Spider-Man, Storm and Cage
November 23, 2009
A comic that may make you give up cigarettes... but not your matches and lighters.
Linkara: (seated on his Futon) Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Hey, kids, I respect your free will, but I would highly advise that you not try smoking until you're an adult. Or, if that doesn't work, take up smoking, and I take away your iPod! How's that for anti-drug encouragement?
(Cut to a clip of the infamous anti-smoking PSA showing C-3PO and R2-D2, the latter clearly having a smoke)
Linkara (v/o): But no, promotional materials, PSAs, and other anti-drug paraphernalia continue to propagate. I love alliteration. Yeah, I know they're for a good cause, but then you really get the stupid ones, like R2-D2, a fricking robot, smoking a cigarette!
C-3PO: Don't smoke.
(Cut to a shot of a cover of a comic on the topic, in which Green Lantern and Green Arrow try to stop a youth from doing drugs)
Linkara (v/o): Comics are no stranger to this phenomenon, either, be it through storylines that deal with the matter that make Green Arrow look like an asshole...
Linkara: Well, okay, a bigger asshole than he already is.
(Cut to another comic on the matter, involving the Teen Titans)
Linkara (v/o): ...or just straight-up PSA comics, which brings us to today's subject...
(Cut to a shot of the comic for today...)
Linkara (v/o): ..."Spider-Man, Storm and Cage". Believe it or not, this thing is actually a remake.
(Cut to a shot of said remake: "Spider-Man, Storm and Power Man")
Linkara (v/o): And I don't mean in the standard "retroactive continuity" kind of remake. I mean, they took the exact same script and made new art for it.
(Back to the "remake" comic)
Linkara (v/o): I also can't seem to figure out when this was remade. Various sources put it anywhere from 2000 to 2008, and the copyright on my copy has it for 2007.
(Back again to the original comic)
Linkara (v/o): Originally, the comic came out in 1982, under the banner of "Spider-Man, Storm and Power Man". Now, to be fair, this team-up made a little more sense back in the '80s: Spider-Man has pop culture status; Storm was one of the X-Men, and the X-Men were pretty damn popular in the 1980s; and Luke Cage? Well, he was a cult favorite, and his street-based origins and premise put him in a good spot for something like this.
Linkara: But this team-up is kind of silly coming out in 2007, and we'll see why, as we dig into (holds up comic of review...) "Spider-Man, Storm and Cage".
(AT4W title sequence plays, then cut to the title card for this episode, while Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" plays in the background; cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): The cover is all right, but a little bland: the three heroes are surrounded by smoke coming from this fellow in the background, and they're all facing away from him. It almost gives the impression that they're too stupid to see where the smoke is coming from. I love the expressions on the track team's faces; it's like, "What the hell are we doing here? Just what were we smoking?" (the comic opens to the first page) We open to a page briefly describing the origins of each character.
Narrator: During a science exhibition, student Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider!
Linkara: (as narrator) Now he's radioactive! That can't be good!
Narrator: Designing a costume and a pair of special web-shooters, he devoted his life to fighting crime--as Spider-Man!
Linkara: (as narrator) In retrospect, it was a move that screwed over pretty much every person who ever cared about him.
Narrator: Born a mutant, Storm has the power to control wind and weather! She can soar through the sky--and she can make lightning...or cause the clouds to rain!
Linkara: (as narrator) Yes, Storm is a (holds up fist) very powerful goddess! (beat) Which is why we don't criticize her decision to wear an ugly purple outfit.
Narrator: Luke Cage took part in a secret experiment that gave him great power! Now he uses his astonishing power to fight crime!
Linkara (v/o): I notice they leave out the part where he was falsely accused of murder, and broke out of jail (?) speak in jive talk. Sweet Christmas, anyone?
Linkara: Also, despite this being a remake from the 2000s, he somehow looks more '70s than his actual '70s appearance. (shots of Cage from the 1970s and today appear to opposite sides of Linkara)
Linkara (v/o): The story begins with Luke Cage preparing a track team for a big meet.
Narrator: Volunteering his services, Luke Cage is coaching a special city-wide teen track team! This final big event before summer vacation brings together youths from all neighborhoods... and covering the human interest angle, for the Daily Bugle, is Peter Parker--secretly, the amazing Spider-Man!
Linkara: (shocked) Wait, Peter Parker is secretly Spider-Man?! Well, geez, why didn't they include a brief biographical bit at the beginning that told us that?! This just comes out of nowhere!
Linkara (v/o): The good Mr. Cage realizes that one of the runners isn't doing so well.
Luke: What's happening, Bret? You seemed to just fold out there!
Bret: Hey, man, I got winded! I stayed out late last night and didn't stop to eat anything today!
Linkara: (pretending to cough) Subtle hint! Whew, I got to quit smoking.
Linkara (v/o): Before Luke Cage can ask any more, though, Bret's girlfriend Carol leads him away, and he whispers to her that he needs a cigarette.
Linkara: Yeah, that's just what you need to do after running really fast, not eating anything, and getting out of breath: inhale smoke!
Linkara (v/o): Peter Parker shows concern for the young runner.
Peter: That's Bret Jackson! He's kind of edgy!
Linkara (v/o): Edgy? I was under the impression that "edgy" referred to something good and hip. You know, like what "them young people are into today". Cage asks Peter not to print anything about this in the Bugle... which shouldn't be too hard since Peter's a photographer! Later, Bret meets up with some other friends of his... or rather, this one guy [Danny]...
Danny: Hey, Bret! You going downtown to hang out? I'm comin' along!
Linkara: (as Bret) Yeah, sure, invite yourself on (points to himself) my date, jerkwad!
Bret: What about the rest of you?
Linkara (v/o): Rest of them? He's the only one standing there. (the next panel shows three more people, at least one of them a girl, named Amy) Wait, where the hell did those three teleport in from? The establishing shot only had the one guy!
Amy: No, thanks! I've got homework! If I don't get it done, I won't get enough rest to keep in shape!
Linkara: (holds up index finger) One of the many educational lessons of this comic: the amount of sleep you get depends entirely on how much of your homework you complete. (beat) Wait...
Amy: Besides, I don't think smoke-filled rooms are very nice!
Bret: Chee! I wonder what's eating Amy?
Linkara (v/o): "Chee"? The hell? You mean "gee", as in "Gee, these people do not speak like human beings"? Anyway, Luke Cage follows Bret to a building. And of course, he's completely inconspicuous, what with the huge tiara and the bandages around his arm. Inside, the building is a pool hall inside that's supposed to be an arcade. Inside is a greasy man who offers them cigarettes.
Danny: Sure-- why not?
Linkara: This is really the problem with trying to use the same script as in 1982. I don't know about anyone else's upbringing, but elementary, middle, and high school hammered into me with posters and health classes and crap that smoking was bad for me! And even if they hadn't, the friggin' Looney Tunes did it for them!
(Cut to a clip of the Looney Tunes short Wholly Smoke, with Porky Pig)
Porky: (addressing a street kid who is smoking) D-D-D-Don't you know what happens to, uh, l-l-l-little pun– uh, b-b-b-boys who smoke?
(Cut back to the comic)
Narrator: Meanwhile, on the roof above...
Linkara (v/o): Wait, how the hell did Luke Cage get up there? Well, actually, judging by how he's hanging from the ledge there, apparently Luke Cage was bitten by a radioactive spider. And suddenly, he's upside-down. Oookaaay... Spider-Man arrives, asking him why he's following the kids. Luke explains about how the kid began to change after a while and hung out with a woman and some...
Luke: ...strange friends of hers, keeping late hours and skipping practice-- and he started smoking!
Linkara: (mock shock) My God! Maybe we should... confront him, or tell his parents or something! (beat) Or we could just keep stalking him. That works, too.
Linkara (v/o): Spider-Man's Spider-Sense starts to tingle, and they hide.
Thug #1: (holding a gun) Jake thought he heard something up here on the roof!
Linkara (v/o): Yes, heard something through the concrete roof. Makes perfect sense.
Thug #2: Ahhh, he's just jumpy. Bet he thought it was a cat or something! Let's go back in!
Linkara (v/o): Are cats usually known for stomping around like elephants on city roofs?
Luke: It's worse than I thought! I gotta do something!
Linkara: Yes! Even though they said nothing incriminating in the slightest bit, clearly it's worse than you could've ever imagined!
Linkara (v/o): I mean, we all saw the same conversation, right? Yeah, one guy had a gun, but last time I checked, it wasn't illegal to own a gun in New York. Although, this is a PSA comic, so it wouldn't surprise me if guns were considered as immoral as cigarettes. Spider-Man tells him that not only will he help, but he'll get some help from elsewhere: Storm! Wait, Storm? Spidey wants to track down a bunch of drug dealers... drug dealers who apparently operate by handing out drugs that are available in any convenience store... and the first person he thinks of is the woman who can bring a blizzard down on your head? Overkill, much? How about that blind lawyer friend of yours who doubles as an ass kicker?
Luke: I don't know about this... I mean, Storm's one of the X-Men... What are mutant powers going to do against thugs?
Luke: What are mutant powers going to do against thugs?
Linkara: Whoever edited this comic, YOU ARE A MORON.
Linkara (v/o): Oh, but it gets better. You'd think that this was just a simple case of "Well, in 1982, Luke Cage was still a relatively new hero; probably just didn't know about mutant powers." But no! This was actually one of the few lines of dialogue from the original comic that was actually CHANGED! In the original, he says...
Luke: It's a pleasure to meet you, Storm-- but I still don't know! These boys look pretty tough!
Linkara (v/o): ...which is a stupid line in its own right, but not as idiotic as "What are mutant powers so good for?" Spidey says the best thing for now is put them under surveillance, which is Storm's job. Yeah, the woman who can summon a tornado inside your house just has surveillance duty. Why do I get the feeling that if Wolverine was in this comic, his job would be to get coffee? We cut to the next day, where Bret is in his science class conveniently learning about the health effects of smoking. I'm skipping over it because it's boring, and if you don't know the stuff already, you clearly have been living inside a rock for the last few decades.
Teacher: Bret! Don't tell me my lecture is that dull!
Linkara: Well, yeah, it is, because you don't have Muppet Babies, Smurfs and DuckTales singing about it.
(Cut to a clip of Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, showing these cartoon characters singing "Wonderful Ways To Say No")
Alvin and the Chipmunks: There's a million international ways to say no...
A random Smurf: Those drugs are so boring!
(Cut back to the comic again)
Bret: No! I mean-- I don't feel too well! I guess I stayed out a little late last night!
Linkara (v/o): Yeah, I've pulled that one before.
Teacher: Bret-- your grades have really been slipping! You'd better give some thought to the way your decisions are affecting your life!
Linkara (v/o): Okay... another sign that certain other pieces of dialogue should be updated for the times. What the hell kind of school lets a teacher LOUDLY ANNOUNCE that one of the students is failing? Crap, back in my high school, they passed papers back face down so no one nearby could see the grades on them. This is how paranoid these people are of lawsuits! Of course, this same school has no problem with showing confidential school records to tiara-wearing superheroes. Luke Cage examines Carol's final and learns that her grades have been slipping, same as Bret's. What is the point of this scene? Why, there is no point, since we established his grades were slipping A SINGLE PANEL AGO! Did they think kids were too stupid to remember something they just saw? Bret, out walking with his friends, is told that they need him to win the big relay competition in a few days.
Linkara: Boy! I sure hope he gives up smoking before then! Otherwise, how else will he completely detoxify his body and reverse the negative effects inflicted on him by his smoking in less than a week?! (beat) Wait, what?
Bret: I'll win the big one, just like I always do! Then I'll be a hero and the dean will get off my back about grades!
Amy: You used to be a hero-- but you didn't brag about it all the time!
Linkara: Educational lesson number (holds up two fingers) two, kids: smoking completely alters your personality.
Linkara (v/o): Bret walks off with his smoking crew in tow, heading back to the evil lair of smokey doom.
Thug #1: It just goes to show you, Bret! Some kids just mature than the–
Linkara (v/o): (trying not to laugh) Wait, wait, wait, wait, what the hell is the greasy guy wearing? A Hawaiian vest two sizes too short, with a blue suit? Say hello to the fashion disasters that are the villains of this comic!
Thug #1 (Nick): I think it's about time we gave the boss a progress report, Jake!
Thug #2 (Jake): Yeah! He's going to be real happy, Nick!
Linkara: (as thug) Good news, boss! We wasted money supplying high schoolers with a drug that could've paid for themselves if they just had fake I.D.s! Damn, we're good drug dealers!
Linkara (v/o): Storm, following them, sneaks into the storage room, where the bad guys are conveniently in a poorly-lit area, and loudly announce their plans!
Jake: We have the punk fooled! There's no way that kid can win the race, but all the outside money's on him! Our betting operation is about to clean up!
Linkara (v/o): Wait a second, they're not even drug dealers, just a gambling ring? Oh, but we'll get into that in a minute. It's time to meet our villain!
Offscreen voice: (behind Storm) I'm so glad-- but I'm afraid you've been very careless! We have company!
Storm: (thinking) That voice-- where did it come from? (speaking) Some kind of... smoke... gas! But I can use my powers to-- (KRAK)
Linkara: (as Storm, dazed) Whoops, maybe I should've stuck to the thought bubbles... (falls over)
Someone in shadow: Just now, I am not ready to have the world know of my existence-- but soon enough the world shall hear of the man called-- Smokescreen! (a dramatic sting is heard)
Linkara (v/o): Whoa! That's... not a very threatening name at all. So now we get to meet Smokescreen. I've got to say it's not a bad costume, but there are a few flaws. For one thing, what the hell is up with the disco collar with the arrow coming up behind it? Also, in a bizarre choice for the artist, we can tell that Smokescreen is clearly wearing a Speedo under that thing. Thanks, that's really what the anti-smoking comic needed.
(Cut to a shot of Smokescreen from the earlier version of the story, which looks even worse)
Linkara (v/o): Still, it's a considerably more dignified costume than the one from 1982. Yes, that's seriously what this guy looked like back then. At least somebody in this operation hired a fashion consultant.
(Cut back to the remake)
Linkara (v/o): Smokescreen decides they need to change their plans if heroes are following them.
Smokescreen: We can't take chances! Bret Jackson must throw the race!
Greasy thug in Hawaiian vest: Lose on purpose? Boss, he'll never go for it!
Smokescreen: You must convince them--or else!
Linkara: (as Smokescreen) Yes, let's throw the plan completely out the window after I easily knocked out a single superhero. (holds up his hand dramatically) I AM AN EVIL MASTERMIND!!
Linkara (v/o): So they go to Bret and tell him that if he throws the race, he can have a cut of the profits.
Bret: I won't do it--gambling is illegal, and I'm making the right decision!
Linkara: (as Bret, holding up cigarette) Yeah, gambling is illegal, and I would never do anything that was illegal! (puts cigarette in mouth and pretends to light it) What?
Linkara (v/o): Fortunately, Luke Cage and Spider-Man burst through a wall, surprisingly not shouting, "OH, YEAH!" Of course, these losers are easily dispatched by the two heroes.
Thug #1: We gotta run!
Thug #2: Run? Where to? Spider-Man's webbing is everywhere!
Linkara: (as thug, pretending to stand under something) Damn, if only we weren't standing directly underneath him!
Linkara (v/o): We later see them talking to Bret and Carol in Gradient Background Park. Carol admits it's her fault they got into this mess, but Bret refuses to accept that.
Bret: It was my own fool swelled-head...
Linkara (v/o): "Fool swelled-head"? The hell?
Bret: ...that got me into this! But none of that matters now! Somehow, in two days, I have to get shape to win the relay race!
Linkara: (smiles) Enjoy the bitter taste of failure, kid!
Linkara (v/o): Luke tells him not to over-train, or else he might wear himself out before the race. In the meantime, they need to search for Storm, because they apparently didn't think to actually look around the damn building for her after the fight scene.
Linkara: One panel training montage in three, two, one! (points to camera)
(The next panel shows Bret training and exercising and, more importantly, disposing of the cigarettes for good, all while, in the background, "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor plays in the background)
Narrator: For the next forty-eight hours, Bret drives himself as he never has-- becoming conscious of just how out-of-shape he really is!
Linkara (v/o): "Out-of-shape"? We've seen this guy in a track uniform! The Doom Marine wishes he had that physique! Anyway, the training consists of such useful exercises as... lifting dumbbells, because his arms are so necessary for running. And let's not forget the superb exercise of... eh, squatting... Okay... Oh, and the most important exercise, having a halo of light around your head like Jesus! On the day of the track meet, we see that Smokescreen is operating an illegal sports casino! Also, smoke is constantly pouring from his body. Uh, dude, I think you may have a bit of an oil-rich mixture in your costume there.
Smokescreen: Everything is going perfectly! When this caper is through, I'll have enough money to control the mob sports betting scene! And from there, anything is possible!
Linkara: Yes, the entire world of organized crime cowers in fear of mob sports betting!
Linkara (v/o): So, let me see if I get this straight: his plan is to rig high school sports so he can bet on them and somehow make enough money to buy the "mob sports betting scene"? You know, I can see gambling rings and bookie operations for professional sports, maybe even college sports, but of high school? And of all the sporting events? Track?! And this entire plan relied upon Bret getting hooked on cigarettes?
Linkara: You know, Smokescreen, there's this magical thing called (makes "finger quotes") "cocaine" that people are willing to pay tons and tons of money for. And in some people, it even gives superpowers.
Linkara (v/o): Meanwhile, in another room, Storm suddenly wakes up. Yes, she has seriously been unconscious for two days because of a bump on the head. I'll let that speak for itself. She manages to cleverly escape by... uh, walking out the door. Back at the race, Bret gets second place and is mopey about it. That's right, kids, even if you do manage to give up your addiction, you still can't achieve your dreams. Storm arrives at the scene.
Luke: Storm! We've been searching the whole city for you! What happened?
Linkara: Gee! Maybe if you, hmm, SEARCHED THE BUILDING, you might have found her, you morons!
Storm: I was captured by some villain called Smokescreen! He's the one who is really behind the whole gambling operation!
Linkara (v/o): How the hell does she know all of that?
Storm: He runs a secret gambling den under the amusement arcade and he's trying to buy control of the mobs!
Linkara (v/o): Ignoring the question of where she heard all of this, you're telling me that Smokescreen didn't even move the operations someplace else after those two goons were captured? You know, I didn't want to have to add another dumb plan to the list so soon, but frankly, Smokescreen's little operation warrants a spot. Anyway, the three heroes arrive at the scene and beat up the thugs. Spider-Man is the one to go after Smokescreen himself.
Spider-Man: Oh, I get it! I'm not supposed to see you! Unfortunately for you, I have my trusty Spider-Sense...
Linkara: Yes, Spidey, it's a good thing you have that! Otherwise, how could you tell that he was five feet in front of you, considering the smoke didn't obscure anything?
Spider-Man: Oh, and the reason I can breathe is because I'm wearing an oxygen filter under my mask--just like you!
Linkara: So, basically, Smokescreen's weakness is whether or not you can hold your breath for thirty seconds.
Linkara (v/o): So the crooks are arrested, and we cut to some people chastising Bret because he had the GALL to get second place! Bret acknowledges his failure as a human being and attributes it to smoking. Of course, no one bothers to say that it's okay to come in second place, but they all say that Bret has learned his lesson and deserves another. And so, our comic ends with a one-page mini-comic featuring some new kid at school named Brian being offered a cigarette, but he's conflicted about it. The reader is left to fill in the word bubble about whether he accepts it or not.
Linkara: (writing in word bubble in comic) "While I decline at this time, perhaps it would be better if you weren't smoking on the front steps of the school, where anyone can see you. Morons." (holds up comic) This comic, in its most recent form and its original form, suck!
Linkara (v/o): The villain is silly, stock, and one-dimensional. The moral lesson is about not smoking, but Bret only decides to quit after he learns the free cigarettes he was getting were from criminals. The heroes themselves are really blank slates. There was nothing truly unique they brought with their presences.
Linkara: As with a lot of PSAs, the intentions are good, but the execution leaves us not contemplative or fearful of the dangers, but rather laughing out loud at the results. (slams down comic, gets up and leaves)
Of all the plot holes they decided to fill, it was the "how does Spider-Man breathe while fighting Smokescreen" plot hole that they felt needed addressing... even though no one is ever shown having trouble breathing around him.
(Stinger: A shot of the panel where the crooks tell Bret to throw the race)
Linkara (v/o): (as Bret) Brooklyn rage!