Friday, January 25, 2013

Fourth World Fridays: Mister Miracle #6--"Funky Flashman!"

Funky Flashman, as we will learn on the first page, is a con artist, swindler, and all-round self-interested douchebag. As the caption informs us, he “preys on all things like a cannibal!! –Including you!!!” Well, by definition a cannibal would have to. Anyway, Funky, who bears an odd resemblance to Bob Hope in a couple of panels, lives in the crumbling antebellum mansion known as Mockingbird Estates. Somehow, he managed to get himself named Colonel Mockingbird’s heir apparent, but the deal came with strings attached: rather than gaining immediate access to a fat trust fund, Funky gets a weekly allowance, doled out in a very strange manner: every week, the hideous bust of the Colonel makes a loud “BAAAAW!” sound and the mouth flips open to reveal a small wad of bills.

Kirby, rather insanely, refers to this process as “waiting for Godot”. Yes, seriously. OK, listen, Stan Lee obviously had great success writing hip, Beat-influenced, pop-culture-referencing heroes, and, as I’ve mentioned, it’s natural enough that Kirby would want to try and imitate his most well-known collaborator. But Kirby really, really wasn’t suited to this, and the results aren’t just clunky, they actively make you fear for the man’s sanity. If Lee sometimes seemed hilariously square in his attempts to write “with-it” dialogue, Kirby comes off as borderline senile. I mean, “Waiting for Godot”? How pathetic is that name-drop, even in 1972?

OK, OK. Moving on. Funky and his fawning manservant Houseroy—yes, Houseroy--have an exposition-laden conversation about his plans to pull another con in order to shore up their measly funds. Their mark, of course, is Mister Miracle, who they’ve learned about from the performance he gave at an orphanage fundraiser.

…Wait, wait, wait. Mister Miracle? Performing his act in public, for an audience? And this happened off-panel?!? Surely this momentous occasion could have warranted a panel or two! But then, the whole thrust of this story seems to suggest that Kirby realized that the logistics of Mr. M’s act may have been a bit lacking. More on that in a moment. Although I am interested to know, given the nature of Mr. M’s stunts, how many orphans were killed during that performance.

Anyway, Funky slaps on a fake hairpiece and beard, all the while engaging in extremely, um, flamboyant dialogue. Houseroy says that he thinks Scott Free will prove “quite edible!!” and Funky calls him “Sweetie”. I have to wonder if Kirby wasn’t slipping in a whole other subtext on top of making him, you know, a two-faced conniver.

Meanwhile, it’s time for our standard Mr. Miracle opening splash—Mr. M in the clutches of some ludicrously awesome mechanical deathtrap that he’ll escape from once, let it destroy itself, and then never use again! This time he’s shackled into a crazy-looking rocket sled—it even says “NASA proving ground” on it—on a track that ends on a sheer cliff. The sled takes off in a blast of Kirby Krackle, and, with nanoseconds to spare, Scott…


Huh. The rocket sled had an ejector seat, complete with parachutes. I don’t know whether that’s shrewd or cowardly on Scott’s part. Oh, sure, he had to get out of the shackles in time to hit the eject button, but still. Do real super escape artists need parachutes?

Anyway, after the standard, “Oh God, he’s dead, those crazy contraptions finally killed him! Buh—WHA?!? You’re alive!” reaction from Oberon, Scott mentions that he thinks the crowds will enjoy this stunt…which broaches that taboo subject of money. “You’ve been hinting about going on tour!!” needles Obie. “Well!! –Why not!! It’s time this act began making money!”

Really, Oberon? Are you sure? We don’t want to rush into this, after all. Maybe Scott should wreck a few more NASA rocket sleds before he makes a rash move like trying to make any money out of his antics. Maybe he ought to purchase a few more antique civil war cannons, too. I mean, these things do grow on trees, after all. And risking your life in radical, foolhardy ways just isn’t the same if there are people watching. People who might inadvertently be entertained. It cheapens the whole act, man.

Whew. Well, while that bit of thudding obviousity is being taken care of, interesting events are unfolding back at Casa Del Free: Flashman has made the pilgrimage to see Scott, only to be met with Big Barda. I mentioned a while back that Barda was basically Kirby’s wife Roz in personality, and this scene is a variation on something that apparently happened a lot in the Kirby household: some shyster or corporate shark comes to the door while the King is trying to work, and his missus gently discourages him by, um, crushing a gun in her bare fist. Funky is apparently a hard one to dissuade, however, and Barda gives up and goes to take a bath (?) just as Scott walks in. Apparently splashing around in the water is one of her default reactions when she gets sick of hitting things.

Funky announces his presence and introduces himself to Oberon—“mentioned briefly in your letter,” as Funky puts it. And yes, that’s supposed to be a short joke. Can someone explain to me why it’s been OK to make little-person jokes long after we stopped making fun of people’s other disabilities? I mean, if you mocked a guy in a wheelchair by calling him “Hell on wheels” no one would think you were clever. They’d think you were a huge jerk. Of course, Funky’s a huge jerk anyway, pinching Oberon’s cheek and then suddenly attempting to drop kick him as soon as Scott’s back is turned. Charming.

As soon as Oberon’s departed to make some coffee, Funky launches into his spiel, declaring it a “tingly, wingly thrill!!—To actally be in the very setting where the hallowed Thaddeus Brown, like a warlock of ancient yore—conjured up his majestic manipulations!!” He proceeds to lay it on thick with flowery verbiage. More than a few people have commented that Funky seems to be channeling Stan Lee in this sequence, beard included. By the way, if he’s using his real name, why did he bother with a fake beard? That would seem to clinch the idea that Kirby wanted to evoke Lee. I mean, a pompous con artist with a grandiose way of talking---what else were we supposed to think?

We cut to Barda in the bath. This page was apparently scripted by Mark Evanier to fill space when Kirby accidentally came up short in the page count, and he claims it doesn’t add to the story at all, but I don’t know if that’s quite true—it includes a panel where her “warning circuits” detect a “carrier beam” from Apokolips, without which the next page would seem to pretty much come out of nowhere. She gets dressed (in her bikini-thing rather than her full battle armour) and goes downstairs to meet…MAD HARRIET!

Harriet’s one of the Female Furies, the Charlie’s Angels of Apokolips to which Barda formerly belonged. Her weapons are her freaky appearance, disturbing giggle, and a row of razor-tipped brass knuckles, and ruthless efficiency, and nice red uniforms…OK, sorry, I’ll come in again. She’s a homicidal maniac in a Geisha costume, is my point, and she’s here to take out Barda for her betrayal of Apokolips. As is her partner Stompa, who joins her a few panels later, and as of now is merely a disembodied boot. After trashing some furniture, they phase out, just as Scott comes barging in. Boy, that guy is missing most of the action in this issue, isn’t he.

In fact, it turns out he’s been closing a deal with Funky to manage their coming tour. “He’s a transparent second-rater—but he’ll have to do!!” Um, really? You aren’t going to bother looking around for a better option, Scott? Obviously this arrangement parallels Kirby’s partnership with Stan the Man, but that just makes it seem like he should have tried for something better himself…

Oddly, we now cut to a day later. Wow, the Female Furies sure like to take their time in toying with their prey. Funky’s apparently rented out a rehearsal studio (complete with…klieg lights?) and dressed himself up in what he calls his “Uneasy Rider outfit” which apparently has him under the delusion that he’s John Huston. Scott proceeds to strap himself to a wooden platform that feeds into a gigantic sawblade, prompting this reaction:

Yeah, thanks, Oberon, that’s much more helpful.

Scott immediately follows this with a second escape: he crawls inside a gigantic, clear-plastic fishbowl, tightens the hatch, and lets a concussion bomb drop into the bowl. This one he escapes, somehow, by curling up in “the proper position.” Funky, duly impressed, lathers on the praise, leading Scott to melt a little and reveal one of his secrets: namely, the Mother Box. “But no one can build her!!” Admonishes Scott. “She must be earned!!” I have to admit, I don’t really get what Mother Boxes are supposed to represent. They seem to be a symbol of immense power that’s bestowed only on the worthy, but, I mean, they are basically just a piece of technology. How does one “earn” a Mother Box, exactly? At any rate, it’s clear Funky isn’t worthy, and it’s just as clear that he’s suddenly eager to get his hands on it.

His lust for power is interrupted by the belated arrival of Lashina, another one of the Furies. (Barda mentioned that there were only four, but as we’ll see later, that’s completely inaccurate.) Lashina’s another neat character design:

But before her lash (capable of cutting through solid metal) can land on Scott, Barda swoops out of the shadows and engages her in a page-long fight. Barda STILL hasn’t bothered to put on her armour, by the way. I guess Kirby knew which side his bread was buttered on. Barda manages to subdue her, and she teleports away just as—you guessed it—Scott and Oberon come running in. Barda once again describes her battle and speaks warily of the fourth Fury, Burnadeth, who happens to be Desaad’s sister. They’ve been able to find Scott by tracking his Mother Box, but suddenly it’s gone missing—Scott left in such a hurry that he didn’t notice that Funky ran off with it.

I think you can see what’s coming, can’t you? Funky’s back at Mockingbird Estate, practicing his public speaking, when the Furies come for him and decide to kill him out of spite. Burnadeth fires a “fahren-knife” that will “penetrate dimensionally—and barbecue him from the inside!!!” Funky apparently avoids it, andthrows his faithful butler Houseroy into the fray in order to hold them off for a few minutes while he makes his escape from the house, which explodes behind him. After mourning the loss of his family (?) estate (which Kirby takes a moment to remind us was founded on slave labour) Funky, his hair and beard blown off, walks off down the road to new schemes, apparently unconcerned by all that’s transpired.

We get a brief epilogue here where we reveal that Mr. Miracle and Barda arrived on the scene to pull Houseroy from the flames (oh, comics code) and engage the Furies, driving them off with explosives. This all happened off-panel, of course. The issue ends with Scott and Barda finally making a decision: instead of waiting on Earth and taking on their Apokoliptish adversaries one by one in easily defeatable permutations, they’re going to head back to the planet itself and take on Darkseid, Granny, and the hordes of Apokolips on their own turf.

Gee. Good thinking.

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