Saturday, March 3, 2012

The sad saga of ... Fruitman!

Harvey Comics knows how to make funny books. You know, the kind of comics that your grandparents would bring you when you were in the hospital or when you are recuperating, since one comic is obviously as good as another. And oh so rarely did that ever mean they brought you a proper super-hero comic.  As a jaded, cynical reader of modern comics, I'll readily admit that I've read my fair share of "funny books": I've read Archies, I've read Gold Keys and I've read Harveys. In fact, I still enjoy reading the occasional issue of Sad Sack or Richie Rich that happens my way. Comics are like every other medium; you have to judge them by the standards of the era in which they were made. I can easily give a Sad Sack and the Sarge  a four-star review while the newest incarnation of Justice League gets barely one-star, simply because I expect a lot more from a comic in 2012 than I would've from a comic in, say 1972. Back then, a couple of snickers and some interesting inking or a good text feature made the book worth 20 cents. For $2.99, I'd better not be getting some overblown 90's style artwork and a retreaded Super Friends storyline. But as usual, I digress.

No matter how I look at Fruitman, there is no joy ... no logic ... absolutely nothing to justify Harvey Comics' waste of newsprint when they published this book. I picked a copy up at a flea market a few years ago, simply because the comic had me agog ... there was no way there could be a book this stupid, could there? Three bucks later and it was in my hand.

There was only one issue of Fruitman (officially called Fruitman Special #1), but the character has appeared sporadically as a back-up feature in another Harvey title, Bunny, Queen of the In-Crowd. That title was a Harvey Comics attempt to attract the teen set with an Archie or Minnie the Model-type series. It was a little more successful than many attempts to get into that Archie-dominated market, managing to hang around for twenty-one issues or so. Several of the Fruitman stories from those issues of Bunny seem to have been recycled into this special 25-center.

Fruitman was in reality produce store owner Percival Pineapple. As far as I know, there was never an origin story or even an explanation of how Percival got his unique fruit-powers. Whenever crime reared its angry head, Percival would push the customers out of his story and use his powers to become Fruitman! This, of course, involved transforming himself into different kinds of fruit. He had no proper costume. He was either Percival Pineapple or a fruit, either of which usually wore spectacles. As a fruit, he could apparently levitate himself enough to hop into grocery bags or pockets, spout what I hope was juice at criminals, and occasionally grew small, spindly fruit arms and legs to move around, but that was about it. Watermelons, apples, lemons, coconuts, blueberries ... there was no end to the variations he could transform into, as long as they were fruit. For some reason, crooks and law enforcement officials both assumed that when a crook slipped on a banana peel or was squirted with lemon juice during a bank robbery, it had to be Fruitman using his amazing abilities to stop crime.

The character is a bit full of himself. The first thing he is seen thinking, while standing in his produce store, is that "Heh-heh! No one knows my secret identity!", as if everyone who ventures into the store has nothing better to do than consider if the apple they have picked up for a snack later may be the heroic Fruitman. And he doesn't seem to realize people consider him odd already. When Percival left for his South Seas vacation, passersby remarked on what an odd man he was and couldn't understand how he could afford to do it (he was suspected of stealing money somewhere along the line).

Fruitman did change into a peanut once during that rather disturbing story of his vacation, as apparently the writers assume any item growing from a plant was a fruit. He helped save a native maiden from a tribe of cannibals when a monkey threw him (in the form of a coconut) at the headman. The maiden exhibited a somewhat more-than-normal attraction to the coconut as a result (making me very glad he hadn't changed into a banana) and he later changed into a peanut in order to be closer to the girl (as a peanut earring).

There's gotta be a bunch of websites for this kinda perversion.

I've read the book several times, and I'm still trying to understand Fruitman, and how two grown men, hardened by a life of crime and carrying guns, could be turned into scared little girls by a single lemon shooting juice at them. I get the feeling that prisons in the Harvey Universe were more like the Land of Oz rather than Oz the TV show.

Just to show everyone that the writers at Harvey knew what decade they were in, the Fruitman Special also contained the first (and probably only) adventures of two other hip superheroes: Super-Hippie and Captain Flower. Yeah, they were both inspired by the Flower Power Generation, and neither deserves much mention. But, in the interests of being complete as a warning, here goes:  Super-Hippie was a a regular hippie who transformed into a super-hero by donning a thread-bare sweater with "SH" on the front and a towel around his neck. He apparently worked for the Intercosmic Peace Corps, as his story had him journeying to Mars, where a bad woman was making things decidedly non-groovy. Captain Flower was a flower boy at a somewhat-hip coffee house who sniffed a couple of broken posies to get his incredible abilities. He had a lot of difficulties in his minor task of trying to get lost business back from a competing coffee house across the street that installed an electric sign (powered by a 'Lectric Man).   When sixty-year-old men write adventures of "groovy" twenty-something characters, it never turns out well.  As anyone who's watched the LSD-themed episodes of Dragnet can readily attest. 

Ernie Colon's omnipresent Harvey Comics art is featured on several of the stories here. The artwork is the only saving grace of the whole comic, if you enjoy cartoony art-styles. The Super-Hippie artwork is somewhat akin to Donald Simpson's, in fact. 

There's nothing else to recommend about Fruitman Special #1. Don't buy it. Hell, don't even download pirate copies of it. There's nothing good that will come of it. Get some Brother Power, The Geek or Sonic Disruptors or Arrgh! comics instead. 

And this ends our Public Service Announcement for this week. Next week, a look at two iconic fictional rock 'n' roll bands: The Pussycats and the Sundance Kids!

No comments:

Post a Comment