Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mera Meets the Manta Men

Oh, Hostess comic ads of the seventies and eighties! How I love your particular brand of madness! Let's dive deep below the sea and discover what joys you have for us this time.

I found this particular ad in Batman Family 16 (March 1978). I know, it's too tiny to read. Don't fear, an obsessively detailed panel-by-panel analysis follows.

Hey, look at Aquaman's logo, so large and prominently displayed! I don't see Aquaman here, but I'm sure he'll show up eventually, since it's his comic. The title character here, though, is Mera, a surprisingly minor character to star in one of these Hostess ads. Even Aqualad, who is mentioned in neither the title nor the logo, is better known than her, being Aquaman's sidekick and his co-star in a series of 1960s Filmation cartoons. Mera was Aquaman's wife. She was the queen of an other-dimensional undersea realm, who helped Aquaman out a couple of times; they fell in love and got married; shortly thereafter she gave birth to...I shit you not...Aquababy. They honestly named their son Aquababy. Years later, in less innocent times, writers would realize how ridiculous that was and retroactively rename him Arthur Jr. But seriously. Aquababy. Some time after that, Black Manta murdered Aquababy, and a devastated Mera left Aquaman.

But that's all in the future! The horrible, horrible future. In the here and now of 1978, Mera has time to ride around on her giant mutant seahorse across the beautiful radioactive-green ocean bottom and Aqualad says things like "Suffering swordfish" and nobody smacks him. But what could be driving those sharks against their will, making them resistant to even Aqualad's mighty telepathic powers???

Aaah! Manta men! Meet them, Mera! Meet them and despair! They have an evil plan to freak out sharks and drive them towards the beach, which will give Black Manta complete mastery of the oceans somehow! Oh, if only SOMEONE here had a useful super power! I am most definitely not looking at you, Aqualad.

Aaah again! Freakish giant hand! Every comic of this panel brings some new grotesque abomination to haunt your nightmares!

Ahem. Here's the main problem with Mera. She was meant to be a supporting character in Aquaman's comic, but she was soooooo much more powerful than him. She couldn't chat with halibut, but she could form water into "hard-water" shapes - not just scary hands, but also columns that could carry her up and out of the ocean, or giant balls she could hurl at her enemies - all sorts of useful things. (Although she mostly just did hands, columns and balls.She was powerful, but not very imaginative.) When she first appeared in the 60s, her sheer womanliness was used as the reason Aquaman had to save her, but as we moved into the more liberated 70s, the idea that she couldn't save herself seemed more and more unlikely. Suck it, Aquaman. Talk to the hand.

In the comics, her hard-water hands were drawn to look like they were made of water.They were not horrifying amputated flesh-things, as here.

Imagine this panel out of context. You would never, ever be able to figure out what was going on, but you would know that it was something wonderful. "God giving snacks to monsters" would be my guess. But where did Mera's floating hand get the Hostess Fruit Pies? Did she make them out of hard-water too? ("Hard-water", by the way, is not the same thing as ice. I'm not sure where the distinction lies.) I notice in these ads that the Hostess snack food-like products always seem to magically appear out of nowhere just when you need them most. Like Jesus, but useful.

When I eat, I talk just like the Manta Men. Last night I had spaghetti for dinner, and I sat in my apartment shouting, "Sauce! Soft boiled noodles. Meatball! Real chopped onion." I was so busy eating I didn't have time to emit stun rays.

Hostess Fruit Pies are extra delicious when you completely immerse them in sea water. Mmmm! Makes the crust extra tender. I think it's interesting that the sound effect Manta Men make when eating is the same sound they make when emitting stun rays, except plural. Maybe they make that sound whatever they do. Or maybe they kraccked a tooth on the artificial apple filling.

I don't think they should just toss the wrappers into the ocean like that. Although I suppose they don't really have another option. 

This panel is unspeakably filthy. "Fingers and hands were meant for good things." "So were mouths." Wink. I'm shuddering in a mixture of revulsion and desire. Oh, Manta Men, how you tease me.

Why does the Fruit Pies wrapper have a picture of a penguin smoking a cigarette? Oh, wait, that's Fruit Pie the Magician. Remember him? He was one of the Hostess mascots, like Twinkie the Kid and Captain Cupcake and Childhood Obesity.

So...where was Aquaman? Wasn't this supposed to be his comic? He did not appear at all. Neither did Black Manta, who was allegedly the mastermind behind this sinister plot. This story belonged to Mera, Aqualad, the Manta Men, the Freakish Giant Hand, Fruit Pies and insanity. Hostess has given us the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of comics. Somewhere at this exact moment, Aquaman is defeating Black Manta, who's thinking, "Oh well, at least my Manta Men are ruining some family's beach outing."

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