In previous entries, I’ve expressed a somewhat still-simmering affection for anthropomorphic superhero comics, a medium of which I wouldn’t have considered myself a big fan in the abstract. Whether it’s nostalgia that has rekindled my interest in books like Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew and Peter Porker, Spider-Ham, or merely a desperate desire to see a superhero comic try something to distinguish itself from the indifferent repetition dominating the vast majority of the weekly racks, I couldn’t really say.
What I can say, with some confidence, is that when I talk about how much I’d like to see a few funny animal crimefighters back on the roster, I absolutely do not mean in any fashion that I ever want to see The Power Pachyderms come back again … except on fire.
It’s hard to rationalize so much of the “comedic” content which came out of Marvel Comics in the Eighties, considering they had been the home of Not Brand Ecch (a book which admittedly owed a lot to MAD Magazine’s previously extant superhero parodies) and that they had Kyle Baker on payroll at the time. Not that they were flowing over at the brim – between What Th-!? and Slapstick, that was the majority of the straight-for-laffs content of the company for a solid decade following the demise of Crazy (which was, you know, a little bit hit-and-miss itself).
|This book cost $1.25. In 1989 money.
Still, 1989 brought the world Power Pachyderms, a half-swipe of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles combined with an X-Men parody and brought to life by noted humorist Roger Stern, a man whose surname alone is a synonym for “stark and humorless.”
The book is a confusing mish-mash of apparent gags – although, to be honest, it was primarily an amalgamation of pop culture references liberated from context, poorly executed sight gags which counted their origins around turn of the century slapstick and black-and-white movie shorts, and the anticipated (but unrealized) frisson of characters breaking the fourth wall. I’ve never felt that the gimmick of having a character in a comic being aware of being in a comic to be enough of a joke on its own, but right there is where me and Power Pachyderms must apparently agree to disagree.
Although the title “Power Pachyderms” is a play on the company’s pre-adolescent cosmic dogooders Power Pack, the four members of the Pachyderms are anthropomorphic riffs on popular X-Man Wolverine, his distinctly less popular partners Cyclops and Colossus, and Daredevil’s femme fatale Elektra. Why they didn’t commit to doing all X-Men, or replacing their Cyclops analogue (Trunkclops, by the way, feel free to never laugh again) with a Daredevil equivalent, since he and “Elektralux” (there’s no joke there, keep walking) are romantically involved, I dunno. Could they not think of an elephant-related pun for Daredevil? Eardevil. Daredevilphant. There’s two, they suck, but they’re about right for this book…
In addition to mashing up the X-Men, Power Pack and Daredevil franchises, the origin of the Pachyderms is a Hulk riff as a circus train is bombarded by radiation, mutating the elephants. This origin takes three pages and nothing funny happens, which is also true of many police departments’ booking documents.
Since this is a partially a TMNT parody – somehow – the Pachyderms also have to develop martial arts skills, which they do by meeting up with four wise monks living on top of some mountain, and who are all versions of the Three Stooges. Again, this is comedy that predated the audience by half a century, so it’s a longshot, PLUS they had both Shemp AND Curly in the quartet, which we all know basic physics tell us is impossible. If Curly and Shemp were to simultaneously exist in the same space, it would result in an explosion which would destroy all life on Joe Besser.
|No thank you.
(The self-aware gags get a real work-out in this segment, with no fewer than three jokes about characters reading from the book’s script. “Rumbo,” their Wolverine parody, will continue to hit this gong about every two pages throughout the rest of the book, possibly in an attempt to mirror Groucho Marx’s “strange interludes,” I suppose)
The aged routines are one thing, the toothless parody is another, but the worst part of the book may be that THY KEEP PUTTING THE LADY ELEPHANT INTO SEXY POSES. I’m not here to judge, but if a peach-colored, putty-limbed elephant with tits strutting sexy over the joint or hopping around naked in the shower is your cup of tea, more power to you. I’m impressed that you can maintain an interest in what you consider “sex.”
Whatever rails there were by the beginning of the book, the story flies completely off of them by the climax. “Clarinetto,” leader of the “Brotherhood of Evil Musicians” (and a neo-nazi, for some reason) appears as the book’s primary bad guy. Having milked nothing out of a superhero parody, Power Pachyderms begins to suck dust from the withered teat of pop music satire. Lampooning Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Prince and Madonna via translucently insubstantial lookalikes, the Pachyderms are swerved off course into a second-level satire.
So when Electralux falls into a vat of radioactive makeup in the bottom of an evil music academy, there’s really nowhere further down they can go. She becomes a Dark Phoenix parody called “Rogue Elephant,” which appears to be the single dumb gag the entire book is predicated upon.
There’s a conclusion to the story, but it’s barely worth mentioning. This is also what I’d say about Power Pachyderms itself except that this is the second time I’ve written about this book and I just popped out nearly a thousand words about it. Either I need therapy or death will be a welcome alternative, whichever.