characters must be nearly colorblind, as nobody at first notices the absence of red uniform, all believing the villain is the real Chin.) To get the hefty “hero” out of sight, Timmy wishes him to be taken to Timmy’s treehouse, and given anything he wants to keep him busy until Timmy can get rid of his parents pounding on the door. While Timmy receives an ultimatum to have his room cleaned by 9:00 or be grounded forever, the Nega-Chin reads up on the comics, and acquaints himself with the three-dimensional world, observing how easy real things are to crumble and zap. Wanda finally asks if there’s something different about his costume, and the “Chin” says it’s a “mood suit” that turns dark when things get intense. As for granting “anything he wants”, Nega-Chin wishes out of the book all of the series’ super-villains, to “teach this 3-D world my 3-D’s – Destruction, Doom, and – more Doom!” He also adds provisos – immunity from being wished back into the book, that the fairies’ magic couldn’t touch him or his pals – and that Timmy couldn’t wish his room clean!

One solution presents itself to Timmy – bring Mighty Mom and Dyno Dad out of retirement, since they’re still free to fight. With a “super-Poof”, the parents again become buffed, and respond to news bulletins of the super-villain rampages in downtown Dimmsdale. Timmy and the fairies arrange floating front-row seats to watch the epic battle. Though Pop and Mom make short work of the villain squad (including by “soccer Mom” shooting soccer balls at them, and Dad using super-snot as spider web), Nega-Chin saves as a Sunday punch a power draining eye-beam, that reduces Timmy’s parents to “wimps”. (I thought the last episode established that they couldn’t lose their powers unless voluntarily surrendered?) But Timmy’s forgotten that he can still wish for the real Crimson Chin – then improves the thought one better. Why wish for one Chin – when he can wish for them all? Running the roster of Chins that have appeared in the various gold, silver, and bronze ages of the comic, he summons, among others: the 1930’s pulp-fiction Chin, the 1940’s Sergeant Chin, the 1960’s Psychidelic Chin, the 70’s Disco Chin, the 80’s Overly-Muscular Weapons-Toting Chin (a la Rambo), the 90’s Grunge Chin, and New Millennium Chin. With odds like this, Nega-Chin is quickly defeated, and wishes himself and his minions back into the book as the only safe refuge. And, to solve Timmy’s room problem, the Chin squad clean Timmy’s room just in time for the 9:00 curfew – leaving the room “too clean”, with Timmy’s parents shielding their eyes again.

Lights…Camera…Adam! (6/1/04), almost doesn’t belong to this trail, focusing primarily upon the real superhero – or at least an actor who portrays him. However, it is another chance for Timmy to get into tights as boy wonder Cleft, this time for the purpose of becoming stunt double on the set of the feature movie adaptation of Crimson Chin – the lead role going to none other than Adam West again. Timmy bones up for his part by taking a brief excursion into the pages of his comic book, but forgets to close the portal to the comic world upon returning to the set. This allows one of the Crimson Chin’s arch villains, the Bronze Kneecap, to escape the pages, take the place of the director, and place West into a variety of embarrassing positions (cowering in fear in a junior sailor suit, for example), to ruin the Chin’s reputation ad cause him to lose his comic book. Only Timmy’s intervention unmasks the villain, and brings into the real world the Crimson Chin to save the day.

My Big Superhero Wish (2/16/04) – A typical day for Timmy. The school bully roughs him up for lunch money. His teacher Crocker has stacked his locker to the roof with “F”s. And babysitter Icky Vicky pulls cruel tricks such as stuffing Timmy’s face with a peanut butter sandwich, then poring milk on his head instead of his mouth. A school janitor, a fire fighter, and a milkman all happen by in the middle of these incidents, but are each distracted and offer Timmy no assistance. Timmy complains to his oddparents that no one’s ever around to stand up for the little guy like in his comic books. He gets the idea for his latest wish – make the whole world like his comic books. Timmy awakes in the morning, wearing a super suit, and flies to school instead of waiting for a bus. The school is also flying – the whole building levitating in mid-air. His schoolmates have all acquired super-powers and super-identities, including parodies of Wonder Woman, Hawk Girl, and Professor Xavier. But Timmy discovers there’s a side-effect to this wish – by making everything like a comic book, he’s also created super villains. The school bully now has a bovine head, and is transformed into Bull-E. Crocker has become Dr. Crocktopus, with extra tentacled arms allowing him to give out four failing grades at the same time. And Vicky has become wolverine-clawed, renaming herself the Baby Shredder. They are led by the Nega-Chin. Despite the real Crimson Chin’s arrival, the villains’ combined strength is seemingly too much to handle. Timmy tries to reverse his wish – “I wish for a world without superheroes and…” Nega-Chin covers his mouth at the crucial moment, and instructs his oddparents (disguised as superdogs), “You heard him – a world without superheroes”, leaving supervillains out of the wish, “I hate these loopholes”, says Wanda. With the spell, “Anti-Hero”, Timmy and the class are transformed back to normal – and even the Crimson Chin is reduced to street clothes.

The villains take over, rounding up all the good-guys into detention, and taking away the “superdog” godparents encased in a force field sphere. But the Crimson Chin insists that anyone can be super, and that everyone has some unique power of their own they can turn to good. He points to the janitor, fire fighter and milkman we had seen earlier. Timmy is unconvinced, noting they were of no help even in a normal emergency. But the three avow to make amends and help to vanquish the villains. The janitor arrives at Nega-Chin’s lair in the swamps, offering his services to clean up super messes. He is buzzed in, and wheels in a large trash can. It’s a Trojan horse, and inside are the Crimson Chin and the kids. “This shouldn’t take more than three seconds”, says Nega-Chin, and disappears into the bathroom for a shower, leaving his minions to handle the intrusion. The janitor stops the charge of Bull-E by mopping the floor in front of him, causing the bully to slip and fly out the window. The fire fighter flings her axe and chops away Crocker’s tentacles. “Hey! One of those isn’t mechanical!”, cries Crocker. The Milkman squirts milk in Vicky’s eyes with a small cow, causing her claws to become embedded in a door, while one of the kids hammers them into curves on the door’s other side. Nega-Chin, returns, complaining there’s never any hot water in this stupid Hall of Evil, only to find his forces defeated. He uses a laser-vision beam to attempt to slice the Crimson Chin and Timmy in half, but the two duck out of the way, allowing the beam to slice open the force field holding the oddparents. With Wanda and Cosmo freed, Timmy wishes everyone back to normal, and himself into the Crimson Chin’s comic book. There, Nega-Chin is tied up, and can’t understand how normal people beat him. Timmy notes that being normal doesn’t mean being powerless – and points to a photo at the end of the comic book of the strip’s writer, who controls Nega-Chin’s very destiny, and has decided that good always triumphs over evil. Nega-Chin vows he’s not defeated, and next time, will go after an even bigger prize. Bursting his bonds, he soars out of the comic book. In an unusual coda, we enter the live-action studio of the nerd writer we’ve just seen, who receives a knock on the door. It’s Nega-Chin, who seizes the writer by the shirt, dragging him outside to have “a little talk about heroes”. We hear the sounds of a beating outside the door as the scene fades out.

Catman Meets the Crimson Chin (1/17/06) – Adam West returns, this time in a more-direct self-parody. As former star of the TV series, “Catman”, he can’t even drum up interest in obtaining his autographed pictures during a promotional visit to a supermarket. And a fracas resulting from his involuntary instinct to fight the “crime” of high grocery prices lands him in court – where Timmy just happens to be playing public defender, and wishes him “not guilty” (with the assist of Wanda and Cosmo disguised as pens in his pocket). Catman follows Timmy home as his only friend, and aimlessly plays with a ball of yarn while wondering what he can do in a city that semmingly has no need for costumed superheoes. Timmy spots a new series of Webtoons on his computer featuring the Crimson Chin – now there’s a world where a costumed crime fighter is appreciated. Timmy wishes himself and Catman into the webtoon. Timmy adopts his Cleft alter-ego, which causes Catman not to recognize him except for moments when Timmy lifts the mask. Catman cringes, however, from the fairies, who again appear as superdogs. The Chin is located, and Timmy tries to convince him to let Catman handle the city’s crime for awhile, leaving the Chin free for a vacation. The Chin becomes impressed with Catman’s abilities, when a water-based villainess (H2Olga) is absorbed by Catman’s super-absorbent kitty litter with deodorizing crystals. Catman is left in charge, and ties up crime in his own manner – including with coughed-up hairballs and giant balls of yarn Things go so well, he decides he’s never leaving. He takes over the Chin’s lair, and has his own ideas about the superdogs, locking them in a force field prison, controlled by the Chin’s supercomputer which Catman reprograms with his own secret passcode. If Cleft is to remain, he demands a new secret identity be assumed – and Timmy is transformed into a humiliating spoof of “Hello Kitty”. The Chin returns, to find “Somebody’s gotten too big for his whiskers.” A hero vs. hero battle ensues, on the usual terms – loser leaves town. The Chin “chin-provises” with a blow of his protruding facial appendage on the sidewalk, flipping Catman. But Catman counters with “cat got your tongue”, flipping the Chin into a stone wall by such part of his personage. Chin is counted out, and boards a grayhound bus, forgetting he could merely fly off in a huff. Timmy decides its time to rescue Cosmo and Wanda, and scales the mountain back to the Chin’s former lair, where he ponders over what computer password someone of as complicated mental abilities as Catman could have chosen. A first guess proves successful: “C-A-T”. The fairies and Timmy agree that the way to get things back to normal is to create a villain so powerful, he can only be defeated with the heroes’ teamwork. Cosmo for once hits on an idea so crazy, it fits the situation perfectly – big robotic dog. Catman is scared to death, so can’t bear to fight it. And its powers (including flea spray that infests with real fleas) are too much for the Chin alone, despite his return upon hearing the creature’s roar. Chin decides to harness Catman’s fear as a means for a diversion, making Catman scamper in terror ahead to lure the dog away from the city. Then, Chin uproots a hige tree, and flings it over the horizon, telling the dog to fetch. The dog exits Dimmsdale, pursuing the wooden proze. Catman is amazed Chin came back to rescue a town that had abandoned him, and, inspired by his selflessness, vows to return to his own world to rescue people who don’t care about him – whether they like it or not.

Super Zero (9/14/09) – An episode more hyper and silly than genuinely funny. Cosmo’s feeling unwanted, as all his efforts to lend a helping hand just produce trouble (such as a request by Wanda to change diapers on new family arrival, Baby Poof, which Cosmo interprets as a request to change the diaper into something. He chooses a wolverine). A further mishap in the park causes Poof to be launched from a see saw, bouncing around the city like a pinball. Cosmo flies to the rescue, intercepting a clothesline in the process, and acquires the basic underwear for a super suit. He catches Poof, but has been spotted flying by a reporter, who mistakes him for a superhero. When asked his name, Cosmo, to keep his secret, states his name is “Not Cosmo”. The reporter dubs him “Super Not Cosmo.” Cosmo returns home, impressed with his own 15 seconds of fame. He sets up a secret lair in Timmy’s bathroom, and creates a series of super vehicles, which appear magically from under Timmy’s bed whenever a call for help is heard, flattening Timmy in the process. Cosmo rescues a cat in a tree (unleashing its claws on an old lady bystander who doesn’t even own the feline), saves the Dimmsdale Dam (which no one in the town seems to have known they even had) by applying a giant band-aid, and corks an erupting volcano (also which nobody knew the town had). Fame goes to Cosmo’s head, while his family become so bored without his meddling to keep them occupied that Wanda and Timmy are left to fill in their spare time with tea parties – and involuntarily adopting British accents to fit the occasion. Suddenly, things begin to backfire. The band-aid busts loose. The cork pops. And the cat mauls everyone in town. The reporter renames Cosmo from super hero to super zero. Cosmo is more left out than ever, with the whole town against him. It’s up to Timmy and Wanda to boost Cosmo’s spirits, by inventing a super-robot (The Milkman) for him to battle. (It was the lamest idea for a robot Timmy could think of – a perfect adversary for Cosmo.) A splash from the robot’s giant milk bottle floats away Wanda’s wand and the robot’s remote control, placing Wanda and Timmy unexpectedly in real peril. Cosmo returns in the nick of time, plugs up the milk bottle with another giant cork, and drags the robot with his super Cosmobile off a tall skyscraper, smashing the robot. He allows the cat to lick up the remaining milky mess, and claims superhero status once again. But Cosmo decides it’s time for retirement, as he misses his family. Wanda again asks for help changing diapers, and Cosmo stays true to form – changing the diaper into a pterodactyl. Wanda now feels a super-rescue is in order, and transforms herself into “Wanda Woman” – flying after the prehistoric beast and Poof into the heavens for the iris out.

For Next Week – the comic-book adventures of a golden age superstar finally hit the animated screen after four decades in the making, more cat-and-mouse heroics, and yet another Nickelodeon franchise rattles our brains with slam bang action.


  • Matt Groening’s “Futurama” had a very funny superhero episode in its fourth season, “Less Than Hero” (2/3/03 — written by Ron Weiner; Susie Dietter, dir.).

    Fry and Leela, sore from having spent the day assembling Professor Farnsworth’s supercollider, rub their aching muscles with Dr. Flimflam’s patented Miracle Cream and find that the salve gives them super strength, speed and invulnerability. Wishing to make the best use of their new powers, they resolve to fight crime as superheroes; and Bender, who as a robot is already stronger and faster than mere mortals, joins them in this enterprise. Fry, who emerged in the year 3000 after spending a thousand years in a cryogenic chamber, is Captain Yesterday; Leela is Clobberella; and Bender, wearing a crown, sceptre and ermine robe, is Super King, “the best one of the three”. Together they form the New Justice Team, complete with a campy ’60s-style theme song:

    “Go! Go! Go, New Justice Team!
    Go, team! Go, team! Team team team!
    Who’s that newest justice team?
    The New Justice Team!”

    (They must have been up all night writing that.) The team manages to foil a jewel robbery attempted by the Zookeeper, a criminal mastermind with a gang of trained animals. But when the Zookeeper takes Leela’s parents hostage, the New Justice Team is blackmailed into using their super powers for evil — and things get worse when their supply of Miracle Cream runs out….

  • Disney’s SUPER GOOF was ripe for animated treatment by this time. My memory fails me of many cartoons in this time period, so this is going to be a refresher treat. Thanks for the super effort in digging all these up, Charles!

  • By coincidence, Disney’s “Brandy & Mr. Whiskers” also had an episode titled “Less Than Hero” (25/9/04 — written by Brandon Sawyer; Timothy Bjorklund, dir.).

    Pedigreed pooch Brandy has organised a charity food drive to benefit the animals of the rain forest. Obnoxious bunny Mr. Whiskers wants to help, but Brandy refuses his offer, asking him: “What happens every time you try to help?” “That’s easy!” Mr. Whiskers replies. “I mess things up and annoy people in hilariously unpredictable ways!” (That’s the whole show in a nutshell.) Feeling useless, he walks away wondering what his purpose in life could be, when a sudden breeze blows a superhero comic book into his face. Inspired by its stirring imagery, he resolves to become a superhero himself.

    A mother tapir and her two calves are walking home from the food drive with a basket of goodies that Brandy had given them, when they find themselves surrounded by a gang of hungry jaguars demanding that they hand over the basket. (In real life the jaguars would just eat the tapirs and ignore the basket.) Just then, Mr. Whiskers appears on the scene in a makeshift superhero costume of cape, tights, briefs, and a pineapple for a mask: Captain Fruity! He pelts the jaguars with fruit until they run off. All well and good; but as Brandy points out in the next scene, they live in a low-crime area of the jungle. With no real miscreants to punish, Mr. Whiskers winds up throwing fruit at animals for such minor infractions as snoring, or incorrect use of pronouns. They declare that Captain Fruity is nothing but a menace. Despondent again, Mr. Whiskers walks away — and the breeze blows another comic book in his face, this one showing a super villain. He concludes that, since he’s no good at being good, he must be not bad at being bad.

    Now calling himself “Doctor Fruity” (having a doctorate makes one evil, apparently), he flings fruit at the forest animals with reckless abandon. Against Brandy’s advice, they decide to form a superhero squad of their own to combat him, but Mr. Whiskers manages to capture them all in a net. Brandy begs him to let them go, appealing to his better nature: “You may be annoying,” she says, “but you’re not evil.” Still confused as to his purpose in life, Mr. Whiskers is hit in the face by yet a third comic book, this one showing a character that really suits him: the bungling sidekick whose sheer ineptitude allows good to triumph over evil. When the gang of jaguars return, Mr. Whiskers, without really trying, subdues them in what I can only describe as “hilariously unpredictable ways.” Now free of the net, Brandy and the other animals are happy that they’ve seen the last of Captain, or Doctor, Fruity. Or have they?

    It’s too bad that Kaley Cuoco stopped doing cartoon voiceovers. She was really good at it. I bet she could be making a cool five grand a day now if she’d kept it up.

  • In “A Hero for Halloween” (Disney, The Proud Family, 18/10/02 — written by Calvin Brown, Jr.; Bruce W. Smith, dir.), young Penny Proud is missing out on a great Halloween party because she has to stay at home and hand out packets of her father’s new holiday-themed snack line, “Proud Scary Snacks”. Worse, she has to do it while wearing an embarrassing superhero costume: Snack Girl! The trick-or-treaters hate the snacks and throw them back in her face. But when she inadvertently swallows one, Penny finds that the weird chemicals in it have given her real super powers: super strength, the ability to fly, power rays that shoot out of her eyes, etc. After saving the city from a falling asteroid, she finds that a trio of delinquent girls have stolen all the goody bags from the Halloween party. Penny defeats them, returns the goody bags, and becomes the life of the party. The next day, all her friends can’t stop talking about the superhero girl who saved Halloween. But they refuse to believe it was really Penny.

    I liked “The Proud Family”. Oscar (Penny’s dad) looked and sounded just like a guy I used to work with, and he always cracked me up.

  • SpongeBob and the gang acquire real superpowers in “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy V” (6/1/2002) by donning the costumes of the retired International Justice League of Super Acquaintances. “Power’s all in the costume! Why else would we run around in colored undies?”, Mermaid Man explains. Of course, merely giving the characters superpowers does not grant them competence in using them, so it’s lucky they only had to fight (and lose) a very low-stakes battle.

  • Goofy did appear as Super Goof in a episode of House Of Mouse. I forget which one.

  • You’re jumping the gun on production dates regarding Super Goof. Wait until next week.

  • I should mentioned that Timmy’s “Hello Kitty”-esque costume (which he wore in a previous Crimson Chin related episode) is a reference to Tara Strong’s first animation role as the cat from Japan in a 1986 series (back when she was just 13 years old).

    Also, regarding the first Crimson Chin episode, I kind find it a bit of a ironic foreshadowing that the first prize Timmy won were some pretty pony comics. About nine years, later Tara would be cast as the main character in her friend Laura Faust’s series, “My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic”.

  • Adam West also parodied his own caped-crusading past in “The Fearless Ferret” (Disney, Kim Possible, 3/10/03 — written by Brian Swenlin; Steve Loter, dir.).

    While Kim and her sidekick Ron Stoppable are serving as hospital volunteers, Ron is sent to the mansion of crotchety old recluse Timothy North (Adam West), where he inadvertently discovers the lair of the costumed crimefighter, the Fearless Ferret! North is outraged at the discovery of his secret identity; but Ron, weary of his perpetual sidekick role, convinces the former superhero to let him carry on in his stead. Now in an ill-fitting cape and tights, and with a utility belt full of gadgets, Ron manages to foil an attempted carjacking, but in doing so attracts the attention of the Fearless Ferret’s former nemesis: White Stripe, a supervillain in a Skunk costume.

    Ron tries to keep his new superhero identity a secret from Kim, but his evasiveness tips her off that something is up, and she easily tracks him to the Fearless Ferret’s lair. She also learns that “The Fearless Ferret” was a TV show of the ’60s (with a dead-on parody of the Batman opening title) starring North, who, like the actor who played White Stripe, has become delusional since the series was cancelled. White Stripe, meanwhile, has been stealing foul-smelling items — dirty laundry, onions and garlic, used diapers — to create a massive stink bomb in the form of a giant skunk balloon, which he intends to set off at a Fearless Ferret fan convention. But when North and White Stripe show up at the convention and are surrounded by admiring fans, they are immediately rid of their delusions as well as their rivalry. Ron, still dressed as the Fearless Ferret, saves the convention by releasing the stink bomb balloon — which explodes over a couple of cable TV executives.

  • The wicked sorceress Yzma was always turning people into animals in Disney’s “The Emperor’s New School” as part of her never-ending plans to get Kuzco out of the way so she could usurp the imperial throne for herself. The second part of Episode 3, “The Adventures of Red-Eyed Tree Frog Man” (3/2/06 — written by Scott Peterson; Howy Parkins, dir.), ventures into superhero territory.

    Kuzco hates frogs for being slimy, smelly and goggle-eyed. So in an ironic twist, Yzma (here masquerading as the school’s vice principal Amzy) turns him into a red-eyed tree frog to be used for dissection in biology class. Her henchman Kronk, however, lacks the heart to disembowel him with a scalpel and sets the young emperor free. When Yzma pursues him, Kuzco realises that his only chance for escape is to release all the other frogs, making him impossible to find in the crowd. Kuzco discovers that being a frog is rather like being a superhero, with the ability to leap long distances, cling to walls and ceilings, and foil evil with a long, sticky tongue. A campy “Red-Eyed Tree Frog Man” theme song ensues for about a minute.

    Now Yzma concocts a new plan to take advantage of frog Kuzco’s heroic impulses. Disguising herself as Kuzco’s sweetheart Malina, she will stand in the middle of a rope bridge as Kronk chops the supports; and when Kuzco comes to rescue her, she’ll capture him. Kuzco duly arrives on the scene, but he doesn’t lift a suction-padded finger to help her, and she falls screaming into the abyss. He explains to Kronk that, as a frog, he was able to listen in on their plans unobtrusively and thereby double-cross them. In the final scene, the spell having worn off, Kuzco declares that his experience has given him a new respect for frogs — though apparently he didn’t care much for eating flies.

  • The late Hugh Downs, longtime co-host of ABC’s 20/20 (though I’ll always remember him for the game show Concentration), had a very funny superhero cameo in the Family Guy episode “The Kiss Seen Round the World” (29/8/01 — written by Mark Hentemann; Pete Michels, dir.).

    Downs is being held hostage atop the Quahog Town Hall by the Mass Media Murderer, a killer who targets journalists. Downs tells him that Dan Rather, “that arrogant jerk”, is in the crowd below; and when the killer looks down, Downs knocks the gun out of his hand and wrests himself free of the killer’s grip. “Ha ha! See you later, sucker!” Downs taunts him as he escapes. “And by the way, Rather is an okay guy in small doses!”

    Then a TV news helicopter crash-lands on the roof of the Town Hall. The Mass Media Murderer picks up his gun and takes aim at teenage news interns Meg Griffin and Neil Goldman. But then: “Remember me, dirtbag?” Hugh Downs reappears, and he and the killer come to blows in a lengthy, dramatic and well-staged fistfight. Finally Downs administers the coup de grace, grabs the killer’s gun and trains it on him as the police come forward to make the arrest. “Wow, you saved those kids’ lives, Mister Downs!” exclaims a policeman, impressed.

    “All in a day’s work,” Downs replies modestly. “Remember, if you ever need me, just blow this whistle, or call John Stossel’s cel phone. Hugh Downs, away!” And off he flies into the wild blue yonder.

  • A noteworthy example of background characters dressed as superheroes occurs in the Season 2 Halloween episode of Winx Club, “Hallowinx” (9/6/05 — Iginio Straffi, dir.). The Winx have been invited to a Halloween party in Bloom’s home town of Gardenia, but never mind about the plot. The point is that numerous guests at the party are dressed as superheroes and supervillains from a variety of universes and franchises. There are Batman and Catwoman from DC, Spider-Man from Marvel, others from anime series like Mobile Suit Gundam, as well as Darth Vader, Freddy Krueger, and one little guy who’s bundled up like Kenny from South Park! Any American animation studio would have balked at courting so many trademark infringement lawsuits all at once, but it doesn’t seem to have bothered the Italians. Reminds me of when I went to a Halloween festival in the Japanese city of Mishima two years ago, which was co-hosted by the Joker (Heath Ledger version) and Spider-Man. How often do you get to see those two guys together?

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