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Marvel Does Troma! Troma Does Marvel! – The Toxic Avenger #1

September 10, 2014

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The Marvel family has incorporated any number of outside characters over the years. Rom, that glorious Silver Spaceknight from Galador, was a clunky toy before he became a symbol of 1980s comics. Godzilla, King of All Monsters (not to mention underwhelming summer films), was a full-fledged member of the House of Ideas for a spell, interacting with the leading lights of Earth-616 — and Dum Dum Duggan, of all people, was his arch-nemesis. But sometimes Marvel sequesters a character in a quiet, lonely corner, where they can either take flight on their own or languish in soon-to-be-cancelled obscurity. And today we have the thrilling first issue of one of the latter.

Welcome to B-movie Marvel. Welcome to The Toxic Avenger.

The Toxic Avenger — Toxie to his friends — was a product of Troma, the movie dreck-meisters par excellence behind any number of low-budget sex comedies and horror films. Released in 1984, the original film sank like a lead balloon, but (appropriately enough) found a second life in midnight showings, and has since become some manner of standard for on-the-cheap horror. (And remains the trademark character of Troma, like Elliot and E.T. silhouetted by the moon for Amblin Entertainment.) Make no mistake, B-movies have their charm, unintentional or no, and there are times when they have just enough going for them story-wise to garner a devoted following. Toxic Avenger was just such a property, one that generated several sequels and even a cartoon series(!) for the independent studio overlords (if that’s not a contradiction in terms). Just the trailer was/is enough to spawn belly laughs:

So a Marvel comic isn’t that outlandish, especially considering the timeframe of 1991, when an avalanche of books were being churned out and publishers were thirsty for content, any content to fill those pages. And Toxie, with his mutated hero bona fides, was a more plausible transition than some. But it’s this rush and glut that did in the Toxic Avenger title. In their haste to fling out yet another title to the unsuspecting reading public, no one took a moment to think that maybe, just maybe if you took the central character out of his cheap celluloid milieu, he might not play. That the shift between platforms would neuter the visual gags, rendering the book a chore to read, with nary a chuckle to be had. And that’s exactly what we got. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t even unintentionally bad-good, which is the saving grace of anything from Troma that merits attention.

This first edition (Words: Doug Moench, Pencils: Rodney Ramos, Inks: Val Mayerik) at least has the merit of restating in flashback the Avenger’s movie origin for the uninitiated. The mutated hero started out as a 98 pound weakling mopping floors at a local health club, where he was bullied by all the bodies beautiful:

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Insert foul temptress for leavening:

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Cue Carrie-like humiliation:

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All you need is the tortured nerd in a tutu crashing out of a second story window and landing in a vat of nuclear waste, and you have, voila, the eponymous hulking freak:

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It’s a fairly faithful restatement of the senses-shattering origin, right down to the pink tutu. But there’s just no way for the silly gore of the movie to be replicated in panels, and without that, any attempt for oddball social commentary fizzled and was nothing less than cringe-inducing — a wide misfire. The title would hang on to issue #11, but they never pulled it off. You can even see a foreshadowing of that in this first edition of the “Toxic Times” (oh, for the days of letters columns), in which editor Jim Salicrup hints at the Comics Code difficulties inherent in this particular adaptation:

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Not even the warm embrace of Stan Lee and Spider-Man could launch the Toxic Avenger on a rocket sled to superhero stardom.

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