Bizarro Back Issues, Cartoon Edition: ‘The Fantastic Mr. Frump’ (1981)
On the big list of things I like an awful lot, Spider-Man, Dr. Doom and Jem and the Holograms are three entries you’ll find pretty close to the top. I love those things, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when Dylan Todd told me that there was a place all three came together: An episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends where Dr. Doom gives a kindly old man demonic power over all creation, written by Jem creator Christy Marx.
It’s even better than it sounds. Especially once the Cthulhu monster shows up.One of the things I’ve always thought was interesting about Marvel Comics is that because of when and how they were created, they didn’t really feel like “Silver Age” comics. Don’t get me wrong, the Marvel books were just as crazy as their DC counterparts, but they’re crazy in a completely different way that you get from stories about, say, Superman tricking Jimmy Olsen into marrying a gorilla. They just never got to have that bizarre brand of wackiness.
Or at least, they didn’t have it in the main line. Things that were geared towards kids tended to capture that spirit a little more often. Spidey Super Stories, for example, went all out, attempting to cater to younger readers through a combination of small words and absolute lunacy, and from what I’ve seen of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, it went about the same way.
THe story followed the adventures of Spider-Man and his two super-powered pals form Empire State University — who also ended up moving into Aunt May’s house, setting up Ultimate Spider-Man’s take on the same setup — Iceman and Firestar. But today’s adventure doesn’t start with them.
Instead, we open on New York’s Latverian Embassy:
This, by the way, is the first sign that things are about to be awesome: The fact that for an embassy, Dr. Doom basically keeps a creepy haunted house lookin’ place right in midtown Manhattan.
Then again, what better setting for the magical doings that are most certainly afoot? Dr. Doom himself is in town, hanging out on his roof and blasting the sky with Kirby-dotted lasers from his fingertips, invoking the name of the “Lords of Lightning,” brandishing a mystic amulet and otherwise acting out a Black Sabbath album cover from the Ronnie James Dio years.
The purpose of all this? To gain, as Doom puts it, “the Power of the Universe.” Pretty vague, but as we’ll soon see, also pretty accurate.
While Doom is conjuring forth the darkest powers, the eponymous Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends are heading home from a basketball game, when they stumble across one Mr. Frump, who is so far down on his luck that he’s in the process of being physically thrown out of his job:
Incidentally, Iceman’s voice in the show is provided by the incredible Frank Welker, better known to most as the voice of Scooby-Doo‘s Fred Jones for the past 40 years. He gives Iceman the same voice, and Iceman even looks like Fred, only he doesn’t have an ascot. As a result, I keep expecting a talking dog to show up and pull off Dr. Doom’s mask, but while that would be pretty great, it never actually happens.
Anyway, it turns out that Peter knows Mr. Frump. He used to do odd jobs for Aunt May, who he describes as “the only one who ever was nice to me.” Ever the compassionate souls, the Amazing Friends tell him to cheer up and then leave him to wander off on his own in the throes of a depression that even Tom Batiuk would be jealous of.
With that out of the way, Firestar suggests a super-powered race home, which prompts Peter to just cold strip down in the middle of the street:
And you wonder why he had to sell his marriage to Mephisto to get his secret identity back.
But this race is where our two stories combine. While cheating — er, “taking a shortcut” in an effort to get ahead of Firestar, Peter swings from the radio tower on the roof of the Latverian Embassy. While he’s up there, he catches a glimpse of Dr. Doom standing in the center a
mystical pentagram Standards & Practices-approved pentagon made by joining five scorch marks left by lightning, calling forbidden power that could drive lesser men mad!
Spider-Man decides to just jump on down and start fighting, and I have to say, that’s pretty poor form from a super-hero. Yes, we all know Dr. Doom’s up to no good, but he’s also just hanging out on the roof of his own house — not to mention what is technically foreign soil — and suddenly some vigilante luchador is all up in his face throwing punches. It’s just not right.
During the scuffle, the amulet ends up falling out of Doom’s hands and over the ledge, landing on the street below with a full charge of eldritch magicks that will make whoever touches it the most powerful being in the universe.
So of course, here comes Mr. Frump.
Frump gets a full charge of power, and as Spider-Man explains to the Amazing Friends that they have to stop Doom from getting his amulet, he wanders into a nearby store looking for work. The clerk at the store has a level of surliness that is downright admirable: After putting a Help Wanted sign in the window, his response to someone coming in and looking for work is to shout “No job for you! Bug off!” and then go back to reading his paper. It is some Olympic-level pre-Internet trolling.
That said, he picked the wrong day to sass Mr. Frump. Frump responds with a not-especially-witty “you bug off,” and the results can only be described as Kafkaesque:
Yes, Frump has gained the power to make whatever he says a reality. He spends a little while trying to figure this out, including a scene where he responds to the taunts of some neighborhood children by commanding two of them to jump in a lake and turning the third into a giant clam.
It only gets weirder once he actually susses out what’s going on, and immediately conjures up a new set of clothes and “a gilded carriage,” before declaring that “those nasty boys will be my foot servants!”
He also asks for “someone special to be my friend forever and ever” and gets a cat. Surprisingly, he doesn’t also conjure up a giant neon sign reading “CREEP,” but I guess that one’s implied.
As Frump continues recruiting the neighborhood toughs as serfs in his new mystic feudalism, Spider-Man & Co. are squabbling with Dr. Doom over the pieces of the amulet. As goofy as this episode is — and as goofy as it’s going to get in a few minutes — it’s actually a really interesting fight, and Doom comes out looking like the toughest dude who has ever walked the Earth. Firestar sets him on fire and he just stands there blasting with lasers, and at one point they drop him from high enough to crack the asphalt and he just gets up and resumes talking trash like it never happened.
But all that comes to an end when they notice that someone’s conjuring up rainbows, red carpeting and polka dots everywhere. Doom realizes that someone else has the power, and hightails it off to start getting in good with the highly impressionable master of the universe. Doom convinces Frump that he’s the good guy responsible for his powers and promptly turns the Amazing Friends into stone. It’s all pretty confusing, so he conjures up the one person that he thinks he can turn to for advice: Aunt May!
May is understandably freaked out by the fact that her former handyman has the power to turn teenagers into stone, so Frump undoes that particular spell and brings them back to life, but without their powers. He then sets about trying to impress May by conjuring up money, a yacht, a fancy car and other high-class accoutrements, but Doom — who is wise in the ways of the ladies — gives him a friendly tip.
If you really want to make a good impression on your potential sweetheart, you need to magic yourself up a Roman Colosseum.
This is where things start to get weird.
There’s not much to do in an arena but fight to the death, so with Doom whispering in his ear the whole time, Frump gives the heroes their powers back, and then pits them against a preeeetttty racist portrayal of Genghis Khan…
…Cyclops and Cerberus…
And finally, “the weirdest thing in the universe,” a horrific betentacled Elder Thing that man was never meant to call forth, whose powers are far beyond mortal understanding, lost beyond the precipice of madness:
When the Lurker at the Gate takes a swipe at Aunt May, though, Frump transforms himself into a super-hero…
…and then sends the One That Is All back beneath the Earth, where it will lie for untold centuries in a dreamless slumber before rising to destroy us all.
At this point, Dr. Doom realizes that things have gotten just a shade out of hand, so he makes a deal with the Spider-Friends to trick Frump into letting them undo the spell. They get him to take them back to the Embassy and, after a last-minute attempt at trickery from Doom, the amulet gets destroyed, everything goes back the way it was, and everyone forgets that the whole thing happened.
Everyone in the show, that is. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the time Dr. Doom granted omnipotence to a handyman who then summoned The Key And The Gate to inflict a millennium of madness upon the Earth.
Not while they keep it on Neflix, at least.