Friday, March 1, 2013

Media Hounds: Me, myself, and Mortimer Toynbee.

               So, I was at work last night, racking my brains to think of a recurring article that I could write here. One that I revisited every few weeks to keep you guys coming back for more… but it took me a long time to think of one because of the large amount of comic book related blogs you can find here on the Internet. Finally, I came up with one that I think will be fun to read, fun to write, informative and funny, while at the same time not being done very much elsewhere on the World Wide Web. I give you MEDIA HOUNDS. Here, every couple weeks or so, I’m going to take a comic book character and, instead of the looking at the cool/stupid stuff he’s done in the comics, focus on the adaptations that character has had in other media like cartoons, TV shows, video games and films. We’ll see how accurate they were, how inaccurate they were, and hopefully have a good belly-laugh along the way.

               But, before we get started, let me make one thing clear. Adaptations are just that: adaptations. I’m not one of those comic nerds who get mortally offended when you change a character for a film or TV version. In my opinion, that is the great thing about comic books today, the things that make them our modern mythology: different authors write them and tell stories with them constantly, so the character is constantly evolving, just the oral stories of heroes in ancient times. Look at Superman: when he started, he couldn’t fly and there was no such thing as Kryptonite. Over the years and over the authors, those things happened and he became a better character for it. As long as you take the character as a starting point and build from it to make something better… I’m pretty much going to be OK with it. That said if you make that character worse, well then: I will rip you a new one in the stunning text-only format of this blog. So, without further ado! I give you the first issue/episode/installment/thing of Media Hounds.

               Toad, also known as Mortimer Toynbee, has been a constant thorn in the side of the X-Men. In the comics, he first appeared in 1964 as a lackey (or a toady, see what they did there?) to Magneto in the pages of Uncanny X-Men. Since then, he’s been a relatively common character to adapt to the various adaptations of the X-Men franchise.

Does anyone actually remember when television screens were shaped like that?
               Toad’s first appearance in other media was a small cameo in and episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. The episode itself is classic 80’s tripe. Magneto disguises himself as Proton the Great in order to lure all of the police chiefs to an island prison and magnetically trap them there.

                 Hilariously, none of the police chiefs recognize him, despite the fact he’s wanted by all of them (which Spidey mentions in the episode), even though the sides of his bright purple helmet are poking out from the sides of his hood. Toad appears very briefly as one of the prisoners that Magneto wants freed, alongside Blob and Mastermind. Magneto gives brief descriptions of all their powers, and he says Toad is “obedient and super-agile.” I like the way Magneto lists his obedience as a superpower…
               MUTANT: So, what’s your gift? What do you do?
               TOAD: Uh… I’m super obedient.
               MUTANT: What? So you follow instructions?
               TOAD: Yeah, but I do it like… really well.
               MUTANT: Is that useful?
               TOAD: Well, everything in my house runs perfectly because I read the manuals cover to   cover and super-obey them. Also, I’m the only person in the world who can understand those IKEA boxed furniture kits.
               MUTANT: …  Punch yourself in the face.
               Anyway, the episode itself is pretty funny. Magneto eventually is defeated when Spidey somehow overloads his power and Magneto “can’t control his attraction,” causing cars and other objects (including a conveniently placed dumpster full of iron filings) to, I assume, crush him his death as he tries to fly away. Toad, however, never appears again in the episode.

              Toad also shows up briefly in Pryde of the X-Men, a pilot show that never went to series based around Kitty Pryde’s adventures in the X-Men. Here, he’s a member of the Brotherhood of Mutant Terrorists alongside Blob, Pyro, Juggernaut, The White Queen and Magneto. Since the whole series is only an episode long, Toad doesn’t get much screentime, but he’s his usual sycophantic self and he is voiced by Frank Welker – the guy who does pretty much every voice in pretty much every movie ever. (Seriously, look up that guy’s resume, you will be stunned by how many times you go “Oh! He’s that guy?!”) Toad does however at one point attack the inexplicably Australian Wolverine, giving us this glorious screenshot.
There are so many possible captions. Choose one and laugh heartily
              Toad appears in two episodes of the 1990s X-Men animated series, still as an almost exact copy of his comic book counterpart. It isn’t until the year 2000 that Toad appears in more than a minor role… Well, actually, it’s still pretty minor. My point is this next one is important.

             In his meatiest appearance to date, Toad appeared in Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie played by Ray Park (the guy who is also Darth Maul and Snake-Eyes). Here, Toad is vastly different to his comic book counterpart. Firstly, he has seemingly lost his super obedience and is instead a reasonably intelligent enforcer of Magneto’s. He’s shown working on the big fancy machine, showing a level of engineering skill, and he battles Cyclops, Storm and Jean Grey single-handedly before being turned into Louisiana cuisine by Storm’s lightning bolt.

Do you know what happens to a toad when its struck by lightning? It generates Internet memes!

               Ray Park’s Toad also boasts a host of different powers. Aside from his super leaping (and super obedience), the comic book Toad really didn’t have any other mutant powers. The film version has the ability to scale walls, discolored skin and hair, the ability to spit adhesive mucus, and the now iconic elongated prehensile tongue. That’s right, true believers! Toad’s most famous power comes not from the pages of the comic book, but rather an adaptation of that work. The tongue was bloody cool though and quickly made its way to the ink-and-paper version, as did many aspects of the film’s Toad, including his thinner, more athletic physique. (In fact, the Ultimate version of the character when first introduced is very, very similar to the film version, just greener.) This really goes to show what I was saying earlier about adaptations. The film version of Toad is not accurate to the source material at all, but its builds on the mythos and improved it. That’s why so many comic book characters, even minor ones like Toad, have such complex and changing histories because unlike more conventional storytelling, we can introduce a host of different authors, artists, filmmakers, etc. to introduce new and cool ideas.

               Toad’s next outing outside of comic book was a trio of cross-platform fighting games called Mutant Academy, Mutant Academy 2 and X-Men: Next Dimension. He is a playable character in all three games, using the powers and abilities that were by then standard to the comic book, but originated with the film version: most of his special attacks focused on the use of his elongated tongue. For some reason, whoever provided his voice in Next Dimension (I can’t find the name of the voice actor) decided that Toad needed to sound exactly like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and he annoyingly goes “give us a kiss!” and “lickety-lick!” throughout gameplay. He also hisses whenever he uses his tongue, so I can only assume he wears  The One Ring pierced through it and the hissing is the air rushing through the hole… (Yeah, that’s a weird image. Sorry about that one.)

                 Speaking of video games, he also appeared in X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II around this time, being playable in the second. Legends combines the appearance of Ultimate Toad with the snivelling personality of the mainstream Toad… Oh, and he’s voiced by Armin Shimerman, the guy who played Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Snyder in
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s always nice to see those niche actors from old sci-fi shows have gone absolutely nowhere in their careers…

               Of course, during the course of these video games’ release, we also see the airing of X-Men Evolution. Toad, due to his popularity from the film, has a meatier role than in past cartoons and his powers more reflect the film version than the original. Due to the setting of the show, he’s also aged down to a teenager; Americanized (the original is from York, England, while this version is obviously from Brooklyn); and given a new punkish attitude, though he is still rather cowardly, subservient and nearly useless in combat. He’s also renamed Todd Tolansky for this version.

            He had a crush on Scarlet Witch and was a minor rival for Nightcrawler in the show, but mostly he was used for comic relief: he’s rejected and whacked around more times than I can count and there’s a ‘Toad smells bad and eats bugs’ joke every other episode. Still, he had one episode in the starring role and helped the X-Men kick Apocalypse’s big metallic arsecheeks in the series finale. Not a bad outing for the Toad-meister.

This version also adds super-ridiculous-outfit-wearing to Toad’s list of powers. What’s the point in that metal fishbowl collar thing?

               The wise guy, punk attitude of this Toad sticks around to other adaptations as well. In Wolverine and the X-Men, Toad’s relationship with the Brotherhood is similar to Evolution’s. He’s a tag-along that doesn’t really do anything of use for the team (Quicksilver even considers leaving him to the MRD in one episode). He presents a tough guy attitude, but quickly chickens out when threatened and is shown to have no combat skills whatsoever.

               And that brings us pretty much up to the present day in terms of all things Toad. His most recent appearances include a brief mention in the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon and an amusing appearance in Super Hero Squad. After being defeated by Thor, Silver Surfer comments “oh, so that is what happens to a toad when it is struck by lightning. What a let-down.” He also appeared in the completely crap video game X-Men Destiny, where he has reverted back to being English, now sporting a cockney accent. Because apparently, according to American video game designers, there are precisely two accents in all of Britain: posh upper class (see Emma Frost in the same game) and cockney. Oh, well. It’s closer than Brooklyn, I suppose.

               Well, thanks again for reading. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip through all the many different versions of Mortimer Toynbee. Let me know if there are any ideas you have to improve the format or anything like that because as I said I’ll be writing more of these types of articles in the coming months. Thanks to all the people with YouTube videos that I nicked these images from and I’ll see you next time. ‘Til then I leave you with this…

               Ta-ra for now.

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