Friday, January 31, 2014

Top 6 Twisted Toyfare Theater Stories!

  Ah, Twisted Toyfare Theater. How long has it been since last we met?
  For those who’ve never heard of this series, it was a fumetti (photo) comic that ran in Toyfare magazine from 1997 to 2011 and featured warped adventures of various Marvel characters using a line of action figures from the 70s called Megoes. It garnered a number of big name fans during its run; such as Kevin Smith and Seth Green. It occasionally used some DC characters and 80’s action figure lines, but the Mego/Marvel toys were the primary focus up until around 2007, when it began focusing more and more on Star Trek and video game characters.

 Still, although mostly well-known for inspiring TV’s Robot Chicken, TTT was a strip once eagerly awaited by millions every month during its heyday of the late 90s and early 2000s. During an era of gimmicks, cancellations, limited series, beloved titles completely going off track, foil/holograph covers, pollybagged cards and Rob Liefeld getting his own jeans commercial, TTT was an amusingly self-reflective, funhouse mirror look at the depths the industry had sunk to, published by the very same people who had helped to promote all the previously mentioned vices with Wizard!
  Sure it was juvenile, lowbrow, vulgar, repetitive, sexist, loaded with pointless sub-Family Guy reference humor, helped turn an entire generation into obnoxious faux-cynics, was rarely funny upon re-read and tried too hard to wring laughs out of attacking kiddie franchises, but on the other hand… was juvenile, lowbrow, vulgar, repetitive, sexist, loaded with pointless sub-Family Guy reference humor, helped turn an entire generation into obnoxious faux-cynics, was rarely funny upon re-read and tried too hard to wring laughs out of attacking kiddie franchises AND IT MADE FOLKS LAUGH.

 Seeing such sophomoric nonsense like Hulk binge-eating Tacos in order to kill Redwing after Redwing gets lodged in his sphincter, or the Lizard being run over while carrying a flaming bag of dog shit is the kind of stuff which your brain tells you that you shouldn’t find funny, but that you do anyway:
 Still, for all of the cheap shots, randomness, stereotypes and lazy ‘parody’ characterizations (Spider-Man is an irresponsible jackass, The Hulk is retarded, Iron Man is a drunk, Thor is gay, Captain America is a racist pedophile, Daredevil’s blindness works against him and Dr. Doom is…you know what? He’s pretty much unchanged!), TTT was a strip that, when it wanted to be funny, would be genuinely funny. So here are my favorites:
 6)  “Idol Hands” from Toyfare #67: Some people may have taken it for granted these days, what with the Ultimate universe comics having basically become just a grittier version of regular Marvel and having been highly influential on the films, but back in the early 2000s, there was a very real fear among long-time fans that Marvel was going to stop publishing all its titles and make the Ultimate universe the “official” universe. Granted, there were also a lot of fans who thought that the Ultimates line was doing a better job, and welcomed the idea.
 This story manages to lampoon both sides when all the characters greedily enter an American Idol-style talent contest to win their chance at an Ultimate book.
 The gags range from uproariously funny to cringe worthy, some at the same time. We see everything from X-treme sports Mephisto to Captain America trying to prove he’s down with black people. Only a lousy ending involving tired jokes about William Shatner’s Transformations album keep it from scoring higher.

 5) “Seder Masochism” from Toyfare #94: It’s been sort of an open secret for a long time that Ben Grimm is Jewish, and this story milks it for all it’s worth when he decides to get in touch with his roots after deciding ‘Jews have it good’ (Apparently, he assumed his circumcision was a side effect of his exposure to cosmic radiation).

 Featuring appearances by just about every Jewish hero and villain in the Marvel U, this one manages to be hilarious and a scathing condemnation of how religion is handled in comics. Never show this comic to 4-Chan under any circumstances.
 4) “Risky Business” from Toyfare #82: One of the best things about comics involving villain team-ups is the downtime scenes with villains acting like regular people, and TTT got a lot of laughs out of the same method. Here, 80’s cartoon villains Skeletor, Megatron, Gargamel and Cobra Commander spend an evening playing Risk and swapping anecdotes.
 There’s really not much more to it, but if you look at all the things that happen in the course of the story, it all has a weird sort of logic at play. These guys were all potentially badass villains who were ruined by standards and practices, so it makes perfect sense they would revel in playing a world domination board game (since it’s the closest they’ll ever come to their goal), and the idea that they would all view Darth Vader as some sort of hero figure is oddly touching. Besides, you just can’t hate something with lines like “Go with God, Calcium-Deficient Smurf”.
 3) “The Way We Wuz” from Toyfare #64: The Thing, Northstar and the Avengers spend an evening recounting their origins; cue the most hilariously skewed versions of classic origins imaginable:
 This is my favorite:
 Although the take on the mind-screwing different origins of the Vision are also pretty funny (Seriously, what the hell is his origin?):
There are laughs galore, even from the unfunny and stereotypically portrayed Northstar (the butt of even more gay jokes than Thor). The only reason it doesn’t rank higher? The concept is too good for the space it is allotted. This one deserved a sequel or to be saved for a higher page count special.
2) “Project Greenlight” from 2002 Wizard Spider-Man Special: One of the big problems with comic book movies prior to Batman Begins was that they all had a tendency to trot out the archenemy for the first film and kill him off, making the double mistake of ensuring the use of lesser villains for sequels, as well as destroying the stature of some great villains. This story, released in a 2002 Spider-Man summer special when the first movie came out, parodies this problem by having Venom, the Lizard and the Red Skull (don’t ask) compete to become Spider-Man’s new archenemy so they can be in the sequel.
 So how do they intend to become Spidey’s new arch-villains? By being…kinda mean to him:
 This one is loaded with great slapstick, villains acting like bored kids, hilarious ruinations of valuable action figures, and the unforgettable sight of the Green Goblin blinged out:

 1) “My Big Fat FAT Wedding” from Toyfare #79:
 One of the biggest problems with modern comics fandom has always been how fans tend to write off a lot of silver and bronze age stories as goofy, but it gets really bad when they single out certain stories based on the covers alone. It leads to a lot of fairly decent storylines getting trashed undeservedly, and it also leads to disappointment when camp fans track down said stories expecting cheesy laughs only to find fairly unremarkable/normal stories.

 The infamous “Doctor Octopus marries Aunt May” storyline from Amazing Spider-Man #130-131 is a good example. It’s a fairly decent little arc which comes up with a perfectly logical reason for Ock trying to marry May (and was built off of a long-running subplot that had its roots going as far back as the first annual). It’s just a slightly off-beat Spider-Man story, with nothing really funny about it besides the cover.
 TTT of course, took the inherent humor in the concept of Ock marrying May and ran with it.
 It has its share of groan-inducing moments (though honestly, how else would a relationship between an obese tentacled supervillain and an 80+ woman at death’s door come off as?), but things really take off when everyone flies to the wedding and Ock invites the Sinister Six to be his best men. The laughs just keep on coming with jokes about Mysterio’s inconsistently portrayed powers, the most bizarre spoof of Nightmare at 20’000 Feet you’ll ever see, hotel room antics between Kraven and the Lizard, Con Air references and an ingenious way of ending the story that doubles as the most macabre parody of Spider-Man’s origin ever put to paper (Granted, TTT had done a similar gag before, but it wasn’t nearly as funny).
 There’s nothing really poignant or significant about this story (although, I honestly don’t think I’d know what a ‘poignant” or “significant” TTT story would look like if there was such a thing), but in terms of laughs, nothing else really compares. As Kraven says, “Dig in Tovarisch”. This is as good as TTT got.
 There are lots of other memorable TTT stories, but these are my favorites, as well as the ones I think would come off as funniest to people who shy away from this kind of stuff. Even Scans_Daily enjoys the series. I may do a follow up someday, especially since there are a lot of gems that Wizard never reprinted because of legal issues (there was a big lawsuit from DC comics which prevented the use of their characters) or because of gimmicks that made the stories impossible to reproduce (Like a story scattered throughout random pages to give it the feel of a wild goose chase). It’s something I look forward to, because, I never thought I’d say this…preparing this post has sort of made me miss the late 90’s-early 2000’s right now. Maybe I’m getting soft.

This will forever haunt my brain

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