Saturday, December 12, 2009

I Love a Parade, Part II: Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe

Previously, our intrepid hero shared his thoughts (ad nauseam to some, I’m sure) on the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade after discovering that he would be participating in the 1987 turkey-day event as a performer on a Marvel Universe float. The float would accompany a giant Spider-Man balloon, both specially created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the amazing Web-Swinger. But who would Vroom! portray? And which other heroes would be joining him? Read on my faithful bloglodytes and all will be revealed...

I was under no illusions that I would be playing Spider-Man for this momentous event. I was still green, with a meager quartet of appearances under my belt (or tights, as it were), and two of those saw me playing the Green Goblin. Granted, my virginal gig as the Web-Slinger was atop a float in the Rutland, Vermont Halloween Parade. And I did portray the Wall-Crawler alongside four of the 1986 World Champion Mets in the Spider-Man 25th Anniversary poster that was handed to more than 20,000 fans during Spider-Man’s wedding at Shea Stadium the previous spring. But that was an anomaly, an unusual confluence of scheduling conflicts with Barbara’s seasoned Spidey actors that necessitated my selection to the prestigious job. It also didn’t matter who I’d be playing; I was going to be on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; how cool was that!

Then Barbara told me I’d be portraying Iron Man. Iron Man?! The Golden Avenger?! . . . aka Tony Stark, billionaire industrialist?! Which armor would I be wearing? Was there even an Iron Man costume? My head was swimming in a sea of questions and excitement. Iron Man was one of my favorite members of the Avengers, a beloved comic close to my heart, as it was an issue of that title—Issue #149—that spurred my initial interest in superheroes more than a decade before. Barbara went on to reveal Marvel’s plans to construct a plethora of new costumes for the event and I’d be custom-fitted for the Iron Man suit. Cool!

At the time, the Personal Appearance Department had a handful of costumes representing a meager fraction of the thousands of characters available in the Marvel Universe: Spider-Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, Spider-Woman, Iceman and Firestar. And of those, the former three were the only ones with any renown outside the confines of the comic-book literati.

I’ve discussed the reasoning behind the company’s commissioning costumes for Spider-Woman, Iceman and Firestar in my Heroes for Hire post of February 2009. In brief, suits were created to help promote cartoons. The latter two guest-starred in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends from 1981 to 1983, and the female super-arachnid had her own eponymous animated series from 1979 to 1980. I can only imagine costumes were made of villains Green Goblin and Dr. Doom to balance out the heroes. Mock battles at appearances were never allowed, though, so why bother? Especially since Doom is the arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four, none of whose members had suits designed for promotions.

But the planned Marvel Universe float was to include an all-out clash between the Do-Gooders and Evil-Doers, so Gobby and Doom were included. Spider-Woman, Iceman and Firestar, however, were not. Granted, Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman, no longer had her own comic book. In fact, since its cancellation in 1983, Drew had been de-powered and someone else had taken up her mantle with a completely redesigned suit. But Iceman and Firestar remained active in the Marvel Universe, the former as a featured member of the recently created X-Factor. And both were included in the aforementioned anniversary poster with the members of the Mets, which was distributed six months prior. Their exclusion from the parade is more pronounced when you review the roster of those heroes who did make the cut.

But the fire and ice of the mutant world shouldn’t have felt too bad. After all, Spider-Man wasn’t to be featured on the float either!

I know what you’re thinking: Huh? No Spider-Man—Marvel’s most popular character, known throughout the world, and more importantly, celebrating his twenty-fifth anniversary, the float’s entire raison d’être—not present? Did the fumes from the ink in the comics adversely affect Marvel’s executive branch?

Ah . . . you are forgetting the Spider-Man balloon. In their bizarre way of thinking, the Marvel poo-bahs figured they shouldn’t have a Spider-Man on the float, because the Web-Swinger was already in the parade as a balloon. Wouldn’t want to confuse the kiddies. Yet, the Web-Slinger’s arch-nemesis Green Goblin does appear on the float! One would normally have to go to a tea party in Wonderland to confront reasoning like that.

But the cast of characters on the float—or absence thereof—took an even odder turn with the inclusion of RoboCop.


Yes, RoboCop, the same character played by Peter Weller in the hit Orion Pictures movie of the summer of 1987. By that year, Marvel Productions—the company’s animation division, formed after Marvel’s 1981 acquisition of the DePatie-Freleng Enterprises animation studio, creators of the Pink Panther cartoons—had grown into a major animation studio with well-known animated TV series and movies, such as G.I. Joe, The Transformers, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and Dungeons & Dragons, as well as the aforementioned Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. For 1988, the company planned an animated RoboCop series. What better way to publicize the cartoon’s imminent television debut than by featuring the character live in the Macy’s Parade alongside internationally known characters, such as Captain America and the Incredible Hulk a few months prior?

There was only one problem: the float made no reference to RoboCop’s new show, either with signage or via the scripted remarks made by Willard Scott on the parade’s telecast during his introduction. The float itself was called the Marvel Universe float, which added to the confusion. RoboCop is just on the float, waving to the thousands of intrepid souls braving the cold to see the parade live, and a few million more viewers watching from the warm and cozy confines of their homes amidst the smell of roasting turkey. That small percentage of the viewership who were comic book cognescenti were undoubtedly scratching their heads, while a much larger faction were surely thinking, I didn’t know RoboCop was part of the Marvel Universe. Meanwhile, everyone was certainly questioning Spider-Man’s whereabouts on his own anniversary float.

So what Marvel characters were included?

Accompanying Captain America, The Hulk, Green Goblin and Dr. Doom would be nine characters all new to the personal appearance program: superheroes Iron Man—yours truly—Wolverine, Daredevil, Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Powerman (or Luke Cage as he is more commonly known) and evil-doers Magneto, the White Queen, and the Enchantress. Oh yeah, and RoboCop.

Wolverine was the only member of the X-Men commissioned, though, strangely, two major villains from the band of mutant crime-fighters’ comic series—Magneto and lesser adversary White Queen—were included. I’m sure the White Queen’s participation, as well as the Enchantress’s, were a result of the Marvel Na-Bobs wanting some female representation on the float. But then why not Firestar? She may not have been significantly popular, but she did share a co-starring role on a successful Spider-Man cartoon, reruns of which were still in syndication in 1987.

Better yet, why not Storm of the X-Men? She was far more popular than the White Queen or the Enchantress. Plus, Storm had the added advantage of being an African American, a welcome touch of diversity to the mix. To that end, Power Man was commissioned to appear. But a female African American character would have been refreshing, certainly more so than two obscure white super-villains. That’s right: the only two female characters on the float weren’t even superheroes; they were villains. Which, come to think of it, may have been why they were chosen. Without their inclusion, the float would have been sorely lacking villains with which the heroes would be able to battle. Commissioning Enchantress and White Queen killed two birds with one stone: more evil-doers and more females.

Other notable exclusions in Marvel’s pantheon of parade heroes were Thor, Sub-Mariner and, most astoundingly, The Fantastic Four, i.e. Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, The Thing and Invisible Woman, the characters and comic book that revolutionized the genre and begat the Marvel Universe. With the exception of The Thing, the remaining members have little visual impact when not using their powers; they’re merely humans in tight-fitting jumpsuits. You couldn’t effectively devise a live-action mechanism to display Mr. Fantastic’s pliability without its looking hokey. And you definitely couldn’t set Human Torch ablaze. It could be argued that the Invisible Woman was included; you simply couldn’t see her. Heck, she might’ve been stark naked the entire time! As for The Thing, the construction of his costume was most likely deemed too cost-ineffective, i.e. expensive, by the company bean counters.

The costumes for the new heroes were to be constructed by Bob Flanagan, whose resume included building characters for Sesame Street, for which he won an Emmy in 1986 for Outstanding Achievement for Costume Design. He would later contribute props and animal effects for Crocodile Dundee 2 and Big, as well as design Toonces: The Cat Who Drove a Car for Saturday Night Live. Bob was an amiable fellow with a shock of red hair, a matching beard and mustache, and wire-rimmed glasses. He looked like the muppet, Floyd Pepper, the bassist and vocalist of Dr. Teeth’s band The Electric Mayhem. Whether he was the inspiration for the character’s design or actually constructed the muppet himself, either is entirely possible.

Though harried by the onus of building nine elaborate costumes—RoboCop’s suit was previously constructed by the movie studio—and updating the simulated metal parts of Dr. Doom’s costume, he seemed most keen when unraveling the hows of the process; how to accurately portray each character, while also allowing the actor within the ability to perform the required athletic feats. The heroes would not be merely standing and waving to the crowd; there was to be a nationally televised, extravagant choreographed battle betwixt the heroes and villains on the float when stopped before Macy’s. So not only did Bob have to make the characters look good, but also he had to make sure they moved well. Apparently, the many hands involved in the big-screen Batman suit design have yet to figure that one out.

NEXT: Can you say Iron Diaper?!!

1 comment:

John III said...

Geez Steve. I didn't realize my Turbo man comment was so close? Iron man? You? This oughta be good!