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Drink your school, stay in drugs, and don’t do milk! – Mr. T and the T Force #6

February 7, 2012

Eat your greens!

I want to be clear before I start busting Mr. T’s balls. I like the guy. When I sat down and read this comic, it occurred to me that he might have been the very first African-American actor that I could recognize as a kid, one where I knew who they were apart from the role that they played. Between his B.A. Baracus A-Team days and his terrifying turn as Clubber Lang in Rocky III (HE KILLED MICKEY — BASTARD), he was hard to miss for a youngster. And he played both a hero and a villain. Such range. Plus, and this was the cherry on top, he wrestled in the WWF, teaming with Hulk Hogan to beat the living hell out of Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. He was a human Swiss Army Knife. Versatility, baby.

While few have ever capitalized on a fearsome glower more than Mr. T, behind it there’s a guy who’s not full of himself. His growling public persona has always been ripe for satire, and he’s been more than willing to take some ribbing. He has a sense of humor about it all. You cannot not like that. Finally, he beat cancer (T-cell lymphoma — you think he and his doctor wryly smiled at that diagnosis?), or, to perhaps put it more accurately, he knuckle-sandwiched it into a bloody, insensate pulp. I tip my cap to him for these things. Truly.

I debated whether or not to include this comic among the Black History Month selections. February is a time when individuals like Booker T. Washington, Dr. King and Frederick Douglass get careful, deserved consideration, not a guy famous for grumblingly flattening people. But, if he lacks broader significance in the African-American historical scene, Mr. T has a good deal of cachet for me personally, and he assuredly has a spot in the entertainment pantheon. And, fortunately(?) for us all, he had this comic book, in which fools were pitied and jibber-jabber was not allowed. Ripe for picking.

On to said comic.

The leitmotif of this 1994 series was supposed to be Mr. T’s positive message to the world. What positive message, you ask? I wish I could tell you. Because, apart from a back cover ad that should leave T cringing in shame all these many years later (more on that in a moment) and ads for T-Force t-shirts, there’s little evidence of what the bedrock of Mr. T’s credo was. Unless said credo involved using punches and kicks to resolve all of life’s problems, because all of life’s problems devolve rapidly into S.E. Hinton gang fights. If that was the theme, than it was received loud and clear. Not just received loud and clear. It’s drilled into our heads. Over. And over. And over. And over.

Other issues, including the Neal Adams-pencilled premier (reviewed amusingly here), could get a tad far-fetched, with T displaying nigh-superhuman abilities while battling hordes of folks who seemed miles out of place in his inner city stomping grounds (no Fast Willies around, though). This selection (Script: Mike Baron, Art: Tony DeZuniga,Cover: Jeff Butler) is tame in that regard. No ninjas or cyborgs or aliens. It starts with our eponymous champion putting some of his Rocky experience to good use as the corner man — I’m sure he watched Burgess Meredith like a hawk — for a journeyman fighter stepping into the ring with a champ. But first T and his charge have to get to the ring, and in this surly crowd, ready for a racially-tinged battle of black fighter vs. white fighter, that could be challenging. Challenging for anyone else, that is, besides a guy who face-kicks first and asks questions later:

Instant orthodontia. Stay in school!

T’s fighter loses a questionable decision after knocking down his opponent (if you have to steal a premise, steal from the best). During the fight he noticed some commotion in a dark corner of the hall. When he’s done with his corner duties, he investigates and butts his nose in on a drug deal:

Respect your elders!

That face re-arranged, T heads back to his neighborhood, where he escorts a landlady on her rent-collecting rounds. Sure enough, they’re soon beset by toughs, too many for T to handle alone (as hard as that is to believe). A young acquaintance spots the trouble and (off-panel) apparently uses Jack Bauer’s 24 teleportation device to get two people across town instantaneously — the two erstwhile ring opponents, now bound by a common desire to savagely concuss scumbags:

Ebony and Ivory, punching together in perfect harmony. Drink your milk!

Finally, T confronts a local crack-dealer, one that’s further corrupting the wayward youth we saw earlier at the fight. The dealer’s in the middle of making the kid lick his (the dealer’s) shoes (licking shoes would be bad, but one imagines that a drug dealer’s footwear would have a higher than average germ count) when T comes around a corner. T engages the dealer in a Socratic dialogue concerning the relative merits and dangers of JUST KIDDING HE PUNCHES THE GUY IN HIS F–KING FACE:

Don’t do drugs!

And that’s the comic. It’s a Mobius strip of short-fuse pugilism. It’s like watching someone run errands on a Saturday, with all the attendant ennui, but with punches when they leave the Home Depot and kicks when they stop at the ATM. There’s some adrenaline, but no point, no message. Unless the message is that drug dealers are bad. If it is, THANKS VERY MUCH FOR THAT.

Oh, and then there was this:

The three faces of T (Pensive, Playful, Jolly), I guess. I still prefer the four faces of the Bat. At least he wasn’t trying to get his hand into my pocket. I wonder if anyone ever left a “Your comic blows” message for our good 1980s relic. (Seriously, if anyone out there actually had some “T-Time,” I’d love to know what his motivational message was.)

So, yeah, T trolled in the lowest of depths, the Stygian 900 number perdition, along with Dionne Warwick and Miss Cleo and their huckster ilk. Everyone has to make a buck, and I don’t begrudge T his need to make a few dollars, but it’s as lame as lame can be. And maybe this ad summed up the whole enterprise. Comics were hot at the time (though the bottom was falling out — this comic came with a stupid trading card to lose like a Secret Wars hologram shield), and you might as well make money from a Mr. T comic as anything else. Such is the logic of an industry’s boom. Still, with the “positive message” crap (don’t do drugs and sock those who wrong you?) being posited as the backbone of the title, the whole thing reeks of hypocrisy. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, like a fabulously wealthy televangelist. A crappy bad taste.

Again, I like Mr. T. He’s a part of my childhood. Even if he was/is a goofy pop culture blip, I still don’t like to see him part of such a stupid, pointless, blatant money grab, even one from going on two decades ago. It sucks. It’s funny in an unintentional “God, this is dumb” way, but that’s about all that can be said for it.

Anyway. There you have it. A little slice of T-Force.

Mr. T, feeling that his trademark gold chains conflicted with his work with the underprivileged, has in recent years forsaken his back-breaking jewelry. The comic died a quick death a long, long time ago. The hair remains. So does the glower. I doubt that the 900 number does. I sincerely hope not.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob permalink
    February 8, 2012 1:30 pm

    I have to confess that I found the whole Mr. T thing a complete mystery: I disliked him to such a degree that I would change the channel whenever he was on. It was that mixture of smirk and belligerence that I found so highly disagreeable…

    • February 9, 2012 11:44 pm

      I was talking about him the other day with a friend, and he had the exact same opinion as you. I can understand it. I probably should share it. I suppose I was at just the right age to like him, and now he’s wrapped in the all-forgiving cloak of nostalgia.

  2. Thelonious_Nick permalink
    February 8, 2012 1:55 pm

    Your research for this post didn’t involved calling the 1-900 number? I demand more for my comics blog dollar!

    • February 9, 2012 11:41 pm

      That’s a bit outside my blog research baliwick. Should I ever get an unpaid intern to help out with the unpaid blog, calling extinct 900 numbers will be one of their primary tasks.

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