Unbagging A Mail Call
An interaction on Twitter reminded me of a comic that is
my exact brand of bullshit the kind of thing I like to write about, but which I did not have.
I ordered a copy, but when it arrived, I didn’t do a Mail Call post, because I wanted to do an Unbagging, but I wanted it to also be a Mail Call post.
After all, it’s only appropriate that it be a combo.
Release: Dec 1995
Combos Promotional Giveaway Mini-Comic, given away free with the purchase of Combos Snack.
(included a Combo Man branded 5 Minute Prepaid Phone Card)
Combos are the key to my transformation into Combo Man!
Yeah, it’s a promotional mini-comic for Combos snacks that was put out by Marvel in the mid-90s featuring a character who is a “combo” of multiple Marvel characters:
Combo Man was developed as a promotional agreement between Marvel Comics and Eagle Snacks, the company that produced the snack product CombosTM Baked Snacks, as an amalgamation of fourteen different superheroes.https://marvel.fandom.com/wiki/Rick_Wilder_(Earth-616)
Per the entry cited above, you could win prizes if you could identify the fourteen characters – and the body parts – that made up Combo Man:
As for the story itself, after the initial splash page introduction, we jump back ten minutes in time to the outside of a laboratory building where young student Rick Wilder has fallen in with a bad crowd and is giving in to peer pressure.
It seems their chemistry teacher works in this laboratory at night and has a copy of an upcoming midterm exam in his desk. The no-goodniks Rick is with want him to break in and steal the answers for them. For his part, Rick is going along with their demands not because he’s bad, but because he’s desperate to get in their good graces so they’ll stop making fun of him.
To overcome his nervousness and salve his conscience, young Rick treats himself to a Combo, because I guess he just didn’t have any Mentos and he figured Combos might have a similar bolstering effect when engaging in outlandish/illegal activities.
We also see that in addition to Combos Rick’s backpack is full of comics. Specifically, Marvel Comics!
After enjoying his delicious Combo, he discovers the professor being menaced by some goons from the terrorist organization AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics).
Just as it helps him commit crimes, eating a Combo helps Rick deal with falling into some kind of experimental device, so to ride out the strange sensations flowing through him, he decides to enjoy a delicious pretzel-based snack.
And thus, Combo Man!
And that brings us back to where we came in, with the newly-minted hero making short work of refugees from an old Intel commercial, but soon faces a bigger challenge in the form of the Super-Adaptoid!
Before he can find out what might happen if the Super-Adaptoid duplicates all of his powers, Combo Man reverts back to being plain old Rick Wilder.
The professor is stunned by the startling transformation, and even more confused when Rick explains that it was the result of the professor’s device, as it shouldn’t have been able to do that. He states that there must have been some other factor involved.
Rick quickly figures out that the mysterious x-factor must be the Combos. After Rick quickly munches a truly lifesaving – and life-altering – snack, Combo Man is restored, and by using all of his powers at once he’s able to defeat the Super-Adaptoid.
The professor thanks Combo Man for saving him but wonders why he was there – as Rick – in the first place. Combo Man doesn’t exactly do the right thing here, in that he doesn’t own up to his actions, stating instead that he was simply there to “learn a lesson.”
As he flies off, Combo Man thinks about that lesson, and what it means for his future.
I don’t actually get how or when he learned that lesson. Like, nothing about what happened in this little adventure really emphasized that idea in particular. I mean, sure, it’s something he could extrapolate, I suppose, but in terms of the narrative, it just doesn’t land because it’s not directly reinforced by his actual experience.
It seems more like he should have learned a more general lesson, like, “With great
flavor power comes great responsibility” or something. Or even just that he doesn’t need to be scared anymore, or worry about people making fun of him, especially if he’s confident enough to fly around looking like that.
Even just “Stealing is wrong” would tie in directly to what he just experienced.
Beyond that, if I suddenly had the powers of fourteen superheroes and supervillains, I would have a lot more on my mind that thinking about whatever lesson I just learned.
But yeah, that was Combo Man. Unfortunately(?), but unsurprisingly, he didn’t really become a regular part of the Marvel Universe after this, so there’s been no opportunity that I’ve seen to further explore his powers and how they work.
Like, how long does the transformation last after he eats a Combo? Does it only happen if he eats the specific Combos he had with him, meaning that his career as Combo Man comes with a limit, based on how many he has left, or will any Combo trigger the transformation?
And if it’s the latter, does he automatically change when he eats a Combo? Is this Combo-loving youngster doomed to a life in which he can no longer simply enjoy his beloved snack any time he needs to steal his nerves, or is just a bit peckish?
We need answers!
(We do not, in fact, need answers.)
This was written by the late Mark Gruenwald, and I have to tell you that it’s about as far from his best work as it’s possible to get, though in fairness, he obviously didn’t have a lot to work with.
Still, even for what it is, this comic does not compare favorably to other promotional or Public Service Announcement-style comics.
Then again, most of the others I’ve written about are larger books, both in terms of dimensions and number of pages, and have a bit more room for adding a coherent story. Here, the comic is less than half the size of a standard comic and consists of twelve pages in total, including the front and back cover.
Excluding the front and back leaves you with only ten pages for story, and that ends up reduced even further, as the two center pages are devoted to an ad for…Combos.
Yes, they put an ad for Combos inside an ad for Combos.
I will say that the art is decent – especially by 1990s’ standards – though it’s difficult to appreciate it fully, given the diminutive size of the pages.
Anyway, that’s Combo Man, and that brings us to the end of this Combo Post.
As a bit of a warning, as anyone who has read any of my previous writings on comics is likely aware, I do have more of these types of comics in my collection, and they will undoubtedly get Unbagged sometime. Perhaps when you least expect it.
In closing, here’s the tweet that led to all of this:
Born and raised in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.