Marvel Madness

That Time Spider-Man Stopped the Juggernaut

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I’m going to kind of break form for this installment of Marvel Madness. Usually I’ve been recapping crazy and eccentric stories from Marvel’s back issues. They’ve typically been really goofy stories, ones that are so off the wall you kind of have to see them to believe that they actually exist. It’s fun. Comics are goofy, and it’s really easy to find goofy stories that I want to tell you guys about. But I just encountered a somewhat different story than I usually wouldn’t write up, at least as part of the Marvel Madness series. Because it’s not particularly crazy. I mean, it’s still about a guy who was bitten by a radioactive spider and fights crime while dressing in tights, but comparatively it’s a pretty normal story. There’s no moon vampires or body switching. It’s just a story about Spider-Man doing everything in his power to save one person from a veritable force of nature that seems unstoppable. And it just happens to be one of the most important, formative, and perfect Spider-Man stories I’ve ever read. I heard about this story a while back on the WarRocketAjax podcast, during their segment ranking various comic stories that get emailed to them. And the praise they lavished on this story seemed ridiculous at first. They were comparing it to stuff like “If This Be My Destiny,” possibly the best Spider-Man story of all time, and it just felt like hyperbole. Could a story where Spider-Man fights the Juggernaut really be not only considered one of the best ever, but among the same quality of “If This Be My Destiny,” a story so good and influential to the character of Spider-Man that it can literally bring tears to my eyes when I think about it. And you know what? They’re right. This story certainly isn’t as good as “If This Be My Destiny,” and there are others that may be better than it as well, but it’s a tremendous story. So let’s talk about it.

The story starts off in kind of a weird place. With some strange psychic visions being had by Madame Web about an impending disaster than will befall her. And in case you don’t her, Madame Web is a weird character. She’s a blind psychic who most people think is a scam artist, but who actually does have legitimate abilities. She also requires using a mechanical life support system that looks like a spider-web and has a weird obsession with Spider-Man. I think after this story she started to become more important, and her link with Peter became more and more defined, but at this point she’d only shown up once or twice before, and she was still very mysterious, and both Peter and reader don’t really know what to make of her. But those visions she had, of a dark monster attacking her while being fended off by Spider-Man was enough to convince her to give Peter a call, and convince him that she’ll need his help. Even though she has no idea what the visions mean, when she’ll need him, and what exactly she’ll need him to do. So Peter kind of awkwardly accepts this weird charge, and moves on with his day. And what could these weird visions mean? Well we figure that out right away, because there’s a ship ominously arriving at New York. And who is on that ship?

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Boom! Black Tom Cassidy and the Juggernaut! You may remember this lovable pair from a previous Marvel Madness installment where they were busy tricking the X-Men into reenacting a plot from Scooby Doo before being foiled by leprechauns. Black Tom is a mutant with the weird ability to fire blasts of energy through wooden medium, and the Juggernaut is a big guy who has superhuman strength, endurance, and the ability to be unstoppable, all thanks to a magic stone he found. It’s nice to see that after their real estate scheme failed and they both seemingly committed suicide that they’re both still alive and working together. And this time their job is to kidnap Madame Web. They’re apparently going to use her psychic abilities to combat the X-Men and get revenge for their sad performance in that last story. Tom feels like it’s necessary to send an unbeatable rage-monster to go pick up a blind, paralyzed woman who needs a machine to survive, which seems like over-kill, but is shocked when Juggernaut gets impatient and just jumps out of the boat. He then starts marching, along the seafloor, towards New York and his ultimate goal. And nothing gets in his way. Nothing.

As Juggernaut begins his march, Madame Web realizes that he’s coming, and gives Peter a call to let him know their vague deal is ready to be called in. So after dealing with some Daily Bugle drama with Glory Grant and Betty Brant (that’s weird, I’ve never thought of their names so close together), Peter gets the call from Madame Web and he heads out. He suits up and starts web-slinging around town, trying to find this destructive force that Madame Web is freaking out about. And after searching around for a bit, he finally finds the Juggernaut, who is basically just walking in a straight line, destroying whatever gets in his way. He’s walking through trees, buildings, cars, anything and everything that will pose an obstacle, because he’s going in the most direct route, and doesn’t even want to walk around a tree. And it’s pretty clear that Spider-Man has no idea who Juggernaut is, but can tell that this is obviously the guy he’s supposed to stop. So he comes swinging in to smash into Juggernaut, and just bounces right off. Which is a little shocking, but whatever, Spider-Man’s dealt with tough guys before. So next he goes to his other stand-bye, and shoots some webs at him. Which also just fall off, unable to reach him. At this point Spider-Man’s panicking a little, and comes up with the idea to create a wall of webs that will stop Juggernaut. Unfortunately he just walks straight through it, stretching the webs until they just rip off the sides of the building that they were attached to.  So this is clearly not the kind of fight that Spider-Man was anticipating. And after trying two more methods of taking down the Juggernaut, dropping him down in a pit and just jumping around him in an attempt to wear him down, Juggernaut finally gets sick of the little pest and just walks through a wall while holding him, knocking Spider-Man out.

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So Spider-Man is left int he rubble while Juggernaut continues his destructive march towards Madame Web. And it’s at that point that Spider-Man realizes that he’s in over his head, and after calling Madame Web to inform her of his lack of progress, and asks her to contact the Avengers and the Fantastic Four in hopes that they can help out. Next he swings over to Dr. Strange’s house, realizing that Juggernauts reference to the Cyttorak crystal may be more in Strange’s wheelhouse. Unfortunately Strange isn’t in, and all Wong can recommend is maybe talking to the X-Men, and just generally staying out of Juggernaut’s way. Which Peter is obviously not going to do. So he heads out to Madame Web’s apartment to fortify her position while the Juggernaut’s stroll continues. He stomps through some police barricades while they fire all kinds of weapons at him. But obviously he just strolls right through it all, and makes his way to Madame Web’s apartment. And once there he finds a couple more webbing traps. Spider-Man’s webbed up the stairwell, and Madame Web’s apartment door, while also hot-wiring the webs attached to the door in the hopes that it will fry Juggernaut. And unsurprisingly, this does nothing.

So Juggernaut gets into the room, and Spider-Man jumps in between him and Web, even though he knows that there’s nothing he can do to stop him. Spider-Man does everything he can, tussling with the unbeatable monster. And inevitably Juggernaut succeeds. He punches Spider-Man out and sends him flying into a wall before grabbing Madame Web and yanking her out of her chair. Which promptly sends Madame Web into convulsions, which confuses Juggernaut. Spider-Man comes to and explains that if she’s not in her special chair, she’ll die. Which irritates Juggernaut, since apparently neither he nor Black Tom knew this, and since that sounds like more work than it’s worth, he just decides to leave, making the entire thing worthless. And as he leaves, Spider-Man springs into action, taking care of Madame Webb until the police and paramedics show up to save her life. And once he’s positive she’s safe, Spider-Man starts to freak out. It’s not just that Juggernaut destroyed the city to get her, and it’s not just that he dropped her like she was worthless when he didn’t want to deal with her, it was the fact that he wasn’t able to protect her. And he vows that he’s going to make sure Juggernaut is unable to hurt anyone else.

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And that’s just the first issue! What comes next is Spider-Man doing everything in his goddamn power to stop Juggernaut. Not to punish him for treating Madame Web so poorly, but to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else. So he chases after Juggernaut, losing his temper and just throwing everything he’s got at him. First he makes a web sling-shot, and fires a steel girder at Juggernaut, only for him to catch it and crumple it up like a paper airplane. So Spider-Man decides to escalate things, and walks Juggernaut into a construction yard where they’re knocking down an old hotel. So Spider-Man drops some of the building down on Juggernaut and then uses the 3-ton wrecking ball like a mace and starts smashing him. But that still does next to nothing, and Juggernaut knocks down more of the building on top of Spider-Man to get him to stop following him. Spider-Man drags himself out of the pile of bricks, pissed off that he still hasn’t accomplished anything.

But he sure as hell isn’t going to give up. Spider-man starts chasing after Juggernaut, following the path of destruction, until his webs give out. He’s completely out of webs, and is still pretty far from Juggernaut, who is getting ever closer to the waterfront, which Spider-Man knows is his final destination. But the fates have smiled on Peter Parker, because when he runs out of webs he happens to land on an oil tanker, which he decides logically means he should steal the truck and run Juggernaut down. Spider-Man then puts the pedal to the metal, barreling down on the villain before bailing at the last second. And the resulting impact causes a massive explosion which covers Juggernaut in a fiery holocaust in which nothing can survive. Except the Juggernaut. He comes strolling right out of the fire, barely having noticed what happened. All while Black Tom is watching with his binoculars, amused at Juggernaut’s fun little day. And it’s at this point that Spider-Man loses his shit. He runs at Juggernaut, jumping on his back in an attempt to rip his helmet off. But years of dealing with the X-Men pulling the same bullshit has taught Juggernaut to weld his mask on, reaching yet another dead end for Peter. But he doesn’t give up. He just stays clung to Juggernaut’s back, holding on for dear life, covering his eyes. And since Juggernaut has no idea what’s going on, he accidentally walks right into another construction sight. Only this one is building a new skyscraper, and Juggernaut walks right into the cement for the foundation. Juggernaut at first says that this won’t do anything to him, and starts to boast that he’ll climb right out. But what he didn’t realize was that a foundation, especially this close to the waterfront, is pretty damn deep. And he just starts sinking. Spider-Man watches Juggernaut sink into the foundation, knowing that this may finally be the thing that will stop him. And once Juggernaut is gone, Spider-Man heads off to develop the pictures he took of the fight for the Bugle, and goes to check in on Madame Web, who is suffering from some serious memory loss, and doesn’t even remember who Peter is. Which is a bummer, but hey, he did it. She’s alive. He saved her. And the story ends with Black Tom watching the cement that Juggernaut sank into, hoping that his stupid buddy will make it out so they can continue their terrible crime duo.

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So there we go. Spider-Man did the impossible. He stopped Juggernaut, the immovable object. And it was wonderful. Back at the beginning of the article I talked about “If This Be My Destiny,” which is widely considered one of the best stories of Spider-Man, if not the best. And it really is. The thing I often hear about that story is that it’s the thing that made Spider-Man a hero. He got superpowers in Amazing Fantasy #15, but he became a real hero in that story. Because it’s in that story that he really comes to terms with the fact that his life may always be terrible. He’s going to sacrifice everything in his life, to do his job. And his job is never-ending. Batman’s whole goal is to end crime in Gotham. That’s technically possible. It’s in no way probable, but it’s a goal that could conceivably be accomplished. Spider-Man’s goal is one of repentance. He failed Uncle Ben. There’s no getting around that. He had the power and the ability to circumvent Ben’s death, and he didn’t do it. So now he’s made it his life’s mission to protect people. Yes, Aunt May in particular, but Peter Parker’s goal in life is to protect everyone in New York. And he’ll never succeed. Even if Peter Parker goes his entire life as Spider-Man, I kind of feel like he’ll go to his deathbed thinking he didn’t do enough. Which is ridiculous, but it’s how he thinks. So of course when he’s presented with the seemingly simple task of protecting Madame Web from some vague harm, he does his best. And for most of the story, his best isn’t good enough. He does everything that he can think of, every trick in his arsenal that he’s used to best his other villains, and nothing works. And in the end, he almost fails. He doesn’t stop the Juggernaut before he reaches Madame Web. Juggernaut almost kills her. That would have been yet another death on Peter’s already incredibly burdened conscious. But through some miracle he’s able to keep Web alive, and then spends the rest of the second issue doing everything in his power to keep Juggernaut from harming another person. And that’s what makes Peter Parker a hero, and one of the best superheroes there is. I’ve ranted and raved about this topic before on the site, so I apologize for sounding like a broken record, but it’s a realization I’ve made in the last year or so, and one that’s profoundly changed my views on superheroes. Peter Parker wants to save people. He doesn’t want to punish Juggernaut, even though he’s furious at him, he wants to make sure no one else gets hurt. Because that’s all Peter Parker will ever want. No one should get hurt when Peter Parker is around. At least that’s what he thinks. And the depressing thing is, they will. There’s no way Peter Parker will be successful in his goal. It’s insurmountable. And he knows it. But he doesn’t give up. Peter knows that it’s futile to hope that he can stop everyone in New York from being hurt. But he goes out there, every night, and does his best to make that a reality. And that’s why I love the guy. And this story is one of the shining examples of that fundamental philosophy in the series. It’s a small vignette that perfectly encapsulates Peter’s mission, his drive, and his integrity. So yeah, it’s not as silly as other entries in this series. But it’s still one of the most exciting and emotional stories I’ve come across, and I needed to share it.

The Amazing Spider-Man #229-230, “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut,” was written by Roger Stern and drawn by John Romita, Jr, 1982.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S09 E16 – Dumbbell Indemnity

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Well last week we got to see Apu’s quest for love, and that turned out pretty good, so who else should be set up? Otto? Nah, he’s later. Principal Skinner? Oh right, he’s still with Edna. Well, then to quote Wednesday’s episode, “Let’s say…Moe.”

The episode starts off with Bart and Lisa bored and playing a game they call a “Texas Snowball Fight” which involves them whipping scoops of ice cream at each other. But Homer puts a stop to that, and decides it’s better to endanger his children by smashing their busted water heater with a pipe until it explodes. Homer then lees the scene of the crime as the water heater starts blasting water all through the house until it’s pouring out the chimney like a waterfall. He runs right past Marge and runs off to Moe’s to hide. But as Homer gives Marge a toast of appreciation at the bar, Moe get’s all defensive and angry, explaining that he hasn’t had a date in four years and is just a little touchy.

So Homer decides that the only thing Moe needs is to take him on as a wing-man. Because the perfect wing-man is a guy whose been married for ten years and has three kids. But whatever, they head out to Disco Stu’s and Moe start doing his best to flirt with women. And it goes as well as you would think. The best he does is carrying on a short conversation with a woman trying to hock Bacardi. So Moe gets frustrated and leaves, realizing he’s destined to die alone. But as he’s loudly explaining his horrible situation, he comes across a kindly woman named Renee who’s selling flowers at a little cart on the sidewalk. The two get to talking, and after Moe successfully charms Renee by calling her gorgeous, and Renee ends up agreeing to go out on a date with Moe. So they plan on going to get a steak the size “of a toilet seat.”

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We then get a montage of Moe and Renee going out on dates which typically ends with Moe getting horrible harmed, but they’re starting to fall for each other. They even double date with Homer and Marge at the Gilded Truffle, where Moe asks for their most expensive food stuffed with their second most expensive food. Which results in lobsters stuffed with tacos. Marge is obviously confused about why Renee is dating Moe, and she explains that while it started out as pity, she’s actually grown quite fond of Moe. That and the fact that Moe is apparently spending a crazy amount of money on her, lavishing her with expensive dates and gifts. Which really becomes and issue when Moe finds out that his cards are completely maxed on.

Moe understandably freaks out at this point, and tries calling in everyone’s tabs. Which logically sends everyone running for the hills. And since Moe is out of ideas, he does what everyone on the show does despite it never working out, and asks Homer for advice. Which doesn’t go great, but while Moe is spit-balling he realizes that his shitty car is insured for $5,000 and he comes up with a plan to have Homer steal Moe’s car, crash it on the train-tracks, and have Moe collect the insurance money.

So a couple nights later Homer is awkwardly eating dinner while dressed like a robber, and leaves to “commit certain deeds,” and heads off to steal Moe’s car. And to perfect the alibi Moe and Renee are going on some sort of police charity cruise, and Moe makes sure that Chief Wiggum sees Moe’s awesome park job to establish the location of it. And as the cruise heads out, Homer shows up and stops Snake from stealing the car so he can take it. Homer heads off to the train tracks, but get sidetracked when he passes a drive-in theater playing some movie called “Hail to the Chimp” that’s about a monkey president. He sits and watches the whole thing, missing his chance with the train. Homer tries to chase it down, but realizes that he screwed up, and decides he has to come up with his own plan. So he drives to a cliff and intends to drive the car off, bailing at the last second. Unfortunately the cliff is right next to the police cruise, and they see the whole thing, even when Homer accidentally rolls back in the car. So when he finally comes up for air, the police arrest him, since they’re massive amounts of evidence against him.

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Homer is then arrested and brought to jail, where we get an amazing line from Chief Wiggum, “fingerprints are just like snowflakes. They’re both very pretty.” But it looks like Homer’s screwed. The family come to visit him, and he tries to explain that he stole Moe’s car for a good reason, but no one is believing him. And when Moe shows up, it turns out he doesn’t intend to bail Homer out, since that could get him arrested for insurance fraud. But Moe starts to feel guilty, and decides to do the right thing. He goes to get Homer’s bail money with the intentions of then turning himself in. But that plan gets derailed when he and Renee see a sign at a travel agency for Hawaii, and they decide to do that instead, leaving Homer to rot. “Hawaii? What about Hawaii? Moe? Who’s going to Hawaii? Am I going to Hawaii?”

But it turns out Moe does actually have a conscience, because as he’s packing for his trip he start to see a ghost of Homer complaining about how Moe screwed him over. And it finally gets to Moe enough that he spills the beans to Renee, and explains the whole thing. Meanwhile, Moleman is working at the prison giving out books to the prisoners. He comes into Homer’s cell, and hands him a book called “How To Tunnel Out of Prison,” which gives Homer a great idea. He smashes Moleman over the head with the book and escapes with the cart. And as Homer’s genius escape is hatching, we see that Renee is pretty horrified at what Moe did, but fully supports him going clean. That is until Moe starts to plan an even more elaborate scheme involving faking his and her death. Which is the last straw for Renee, who ends up leaving Moe just as he begins burning down the bar. But as Moe is realizing that he’s in over his head with the fire, Homer shows up and the two start brawling. Which ends pretty quickly as they get overpowered by the smoke and faint. Luckily though, Barney was in the bathroom, and he springs to the rescue, saving two kegs of beer, then Homer and Moe in a joke that used to crack my grandpa the hell up when we would watch the episode with him. So Homer and Moe come to outside on the sidewalk, and make up, deciding that they’ll remain bros before hoes.

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I never noticed that there’s practically a whole sub-genre of Simpsons episodes that are basically “Secondary character tries to fall in love.” And they’re actually pretty great. It’s an interesting look into the lives of the secondary characters, which is something that I always love, and I thought it was a lot of fun to get a peak into the twisted psyche of Moe. Although I’m not quite sure what to think of Renee. Because I can’t quite tell if it’s her idea or not that Moe spends all of his money on her. Like, I don’t think she’s a golddigger or anything, because she bails at the end when he starts coming up with his crazy fake-murder plot, but she also doesn’t stop him from spending so much on her. I just can’t tell if we’re supposed to like Renee or not. Maybe that’s irrelevant, and we’re just supposed to lose respect for Moe. It’s also just kind of sad that most of these types of episodes lead to either solid long-term relationships or even marriages, and Moe just loses Renee. No love for Moe. Other than the love of his best friend I guess.

Take Away: Don’t commit insurance fraud for a woman. And if you do, at least bail your friend out.

“Dumbbell Indemnity” was written by Ron Hauge and directed by Dominic Polcino, 1998.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S09 E15 – The Last Temptation of Krust

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Hey everybody! It’s a Krusty episode! These are pretty much always great. I may come to regret that statement as this project lurches on further into the Dark Ages, but where I am in the series an episode that revolves around the ridiculous antics of Krusty the Clown are going to be way up my alley.

The episode starts off with the family heading to the mall to buy new “church shoes,” which is of course a classic comedy setup. Although it does lead to one of my favorite Simpsons quotes of all time, which I giggle about way too much whenever I have to go to a church.

Bart: “What do we need church shoes for? Jesus wore sandals.”

Homer: “Well, maybe if he had better arch support they wouldn’t have caught him.”

I love that line so much. I think because it conjures a hilarious image in my head of Jesus running away, trying to escape. And after that solid gold line we just get a scene of Bart tormenting poor old Gil, whose working at a shoe store while having a terrible back. And after buying some enormous shoes that Marge hopes they’ll grow into, the family starts to leave the mall. That is until they’re stopped by a guy trying to get them to buy tickets for a charity comedy show. The family is pretty intrigued by that idea, but Bart has an issue when he sees that the lineup consists of Jay Leno, Steven Wright, Janeane Garafalo, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Bruce Baum. And shockingly his problem isn’t that Jay Leno is involved, it’s that Krusty is not.

So Bart decides to pull a Lisa, and goes to complain in person to fix this atrocity. He meets up with Jay Leno and tells him how Krusty is a necessity for a comedy show, and after confirming that Krusty is in fact alive, he’s hired. We then cut to the night of the benefit show, and it’s quickly apparent that Krusty doesn’t fit in with these alt comics, and Jay Leno. They’re a little more intense than him back stage, and they actually care about their acts. Which really starts to matter when the benefit begins, and their sets start killing. And all that comedic momentum is killed when Krusty comes on stage, and starts up his hacky, out-dated, and shockingly racist set, which only Bart laughs to. So Krusty is booed off the stage, and has a real crisis of conscious, because regardless of the quality of the acoustics, he bombed.

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And a mixture of bombing, hearing the real comedians mock him and his terrible set, and some scathing reviews in the paper lead Krusty to a deep depression, which logically leads to a crazy bender. Krusty starts wandering the town, getting progressively drunker and drunker, until he apparently ends up in the Flanders’ front yard. Bart finds Rod and Todd poking Krusty with sticks, and saves him, dragging his hung-over ass up to his bedroom to recuperate. Krusty comes to, and is pretty horrified to see all the terrible crap with his face on it that Bart owns. Krusty has apparently never realized what a sell-out he is, and it really starts to bother him. So Krusty decides he needs a career revitalization.

Which of course means Jay Leno is called in to give Krusty a pep-talk and a bath. He comes over to the Simpsons house and helps Bart wash Krusty’s hair while they talk about his career. Jay explains that people don’t like stuff like Krusty’s terrible set, and are more into observational stuff. At this point we also get another amazing little scene:

Homer: “Whoops, sorry son. I didn’t know you, Jay Leno, and a monkey were bathing a clown.”

Krusty: “Well they are. So make with the loofah or get out.”

So after a nice bath Krusty gets to work on creating a fresh new set of observational jokes. Which he does in the Simpsons house for some reason. I guess it comes in handy though, because they hold a ridiculous little open-mic in the living room for him to test his jokes out on the family. Which doesn’t go well. Because Krusty still has a lot of work to do. And bombing in a random family’s living room is the last straw. Krusty then holds a press conference to announce his retirement from show business. However, while explaining why he’s retiring, Krusty ends up getting really heated, and starts yelling about everything he thinks is wrong with the modern comedy scene, which gets people laughing, causing him to immediately come back to show business.

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And with the knowledge that people like Krusty best when he’s angry, he creates an all new persona, complete with a smoldering cigarette, pulled back hair, and an all-black outfit like he’s some combination of George Carlin and Bill Hicks. And he tries this new comedy persona out at an open-mic night at Moe’s where he kills. Everyone loves angry Krusty, and even are willing to burn money when he says they should. Which probably means Krusty could either go down the comedy road, or the cult-leader road. But he sticks with the comedy, and starts to grow a real fanbase.

But if there’s one thing that inevitably follows a sudden growth in a fanbase, it’s some corporate suits hoping to use that influence for evil. Two suits approach Krusty at a coffee shop where he’s hanging out with all the cool comics from earlier, and try to get him to become the celebrity endorser of a new line of SUV’s called the Canyonero. Krusty acts shocked that they think he would betray his newfound integrity, and kicks them out. Unfortunately that night at his set at Moe’s, Krusty quickly segues from his angry rant, to a commercial for the Canyonero. Krusty sold out again! The crowd gets pissed at Krusty for his shilling, and leave him alone with Bart again. Krusty explains that comedy isn’t in his blood, but selling out is, and he’s much happier with money and no comedic integrity. The episode then ends with two hilarious Canyonero ads, that are just perfect. Every joke in the Canyonero ads are spot on and genius.

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This is a pretty great episode. I love Krusty as a character, and I love comedy and the world of comedians, and the idea of having Krusty enter their world is hilarious. I just think the premise that Krusty would consider himself peers with stand-up comics is ridiculous and great, and it really led to some great moments. Krusty is a complete shill, and it was so enjoyable to see him actually admit that he cares more about the money than any sort of comedy. Because Krusty is a pretty terrible clown. He tries sometimes, but generally you can tell that Krusty is just in it for his paycheck. He used to care, but money fixed that. But while Krusty’s comedic journey in this episode is funny, I really love the role Bart plays in the episode. I think it’s perfect that Bart gets all pissed off that some comedy show for adults doesn’t include the clown he laughs at on television, and that he does everything in his power to get Krusty the respect he thinks he deserves. Bart never stops loving Krusty, and just can’t fathom why other people don’t love him too. It’s pretty great, and works so well with the on-going theme that Bart will always respect Krusty, and will do anything for him.

Take Away: Some people are just in it for the money. And there’s not really anything wrong with that, it’s just different.

 

“The Last Temptation of Krust” was written by Donick Cary and directed by Mike B Anderson, 1998.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S09 E14 – Das Bus

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Well yesterday we got to talk about the people of Springfield joining a crazy cult. That’s a silly plot. But do you know what’s sillier? A group of our favorite Springfield Elementary students getting stranded on an island and reenacting the Lord of the Flies! Oh, and Homer meets Bill Gates. Let’s see how that happens!

We start things off by having the family sitting around watching some terrible Troy McClure movie about Noah’s Ark. It’s not particularly funny, and all it really does is cause the family to stay up all night watching it, since Bible epics are absurdly long, but it’s one of our last Troy McClure scenes, so soak it up people. The Lionel Hutz well has run dry, but we have a few more drops of McClure left. But yeah, the family stay up all night, and it doesn’t really make any difference, because we cut right over to the kids getting ready for their model UN meeting. And from there we’re introduced to the various kids we’ll be following. We have Nelson as Japan, Wendell as Mexico, Sherri and Terri as Trinidad and Tobago, Lisa as France, Bart as Libya, Milhouse as Poland, Ralph as Canada, Lewis as America, and Martin as Finland, all with incredibly stereotypical costumes.

Turns out there’s a big model UN meeting coming up, and the kids are getting ready. And things aren’t going well. All Milhouse knows about Poland are Polish jokes, Martin’s Finnish dance is ridiculous, Bart completely makes up everything about Libya and claims that their main export is corn, and Ralph just sings the Canadian National Anthem. But I guess that’s as good as they’re going to get, because we just move along to the kids getting ready to head out on the bus. I guess there’s also the introduction to Homer’s B-Plot, but it’s honestly pretty weak.

Let’s just get rid of the Homer plot. It has some great jokes, but overall it’s just okay. Basically Homer just sees that Ned and Maude have a home-business selling rugs, so he makes his own internet company, despite not owning a computer. Homer somehow manages to get pop-up ads on the internet, drawing a porn-craving Comic Book Guy to his home, and also gain the attention of Bill Gates. Gates shows up, announces he can’t figure out what Homer’s company does, but decides to buy them out just in case. And by ‘buy them out,’ he means destroy Homer’s office so things return to normal. Yeah, kind of weird and just keeps popping up and distracting us from the ridiculous island plot.

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Speaking of the island, let’s talk about how they get there. The kids are driving along with Otto to wherever the model UN conference is, and are getting bored. So Bart and Nelson decide to entertain themselves by racing some fruit down the floor of the bus. And because he always needs to be included, Milhouse grabs a grapefruit and sends it flying down the floor, right under Otto’s brake pedal. So when Otto tries to pump the brakes on a bridge, the grapefruit blinds him, and they go flying off the bridge into the ocean. The kids all manage to escape the bus, and Otto is swept off by the tide, uttering his last words of “Zeppelin Rules!”

The kids meanwhile are slightly luckier, and wash up on a small deserted island. And after a moment or two of being thankful for being alive, they start turning on each other. They squabble for a little bit, until Bart gets their attention with a conch, and announces that they aren’t screwed, and are going to live a great life. He describes a wonderful Swiss Family Robinson/Gilligan’s Island type scenario where they will have coconut cars and monkey butler. Which obviously wins over all the kids. So they break up into teams, beginning their new lives on the island.

Unfortunately it becomes quickly apparent that Elementary School children aren’t exactly naturalists. The only food they found were poisonous berries that “taste like burning” and Bart and Nelson’s treehouse was terrible, and just falls apart. So they’re doomed. And when Milhouse says that he found a monster in the woods, they start to get freaked out as well. And after calming down from the monster, they at least are able to make a fire with Milhouse’s glasses, but they still have no food. That is until Bart gets the great idea to go diving for a cooler full of snacks that was in the bus, using Milhouse’s inhaler as a scuba tank. He gets down to the bus, and rescues to food and brings it up to the beach, where the kids immediately start to gorge themselves. Until Lisa explains that they need to ration their snacks, otherwise they’ll just starve in a couple days. So they go to sleep, mad about their hunger, and wake up in the morning to find all of their food gone, and Milhouse the most likely culprit.

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The kids freak the hell out, and decide that they need to make Milhouse pay for this indiscretion, even though he promises he didn’t eat the food, and that it was probably the monster. But Lisa is able to convince the angry mob that Milhouse deserves a fair trial, so they stick him in a cage and start up a trial where Bart is the judge, Lisa is the defense, and Nelson is the prosecution. So the trial begins, and Milhouse sticks to his story that he didn’t eat the food, and that a monster stole it, which doesn’t go over well with the angry mob. And after Nelson’s line of questioning, which consists of him just punching Milhouse in the gut. But after hearing the testimony Bart decides that there isn’t enough evidence, and says that Milhouse is not guilty. Which of course leads to a riot.

The rest of the kids start freaking out, and decide that they need mob justice. So Milhouse, Bart, and Lisa run for their lives as the rest of the kids start chanting “kill the dorks!” And things have fully become Lord of the Flies. So our heroes are chased through the woods by the crazy children, as they run around the entire island. And after a couple trials and tribulations, Bart, Lisa, and Milhouse end up at a cave that they think they can hide in. Although the other kids just realize they can march in and kill them not that they’re cornered. “Oh…figs.” But the kids are saved when it turns out the cave is the home of the monster, or as it’s better known as, a wild boar. The boar scares the kids out of the cave, and they realize that he actually did eat the snacks. They also learn that he boar survives on the island by licking slime off rocks, so they’re saved! Which mean the kids kill the boar and cook him while mocking Lisa and her vegetarian habits. The episode then ends with one of my favorite jokes of all time; by having a voice over explain: “So the children learned how to function as a society, and eventually they were rescued by…oh, let’s say…Moe.”

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Well, here’s another stupid but incredibly fun episode. I remember watching this one dozens of time as a kid, I think they played it like crazy in syndication, and I have such affection for it. Like I mentioned, the Homer B-Plot is a little lacking, and feels kind of out of place in the episode, but everything else is gold. I love the model UN scene, and the ridiculous things that the kids do, but this episode reaches a next level when they get stranded on the island. It’s just so great. I love that the kids just assume they’ll be able to live happy and fruitful lives on the island, despite having no idea how to survive on their own, and the ensuing chaos is great. Plus, I’m always a fan of trials in the Simpsons, and one put on by the children was great. But for me, the real shining glory of this episode is that last gag. It’s so hilarious. Because it almost feels like they just had no idea how to save the kids, so they just have James Earl Jones randomly explain that Moe saved them all. Why not? Moe’s as good a choice as anyone else.

Take Away: It’s really easy to start an online business and really hard to survive on an abandoned island.

 

“Das Bus” was written by David X Cohen and directed by Pete Michels, 1998.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S09 E13 – The Joy of Sect

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Well after the sort of sour taste that yesterday’s episode left in my mouth, let’s see if we can have something more light and palatable. Ah, how about an episode all about the simple people of Springfield being taken in by an evil cult? That sounds like a fun romp!

The episode starts off with Homer and Bart going to Springfield’s disgusting little airport. Which leads to a scene that the Simpsons really loves to do, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense. We just get a collection of sight-gags about what it’s like in an airport, but it seems like everyone in town is hanging out in the damn airport. The bullies are stealing some luggage that has a Faberge egg and a human liver in them, Moleman is shopping for books, and Barney is getting drunk alone in the lounge. I guess they’re all there for the same reason as Bart and Homer, to see the local team get back from the “big game.” But as they’re getting to the tarmac to great the team, Homer runs into a weird trope that definitely don’t exist anymore, a line of religious wackos trying to proselytize. He walks past a Hare Krishna, a conservative Christian, and some people from a cult called the Movementarians. And after getting some literature from the cult, Homer and Bart join the rest of the crowd in pelting the returning team with rocks.

Later that night when Homer is back home, he starts telling the family all about the cool cult he learned about, and the weekend retreat they’re hosting at the compound in the woods. The rest of the family is a little concerned about Homer’s susceptibility, but he says he can control himself, and goes to the retreat that weekend. Homer initially is just going to mooch a fun fishing trip off of them while singing the Batman theme, but the Movementarians convince him to go watch their special brainwashing movie. So Homer goes and learns all about their glorious Leader and his spaceship to Blisstopia, while everyone else is kept in line through the power of public awkwardness. And in the end, everyone but Homer who watched the video is brainwashed and ready to join the cult.

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But the Movementarians are desperate for Homer, so they try to find a way to crack him. They have him get ridiculed by the rest of the group, and try to weaken him with low-protein gruel. But in the end, the thing that worked was using the Batman theme to incorporate the Leader, causing Homer to be their strongest supporter. So he heads home and tells the rest of the family about their fun new life as members of the cult, and how he gave their house to them. Marge is obviously a little concerned about the whole thing, while Bart simply says “church, cult, cult, church, so we get bored someplace else every Sunday,” which I loved. But in the end, the family is dragged off to the Movementarian compound with pretty much everybody else in town.

The family start to acclimate to their new life as their resistance slowly gets whittled down. Bart gets brainwashed when trying to commit mischief, and Lisa is swayed by the power of positive grades, leaving Marge the only sane one of the family. Around now we briefly get a super weird scene where Mr. Burns decides he wants to make his own religion, and comes up with an elaborate and fascist cult where he’s God, but that scene just feels super out of the place, regardless of how funny it way. But once that’s done we see just how crazy the Movementarian cult is getting, as they spend most of their time picking lima beans and hoping to catch a glimpse of the Leader’s limo. We also see a mass wedding, where Barney and Otto, Skinner and Agnes, and Comic Book Guy and a random lady get married. And while the rest of the family get all on board with the cult, Marge keeps her resistance, and finally escapes. She makes it out of the compound, over a river, through a minefield, and escaping the dreaded Rover, and gets back to Springfield.

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Marge makes it back into Springfield, looking for someone to help, and ends up coming across Reverend Lovejoy, who is busy getting ready to torch the church for insurance money. Marge talks with him, and they enlist Ned and Willie to help save the Simpsons and expose the cult. So they get in a limo and drive through the lima bean farm, getting Bart, Homer, Maggie, and Lisa into the limo, only to knock Homer unconscious with a bat and kidnap them back to town so they can be deprogrammed.

They take the Simpsons to Ned’s rumpus room, and start working on them. The kids are easily taken care of, since they’re swayed by the prospect of having brand new hover bikes, but Homer is a tougher nut to crack. Willie gives it his best shot, but ends up just believing in the Leader more than Homer. But Marge and Ned have a good idea, and try to give Homer a beer. Unfortunatly the cult’s lawyers show up right as a drop lands on Homer’s tongue, and drag him back to the compound. But it turns out that was a potent drop, because when Homer gets back he’s back to normal, and gets ready to expose the cult. But when he opens the Forbidden Barn to show them how it’s all a scam he ends up instead finding one hell of a spaceship. Which turns out to be a crude helicopter the Leader is using to get away with all their money. That doesn’t work, he crashes into Cleetus’ house, is robbed, and everyone returns back to Springfield, comfortable in the knowledge that the one true cult is the Fox network.

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This episode is so silly, and I love it so much. It’s goofy as all hell, but it has some of my favorite stupid gags of the entire show. Homer singing the Batman song is so great, and something that me and my college buddies still quote. It definitely isn’t an emotional episode or anything, but it’s expertly crafted in it’s silliness. It’s also great to see an episode about something stupid, like cults, where Lisa isn’t the voice of reason. Lisa gets swayed just as easily, and becomes a zombie just like everyone else. It’s Marge’s time to shine, and I really liked seeing her be the one to save the family from their own stupidity. Plus it’s great to see the show’s feelings toward cults and religion, and the hazy line that separates the two, especially since it lines up with my thoughts so often.

Take Away: It’s really easy to be dragged into a cult, especially when you’re too awkward to not just leave their sales pitch.

“The Joy of Sect” was written by Steve O’Donnell and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 1998.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S09 E12 – Bart Carny

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Season Nine has been pretty hit or miss so far. But last week was generally really solid. And this week is too. We sure aren’t going to have any deep episodes this week. It’s all goofy, all the time this week, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing I guess. The episodes are all pretty enjoyable…except for this one.

The episode starts off with the hilarious little interaction of Marge trying to get Santa’s Little Helper to pee outside, while Homer suggests Marge peeing outside to teach him how awesome it is. She refuses, and realizes that the reason Santa’s Little Helper doesn’t want to go outside is that the backyard is a goddamn nightmare or weeds, tall grass, sports equipment, and snakes. So she goes to the kids, who are lounging around being bored, and tells them to start doing yard work. They’re obviously not into this plan, and spend most of the time outside planning on how to cut their hands off, before just giving up. Marge tries to yell at them and get them to actually work for their allowance, which is cut short when Homer comes running in yelling about how there’s a carnival in town, and giving the kids money to go have fun with. So, I guess no lessons here.

The family head off to the carnival and we get some fun sight-gags with them wandering around. We see a yard work simulator that Bart wants to play with, Krusty getting squirted in the face while standing next to a clown balloon game, Bart and Lisa go on a terrible haunter house, Homer has a heart attack on a roller coaster, and Homer gets scammed by a father son ring-toss team. But the plot really starts to get going when Bart and Homer check out some sort of demonstration by the Rich Texan where he’s showing off Hitler’s limousine. Bart of course wants to check it out and find the flamethrower, which results in him wrecking the limo. And since it was the main attraction, the Rich Texan holds Bart responsible, and makes him work off the cost of repairing it. And since Homer thinks working in a carnival sounds awesome, he offers to work too.

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So the next morning Bart and Homer head to the disgusting carnival to start working. They’re paired up with the ring-toss family, Cooder and Spud, as a sort of master/apprentice type relationship while Cooder teaches them about the “carny code” and the rules of the carnival. They then get to work by having Bart shovel Lil’ Sebastian’s crap, Homer falling in a dangerously shallow dunk tank, and both of them biting the heads off chickens. But they’re saved by Cooder and Spud, who have an AA meeting to get to, and need someone to man their ring-toss both while they’re gone. So Homer and Bart get to run the cart, which is really a poor decision on Cooder’s part.

That night Homer and Bart get to work at the ring-toss, and it’s quickly evident that Bart is the brains of the operation. He’s also the better barker, and is able to easily scam Skinner into wasting money on trying to win a matador lamp for Agnes. It turns out they’re actually pretty good at running a ring-toss, and it even gives Homer the thought to open their own game “where people throw ducks at balloons and nothing’s as it seems.” But while Homer’s mapping out their future, disaster strikes when Chief Wiggum shows up to get a bribe. Unfortunately Homer is too stupid to realize this, and just ends up pissing Wiggum off to the point that he confiscates the ring-toss and tows it away, just in time for Cooder and Spud to show up and see their livelihood being taken away. Luckily Homer is a gullible man, and offers the pair the option of staying at their house until they get back on their feet, which causes Marge to feel a disturbance in the Force.

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So Cooder and Spud move in, and instantly make themselves at home and start being gross. Marge and Lisa are obviously not down with having two strangers live in their house, but apparently Marge doesn’t have a say in such matters, so they stay. And her opinion of them isn’t helped any when Spud teaches Bart how to pickpocket, and he steals Marge’s pearls while pretending to hug her, which teaches me that Marge looks super weird without her pearls. But Cooder kind of redeems himself with he announces he bought tickets for some sort of glass-bottom boat tour for the family as a thank you. So they head out and see what kind of lovely things lurk under the water around Springfield, like trash, nuclear waste, and angry sharks. So that was sweet. But what’s not sweet is when the Simpsons come home they find their windows boarded up, and the locks changed. Cooder and Spud scammed them!

The Simpsons aren’t really sure what to do to get the squatters out of their house, so they head to the police. But Chief Wiggum is still irritated with Homer about the whole bribe fiasco, so he won’t help them, which results in the Simpsons having to live in the treehouse. They sit up in the treehouse, trying to come up with a plan to get them out, which leads to this great interaction:

Marge: “We can’t just give up on our house. There’s got to be a way to get these guys out of there.”
Bart: “I say we set fire to the house — kill them that way.”
Marge: “We don’t want to kill them, Bart. We just want our home back.”
Lisa: [thinks it over] “Well…if we did set fire to the house…”
Marge: “No fires!”
Homer: “I’ve got it!”
Marge: “No fires!”

So great. But since the fire plan is shot down, it’s up to Homer to come up with a way to get the house back. Which he does. The family go down to the front door, and get Cooder and Spud to come out with the proposition of a game of ring-toss. Homer has a hula-hoop and says if he can make it onto the chimney they get the house back, but if he misses they’ll give him the deed so he legally owns the house. And Cooder decides this is a good plan, and he agrees. Which is a bad call because as soon as they come out Homer and the family just run in and lock the doors. Take that! So things go back to normal as Homer reshaped his butt-grove on the couch.

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This is a weird episode. It’s pretty funny, but this episode kind of represents a huge turning point in the series. When I was a kid Homer was my favorite character of the show. He was hilarious, and his stupid antics were always good for a laugh. But around this point in the show he started to change. Homer used to be a competent character that was pretty dumb. But, just like pretty much every character in a long running show, his stupidity kept ramping up. It makes sense, it’s just like movie franchises, you need to up the last crazy thing you did, so Homer just go dumber and dumber. And it’s around this point in the series that that led Homer to be essentially mentally challenged. He couldn’t even be trusted to handle the cash box, and didn’t understand what a bribe was. It’s just strange. I don’t know, it could just be me, but when Homer gets this stupid, I stop really caring about him as a character. And I feel like it’s part of a larger trend where the show is going to stop having that balance of silly episodes to emotional ones. Season Nine gets considered the beginning of the end for quality Simpsons episodes, and I feel like it’s episodes like this that prove that may be true. It just became a different show around this point. Less emotion, more silliness. Less clever Homer that you can relate to, more dumb Homer doing cartoony antics. I guess that’s okay, it’s just not the show that I came to love.

Take Away: Don’t trust carnival workers, and all good things must come to an end.

 

“Bart Carny” was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Mark Kirkland, 1998.

 

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Bat Signal

Issue 282 – “Batman’s Interplanetary Rival”

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I’ve written about some weird stories so far on this Bat Signal project. I’ve seen Batman and Robin deal with an evil Box that was killing people, and evil librarian depositing corpses around Gotham because he created an alternative to the Dewey Decimal System, and Batman and Robin use time-traveling hypnosis in order to go back in time and chill with Cleopatra. Comics are weird. Especially in the Golden and Silver Age, when they just threw anything at the wall to see what stuck. But there’s on era of Batman that I haven’t really hit yet, except maybe Issue 250 where that random guy found alien artifacts, and that’s the period in time where Batman was all about science fiction. It makes sense, people were all about space and science in the early 60s. That’s exactly why Hal Jordan and Barry Allen showed up as the new Green Lantern and Flash with more sci-fi origins. That’s why basically all the original Marvel characters’ origins revolved around Stan Lee’s tragic misunderstanding of how radiation works. But DC wasn’t content to just revitalize new characters, or have their flagship character who actually is an alien deal with space and the being who lived there. Batman got in on the action too. Which is silly and ridiculous, because of all the DC characters I feel like Batman is the one who has the least amount of business dealing with space, but I suppose it’s no crazier than time-travelling hypnosis, so who am I to judge?

So here we are, the first time I’ve read a Detective Comics where Batman interacts with an alien. And it’s weird as hell. The issue starts off as so many from this time period do, with Batman and Robin running around the woods outside Gotham, chasing some criminals. But right as they’re about to catch them, a straight up alien just leaps out of the bushes and uses some ray gun to catch them. Batman and Robin are shockingly cool with their sudden meeting with an alien, other than Robin’s exclamation “G-Golly! That man, he’s an alien!” Which struck me as strange at first, but I suppose Superman is an alien, so I guess they’ve gotten the shock at extraterrestrial life out of their system by now. The alien then introduces himself as Tal-Dar, who is essentially a cop from another planet. He’s been keeping tabs on Earth, and has come to invite Batman to some sort of interplanetary crime-fighting league. Just as soon as Earth master space-travel. And until that time, he’s just going to hang out and teach Batman how to be a better crime-fighter, which Batman thinks is ludicrous, since he’s obviously the best. So they take Tal-Dar into Gotham and he tags along on some missions, while two things quickly become clear. First, the people of Gotham are super cool with having an alien in their midst and barely react to his presence, and second, Tal-Dar is a terrible crime-fighter.

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Tal-Dar keeps using his little ray gun to make up for his massive lack of talent, and the public is eating it up, all while Batman and Robin are getting increasingly fed up with their alien guest’s arrogance. And matters aren’t helped by the fact that he’s flaunting the power of his little gun, giving some criminals the idea to kidnap him and steal it. Which they easily manage, by blinding him with a bright flashbulb trying to take his picture, and just shoving him in the trunk of a car. Batman and Robin chase after the alien and make their way to the gangster’s hideout, easily taking them down and getting the ray gun back. And it’s at this point that Tal-Dar flat out admits that he lied about his reasons for being here, and he actually came to Earth to learn how to be a good crime-fighter from Batman, because everyone on his home planet of Alcor trust him, and he’s obviously worthless. And he came to Earth because Batman is apparently known to be the best crime fighter in the entire galaxy.

And it’s at this point that the plot gets even weirder, because as they’re having a little heart-to-heart on Tal-Dar’s spaceship, he gets a call from his Commissioner Gordon with new that an infamous villain named Zan-Rak has stolen some sort of magical artifact that the people of his planet covet. So he’s got to race back home and help out, and wouldn’t you know, Batman and Robin offer to tag along. So they zip across the galaxy to Alcor, and get debriefed by alien Gordon, learning about the theft of the Star-Stone, which radiates some kind of energy that can heal any health malady, and which the people of Alcor depend on. So Tal-Dar, Batman, and Robin get some jetpacks and go racing off to Zan-Rak’s secret base. And along the way poor little Robin gets trapped in a “Space Spider’s” web.

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Yep. Giant space spiders. Sure, why not? Well they get out of that mess pretty easily, and then basically pull a Trojan Spider and fly atop the thing into Zan-Rak’s base, more or less unnoticed. So they crash into Zan-Rak’s base, and Batman drops a crazy bombshell. He apparently has something called “Radji Disease,” which is a common and super fatal disorder people on Alcor get, and that can only be cured by the Star-Stone. So Batman’s going to be out of the game now, and it’s all up to Robin and Tal-Dar. Well, Batman’s screwed. But they might as well give it a shot. So the three pile up into a giant flower and sail down a little river that runs right into Zan-Rak’s base. Along the way they fight the giant “cave eel” from the cover of the comic, which Batman quickly bests with a lighter. But after that he’s spent, and it’s up to the other two to save the day.

So Batman sits back on the flower and Robin and Tal-Dar go about storming the castle, using Tal-Dar’s strategy. And it goes pretty well. They get into the castle and start beating up the goons, getting closer and closer to the Star-Stone and the final show-down with Zan-Rak. And in the end, Tal-Dar manages to get into the room where the Star-Stone is being held, and he has his climactic battle with Zan-Rak, managing to free the Star-Stone from the device they’ve used to cage it. That is until Zan-Rak pulls a gun and is about to shoot Tal-Dar point blank. At which point Batman comes flying out of nowhere and does a crazy double-knee kick to Zan-Rak’s back, knocking him out. Turns out he was faking his crazy space illness, and it was all an elaborate ruse to show Tal-Dar that the true crime-fighter was inside all along. So Tal-Dar drops them off back on Earth, seemingly nowhere near Gotham City, and everyone lives happily ever after.

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This was a weird one folks. It was my first real forray into the world of “Space Batman,” and I’m not sure if I’m really a fan of that subgenre. There were some silly moments that I really liked, but over all it just fell a little flat for me. The central premise, of a goofy alien showing up and making Batman teach him how to be a hero was pretty funny, and I really loved how blase everyone was about the existence of aliens and their trip to a new life-sustaining planet just to solve a crime. But it just didn’t work for me. Tal-Dar was super boring. I kind of liked him on Earth, when he was a pompous ass accidentally getting press in Gotham, but when it turned out to be an act, and he just became this neurotic little mess second-guessing everything he does he got a lot less interesting. Who knows, maybe as the series goes on and I end up finding more crazy sci-fi stories I’ll learn to love them, but this one really didn’t do much for me.

“Batman’s Interplanetary Rival” was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, 1960.

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