Saturday Mornings Redux: Video Man, Milo Manara, and Firestar!

our hero still doesn't fly very well.

our hero still doesn’t fly very well.

I have made no secret that I @#$%ing LOVE the Saturday Morning Cartoon “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.” I’ve done posts about it, it’s awesome, there we have it. It is such a serious creature of the early 80’s, the beginning of a successful trend for Marvel Animation, that is stands as a Monument to Excellence.

I’m not off topic….but it will seem like it for a sentence or two. “Pixels” came out today, with Adam Sandler. Adam Sandler isn’t very funny to me, and I can’t say that I like the larger body of his work. However, the film features the simple concept that aliens have brought early eighties video game characters to life, sent them to Earth, and declared war on humanity with them.

That plot is almost IDENTICAL to the First Season “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” episode entitled “Video Man.” The art (in color, yet!) above directly references the title card for that very episode. By the way, it is a chore to draw like the Marvel Animation studios of that time, and I STILL hate doing color, despite liking the outcome.

Let’s compare that episode’s plot synopsis to what I said about “Pixels.” The log line: “Electro creates a new villain from an arcade game to undo the Spider-friends.” Well…that’s pretty @#$%ing similar, huh? I also want to point out that this predates “Tron” and incorporates the idea of being trapped inside an arcade game. Impressive, right?

Firestar confronting Video Man in the episode entitled, "Video Man."

Firestar confronting Video Man in the episode entitled, “Video Man.”

Stan Lee and the House of Ideas must have thought they were on to something, because the previously unseen Video man appeared in two more episodes. One of those episodes was in the second Season, which only had three episodes in its entirety, telling you that someone had to think that was a workable concept. In that episode, Video man himself makes other video game bad guys…one a flying saucer from “Asteroids”, the other “Mr. Grabber,” basically a very adversarial Pac-Man. You know, like the Pac-Man you see on the “Pixels” billboards that are everywhere. Video Man and his cronies create the background for a serious exposition of Iceman’s origin story, in an episode uncreatively titled, “The Origin of Iceman.”

You go, Mr. Grabber!  A still shot from Season Two, "The origin of Iceman."

You go, Mr. Grabber! A still shot from Season Two, “The origin of Iceman.”

Also from the “Origin of Iceman” is the idea that an old disconnected arcade game struck by lighting will simply generate a Video Man, which can in turn live off of electricity. I love comic book science, and it only gets better when it becomes Saturday Morning Cartoon Science.

"Rrraarrr!  I live!"  Except Video Man doesn't say anything.  Probably because he has no mouth.

“Rrraarrr! I live!” Except Video Man doesn’t say anything. Probably because he has no mouth.

The appearance in that episode, “The Origin of Iceman” most probably led to his few comics appearances, neither of which even I have actually read. I credit that particular episode because of this easily found graphic (see below), with no definite plotline attached. Even Comicvine, which is usually epic for these kinds of tiny details on obscure comics, quotes only the plot of the last television appearance of Video Man. The image below…that’s in “Spider-Man Family” No. 1, from 2006.

How can you fire that many video game pellets and hit nothing?

How can you fire that many video game pellets and hit nothing?

I’m going to come back to that particular comic in a little bit, but right now, lets go on with Video Man’s television appearances. He also appeared in Season Three of “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends,” in the episode entitled, “The Education of a Superhero.” The evil Gamesman has a plan to hypnotize all the young people and wreak havoc upon the city. He transmits an hypnotic signal via arcade games using his ‘hypno-sound machine.’ Meanwhile Francis Byte, a teenage video game prodigy, is doing so well on one particular game that it explodes. This results in him transforming into the new superhero Video Man. The hypnotized teenagers gather in Central Park where both the Spider-Friends and the very inexperienced Video Man attempt to foil the Gamesman’s scheme. The villain captures Louise, a girl whom Francis is fond of. In exchange for her release Video Man agrees to take control of a satellite that will give the Gamesman power to hypnotize the world. Fortunately the Spider- Friends defeat the villain before Video Man’s mistake can be taken advantage of. Francis is taken to Professor Xavier’s school for proper superhero training.

Did you get all that? There will be a test. Check out the title card…

See how the art for today was inspired by these title cards?  Sure you do.

See how the art for today was inspired by these title cards? Sure you do.

So, all of that is pretty interesting. But what, if anything, does it have to do with Milo Manara, who is in the title of the post? Glad that you asked, True Believers.

You might remember that some months ago, Milo Manara got in a considerable amount of trouble for a Spider-Woman variant he was paid good money to draw. He was criticized for the “sexualized and exploitative nature of the pose” that he chose to depict Spider-Woman in, as she was crawling onto a ledge. Tom Brevoort an editor at Marvel Comics also expressed his take that the “Spider-Woman” No. 1 cover is “one of the less sexualized ones” that Marvel has published by Manara. “Given that the character is covered head-to-toe, and is crouched in a spider-like pose, it seems far less exploitative to me than other Manara pieces we’ve run in previous months and years.” Well…hmm. That’s a tricky point, Tom.

He goes on to say that, “I think a conversation about how women are depicted in comics is relevant at this point, and definitely seems to be bubbling up from the zeitgeist.” Also a VERY fair point.

What does this have to do with the whole Video Man thing, and “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends?” Good question. Let’s go back to that “Spider-Man Family” No. 1 from 2006, before anyone was getting mad at Milo Manara. Lets look at one panel, and have a good laugh:

Oh snap!  Someone call the Mary Sue and tell them to be offended!

Oh snap! Someone call the Mary Sue and tell them to be offended!

Oh…right. That’s Spider-Man on his hands and knees, not Spider-Woman, so the Mary Sue will give it a pass, along with the rest of the Internet. Forget that it is essentially the same pose, from a different angel, with the presence of a sinister power dynamic. None of that matters, right?

To be fair…it was a different time, and a different marketplace in comics. I don’t love being that fair, but guess what? I just was. Still…it’s there, for your viewing pleasure and probable humor.

Even beyond that…all of the furor with Spider-Woman was actually over how Manara depicted her butt. This is also not new to comics, or the Spider-Verse…for three years there was a serious discussion, debate, and censorship over the depiction of Firestar’s butt on television.

As you might recall from the art and images above, Firestar wore a full body suit…more or less a catsuit. If you don’t remember, here’s a refresher image:

Also with giant 80's hair.  Although her alter ego has a 70's style.  So much smarter than Clark Kent.

Also with giant 80’s hair. Although her alter ego has a 70’s style. So much smarter than Clark Kent.

When you come to drawing a full body suit, you’re basically just drawing the character naked, only colored in. So the network censors at NBC (“Proud as a Peacock” was their slogan at the time) had some issues with how Firestar was drawn. Meetings were called. In an interview with Rick Hoberg, who worked on the show, the following dialogue happened:

I’ve heard stories that the network requested that Firestar’s breasts be toned down after the first season because her yellow jumpsuit would make her appear to be naked at times.

Rick Hoberg: They were really cautious. It actually had to be toned down quite a bit during the first season but every season they wanted it toned down more. Not as much on her breasts, because those we pulled back on right off the bat, but on her rear end. We actually had to take any semblance of a crack line out of it. So they didn’t even want to see a separation between the buttocks…which is how the legs work, y’know? It looks kind of silly if you can’t animate that.

The Question: “I’ve heard stories that the network requested that Firestar’s breasts be toned down after the first season because her yellow jumpsuit would make her appear to be naked at times.”

Rick Hoberg’s Answer: “They were really cautious. It actually had to be toned down quite a bit during the first season but every season they wanted it toned down more. Not as much on her breasts, because those we pulled back on right off the bat, but on her rear end. We actually had to take any semblance of a crack line out of it. So they didn’t even want to see a separation between the buttocks…which is how the legs work, y’know? It looks kind of silly if you can’t animate that.”

Wait, what?

Yep. Let’s go to the videotape, for evidence, True Believers:

There you have it.  The proof you demanded.

There you have it. The proof you demanded.

So…in the early eighties, to prevent the kind of outrage we see regularly in the comics community today, network censors at NBC stepped in to edit an incredibly innocent Saturday Morning Cartoon. Clearly, everyone agrees with this, right? Sure, because it happened. Now, censorship is in the hands of third parties, but thankfully, we all see most of the images before they go to print, thanks to media and the Internet. Perhaps Milo Manara just needed to pitch his cover to NBC instead of Marvel.

All of Video Man’s appearances, a sarcastic indictment of censorship, and an in depth exploration of Firestar’s butt over time. There are only a few things left to discuss here, Gentle Readers…

First, why is Spider-Gwen in the art? Good question. A part of that comes down to the protagonist’s confused posture, sort of a “why are you hanging out with my high school/college friends, huh?” That’s pretty much all there is to it, but I like the idea of that weirdness.

Second…it is in fact, a challenge to draw Firestar’s butt. Let’s look at the black and white for an appraisal:

See?  Obviously controversial.

See? Obviously controversial.

As Stan Lee said at the end of every episode….Excelsior!

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