My Fuzzy Friends
by Michael Hutchison
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!
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:
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:
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
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2002 by Gerald Wilson
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