Superman and Wonder Woman: Tandy Computer Whiz Kids
March 7, 2011
The Whiz Kids are back and they're as boring and dorky as ever! ...Yeah, it's bad.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. (massages his temples in resignation) Oh, my Lord, we're talking about the Tandy Computer Whiz Kids again.
(Cut to a closeup of the comic of review for today)
Linkara (v/o): Well, okay, let me be accurate. These are the TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids, named after the computer of the same model.
(Cut to a montage of shots of a previous comic that Linkara reviewed called "Tandy Computer Whiz Kids: Fit to Win")
Linkara (v/o): Last June, I reviewed "The Tandy Computer Whiz Kids: Fit to Win". The Whiz Kids are a promotional gimmick in comics produced by Tandy Computers to sell their junk at Radio Shack. Said kids were either horrifying Children of the Damned or plants put in by the school itself. These were elementary school students obsessed with physical fitness and their careers in the future. These weren't just dorks; these were the kids that the nerds picked on as being too much. And hell, for a comic that was trying to make us interested in them, they didn't do anything! The most drama they could wring out of the whole thing was a generic PSA for drug and alcohol use, while the more interesting story involving some sort of illicit material – I don't remember us being told what the criminals were smuggling – was solved by Duke Nukem. Oh, the kids apparently had meager suspicions, and they somehow contributed to the resolution, but it's so minor and contrived that I still remain shocked that they got medals for it.
(Cut back to shots of the new comic, which features Superman for some reason)
Linkara (v/o): With all that said, naturally, we need actual heroes to do work in these comics; hence, why there are a few of these Whiz Kids comics that actually feature Superman and Wonder Woman. And that's why we're here today.
Linkara: So let's dig into Superman and Wonder Woman (quickly) and the TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids (normal again) in (holds up today's comic; dramatically) "The Computer Masters of Metropolis"!
(AT4W title sequence plays; title card has "Obsession" by Animotion playing over it; cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): This cover is actually pretty decent, but like so many covers lately, it's crammed. If it was just the scene itself, it'd be fine, but because they had to fit both logos and a big ol' "Compliments of Radio Shack" sign and the Whiz Kids' heads... Yeah, once again, the two who are supposed to be the main characters just get their heads shoved into the cover... and the title of the comic next to what I presume to be a TRS-80. Lex Luthor's goofy purple and green outfit probably deserves an explanation, too.
(Cut to a shot of Luthor in a panel of "Crisis On Infinite Earths")
Linkara (v/o): See, more casual fans may be used to the idea of Lex Luthor being a Machiavellian businessman with delusions of grandeur. However, before "Crisis On Infinite Earths" revamped the DC Universe in 1985...
(Cut to an earlier image of Luthor in the purple and green outfit Linkara mentioned earlier)
Linkara (v/o): ...Luthor was actually a more traditional mad scientist supervillain. The writers these days seem to go back and forth on it, but I think, as of this video, he's a businessman again. It's hard to keep track sometimes.
(Cut to the first page of the TRS-80 comic)
Linkara (v/o): We open to the Whiz Kids observing Superman and Wonder Woman flying down towards a train that has derailed. A few thoughts spring to mind with this image: first, that actually the two aren't even in the same room together. They're just talking to each other, despite no phone or communications device. Secondly, despite the fact that the kids are using friggin' TRS-80s, they apparently have a huge-ass monitor that can observe these events live and with little or no delay in transmission. Why do I say that about the delay? Because otherwise their dialogue would make no sense.
Alec: Ready, Shanna? My TRS-80 computer has come up with the information Superman and Wonder Woman need to save the World's Fair from being destroyed!
Shanna: Ready, Alec! I'm all set to transmit the data to the Fair's computer center!
Linkara: In the time it took for you two to say that, the train has crashed through three buildings and has killed a few hundred people. Smooth.
Linkara (v/o): Turns out that this is just that teaser page you sometimes get, alluding to things that will be occurring. As such, we truly open to the Children of the Damned class from our last Whiz Kids comic. As the kids get seated, Ms. Wilson says that they're going to get started on their math lessons.
Alec: I can wait, Ms. Wilson.
Linkara: Huh, I guess the initial excitement over the "Fit To Win" club has finally worn off.
Shanna: He's just kidding, Ms. Wilson!
Linkara: Well, of course he is. The two are paid to pretend that they actually give a crap about school.
Shanna: But if we're going to have a math lesson, where are the workbooks?
Ms. Wilson: We won't be needing workbooks today, Shanna-- thanks to this, our brand new Network 3 Controller!
Alec: Oh boy! Sounds like we're going to be on network TV!
Linkara: (sarcastically) Oh, boy! That didn't sound stupid and forced at all!
Ms. Wilson: Even better than that, Alec! Let me explain... The Network 3 Controller allows me to connect up to 16 student stations--in this case, our TRS-80 color computers--to my color computer, which has a "host" disc drive.
Linkara: If this turns into a Doom LAN party, I will take back every negative thing I ever said about this series.
Ms. Wilson: Also, Network 3 permits each student station to save and load programs directly to and from the "host" including access to the host printer.
Linkara: (as Ms. Wilson) Meaning you can all access my computer and get all the test answers ahead of time! (smiles, then frowns) I suddenly realize why they never installed this thing until now.
Linkara (v/o): She also says that if they finish early, she's arranged a surprise for them all.
Narrator: And so, for the next hour, there is silence in the classroom as the sixth-graders apply themselves to the task at hand...
Linkara: (as one student, pretending to type on a computer) "This teacher. LOL. What a noob!" (as another student, also pretending to type) "Right on! I've already coded two operating systems while she's been blabbering about math." (as the first student) Really? I was just playing Number Munchers."
Narrator: ...and for that time, even Alec is speechless as his TRS-80 poses problem after problem for him to solve, faster than he ever thought possible.
Linkara: (as Alec, pretending to type on his computer) Wow! We could have just done this on paper and saved the school thousands of dollars, but this is faster somehow!
Linkara (v/o): I mean, yeah, you can see why they do this kind of thing on computers, because... uh... it's in color?
Ms. Wilson: Excellent, class. Our first encounter with the Network 3 was quite a success! You did marvelously--but then, by now, you're all old pros with the TRS-80, aren't you?
Linkara (v/o): So, if they didn't have some kind of networking device before, how the hell did they print off stuff from their computers?
Alec: Right! It sure beats using a pencil and paper, that's for sure.
Linkara: (as Alec) Now we have whole new ways to develop carpal tunnel syndrome!
Linkara (v/o): The kids want to know what their surprise is, and it turns out to be... Wonder Woman! So... wait, Wonder Woman was just standing in the hallway for the last hour?
Alec: First we get visits from Superman and Supergirl-- and now you! We're beginning to look like a regular super-hero [sic] convention hall around here!
Linkara: Which raises the question of what the hell makes these little narcs worthy of so many superheroes. Aren't there, like, thousands of classrooms and schools the world over that would pay millions to have them make even a single appearance at their schools?
Linkara (v/o): Hell, we never even get a real reason why she's here. All she does is tell that she's bringing them on a field trip to the Metropolis World's Fair to see the computer and electronics technology. Why she is the one to do this has never explained at all. We cut to the fair itself, where Superman is being given a tour.
Fair official: As you know, the theme of this fair is to celebrate the advancements of science and technology in the 1980's!
Linkara: (as fair official) Why, just look at the advancements in music technology!
(Cut to a clip of the music video for Animotion's "Obsession", then cut back to the comic)
Fair official: On display here are most of the state-of-the-art models of practically everything you could name... from cars to space-craft... From TV sets to holograms--
Linkara: (as fair official, holding up a Nintendo Entertainment System) Here, we have a Nintendo Entertainment System, but we don't think it'll catch on.
Linkara (v/o): An official for the fair and Superman are talking about how Lex Luthor has threatened to disrupt the fair unless he's paid a ransom of one billion dollars. Superman says it's good they called him in, since Luthor is probably more than the security they have can handle.
Superman: Did Luthor give any clue as to why he'd want to do this?
Linkara: He's evil and greedy? (shrugs)
Fair official: He says he's doing it out of revenge for the fair's not accepting his work to appear on display! Luthor says that since he's the greatest scientific mind in the world-- it would only be fitting that his technological creations be given prime exhibition space here! Naturally, we refused him! This fair will not glorify that criminal maniac's ego!
Linkara: (as Luthor) WHAT?! A single world's fair refuses to put on an exhibition of my scientific discoveries?! How dare they! I'm going to ransom them for a billion dollars and kill them all if they refuse, as opposed to simply patenting my wonderful technologies and making BILLIONS!
Linkara (v/o): Yeah, I think this is a prime example of why the writers decided making Luthor an evil business genius made more sense than keeping him as a mad scientist. Quite frankly, being a supervillain with this much intelligence and ability is just... dumb. It seems that Luthor is ready for Superman, though, since he's built an underground facility beneath the fair that allows him to monitor things above him. Back at the class, the dork twins are talking to their teacher and Wonder Woman.
Ms. Wilson: After we get back to class... Wonder Woman is going to tell us more about little computers and what they can do.
Linkara: (making a "finger quote") "Little" computers? Is it seriously what they called personal computers back then?
Alec: Oh yeah? And what more can Ms. Expert tell us?
Linkara: (as Alec, pointing) We're the Tandy Computer Whiz Kids, lady! (snaps fingers) Don't patronize us!
Linkara (v/o): This raises more questions, of course, first of all being why Alec is suddenly being a rude little dickweed to a freaking superheroine. Secondly, I've got to say, I'm not really joking all that much. These two little dweebs are already experts in all this computer technology... unless they somehow forget this knowledge at the end of each issue, which would probably go a lot to explain why they always seem mystified by this technology. Wonder Woman says that in her secret identity, she works with computers all the time. Even Alec recognizes how dumb it is to talk about her secret identity, but she says that that detail isn't enough since millions of people work with computers on a daily basis.
Wonder Woman: (narrating) A single computer can do the job of bookkeeping, inventory, and payroll faster and more efficiently than a whole army of bookkeepers!
Linkara: (as Wonder Woman) Putting thousands of people out of work! (beat) Wait...
Linkara (v/o): She brings up the space program as well and how computers are used there, both with manned and unmanned flight. Shanna even brings up the space shuttle specifically.
Wonder Woman: Right you are, Shanna! But we've got to get on the bus that's waiting outside!
Linkara (v/o): Wait, what?! Just a few panels ago, the teacher said they had to get back to class! And if they went back to class, why? Wonder Woman's little spiel about computer uses probably took two minutes tops, and now they're having a field trip? For that matter, don't you need permission slips to go on field trips? Since when can you just spontaneously decide to go somewhere? The kids go to a train station so they can take the train to the fair.
Alec: Wow! Will you look at this train! It's... incredible!
Linkara: Why? Is it because it's painted red? Is it because there's no graffiti on it? (shrugs)
Wonder Woman: This is a new high-speed computer train, designed to run at over one hundred miles an hour! Imagine trying that with a whole fleet of these trains-- all moving along at those speeds with only people to keep track of which trains are where and the complicated switching problems! Without computerized controls, the railroad people wouldn't be able to react fast enough to keep up with all these trains and troubles that might arise!
Linkara: That makes it sound like the computer alone is what's managing a bunch of high-speed trains, and I've got to say that that is insane and it's not how it works in real life!
Linkara (v/o): Most high-speed trains are done from city to city, which this comic seems to get right, since the fair is happening ten miles outside of Metropolis, though that does raise a number of questions. But this comic implies that there isn't a human operator at the train, nor are there humans managing the trains. Computers aren't fallible; they can malfunction, they lack human instinct to determine if there's a problem, and frankly, it's just safer to have an actual human being to drive the things. And frankly, I'd be especially worried if this was being done in the way they're describing. Trains moving at a hundred miles an hour and having to switch tracks at those speeds?! They do realize that the trains have to slow down, right?! They don't just jump from zero to one hundred in a snap. The speed changes depend on several factors, like weather or if they're approaching the station.
(Cut to a clip of a video showing an engineering operating a computerized bullet train in Japan)
Linkara (v/o): It's true that there are onboard computer systems for trains, like the Japanese Shinkansen rail network, but they still have human operators, and most of those computer systems are just there to ensure that the trains follow rail laws and procedures, not actually driving the damn things!
Linkara: Where am I going with all of this? In a comic that's supposed to be really smart and educational, it's in fact completely idiotic and spreads lies!
Linkara (v/o): Dear Lord, we're not even at the halfway point! Anyway, they arrive at the fair.
Alec: Man--what a train station!
Linkara: (as Alec) Wow! (points to something) Look at that impressive hobo! (normal, irritable) Kids, stop being impressed by everything!
Linkara (v/o): So the kids start walking through the fair, naturally being amazed at every garbage can they pass. Wonder Woman also apparently moonlights as a tour guide when she isn't dealing with the invasion of her people using deadly bee weapons...
(Cut to the obligatory panel showing Batman in "Amazons Attack")
Batman: Bees. My God.
(Back to this comic)
Linkara (v/o): ...since now she's the one leading them around.
Wonder Woman: Computers had their beginnings in the United States when the world's first all-electronic unit was completed in the fall of 1948*.
- NOTE: It's actually 1945, as the comic itself shows.
Linkara: (massaging his temples in frustration) Ugh! I am not getting into that crap again! Just see the comments on my last Whiz Kids comic or my top 15 screw-ups. Either way, I'm almost dead certain that is a bold-faced lie!
Linkara (v/o): What follows is more explanation on the technical side of computers for several pages. It is incredibly dull and just makes you start wondering why you aren't playing an old-style computer game instead of reading a history and technical lesson. These are elementary school students! What are they doing here? They want to play games, not know how all the hardware fits together. And again, these are the TRS-80 Whiz Kids! They should know all this already! Finally, we get to the product placement, the entire point of these things, where Wonder Woman explains about the TRS-80 – by bringing them to a giant mock-up for a TRS-80 Model 3.
Linkara: Or maybe we're just seeing the worst sequel ever: Honey, I Shrunk Wonder Woman and the TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids. (beat) Or possibly the greatest sequel ever.
Linkara (v/o): Meanwhile, the comic remembers that there's an actual plot, and we see Superman flying over the fair in search of Luthor. He spots Wonder Woman and the Whiz Kids and goes down to them.
Alec: Gosh, Superman, what brings you to the fair?
Superman: An important mission, Alec... And it's keeping me very busy!
Linkara: (as Superman) So quit bugging me, you little twerp!
Linkara (v/o): Superman explains the situation to Wonder Woman, and she says she'll be around if he needs her before he flies off. Wondy says it's time for the kids to head back to the bus.
Linkara: (pointing to camera) Hey, don't discount the school kids and their teacher from the action! After all, if there's an OfficeMax nearby, they'll be better equipped to fight supervillains than an army!
Linkara (v/o): Luthor contacts the fair official again, repeating his demands, but the official says there's no chance of them budging, and that Superman is defending them now. Luthor laughs this off, saying that when he's done with Superman, he'll be out of the way.
Linkara: Luthor's a big believer in "If at first you don't succeed the first 4,000 times, try, try, try again."
Linkara (v/o): Back at the school, Wonder Woman continues to yap on about computers.
Wonder Woman: By the way, do you know that your TRS-80 color computer can be used to learn about the history of technology?
Linkara: (as a student) Hey, I have a question, Wonder Woman. (as Wonder Woman) Yes, young man? (as the student) Does the existence of the Greek pantheon in your origin as well as the ongoing protection of the Amazons mean that all other religions are false? (Linkara as Wonder Woman stares, utterly dumbfounded; as student again) What? (as Wonder Woman again) So anyway, the TRS-80 computers can be linked up...
Linkara (v/o): No, of course not. Why would we want a theological and philosophical discussion – admittedly, among sixth-graders, but I'm reaching for anything here – when instead we could have Wonder Woman continue to talk about the computer?
Shanna: You mean we could actually see pictures about that on the screen... in color?
Linkara: "In color"?! What spore of new madness is this?!
Linkara (v/o): Just read a friggin' book, kid! The picture quality in a book is going to be considerably better than anything on a display on the computers of the time! Settle in, people; three whole pages of Alec, Shanna and Wonder Woman plugging in a whole bunch of other products, especially with the use of a modem and a telephone.
Linkara: And in a mere nine hours, they're finally online!
Linkara (v/o): They talk about how to get online, through an information service using the phone line.
Alec: I'm typing in our I.D. number and "password"...but the password is a secret, so it doesn't appear on the screen!
Linkara: You just know that his password is "password".
Linkara (v/o): And again, they show how computers can be used exactly how we use the Internet today, from getting news reports to weather reports, access to libraries and blah, blah, blah, let's move on. The bell rings, and everyone finally says farewell to Wonder Woman.
Alec: I can hardly wait to get home and try out a few of the things we learned today on my TRS-80!
Linkara: Okay, first, don't you first have to buy all the extraneous hardware before you can do all that? Or do you already own all of it? And if you already owned all of it, why didn't you know how to use it beforehand or recognize anything?!
Shanna: Me too! Hey... Why don't we "meet" later for a game of chess... with our computers!
Linkara: Yeah, because playing chess with a real board would just be lame.
Linkara (v/o): We finally get back to the superhero stuff. Luthor appears to Superman and goads him into chasing him through the air, since Luthor is equipped with rocket boots, meaning that this comic's fake science is already more interesting than its real science. Luthor leads Superman to an auditorium and right into a trap, somehow converting the lights in the building to send out red sunlight. It immediately drains him of his powers and leaves him helpless. Luthor escapes and seals the building shut. Superman's not completely done, though, and first examines the door to see if he can force it open. He sees that it's wired to explode if he tries to get it open. He then thinks that even if he did get out, he doesn't know where Luthor is going to attack. Maybe worry about one problem at a time? Luthor, being a criminal genius who can wire an auditorium to explode and replace the lighting on the auditorium to emit a certain kind of solar radiation, apparently didn't think to CUT THE PHONE LINES. Superman tries to call the Daily Planet in an attempt to discover where Luthor will strike, instead of calling, say, the bomb squad of the police to get him out. But he knows another way to use the phone to get information...
Superman: Alec and his TRS-80 color computer!
Linkara: (as Superman, pretending to talk on a phone, using his pinkie and thumb) Huh, line's busy. Oh, well, I'm sure it's something important and not that he's playing chess or anything.
Linkara (v/o): We cut to Alec playing chess. Somehow, Superman gets through to him on the phone and tells him to call Shanna and have her contact Wonder Woman. Wait, how the hell did Shanna get Wonder Woman's private line?
Alec: (thinking) Gosh, it's a good thing my parents have a subscription from an information retrieval service!
Linkara: (leaning in close to the camera with a threatening look on his face, pointing at camera) BUY IT NOW, OR SUPERMAN DIES!!
Linkara (v/o): To make a long story short – too late – she gets in touch with Wonder Woman, who in turn flies off to the auditorium to get him.
Wonder Woman: (thinking) And since I can't go charging in to save him without the risk of setting off the explosives Luthor has planted around the building-- I'll just have to move the planetarium!
(Linkara stares in open-mouthed shocked, his eye twitching)
Linkara: (looking offscreen) Captain Picard, do you want to field this one?
(Cut to a clip of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, who covers his face with both of his hands; cut back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Yeah, just move the entire friggin' building, Wondy! This was obviously easier than just crashing through it at super-speeds, grabbing Superman, and flying out before it explodes. Or, you know, waiting until Luthor is dealt with. No, I'm sure hurling the entire building around like that will do wonders for Superman while he's still inside of it and untethered to anything soft. And then, all of a sudden... Superman is flying up to her? What in the holy hell just happened?! The auditorium just some big dome that Superman had to crawl out from under once Wonder Woman lifted it up?! I am flabbergasted at what just occurred!! Anyway, they disarm the explosives, plant the building back down – no harm done, because physics is just one of those things we can pretend doesn't exist when we need to – and the two fly off to deal with Luthor. And how do they deal with him? By tying him up with the Lasso of Truth. That's it! He's disabled. Oh, yeah, they take his super science gloves, too; it's just that easy. Hey, whatever gets this thing done. And so, our comic ends with Superman and Wonder Woman being given a key to the World's Fair.
Linkara: I... guess they just have to share it. That's nice.
Wonder Woman: We couldn't have done it-- without the help of our friends here... Alec and Shanna!
Alec: Gosh, Wonder Woman... we didn't do a thing that anybody couldn't do with the help of a TRS-80 Color Computer!
Linkara: Oh, that's right! You're not special at all! (calling out offscreen) Take the key back!
Wonder Woman: We're a team, aren't we? To defeat Luthor, it took the combined efforts of a Super-Man, a Wonder Woman, a TRS-80 Color Computer-- and the computer masters of Metropolis!
Linkara: (overlord voice) BOW DOWN BEFORE US, PUNY MORTALS! WE ARE THE COMPUTER MASTERS OF METROPOLIS! (laughs evilly, then holds up comic) This comic sucks.
Linkara (v/o): I mean, wow. The only reason I'm not saying this boring, ludicrous piece of crap isn't worse than the "Fit to Win" comic is because it's drawn by the late Curt Swan, one of the defining Superman artists of all time. His work was wasted here. But hey, a paycheck is a paycheck, I guess.
Linkara: And don't worry, I know all about all the other Tandy Computer Whiz Kids comics, and we'll be sure to enter that insanity in tedium again someday. (throws down comic, gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
Maybe it's just where I grew up, but I was under the impression sixth grade happened for Middle School/Junior High. Why are sixth graders considered to be in elementary school?
Liz theorizes that the "Fit to Win" comic actually displays a fascistic society of adherence to the State and being rewarded for turning in any "suspicious" individuals.
(Stinger: The comic's cover is shown again)
Linkara (v/o): So what the hell happened to that jumbo-tron and the derailing from the beginning?