Friday, November 27, 2015


I'd like to wrap up my year-long obsession with superhero-themed funny animal comics of the 1980s by putting a final bow on my long-standing love affair with Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew. It was through Captain Carrot that I not only developed a taste for anthropomorphic superheroes - and which was the lesser benefit of the book, comparatively speaking - but that I learned about so many of DC's classic funny animal characters (and, through them, some of the most underrated work of some of DC's greatest artists and writers).

There was an entirely distinct approach to funny animal comics, particularly in the regimented DC line of stories published from the Forties through the Fifties, than the superhero titles which dominated the market in my younger days. Finding myself educated, while still a tyke, on the distinctions of craft between genres was a valuable education into the splendor of the American comic book form. This is what I personally owe Captain Carrot.

Still, it pays to remember that Captain Carrot was, as it were, corny as a motherfucker. Part of the appeal was the juvenile delight to be had in the dumb puns, the obvious gags, and the drawn-out punchlines. Not the least among these were the villains - drawn sometimes from comics history and other times made out of whole cloth.

Captain Carrot entertained a surprisingly large and diverse roster of villains which I don't believe any other team book ever challenged in terms of raw numbers. A year of Avengers, X-Men, Justice League or Teen Titans wouldn't turn out even half as many new villains as a given year of Captain Carrot's book (solo stories featuring the individual teammates helped the numbers, to be sure). If just for the puns, many of them - Cold Turkey, Armordillo, Wuz-Wolf - stand out as memorable, but here are five in particular that absolutely tickled me:

For better or worse, Captain Carrot embraced the funny animal history of DC Comics. Characters like the Three Mouseketeers and the Terrific Whatsit made cameo or guest appearances, and - of course - Zoo Crew member Pig Iron was intended to be former DC staple character and light Pogo-ripoff Peter Porkchops. By way of continuing the trend, long-running comedy regulars Dunbar Dodo and J.Fenimore Frog were reintroduced as, respectively, a cruise ship captain and a giant boat-wrecking frog monster.

Transformed by the villainous agency A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C., Fenimore Frog is transformed into a boat-wrecking brobdingnag, spoiling an okay Love Boat parody in the middle of its momentum. Frogzilla ends up being one of the few villains to make a second appearance in Captain Carrot, although the spectacle had worn off, particularly with Peter Porkchops' former tormentor Wolfie having returned as Wuz-Wolf in the interim. Still, at first sight, it was a shocker.

Jailhouse Roc
If you're picking your Zoo Crew crooks from the pun-based roster alone, there may be slightly better ones than Jailhouse Roc, but I don't know that there was one which married the visual with the gag as entertainingly. The pompadour alone is worth the price of admission.

The Egg From Space
The Zoo Crew had confronted Justice League villain Starro the Conqueror in their very first appearance and, as is practically required by comic book law, recreated the iconic image of the newly-formed JLA attacking the five-armed beast. A few issues later, they reprised the shot with their own version of the sinister Silver Age alien - an all-consuming outer space egg.

As part of a Raiders of the Lost Ark parody with a heavy Alfred Bester sci-fi vibe involving egg-hiding alien rabbits, the world-conquering yolk monster was only the introduction to the larger menace. It does raise interesting questions about the uses of eggs in Captain Carrot's world - apparently the unfertilized ones are considered valid foodstuffs. Wrap your head around that one, it's like if babies came delivered in McDonalds bags.

Debbil Dog
As a precocious kid, I recall being doubly delighted in the reference heavy debut of Salvador Doggi, aka Debbil Dog, as part of a focus on Alley-Kat-Abra. Moreso than recasting Dali as a malevolent chihuahua with access to infernal powers (and his bristle-tipped trident, the "Brush With Disaster"), it also introduced the concept of Statanic worship in the funny animal universe under the watchful eye of Hampton LaVey. That's a double-obscure reference for young nerds desperate to lord it over the mundanes!

Captain Carrot may have been the most unlikely title to try their hand at a Frank Miller parody, despite the fact that practically every comic at the time was pulling off a noir and ninjas parody. To Cap's benefit, it excised the freaking ninjas for once and decided to cast their obvious Kingpin nod (who, thanks to a cybernetic "cat o' nine tails" was also a bit of a Doctor Octopus type) with a bit of James Bond villain instead. Still, it proved that Scott Shaw (!) had a bit of zipatone in his veins, turning out some solid visuals that mimicked a bit of Miller and reflected some of the teen hero angst perfected over in Wolfman's and Perez's New Teen Titans title at the same time ...

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