Tandy Computer Whiz Kids Go Solo

Bloggified by Jake on Tuesday, August 29, 2006

In the past, Alec and Shanna, the Tandy (nee TRS-80) Computer Whiz Kids, have teamed up with Superman, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman to foil schemes by masterminding supervillains like Lex Luthor and Major Disaster.

The case could be made they are among the DC Universe's most important characters. Without their help, Metropolis would be a radioactive wasteland, Supergirl would have starved to death in a tiny room, and Superman would be dead. Can you say that about Captain Atom or Hawkman? My figuring puts them at least on Green Arrow's level of importance.

As should be expected with such dynamic characters who have proven themselves time and again as fan favorites, the Tandy Computer Whiz Kids finally got their own title in 1986, no longer relegated to being second-thought supporting characters.

Sure, you might suspect this is the result of Radio Shack no longer wanting to pay DC to license the rights to use its characters for a comic book explaining the history of computers to be handed out free in malls across the country. You probably also prefer to look at a glass as half empty and automatically assume a guy skulking around your neighbor's house, peering in the windows and testing the door handles, is up to no good.

I pity you and your pessimism.

The Tandy Computer Whiz Kids (News by Computer Foils Kidnappers Edition) reintroduces us to Shanna, "Smart" Alec, their teacher, Ms. Wilson, and their classmates with an insatiable appetite for learning about computers, learning that can only come from listening to Shanna and Alec prattle on and on and ultimately going to a museum or science fair to see the exact same computer history exhibit they've seen three times already where they will be reminded about the three guys who won the Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor and stand in a 30 x 50 foot space to illustrate the size of old mainframes with equivalent processing power to the current (as of 1986) desktop computer.

This introduction takes place, as it usually does, on the first day of school--in a school now located in Coastal City instead of Metropolis--and Ms. Wilson, as usual, has three surprises.Fifty tries? Hang on, Ms. Wilson, let me just have one. Hmm, there is a sheet on your desk covering what appears to be several objects, yet there is only one surpise so they all must be part of a single entity. It looks like there's a TV and a typewriter and maybe a tapedeck and some other electronic components. What one thing could include all those elements? Also, every time you promise us a surprise, the school has gotten a new computer and/or a new computer component. Think think think...

Did you get us a class gerbil?!?!Hang on! Who the hell is in charge of continuity around here? I'll place the blame on William Palmer, who as both writer and editor should have known that Alec helped explain how to use a modem to Supergirl and used a modem to look up important information about Lex Luthor to save Superman's life. How do you botch an iconic character like "Smart" Alec? If he was writing for Marvel I bet he'd have Iron Man trying to punch Captain America's head off his shoulders, Mr. Fantastic using his scientific genius to hunt other superheroes, and Spider-Man endangering his loved ones to reveal his secret identity. What a fucking hack!

After gushing over all the information you can look up with a modem--news, sports, and weather!--and suggesting ways ("running a newspaper route, washing cars, and mowing lawns") to earn money to purchase the Science Fair 200 In One Electronic Project for a reasonable price at Radio Shack, the kids learn they're second surprise is a visit from someone exciting. Is it Green Lantern? How about the Flash? Metamorpho?For starters, what a disappointment. Sure, the students are excited, but that's not saying much considering they get excited about everything, including field trips they haven't even been on yet and photographs of Nobel Prize winners.

Also, let me make you an ironclad Ye Olde Guarantee. If you ever see me at a convention or in a comic store and say, "Hey, you're that guy from Ye Olde Comick Booke Blogge! Hello, Jake!", I hereby promise I will not introduce myself by name in my first sentence to you. It's no wonder Palmer couldn't remember that Alec knows about modems if he couldn't remember that Detective Shaw was "a person [the students] all know and admire" from a sentence earlier and had been greeted by name in the exact same panel!

It appears short term memory loss is an epidemic in Coastal City as the next panel features Ms. Wilson repeating that Detective Shaw is there to share important safety information, only to have this following frame:One might suspect, based on his speech pattern, that the reason Detective Shaw insists on "repeating what Ms. Wilson said" is that he's actually a macaw in a suit and tie. "Boys and girls, Detective Shaw is a pretty boy. Pretty boy! Pretty boy! RAWK!"

Unfortunately, once he gets to the important information, he doesn't repeat himself, but rather just starts rattling off advice to avoid being kidnapped without even giving the kids time to grab a pencil and take notes.

1. Know how to reach your parents if they go out.
2. Make sure the doors and windows are locked when you're home alone.
3. Never open the door for people you don't know.

After this, Detective Shaw abandons the orderly numerical system of advice and starts chattering on like a homeless man at a bus stop."Oh, and candy! Don't take that from strangers. Presents either. And, um, what else? Tell your teachers if you see someone suspicious lurking around school." Clearly, Palmer was given a pamphlet about kidnapping and runaways and tried to cram every fact into two pages so he could get back to hawking Radio Shack products.

In fact, after a while, Detective Shaw's disjointed rambling starts to feel like vamping, like when an actor misses a entrance cue and the people on stage have to keep talking until he comes out. In this case, it seems more like the sound effects guy missed his beeper cue.What could his next line have been if he hadn't been cut off? "What I didn't expect to hear was... what?" There's not really anywhere that line can go. Whatever it is, it's not important enough from him to finish the thought before running off to call his mistress.

Overall, it's a pretty fucking intense speech for the first twenty minutes of the first day of school. "Hey, kids, welcome back from vacation. Look, we have new computers. Oh, and always remember you are a target for white slavers and pedophiles! Never let your guard down for a second or your family may never see you again until your head turns up in a drainage ditch! Now let's do some long division."

The most surprising part of the third surprise is its lack of originality. The class is informed it will be going to the State Fair, where Alec and Shanna will help set up a Tandy computer as a science project. In other words, the exact same third surprise from when Wonder Woman came to visit.

Meanwhile, a pair of kidnappers is planning to nab a kid at the State Fair for "The Customer," who will sell the kid and forged adoption papers overseas.Instead of sharing her suspicions with a security guard, Shanna rushes back to check the computer and skim the last few months worth of news stories to see if anyone with a scar on his face is mentioned. Sure enough, "Scarface" Jack Williams, a kidnapper, had evaded police recently. Sadly, in the time it took to get the modem to connect, log on, access the newspaper's database, and read every story from the last three months, eighteen kids were tossed into the back of a van, driven to the docks, and loaded onto a freighter bound for Laos.

Or at least that's what would have happened in that time frame if the kidnappers weren't incredibly inept.

Instead, the kids page Detective Shaw, who happens to already be at the fair along with what has to be the majority--if not all--of the city's plain clothes cops."So, how's the battery on that thing?"
"Great. I can talk for almost fifteen minutes on a good day."
"Awesome! And it's not too heavy."
"Not really. It's only about 24 pounds and it has this shoulder strap to make it easier to carry."
"Incredible. Radio Shack sure has some great produc--huh? Oh, right! The kidnappers!"

What's the point of taking Alec? He didn't see "Scarface" Jack. In fact, wouldn't the better point to make here be, "Shanna, I need you to come with me to see if you can spot that guy again. Fortunately, Alec is here to finish setting up and keep an eye on your science project so you don't have to leave a 'Be back later' sign"?

For whatever reason, Alec tags along, though it quickly becomes apparent neither of the kids was really necessary to track down the kidnappers, as "subtlety" is hardly part of their gameplan."Hmmm, I'm not a detective of your caliber, Detective Shaw, but I suspect the lady standing out in the open, next to the van that conspicuously parked in the middle of a wide open pedestrian walkway, talking to little kids in broad daylight while the driver, a suspected kidnapper, nervously revs the engine, might be up to something!"

Oh, and just in case that was too understated...Once Detective Shaw drops the boom, "Scarface" Jack rabbits, but doesn't get far, crashing the van and trying to escape on foot only to be caught by Shaw when... um... well, I'm not really sure what happens. See if this makes any sense to you.One minute he's aiming at the cop; the next he's firing into the air. Then Detective Shaw trips in the second panel, but still manages to catch up and slap cuffs on the bad guy a frame later.

And that final line has this tone that makes me think it was supposed to read like one of those action film, "good guy defeats the bad guy" one liners like saying the guy you just strangled to death was "a pain in the neck" or the guy you cut in half with a chainsaw "had to split." But unless "Scarface" Jack was stealing newspapers or had problems with his veins, the "out of circulation" line just falls flat.

With the kidnappers in jail, there's nothing left to do but extoll the virtues of Radio Shack's Tandy computers and collect praise from the Mayor.Wow, that should be nearly one-millionth as cool as when they were given the key to the city and shared the stage with both Wonder Woman and Superman.

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