Bizarro Back Issues: Battling The Scourge Of Police Corruption In The Form Of A Robot Elephant (1988)
Convention season is in full swing, and that means that I'm spending a lot of time digging through dollar bins and picking up cheap back issues. The thing is, though, I'm not really looking for the good stuff anymore --- as the title of this column implies, I'm in it for the weird ones. More than anything else, I want the stuff that won't be seeing a reprint anytime soon: '80s black-and-white boom titles, Christian Archie comics about Betty witnessing to Veronica, and weird old licensed books for all-but-forgotten toy comics. That stuff is my jam.
And that's how I ended up reading a comic about cybernetic police officers fighting a dirty cop whose concept of "dirty" mostly involved smashing up a city with a giant robot elephant.
It happened in the pages of COPS: Central Organization of Police Specialists #7 and 8, from the team of Doug Moench, Pat Broderick, and Pablo Marcos, and it might surprise you that the weirdest thing about it isn't the robot elephant. The weirdest thing about it is that the robot elephant is treated as a completely serious example of (lowercase) cops taking the law into their own hands, providing the backdrop for a story about morality and how the people in authority struggle with the desire to not abuse their power. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
If you're not familiar with it, COPS was a short-lived toy line that was basically an attempt to do with the police what GI Joe had done with the military --- literally, in fact. The file cards were even written by Larry Hama, who recycled a few names from the Joes and even made COPS's futuristic military policeman the grandson of GI Joe's Beach Head.
And when I say "futuristic," I mean it. The tagline for COPS was "fighting crime in a future time," and most of the characters were built around stuff like having robot dogs or laser bazookas or, in the case of the team's leader, federal agent "Bulletproof" Vess, a full-on robot torso that would require him to dramatically take his shirt off before anyone could shoot at him.
So really, the robot elephant wasn't that unusual.
Given that the show was more than a little acronym happy, it will not surprise you to learn that this is the TRAMPLUR: Titanic Radio-Activated Multi-Purpose Laserized Urban Ravager. And really, it's hard to imagine the COPS having any trouble with the average Urban Ravager, but a Laserized Urban Ravager? Forget it, that thing is unstoppable, especially once its' improved by Dr. Badvibes, a criminal scientist in the employ of Big Boss who's kidnapped and press-ganged into service by the rogue cop who wants to literally stomp out all criminals.
Oh, right: The leader of the crime syndicate that the COPS fight is called Big Boss, which I think means this is in Metal Gear Solid continuity, although I'm not sure where it fits. I haven't read the whole series yet, so it's entirely possible that he slims down and loses an eye before it's all over.
Anyway, it turns out that the TRAMPLUR is the product of one --- wait for it --- Paxton Dern, and he's not just a cop, he was a potential recruit to COPS. When the organization was being put together, LongArm --- Bulletproof's second-in-command, whose action feature was a pair of retractable handcuffs that he shot out of a wrist-mounted launcher like a grappling hook --- interviewed him, and determined that he wasn't a good fit on account of being a terrifyingly insane authoritarian:
And like... Look, I don't want to tell any fictional futuristic police officers how to do their job or anything here, but if you meet a guy who's building a giant robot murder-elephant and he's too much of a fascist to join your team of ultra-cops, then maybe he shouldn't be a regular cop either. Maybe you at least tell someone else to keep an eye on him before you had back home and start handing out laser bazookas to slightly more trustworthy officers. Like, I'm not sure what exactly falls under the purview of Internal Affairs, but I feel like animal-shaped tanks should definitely be on the list.
Dern --- now calling himself Rogue, which is kind of like the time I saw a guy at Karaoke named Mike insist to the KJ that he would like to be called Ice --- takes his new and improved TRAMPLUR to the streets, and while he's having a lot of success taking out Big Boss's operations, Bulletproof and the rest of the COPS can't abide having a renegade lawman on their streets. They decide to take him down themselves, but there's one complication. Since Big Boss is fronting as a legitimate businessman, he decides to avoid Rogue and the TRAMPLUR by asking for police protection:
With Big Boss and the CROOKS (capitalized but not an acronym, for some reason) hiding out at the precinct and stealthily doing recon on the opposition, the whole thing culminates in TRAMPLUR TRAMPLing its way past a gauntlet of police officers to take on the assembled might of the COPS.
The trick, of course, is that the good COPS are tasked with taking down Rogue by the book, which in their case means that they have to use non-lethal laser bazooka charges and only shoot rubber bullets while zooming around on their flying motorcycles.
It's kind of a nice story beat, especially since you have the criminals standing their watching and talking about how tough it is to do the right thing instead of taking the easy (and flagrantly illegal) way out. Or, you know, it would be, if they didn't also throw in a bunch of thought balloons where the good guys were grumpily complaining about how they all wished they could just shoot this guy in the face and be done with it. I imagine that's something that maybe played a little better in this comic for babies in 1988 than it does thirty years later.
Either way, it all ends rather anticlimactically when Rogue gets so mad that he decides to get out of TRAMPLUR, and is promptly kicked into unconsciousness by the COPS' resident hacker, Mainframe.
So let this be a lesson to us all: If you have a plan that revolves around a giant robot elephant, don't leave the giant robot elephant.