Wednesday, February 10, 2016


I used to carry the trading card from this issue around in my wallet until I accidentally sent
it through the washer. I bet Mr.T is woefully disappointed in me now.

If you've been a comic fan of any note and have been on the internet for any reasonable amount of time, then you have already been made copiously aware of the presence of a comic starring 1980s television and film icon Mr.T -- and his T-Force, of course -- written and produced by Neal Adams and his Continuity Studios for NOW Comics, in the creator's inimitable style.

Well, I say "inimitable," but of course garden-variety schizophrenia and cocaine are plentiful in this great country of ours. We could probably recreate the script for any given Neal Adams comic with a dedicated weekend, a word processor, and a hotel room no one will ever be able to set foot in again without a hazmat suit.

Still, the comic in question is the topic of no end of internet "Worst Comics Ever Published" lists, or "Weirdest Comics Ever Published," or "Celebrity Comics You Won't Believe Were Actually Published," or "Most Valuable Pokemon," if the list in question had been abysmally researched.

What you might not know about Mr.T and His T-Force, however, is that it ran more than the single issue so often referenced in laugh-packed listicles (as many as fourteen issues, possibly, according to some sources, which is a weirdly ambiguous piece of data considering the nitpickery of comic collecting fandom. I say it's only ten issues, because that's all I've ever found). More than that, Neal Adams and his signature style of free-association banter and hyperactive scripting only hung around for two issues. Afterwards, writing was handled by vets Mike Baron and Chuck Dixon (and "Aubrey Singer," a writer of whom I'm ashamed to admit I'd never heard of before) and moreso -- brace yourselves -- they actually did a really good job with it. There's no reason that Mr.T and His T-Force should have been even a remotely readable comic ... but it was.

Like most anti-drug comics, the main failing of this book is that it makes drugs seem way cooler than they really are.
It's certainly not a book that has a lot to offer anyone old enough to rent a car, mind you. It's definitely intended for Young Adult audiences, but it's a solid read for those kids. After the first two issues, I suppose.

Mr.T debuts in the pages of his eponymous book duking it out with drug dealers, which is pretty much what you can expect a black protagonist to do in a comic book a solid ninety percent of the time. Comics might have a representation problem, as it were. In any case, T has more on his mind than slugging 'slingers -- for one thing, he's armed with the most heavily-loaded video camera on the market. Apparently engineered to look like a crazy gun, it's actually just a straight-up cassette recorder with which he documents the misdeeds of the criminals he encounters.

T also recruits troubled youngsters for his T-Force, which is refreshing because I thought his T-Force was going to turn out to be a greasy area on his forehead and nose, or possibly the spot where old, stretcher-out boxer briefs get bunched up between your ass and crotch. Nope, the T-Force is basically a boys and girls club situation, not a white cloth clusterfuck around the taint, I'm happy to reiterate.

The first breathless adventure establishes T as a two-fisted social worker tackling the city's drug problem one gold-plated knuckle punch at a time. He ends up facing an absurd cabal and a fourteen-foot tall Colombian named The Incan who either has a hand replaced with a gun or just a gun you hold like you're gutting a Thanksgiving turkey. He's got his hand so far up that gun, it's basically a Muppet.

I suspect you really would be the laughingstock of the department if you called in anything on Mr.T.
I hope the power doesn't go to his head.
Adams ends his association with Mr.T by having him convert the Incan to nicety and disrupt the drug scene, which leaves not much for Baron, et al. Not known as a writer whose portrayals of race one would reflexively refer to as particularly "sensitive," putting Baron on a book with a black lead had a lot of potential for mishap. Instead, he's abandoned most of his pop culture, martial arts and jazz and regional references, and concentrated instead on Mr.T as a troubleshooter and a role model. If the book under Baron has any particular close relation, it's his work on The Flash, a character-driven drama about how the individual interacts with responsibility.

Even one tricky scene turns out to be the series' most appealing -- when Mr.T is hassled by the fuzz for being "a black man casing a mansion with binoculars," the situation resolves peaceably with the cops iterating their respect for the prominent social activist and Mr.T acknowledging how unsettling his appearance and behavior might appear to passers-by (why the cops have to run Mister T's license to know who he is, that's a question for another time).

Respect -- both for the main character, and for the subordinate members of the cast -- seems to be the central component of the book, a trait which Dixon in particular continued during his run. More PSA than straight adventure, Mr.T and His T-Force is a surprisingly enjoyable read, for the right audience. Whether it deserves its weirdo rep is another question -- the answer to which is "despite everything, yes," because when is anything involving Mr.T fighting crime in the streets not going to be at least a little absurd?

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