Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

My Fuzzy Friends

by Michael Hutchison
with art by The Brothers Grinn

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, published from 1982-1984, was the book that got me into comic book collecting. Seriously. Not kidding.

I'm not sure that I can communicate why I like this series. Like many joys of childhood, one wonders if I'd feel the same way about it if I read it for the first time today. But I'm going to do a different kind of review today. It won't be authoritative, or deeply referenced. Instead, I just want to gab some about my old favorite book.

I remember the thrill of seeing Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #3 on the shelf at the drug store where my mom worked. (Strange to think that today's kids are unlikely to ever have this happen for them. A comic book in a public place?) The cover had the team fighting Frogzilla, a funny name for a monster. And right behind it on the shelf was JLA #200, which I also grabbed. As a way to introduce me to the absolute fun of comics, that combination was a one-two punch!

Little Cheese

In the ensuing months, I managed to find the first two issues that I was missing while I continued to buy more issues of Captain Carrot.

Although you can find the full origin of the Zoo Crew in an article I did wayyy back in Fanzing #3, I'll sum up the team for you.

The entire book takes place on an earth populated by funny animals. Superman, who stars in issue #1, dubs it "Earth-C" because they look like cartoon characters to him.

Brief aside: Yes, this was when it was still okay to have alternate earths. After Crisis came and went without explaining what happened to the Zoo Crew, DC decreed that they were actually from an alternate dimension, not an alternate Earth. Not sure what the difference is, really, but I can buy that. After all, a planet of anthropomorphic funny animals is vastly different from the usual "alternate Earths" where there were only slight variations.

Affected by glowing fragments of a meteorite, six funny animals gained superpowers and joined to form the Zoo Crew. They were:

The Zoo Crew by The Brothers Grinn
"...His Amazing Zoo Crew" by The Brothers Grinn"

Alley-Kat-Abra (Felina Furr), the team's magician and martial arts master.

Rubberduck, who is in reality megastar Byrd Ryntals. After a meteorite landed in his hot tub, his body absorbed the moisture and he became the malleable mallard.

Yankee Poodle is actually celebrity interviewer (okay, a gossip columnist) Rova Barkitt. Struck on the head by another rock while interviewing Byrd, she saw stars...and stripes. Repelling stars and tractor beam stripes emanate from her hands.

Timmy Joe Terrapin was late for yet another job interview when a meteorite embedded itself in his carapace and he found himself outracing his bus. Timmy joined the team as "Fastback", the terrapin tornado.

Peter Porkchops (star of DC's old "Funny Stuff" comics) was a Piggsburgh steelworker who got knocked into a vat of molten metal by his meteorite. Fortunately he emerged as the porcine powerhouse, Pig-Iron.

And the star of the title, Captain Carrot, was in reality comic book writer R. Rodney Rabbit. (Originally Roger Rabbit...but he began going by his middle name for obvious reasons when it was discovered Gary Wolf's "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?" had beaten them to the copyright in 1981.) Roger was hard at work in the Wombat Communications building as the writer/artist of the Just'a Lotta Animals (JLA) when Superman arrived in his office. Superman had been chasing one of the meteorite fragments. Rodney plucked a carrot from his window box to eat while talking to him, but he found that the carrot gave him superpowers. Apparently, the rock had landed in the soil and now his window box was full of "cosmic carrots." As each carrot gave him only a limited time charge, he was the only member of the team who needed to replenish his superpowers.

The team would later be joined by a new member, Little Cheese the Micro Mouse. Chester Cheese was the son of famed scientist Edam Cheese. When mobsters knocked him unconscious and locked him in his father's lab, Chester rummaged through the fridge for something to eat. Unfortunately, the cheese he found was actually retrieved on a moon mission. The strange moon cheese gave him shrinking powers which he used to escape the lab...only to find his father dead at the hands of gangster Fat Cat.



There is a definition of comedy which is probably ancient but which I first encountered in Chuck Jones' autobiography Chuck Amuck:
"Comedy is unusual people in real situations; farce is real people in unusual situations."

I have been mulling this over for quite some time, and I cannot figure out how best to typify "Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew."

The first thing that comes to mind is that the Zoo Crew may consist of a lurking metal pig and a green duck, but they were all, in effect, real people. Rodney Rabbit really is no more than your average hard working schlub. Timmy Joe's a down-on-his-luck southerner. Byrd and Rova are easygoing celebrities. Chester's a high school jock. None of these characters are "unusual people"; really, there's nothing funny about them, except for the witty remarks they'll say. So the first inclination is to consider CCAHAZC a farce.

(By the way, that's gotta be the hardest abbreviation of any comic I've encountered. From now on I'm just going to say "Zoo Crew" and you'll know what I mean.)

However, are the situations in the book really all that unusual considering they are in the superhero genre? I'm hard pressed to find any situation in the entire run of "Zoo Crew" which could be considered abnormal, and thus funny, in and of itself.

In the first issue they tell their origins and fight Starro the Conqueror. Next, they have team in-fighting and Pig-Iron quits, wherupon a supervillain tries to recruit him; after fighting his armored henchman, Pig-Iron decides to remain a hero and rejoins the team. In the next issue, they split into teams to fight more henchman (henchbeings? henchcritters?) and finally have a showdown in the nation's capital fighting a giant statue of their Abraham Lincoln. Issue 4 they fight Mudd, a swampmonster. Over the course of the series, they fight a time-tossed barbarian, a temporal menace, a wuz-wolf (a werewolf, but on their world it's a wolf becoming a monstrous human), conspiring supervillains, giant robots, supercold villains, a giant wheel weapon and Gorilla Grodd. None of this is really all that unusual to the world of superheroes.

Even their silliest villain, King Kone, a disgruntled Basset and Robins 31 Flavors employee who uses ice cream as a weapon, is more believable than DC villains The Calculator, The Ten-Eyed Man or The Bug-Eyed Bandit.

It's not really "comedy" or "farce", as defined above, because they are not unusual people, nor are they in unusual situations. I know that's an odd thing to say about brightly garbed talking animals with superpowers. However, in basic story structure, many of these plots are very similar to what one might read in the greatest Silver Age tales of "The Flash" and "Justice League of America."

Satire, maybe. A gentle mocking of much-loved comic book conventions. There certainly was a lot of that, especially in the classic "Crisis on Earth-C" wherein Rodney Rabbit finds out that the team he writes and draws, the Just'a Lotta Animals, actually exist in an alternate Earth!

Just'a Lotta Who?

A bit of backstory may be in order. Originally, Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw wanted to do a superteam called the JLA: Just'a Lotta Animals. The team would consist of Supersquirrel, Wonder Wabbit, Green Lamb-kin, Batmouse, The Crash and Aquaduck. However, they were ultimately unable to do the characters as a licensed ongoing team because this would conflict with the actual copyrights on Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, etc. This led to Thomas and Shaw, now too enchanted with the idea, creating their own team of original characters who would fulfill the same function. Thus, "Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew," a comic with much more creative freedom than they'd ever have with parodies of the actual DC characters.

What's So Funny About Funny Animals?

The book certainly had some good jokes in it. The great villains, for one thing. Cold Turkey. Solar Bear. The Bunny From Beyond. Frogzilla. Debbil Dawg (he's great; his secret identity is artist Salvadore Doggi). Salamandroid. Bow-Zar the Barkbarian. Timekeeper. Cheshire Cheetah. King Kone. Armordillo. Dr. Hoot. That's a dozen good villains right there. Now, how many memorable villains can you name from "Damage," "The Ray" or "Resurrection Man," which had runs of similar length?

I mean, when I first saw Dr. Hoot emerging from the smashed eyepiece of his giant robot, I had to laugh at his outfit which had "Bad Guy" written across the front of it. Dr. Hoot became the Crew's chief nemesis simply because he was the generic inventive bad guy with no real motivation beyond greed. I think one has to laugh at the concept of an evil genius who builds a gigantic robot bristling with armaments in order to swipe the box office ticket sales of a new movie. It's a wonderful parody of comic book villains whose own weapons must cost far more than the item they're attempting to steal.

He would later build Salamandroid, a deadly and unstoppable killer android. Here's an odd thing though: Salamandroid announces that he was created by Dr. Hoot, and we are shown his creation in flashback in which Hoot announces that Salamandroid draws his power from the sun. Rubberduck then envelops Salamandroid, cutting off his power source. I have to wonder...did Rubberduck somehow read the flashback, or did Salamandroid relate Hoot's dialogue to Rubberduck as part of the conversation? Yes, I realize I may be overthinking a funny animal comic, but it's still a basic storytelling flaw. Ah well...

Dr. Hoot's last appearance involves his discovery of an alternate Earth, Earth-C-Minus (because it's "Minus" the Zoo Crew), while trying to turn a blowdryer into a superweapon. Sadly, this joke may be lost on modern audiences, but that's what mad scientists once did. Pre-Crisis, Lex Luthor was always finding a way to turn a shoelace, a flashlight and a gum wrapper into a Phantom Zone projector from inside his prison cell. This would happen almost on a monthly basis.

This leads to his team-up with Feline Faust, the enemy of the JLAnimals. He then has the following confrontation with Pig-Iron:

"The most murderous weapon in my arsenal...and he EATS it!" Classic.

Every issue had many funny wisecracks and silly situations. However, the thing which most everyone remembers the most about Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew is...

The Animal Puns

My dad loves puns. Which may be why I don't find them all that funny. Sadly, the animal puns were constant in this series. They're funny at first, but after a while they get tedious and even painful.

Gnu York. New Yak. (They forgot what they'd named New York and used both...thus one became the city, and the other the state.) Wartington D.C. Los Antelopes. Califurnia. Mew Orleans. Omahawg Beach. Ham-Eggs missiles (MX Missiles...anyone remember those?). President Mallard Fillmore. The Abraham Lin-kidd memorial.

It goes on and on, but I won't.

The End

The Zoo Crew series lasted until issue 20, which guest-starred Changeling and Gorilla Grodd of the DC Universe. How I'd love to see Changeling...I mean (sigh) Beast Boy...refer to this story and establish once and for all that Captain Carrot still exists in some other dimension. Sadly, after their mini-series they were for the most part excised from continuity, only to appear as a tiny fraction of Hypertime in "The Kingdom" and a one-page return in "World's Funnest." However, members of the DCU reality seem to be aware of Captain Carrot as a cartoon character in theme parks.

On the back cover of issue 20 is artist Carol Lay's preview of the Zoo Crew six issue mini-series, "The Oz-Wonderland War," a concept by Roy Thomas. The actual mini-series did not debut as quickly as hoped. It actually appeared at the tail end of 1985, cover dated January 1986, as a double-sized three issue mini-series by E. Nelson Bridwell, Joey Cavlieri and Carol Lay. By then Thomas wasn't involved in anything more than the concept.

I'm sure enthusiasts of the Oz books and the Alice in Wonderland stories would love to read a story that unites the two, but then I have to think they'd be wondering who the silly cartoon animals are intruding into a story which is rendered similiarly to the old book illustrations. And for Zoo Crew fans, the whole thing seems just a slight bit off. Carol Lay doesn't have Captain Carrot's anatomy quite right, for one thing, and they have Cap flying when his powers specifically state that he can only jump.

I think what's most disappointing is that there isn't a war between Oz and Wonderland, as Thomas had originally envisioned, thus the whole title is a lie. Still, as I said, for Oz and Wonderland fans this mini is a real treat. I'm surprised that DC hasn't published it as a TPB. After all, the sales just to Oz and Wonderland completists may equal the sales of most other DC Comics publications these days!

Issue 2 also features an appearance of Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.

On the last page of the mini, Rodney is hunkering down to finish his comic art by the deadline when there is a crash and he's interrupted by THE INFERIOR FIVE, who mention that they're looking for Earth-12. There's even a request to the fans to write in if you want to see where it goes from there. Sadly, by the time this book saw publication in early 1986, there was no Earth-12 and the Inferior Five were integrated into the DCU, making it all a little irrelevant.

Final Analysis

When all is said and done, the Zoo Crew are all great characters with terrific names and a solid, almost iconic look. I think there is much potential to put them to use in some way, if it weren't for the unified DC Universe which cannot tolerate the variety of funny animals. However, one could almost rewrite their origin to remove Superman and Starro and have a great series functioning totally independently of the DCU.

I do wish that Rubberduck and Yankee Poodle didn't have secret identities based on real people. For one thing, Rona Barrit (no idea how that's spelled; I'd never heard of her) is so out of date as a reference, and the name Rova Barkitt isn't the best. Oh my god. Rova. As in "Rover", what you'd name a dog. Twenty years later and I just got the joke while writing this article. Oh well, I still hate her name.

Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew is definitely a great read if you can get your hands on some of the issues. However, it's not exactly knee-slapping funny, nor is it really meant to be. It can be appreciated on several levels, one of which is as straightforward superhero adventures. On top of that, all of the characters are cracking wise on every page, which is sometimes funny and sometimes just obligatory and tiresome.

I have to say...Roy Thomas is a very good writer, and sometimes a great writer...but every now and then, his pacing leaves something to be desired. His action scenes have way too much talking. Now, in a sense I appreciate that because it sure does take a long time to read a Roy Thomas comic book, so it feels like you're getting your money's worth. It's also a parody of the kind of overwrought writing Stan Lee did in the 1960s. And I'm guessing letterers love him...unless they're salaried instead of paid by the word, in which case they must dread Roy Thomas scripts.

You can tell when you're reading a Roy Thomas story because whenever a group of characters are in a panel, word balloons are emanating from almost all of them.

The problem with this is that, when several characters are trying to all make witty remarks, it tends to mute the one good joke. Instead of one character doing a terrific witty rejoinder to what was said, it's like a sort of Mad Magazine "choose from the many snappy answers to stupid questions and pick which one's the funniest" piece.

There is an art to doing humor in comics. In the Bunny From Beyond picture above, Alley-Kat-Abra has a really funny thing to say, but it's lost amidst the three other small word balloons. All of the other balloons are really just fluff, and the placement of Cap's modest comment after AKA's good joke dillutes the laugh. What's more, reading all these comments tends to kill whatever momentum the story has. As they say, the key to a good joke is ................................. timing.

But I'm really being too hard on Roy. After all, the whole series is his brainchild.

Well, his and Scott Shaw's. Scott Shaw (now writing Oddball Comics for Comic Book Resources) does cartoon characters and thus some might dismiss his abilities, but looking at the character design and his layouts, you really have to admire his skill. As I said, the costumes of the entire Zoo Crew have an iconic look to them. The costumes aren't overly complex (something which kills way too many modern costumes for me) and are quite distinctive.

And Scott Shaw's cover layouts ROCK. That may not be the most in-depth analysis, but I can't think of a better way to put it. Look again at the two covers I scanned in at the top of the page. There is something downright silver agey about these covers. They make you want to see what's inside. All covers should make you do that, but few do these days...which is why a talent like Scott's should not go unsung.

All in all, Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew is an inventive and funny comic book series that doesn't deserve to be forgotten. Until the year 2029, when DC Comics has finished archiving all of their other properties and issues "The Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew Archives," you'll have to go dig through many back issue boxes to find them all.

is Editor-In-Chief of Fanzing.com. He is the world's biggest Elongated Man fan and runs the only EM fan site. He lives in Rochester, MN.
AIM: Fanzinger
ICQ: 70101007

 
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