Friday, 14 September 2012
Obnoxio The Clown Vs. The X-Men: "Something Slimy This Way Comes"
Well. This is certainly different.
A few words of background for those who don't recognise the name "Obnoxio". Starting in the 1970s and ending at the same time this comic was released, Marvel published Crazy magazine, a humour/satire mag including work from various writers (including Stan Lee,a man I'd ask to writes any actual comedy - let alone satire - with the same enthusiasm and sanguine outlook as I would putting Boris Johnson on a zipline and telling him to let gravity run its course).
I will confess to having read absolutely none of it; perhaps it was brilliant, but I'd think it a warning sign that its stated goal was to create the impression that the writers themselves were insane. Humour and mental illness make for uneasy bedfellows, after all, though in truth my objection is more closely connected to my belief that any time someone is told to write as though crazy, this is what's liable to happen:
No-one wants that.
For most of its run, Crazy's mascot was the wonderfully named Irving Nebbish, but in 1980 he was swapped out for Obnoxio the Clown, a miserable cynic with an addiction to cigars and profanity. That's about as close to an explanation for this comic as I can manage. Given the timing of its publication, I assume it was intended as a sign-off for the character, and by extension Crazy and its staff, but using the X-Men as a vehicle to do it seems ridiculous, like how they finished Enterprise off with an episode in which the Next Gen cast showed up for no goddamn reason at all. I guess money is the only explanation. "At least people might buy the last disc; that shit got Riker and Troi."
Most of this comic lies outside this blog's remit, the story featuring the X-Men lasting only ten pages. As a brief overview, though: mostly, it stinks.The thing with unpleasant protagonists is that they'e got to be funny, or they'e got to be useful, or at least be involved in a plot interesting enough to make getting behind the character a secondary concern. Not surprisingly considering Obnoxio's origin and occupation, Kupperberg goes for the first option, but can't manage to bring the funny. Obnoxio is insulting, but not cutting, curmudgeonly but without invention. He wanders from place to place treating people badly, in away that reminds me somehow of Dennis the Menace Beano strips, only those were much shorter, much faster, and involed a young boy with manic charm and a dog with an endless appetite for small-scale violence. Not getting annoyed at no smoking signs and complaining about having to show up for jury duty.
(There's also a house ad that's in appallingly poor taste, in which Obnoxio recommends a ficticious suicidal reader simply buys more Marvel comics. Sure, the early '80s isn't a place anyone would look for sensitivity regarding mental illness,but it's impossible to imagine how even at the time anyone thought this a sound advertising strategy.)
Let's move on to the X-Men story, shall we? Xavier has hired Kitty's favorite clown, Obnoxio, to MC a belated surprise birthday party, clowns being exactly what every 14 year-old girl wants to have show up to her birthday, especially when surrounded by the adults she insists are her peers. Unfortunately for Obnoxio, his visit takes place on the same night the villainous Eye-Scream plans to attack the X-Men. Eye-Scream causes Cerebro to explode as a distraction (at least, I think that's what's happening), which works better than he could have hoped when the X-Men promptly finger Obnoxio as their assailant. Charles figures out their mistake and lowers the temperature-around Eye-Scream, freezing him solid, but Obnoxio is sufficiently angry about this case of mistaken identity to storm out.
There are exactly two things here that save the story from total worthlessness. The first is Eye-Scream, a mutant who can transform into any flavour of ice-cream he desires. That's entirely a one-joke concept, with his repeated use of ice-cream-based puns ("It will make my job as simple as pie -- a la mode!") maybe constituting one more, if you're feeling generous, but it's a quite funny idea, and with only ten pages there's not time for it to outstay its welcome.
The second rather neat part to all of this is Kupperberg's decision to give the X-Men the kind of dialogue they haven't enjoyed since Stan Lee's tenure (the pages are numbered, too, which we haven't seen in some time). Again, that would be tiring in a longer comic, but here it works just fine.Watching Xavier describe Kitty as "The X-Men's youngest member " to himself, or hearing Warren say "The high-flying Angel will provide back-up, Sprite!"as he hides behind a teenage girl is legitimately funny. It's also true that anyone who doesn't at least smirk at the idea of using an inflatable rubber chicken as a diving bell has chosen the wrong form of literature.
None of this is an attempt to argue this book is particularly good, only that it isn't devoid of interest. Almost thirty years after the fact, this comic exists within a range that can't end at anything better than "interesting curiosity". My suggestion - and I realise that I've just written a short essay on the subject -is that we try really hard topretend that none of this ever happened. Including the Enterprise finale, obviously.
Since this issue takes place around Kitty's birthday, there are two places in the timeline it could potentially fit. One is the first time Kitty was described as being 14, in UXM #160, the other is after the team returned to Earth following their kidnapping by the Brood (UXM #161-167), during which time Kitty turns 14.
We can immediately dismiss the former option, since at the time the X-Men resided in Magneto's former base on the mysterious island of Cthulhuripoff. The latter option works pretty well, if we assume Professor X's decision to hire Obnoxio is in part an attempt to cheer Kitty up after booting her from the team. It also makes more sense of Sprite's claim that she forgot her birthday, since she was in another star system at the time. There's the question as to where all the snow has gone, of course,but as usual in these situations, we can simply blame Storm. Goddamn you, Storm!
Angel's presence needs to be considered as well, but it's not at all difficult to imagine he's visiting his former home and team-mates, especially since it's only a day or two until Wolverine, the reason Angel quit in the first place, is headed for Japan.
The story itself takes place in approximately real time.
Monday 18th of July, 1983.
"Mommy, was the circus mugged?"