Tuesday, January 26, 2010


It’s not often that an elderly couple takes out Dr. Doom.

For those of you just joining us, Dr. Doom is a super-villain, one of the most heinous and powerful in the Marvel Universe. Like all good evil-doers, he spends his time and resources devising nefarious schemes to take over the world, only to be thwarted by his arch-nemeses The Fantastic Four or whoever’s title he happens to be wreaking havoc in any given month.

The dastardly Doctor was only one of a handful of bad guys for which Marvel had a costume that could be used for personal appearances. As far as comfort and maneuverability, Doom’s threads were on the favorable side, although the visibility when wearing the suit was low. It was easy to don, functional, and emulated the character beautifully.

The costume also was a treat to perform in. It wasn’t every day you could be revered despite being an arrogant prick. Its only drawback was its portability. The costume was kept in a large canvas duffel bag of the size one would use to transport hockey equipment. Thus, it had to be checked whenever traveling.

I had the good fortune to portray the character on several occasions (see prior post, “See You, in the Funny Papers”). Fortunately, this was not one of them. The hapless victim in this story, Fred, was joining my portrayal of Spider-Man as featured guests of Edmonton, Canada’s annual Canada Day Parade. Sponsoring our inclusion in this most important of our northern neighbor’s holidays were my old friends, the unpredictable, yet oddly loveable Darwin and his saintly better-half Lola (see prior post, “Survival of the Fittest, Parts I and II”). As such, immediately following the parade, Spider-Man and Dr. Doom were scheduled for a signing at one of Darwin’s and Lola’s comic shops.

This was to be Fred’s coming out party; his very first gig as any character for Marvel. The head of Marvel’s Personal Appearance Department, Barbara, thought it would be a good idea to pair me with Fred, so I could secretly monitor his performance. This speaks volumes about Barb’s judgment and trust in your’s truly (Whether misguided or not, I’ll let you decide).

I met Fred at the airport. He was slightly taller and broader than I was. He’ll make a great Dr. Doom, I thought (You don’t want your Spidey more imposing than your Doom). His long brunette hair framed a friendly face and a big smile. Fred looked like a rock star, only more effusive. At the time, he was working as either a stunt man or extra or both on the short-lived Burt Reynolds show B.L. Stryker. We immediately hit it off.

Our flight departed the evening before the parade with a scheduled stopover in Minnesota. Delays while approaching Minnesota had us concerned that we would miss our connection. We discovered that our worries were unfounded upon landing. Due to bad weather over Edmonton, nothing was flying into the area. Our connecting flight was canceled. Worse, the weather up north was adversely affecting the phone lines. Try as we might, we couldn’t get through to Darwin and Lola to tell them of our plight. Not that it would have mattered; the number we had was for the comic outlet at which we would be appearing the next day, not their home. And the store was certainly closed by this time.

At wit’s end, we called Barbara. Barbara was always bemoaning how her work—due to its nature—followed her home. She had to be prepared for calls exactly like the one we were making. Still, I felt terrible disturbing her. Our delay had us landing in Minnesota just shy of midnight. It would be an hour later in New York. We woke Barbara, who was clearly perturbed. Her response to our situation: “What do you want me to do?” We suggested she either contact Darwin and Lola at their home or at least give us the number so we could try.

“I don’t have those numbers here,” she snapped, in a tone that suggested we were off our gourds for ever assuming that she might have that information.

Gee, Barbara, what part of your job actually makes it home, I thought.

We dutifully apologized-through gritted teeth-and resumed our endeavors to call someone up north. The only other number we had was the hotel at which we’d be staying. Miraculously, the call connected. We explained the situation to the receptionist and left a message for Darwin and Lola that we’d be getting up at the crack of dawn to be the first in line to get on the standby list for the earliest flight the next morning. Of course, we had no idea there even was an early-morning flight to Edmonton the next day or whether it would arrive in time for us to participate in the parade if there were. But we weren’t going to not try to get there. We crossed our fingers that Darwin and Lola would check with the hotel.

By this time, the food vouchers the airline had given us were no good. All the restaurants in the airport food court had closed, which, given the selection, was probably not a bad thing. Thus, we proceeded to Bloomington, Minnesota’s famous Thunderbird Motel, where we could at least redeem our accommodation coupons and get a few hours sleep before returning to the airport at the crack of dawn.

Marked by a towering, multi-colored, illuminated roadside totem pole–designed sign and a colossal Indian statue at the entrance, the Thunderbird Motel also is unique in that its lobby doubles as a Native American museum. Cases, filled with an amazing array of headdresses, quivers, arrows, papooses, clothing, moccasins and stuffed buffalo, moose heads, snakes, bears and the like, lined the walls. Given our exhausted state, it was surreal, like something directed by David Lynch. We scheduled a wake-up call that would allow about three hours of sleep and headed for our room. I dropped off with Fred heading out of the room for a smoke.

He seemed to return just as the wake-up call startled me out of bed. Had he been wandering the hallways of the motel all night? Perhaps he’s an aficionado of Native American memorabilia? I didn’t have time to dwell on my internal queries; airport check-in awaited, and we couldn’t afford to be late. Besides, Fred seemed mightily concerned about the whole megillah. Not surprising as it was his first gig. He obviously wanted it to go well and probably shouldered a lot of guilt, though faultless. I, conversely, was familiar with the occasional hiccup in appearances, and though certainly concerned and focused to do whatever it took to ameliorate the situation, I remained nonplussed.

With nary a moment to spare in the Bow and Arrow Coffee Shop, we rushed to the airport and succeeded in being the first in line at the counter. With luck, there would be two openings. Just in case, it was decided that my name go first. If only one of us made it, Spider-Man was the obvious choice. We tried phoning Darwin and Lola again to no avail. If worse came to worse, if they did not greet us upon deplaning, we would dress in a cab on the way to the parade’s origin and join the festivities, which were set to begin soon after the scheduled landing of our flight.

When they announced the standby names, our initial joy at hearing my name, turned to confusion, when it was followed by two other names, neither of which was Fred’s. I may not be a math whiz but even I understood that if there were three available stand-by spots on the flight and Fred and I were the first two names on the list, then he and I were shoe-ins for two of those three spots. Apparently not. Confused and upset, we approached the counter at the gate. Yes, Fred and I were atop the stand-by list. And yes, there were three spots open. But the third and fourth spots were held by an elderly couple who were on a second honeymoon to celebrate their 50th anniversary and the airline didn’t have the heart to break the octogenarian love birds up.

Fred and I, on the other hand, had no such qualms.

“You don’t understand,” Fred pleaded, “small children are expecting both of us to be there. You’ll be breaking their little hearts.”

I have to admit it was amusing to see the dreaded Dr. Doom beg not to be bumped from a flight. When he started telling the counter attendant that the children the airline would be disappointing with his absence were “special,” it began to sound more in character. When that wasn’t eliciting the desired response, Fred tried “handicapped.” What was next? I thought, Orphans? How low and vile to fabricate mentally-challenged and physically-disabled children as an excuse to gain a plane seat. Add to that the elderly couple Fred was attempting to bump and the occasion for which they were traveling, and Fred was beginning to make Dr. Doom seem like Mother Theresa in comparison.

“They’ve been together for 50 years, what difference is another hour or two going to make?!” I imagined him desperately spouting at any moment. Fortunately, he relented before crossing that line or venturing to using terms like “cancer-stricken” or “Make-A-Wish Foundation.”

Instead Doom stepped away duly defeated; no bodies, no smoldering carnage, not even a “Curse you, Reed Richards! Next time, it will be I, Victor von Doom who stands triumphant!,” while shaking a gauntleted fist. I felt terrible. The next available flight wouldn’t get Fred into Edmonton until well after the parade was over. If he were lucky, he’d make part of the scheduled store signing. His disappointment was palpable.

Meanwhile, the prune-faced paramours giddily scurried past his slumped figure onto the plane. I got on and the plane took off... on time, ironically. Accompanying me, was Dr. Doom, only without his body. The suit was checked and in the baggage hold. It and Fred would reunite later in Edmonton… unless, of course, he was bumped by someone traveling to deliver an organ to a dying child or something equally inarguable.

Wondrously, I arrived as planned and Lola was there to greet me. She had gotten our hotel message, after all. “Where’s Doom,” she asked.

“He didn’t make it. I’ll explain on the way to the parade,” I offered.

There wasn’t a vestige of the havoc the previous day’s storm wrought. It was beautiful, cool and sunny. As we sped to the kick-off point, I dressed in the backseat while explaining the last 24 hours. I barely had time to adjust my eyes in the rearview mirror when the car screeched to a halt. A small flatbed trailer, hitched to a truck, greeted my arrival. A sign attached to the truck’s grill read, SPIDER-MAN AND DR. DOOM BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE COMIC CASTLE followed by the shop’s address and phone number. Of course, Dr. Doom was M.I.A., but it was too late to make any amendments as the parade was getting under way.

As the truck pulled away with me in tow, I expressed my concerns about being confined to the trailer, wanting rather to bound about, ham it up with the onlookers and shake hands along the parade route. Lola was more than happy to oblige. She figured as much from me, given my past performances at her and Darwin’s conventions. But having never seen the Dr. Doom costume nor being aware of its limitations, she was unsure if he’d need something to pull him or not. She provided the trailer just in case. It would turn out to be a fortuitous decision.

I hadn’t traversed a block before the crowds pelted me from both sides with “Yo, Spidey, where’s Dr. Doom?”

“Oh, I dealt with him earlier,” I countered. “How was I supposed to know he was here for the parade? I thought he was trying to conquer Canada.”

The parade route couldn’t have been more than a mile. Yet, halfway along, amid the leaps, posing and hand-shaking, I noticed the bottom of my feet starting to hurt. It wasn’t a muscular pain, but rather the sort one experiences from a scraped knee. I couldn’t fathom what was the problem. I’d participated in far longer parades on many previous occasions. Hell, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was measurably greater and I had a couple of those already under my belt. The physical fallout from such events was never greater than the type of intense muscle pain one gets the morning after a good leg workout the day before.

Initially, I shrugged it off, alleviating my stinging soles with short bouts of walking on my hands. That wouldn’t get me too far, though, so I made dramatic pauses, crept slowly, did whatever I could to milk the route for as long as possible. But the pain became too severe and I found myself leaping onto the trailer to finish the remainder of the parade. I was mortified and more than a little worried. And the crowds weren’t exactly sympathetic.

“Hey, Spider-Man, why aren’t you swinging?” and “What? Are your webs tired (guffaw, guffaw)?” were a couple of the less pointed razzings I received.

“That storm blew me so off course, I was up all night swinging from Vancouver… I’m knackered!” I bantered back.

Blessedly, I was incapacitated for only the last few blocks, but it seemed like an eternity to complete. Lola met me at the finish and whisked me away to the signing at her store. I remember gingerly making my way to her car, trying to cover my painful steps with spider-like moves. Surely, I fooled all. Spider-Man often looks like he’s tiptoeing on broken glass.

There was already a line out the door when we arrived, but I told Lola I needed time to check my feet. In the office, I removed my suit to discover that I’d taken a layer of skin off my soles. They were raw and bloody. I could only guess that the streets of Edmonton weren’t as smoothly paved as those in The States. Their roughness was the only difference I could detect. Strangely, although my soles were shredded, the thin strip of red leather that served as the only protection on the costume’s feet weren’t damaged in the least. Neither a hole nor tear was evident.

The normally subdued Lola freaked when she saw them. Or at least her eyes grew slightly wider than usual, which for her was akin to the eye-popping, jaw-dropping of a Tex Avery cartoon character. Then again, Lola’s reaction may have been from me sitting in my bikini underwear. I didn’t think to cover up. My attention was on my injured tootsies. Besides, I dressed in front of strangers before when doing productions. Heck, didn’t I dress in the backseat of her car on the way to the parade? And it wasn’t like I was naked.

She hurried back with alcohol and bandages. And boy, did that alcohol feel good (That distant scream you heard in the late 90s? That was me.). Soon I was making my way to the signing table. Fortunately, it was near enough to the office that I didn’t have to do too much scampering to hide my pain.

The signing went well. Sure, the inquiries as to Dr. Doom’s whereabouts continued, but with my feet tended to and already feeling much improved, I was enjoying quipping with these “Doom-sayers.”

“Big surprise, Doom not showing… He is a bad guy, after all. If he can’t seize control of the planet, he takes solace in making people unhappy!” I’d playfully jab.

Fred didn’t arrive until after the signing. In fact, I accompanied Lola back to the airport to greet him. The Dr. Doom suit sat by the baggage carousel, waiting there for Fred to retrieve him since my plane arrived that morning. His mien and body language was even more downtrodden than before. Had Eeyore been present, he would have pulled me aside to express his concern. Fred wanted so much to play Dr. Doom that it wasn’t hard to convince him to don the costume for some publicity shots with Spidey at the store.

In the costume, Fred was a transformed man. He strode out of the front door of the comic store and deliberately into the street, stopping traffic and creating quite a scene. With the pain of my soles a distant memory, I followed his lead and confronted him. A struggle ensued, much to the delight of the drivers and passersby. Fred and I had experience in stage combat and made the most of it, tumbling over car hoods, flipping on top of one another. Had this been New York, we would have been run over, flipped the bird at the very least. For Fred, our mock clash of titans was cathartic. His spirits lifted and he had returned to the amiable teddy bear I had met at La Guardia Airport the morning prior.

The next morning, we had breakfast with both Lola and Darwin (having apparently returned from the Galapagos Islands, no doubt). It was an equally beautiful day to the one previous and I couldn’t help but think that the travails of the last 48 hours were far behind us. The sun was shining, as we made our way to the car when suddenly, the sky went black.

“Ow! What the—?” Something had hit me. Something big.

Golf balls were pelting us from the heavens, bouncing off the tarmac and car as we hurried inside. I felt like Captain Kangaroo falling victim to Mr. Moose and his signature torrent of Ping-Pong balls. Except those never hurt the good Captain. If I never knew the experience of “being agape” before that moment, I certainly did then. It can’t be hailing, I thought incredulously. It’s July 2! I was trapped in some strange Canadian mash-up of After Hours and Trains, Planes and Automobiles. I just wanted to get home! Fortunately, the hailing stopped as suddenly as it started and we departed on time.

The return flight was not stopping through Minnesota, but rather Chicago, so Fred and I were hopeful that we would encounter no further problems. But fate still had one blow left to deliver: we missed our connection. There was only one thing to do. We proceeded to the airport bar and got hammered while awaiting the next flight home.

We arrived in New York in the wee hours of the morning. I tried to explain to Fred that appearances normally proceeded swimmingly without problem; that the nightmare that this particular gig became was nothing more than an anomaly. I liked Fred and wanted to work with him again in the future. More importantly, I believed he had the mix of spirit, dedication, playfulness and professionalism that the best character actors possessed. He would have been a tremendous addition to the team. But I caught the look on his face as we parted and I knew we’d never meet in costume again.

What the Fantastic Four and Marveldom assembled could not do, over more than two decades and countless battles, a frail octogenarian couple of fifty years achieved without even trying: the utter defeat of Dr. Doom!

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