Monday, October 31, 2016

Recap: Goosebumps "Attack of the Mutant Part I"

Happy Halloween!

Today, in a story adapted from one of my favorite Goosebumps books growing up, Goosebumps crosses over with the NewtCave's usual bread and butter, the world of superheroics!

Of course, this was made in the 90s, so the superheroics of the time consisted of the Clone Saga, Steel, and Batman and Robin

Man, the 90s had some of the suckiest pop culture.

And hopefully, this two-parter won't just be another example of that.
The episode opens with closeups of some comic panels showing the evil, shapeshifting Masked Mutant fighting his eternal nemesis, the Galloping Gazelle. The events shown are a little vague, since the panels don't seem to logically progress, but it's clear that the Gazelle just tricked the Mutant into falling off a ledge.

Galloping Gazelle: "Thanks for dropping by, Mutant!"

Classic. Though the Galloping Gazelle sounds a bit familiar.... Oh, well, it's probably yet another Canadian actor who went on to appear in The Magic School Bus, or Mean Girls, or something. I'll look it up later.

Galloping Gazelle: "Another victory over evil for the League of Good Guys!"

But alas, the Mutant has shapeshifted into a tentacled beast to enact his revenge!

Masked Mutant: "I'll try not to leave any squid marks."
I am fairly sure that this was traced from some artwork of Venom.
We then cut to our protagonist, Skipper (Dan Warry-Smith), who is excited reading his new comic in his bedroom. His mom (Mag Ruffman) comes in to tell Skipper that his dad's home, and perhaps he should put that comic away before his dad sees that he's not doing his homework.

Skipper: "But Mom! The Masked Mutant mutated into a giant squid! Look, he has the Galloping Gazelle in a death grip!"

Hey, that's not the picture from the comic montage!
Skipper asks to be allowed to finish his comic, but that's when his dad (Maurice Godin) comes in and gets after him for reading comics books while his homework remains unfinished.

It's pretty hypocritical for Clark Kent here to tell his son to stop reading comics.
Mr. Mathews: "Is all his homework finished?"
Mrs. Mathews: "Hello, dear."


I'm not sure why Mrs. Mathews will continually act like she's not quite all there, but I think maybe it's because her husband used that memory-erasing kiss on her a few too many times.

No wonder he refuses to kiss her.
Mr. Mathews: "Is all your homework finished?"
Skipper: "Well, not all of it."
Mr. Mathews: "Well, why do you think your grades are so poor?"

"Because the combination of an overbearing father and absent-minded mother has forced me to seek negative attention as a way of coping with the feeling that I'm unloved?"
Mr. Mathews: "Because he spends all his time buried in a comic book!"
Skipper: "But Dad! I don't just read them, I collect them! See? Like, the Silver Swan! This is a first edition! Do you know how much this thing is worth?"
Mrs. Mathews: "Well, how much?"

A dollar if you're lucky.

Judging by the artwork on the cover, Silver Swan issue 1 seems to be a 90s comic. In the 1990s, there was a huge trend of publishing first issues all over the place, with shiny covers, and six variant covers, and all sorts of stuff you could collect. The idea was that these comics would eventually be worth a lot of money. Well, here's the problem. First of all, only characters that are famous will have valuable first issues. Nobody cares about the first issue of Captain Squash, but people will pay through the nose for Superman's first appearance.

The second problem was that everybody bought multiple copies, meaning that these supposedly "valuable" comics could be found all over the place. And the law of supply and demand dictates that if there's a lot of something that nobody wants, then it won't be worth much.

All this kid is doing is contributing to the Great Comic Crash of '96.

Mr. Mathews: "Your obsession with these things, it's unhealthy! You don't pay attention to anything else!"

Yeah, that's what they said about me. But I didn't let my love of superheroes become my entire life. I can quit writing this blog any time I want!

"Then do it."
I don't want to.
"Uh huh."
Mrs. Mathews: "Oh, Skipper, try to pay attention to something else."

But Skipper's already lost in his comic again.

Mrs. Mathews: "Dinnertime!"

...How is it dinnertime now when you've been upstairs instead of preparing dinner? Has it been dinnertime, and you just forgot until now?

Also, sweet Wolverine standee, Skipper.
As the family heads downstairs, Mrs. Mathews tries and fails for the second time since her husband came back to kiss him. So either their marriage is on the rocks, or my hunch about the memory-erasing kisses discoloring her brain is accurate.

As they all head downstairs, the Mutant's face briefly pops out of Skipper's comic, giving us a nice little ending before the commercial break.

The next day, Skipper shows his buddy Wilson (Adam Schofield) his latest comic, which features the secret headquarters of the Masked Mutant for the first time.

Skipper: "In issue 12, page 4, panel 3, he talked about his headquarters, but they never showed it."

That's a level of nerdery that even I can't match. Impressive, Skipper.

Wilson: "Which one is he again?"

"He's the yellow one with the claws, right?"
Skipper: "Man, Wilson, I don't believe you! Come on! The Masked Mutant is the most evil comic book villain there is."

Really? More evil than the Hitler clone that attacked New York with a Hate Ray?

More evil than the Red Skull?

More evil than Captain Nazi?

Yes, I'm aware that I listed Nazis for all of my examples. That's because your basic evilometer works on a scale from 1 to Nazi. That's just a fact.

This kid breaks the rating scale.
Wilson's attention span goes out the window as he shows off a cool new rock he found.

Wilson: "Well, if you hold it like this... it looks like a duck."
Skipper: "It does?"
Wilson: "Well, it did this morning."

Wilson invites Skipper to come with him to collect more rocks after school, but Skipper thinks that sounds dumb and boring. Also, he's got an orthodontist appointment.

Skipper and Wilson agree to disagree on the merits of collecting rocks or comics as the cameraman stalks them from the foliage.

"Dang it, who put this plant in the way? I'm trying to film this episode!"
Wilson: "What'd you get?"
Skipper: "Tuna."
Wilson: "Me too. Wanna trade?"
Skipper: "What for?"
Wilson: "I don't know."
Skipper: "Yeah, okay."

Okay, I genuinely like these kids. They're not like most other Goosebumps protagonists. They have personality.

Skipper can't help but feel watched, but he goes back to his lunch anyway. Later that day, as he rides the bus... okay, really?

Goosebumps, you're shamelessly promoting a show I'm already watching.
Anyway, as Skipper rides the bus to his orthodontist appointment, somebody decides to ride the same bus in style.

I guess he likes getting bugs in his teeth.
Inside, some random girl named Libby (Melissa Bathory) strikes up a conversation with Skipper, apropos of nothing.

Libby: "Hey, do you go to Franklin?"
Skipper: "Huh? Who? Me?"

Skipper's not confused because girls don't talk to nerds, or anything like that. He's confused because at his age, girls don't talk to boys much.

Libby: "I wasn't talking to the empty seat."

"My mom talks to empty seats. It's a sad thing to witness."
Skipper: "Yeah, I go there."
Libby: "How is it?"
Skipper: "I don't know. It's an okay school."

"After the latest rounds of budget cuts, the facility isn't as up-to-date with maintenance, but the curriculum remains as strong as ever, with a focus in advanced placement programs to jumpstart higher education. You know, pretty okay."
Libby: "I didn't mean to interrupt your reading."

Isn't that exactly what you meant to do? Interrupt his reading to talk about his school?

Libby introduces herself, as does Skipper. Libby is kind enough to not make the obvious "Where's Gilligan?" joke and instead asks him if he collects comics, because she does, too. High School Harry and Beanhead, to be precise.

"You know that they're just an Archie and Jughead ripoff, right?"
Skipper is disgusted by her taste in reading material, and she gets a little defensive.

Libby: "What do you collect? All that superhero junk like the Masked Mutant?"
Skipper: "Yeah. I know everything abeut the Mutant. He's the most evil supervillain of them all. I mean, look at this artwork!"

I have been, Skipper. Judging by the artwork (and especially the coloring), Masked Mutant seems to be an indie comic. Pretty odd, then, that Libby was able to name the character despite not being interested in superheroes....

Skipper goes on to explain the ongoing plot, that the Mutant has been trying to overpower his aging nemesis the Galloping Gazelle for years, and now they have to battle for the fate of the planet.

Actually, an aging superhero donning tights trying to foil his nemesis one last time to save the world from one last villainous scheme sounds far more interesting than half the stuff comic books were doing in the 90s. It also sound like a bit of a The Dark Knight Returns ripoff, but whatever.

Libby: "Are all the boys at Franklin like you?"
Skipper: "Nah, I'm the coolest."

Heh. Good answer, kid.

But Skipper missed his stop and gets out in the middle of the city to try and figure out where to go from here. But as he look around, he finds....

Skipper: "The Mutant's headquarters!"

Or the biggest, most elaborate condom the world has ever seen.
He takes a look inside the building before running off to his orthodontist appointment, unaware that the Mutant is now watching him from inside the building....

That night, Skipper tells Wilson about the weird building. But Wilson has a simpler theory.

Wilson: "Who draws The Masked Mutant? Who's the artist?"
Skipper: "Wilson, it's Ernie Atwater. Come on, everybody knows that."

Really? Because the books cites Jim Steranko, an obvious reference to Jim Sterenko.

Wilson: "Well, I'll bet that guy Atwater was here one day."
Skipper: "Ernie Atwater coming to Tarrington?"
Wilson: "Sure. Let's say he's here. He's driving down the street. And he sees this weird building. And he thinks, "What a great building. And it'd be perfect for the headquarters of the Masked Mutant.' So he copied it for the comic book."

That actually sounds plausible. Plausible enough to pacify Skipper as Mr. Mathews comes in to say that it's getting late and it might be time for Wilson to go home so Skipper can do his homework. He also overplays his Clark Kent act when Wilson's rock-filled coat takes him by surprise, and he pretends that it's really heavy.

Wilson: "Want a rock?"
Mr. Mathews: "No, I'm good."

"I have this cool green one..."
That night, Skipper reads his comic under his blanket with a flashlight, but his dad suddenly lifts up the covers and gets after him for staying up past bed time.

Clark, you should be lucky that your son wasn't... um... shooting web fluid under the covers, if you're picking up what I'm putting down.
Lucky for Skipper, he tucked his comic inside an Algebra book to make it look like he was actually studying. And somehow, his dad falls for it. But before everybody gets to bed, Skipper's dad reminds his son that he's got that follow-up appointment at the orthodontist tomorrow.

Skipper mutters something about going to see the headquarters, which gets his dad's attention. So Skipper quickly asks his dad about algebra to make him want to skedaddle.

And for some reason, the film quality has gone downhill for a second as all these white dots appear.
Ew, is that a hair? Is that literally a hair on the screen? What were the white dots, dandruff?
Skipper vows to head back to the strange building before he goes to bed, and we cut to him getting off the bus in the same place. But oddly enough, the building's gone. He asks an old man passing by if he remembered a building in the are that looks like the one in his comic, but all he gets is more contempt for the medium.

Old Man: "No wonder you're seeing things. This stuff'll rot your mind."

Is it just me, or is this bit written like a Stan Lee cameo?
Oh, and the jig's up, Goosebumps.
You really couldn't just remove the actual cover and replace it with The Masked Mutant?
Later that day, Mrs. Mathews cooks some soup for dinner while reading from a book called "Forbidden Fantasies," which seems to be getting her a little excited.

"'Tenderly, she grasped it, feeling his warmth against her skin.
She found her heartbeat quickening as she gently caressed its length.
Never before had she felt such yearning inside her.
Within her thoughts, such lusty passions were stirring....'"
"What's that about stirring, Mom?"
"Dinner! I'm stirring dinner!"
Mrs. Mathews tells Skipper that he got some new "special edition" comic in the mail and she hands it to her son so she can go back to her smut.

Skipper: "They've never done that before."

Dude, every comic in the 90s was a "special edition."

But Skipper opens up his new comic, shocked at what he finds within its pages.

Skipper: "It can't be! It's not possible!"

"DC's doing another reboot? It hasn't even been five years!"
The next day, Wilson agrees that it isn't possible, though Skipper has changed his mind. And no matter how much the evidence seems to point toward the existence of an evil supervillain, he simply believes that there has to be a logical explanation.

"An ancestor of mine maintained that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever's left, however improbable, must be the truth."
His latest comic features the Mutant erecting a cloaking device around his headquarters, which would explain why the building isn't there anymore.

Skipper heads back to the same spot later that day, and the building is still gone. But Libby's there to tease him for thinking that his comics are showing reality. But when they approach the alleged building's location, they find it fading into view, despite Libby's sarcasm.

Since this is a work of fiction, the next step for the characters is to trespass on private property and go inside. Once there, Skipper gets blasted by some kind of ray that briefly does this to him.

"Dog tsniaga raw ekam ot tip eht morf sesir tsaeb eht!"
It doesn't hurt him, though, so he just shrugs it off and walks around the green screen with Libby, pretending to be amazed at the model interior chroma-keyed in.

"Wow, look at this place! That we're actually in! Right now! For real!"
Eventually, they find an elevator while Libby guesses what Skipper's thinking.

Libby: "You think this is the secret headquarters of the Mighty Mutator."
Skipper: "It's the Masked Mutant, can we please get that straight? And what if it is? How else could you explain that invisibility curtain?"


Skipper: "Well, there's only one way to find out the truth, right?"

Find an adult and take them there?

Call up the power company, claim that your house is at the building's location, and ask why your power's cutting in and out, alerting them to the presence of a secret building stealing electricity?

Run in and out of the invisibility curtain while adults watch you do it, thus cluing them in to the fact that something odd is going on?

Skipper gets in the elevator with Libby and presses the button to go to the top floor, only for the elevator to head down as far as it can go and stop with them trapped inside. Then the buttons stop responding at all, aggravating Skipper's sudden headache.

Libby: "We'll be trapped in here forever! The air will run oot! We'll suffocate! I can't breathe, Skipper! I can't breathe!"

Then the door opens.

Libby: "Oh."

They take a look around against Libby's better judgement before trying to go back up. Unfortunately, the buttons continue to be unresponsive.

Libby: "Let's find another elevator."
Skipper: "Okay."

But when they get out, the elevator doors close behind them. Whoops.

So with no other choice, they start looking around the basement, hearing strange noises. Suddenly, Skipper finds himself alone. He finds a white room with no black curtains far away from any stations. But what it does have is a drawing table with a bunch of folders. Skipper peeks inside, finding artwork for the next issue of The Masked Mutant.

As well as artwork of...

Some fat, eyebrow-less Asian kid?
Skipper: "It's me!"

If you say so.

But before Skipper can process this, he hears a noise from behind him. Suddenly, the Masked Mutant attacks!

Or rather, stands there. Menacingly.
Will Skipper fall prey to this felonious fiend? Will the mystery of the secret sketches be solved? And what does Lex Luthor have planned for Mr. Mathews? Tune in tomorrow! Same Newt-Time, same Newt-Blog!

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