Now strikes yet another in a near-endless line of junior high kids who hate humanity in general because of something mean someone once did to them. Thank God for the American public school system. Yes, this month it's the Show-Stopper, a 13-year-old girl with a terrifying hatred of the theater. What mild havoc could she wreak? Does anyone care? Is anyone still reading this intro? And while I'm asking questions, does anyone know the radioactive decay lifetime of Uranium-238? I've got a physics problem set due later today, left my book in the office...
So Rita the Director is backstage before filming one of her *ahem* 'shows'. Spider-Man, Easy Reader, J. Arthur Crank and Fargo North, Decoder are going to star in some kind of 'show', that as near as I can tell, is an instructional guide for pygmies trying to join Western civilization. That, or erotica for those few, tortured souls turned on by badly-dressed stupid people trying to do things like READ or DANCE and 'not suceeding', to the same degree that the last landing of the Hindenburg was 'not a complete success'.
Before we go any farther, the sharp-eyed reader is probably wondering, "OH MY GOD WHY DO MY EYES SLIT OPEN MY EYELIDS EVERY TIME I BLINK THE WORLD IS RED THE PAIN MOMMY THE PAIN ARGHHHH!!!!". (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Now the astute reader is probably wondering, "Who the hell is Fargo North, Decoder?" And while no brief summary could ever do him justice, this will have to suffice for now: Imagine a crime-solving chimpanzee. Then kill the chimp, because he's way too smart to be Fargo North, Decoder. Then imagine a man in a trenchcoat whose brain has secretly been replaced with an empty Folger's Coffee can. Then have everyone hire this guy to figure out 'clues' that are obvious to month-old pudding. Rinse. Slam your head into the wall with frustration. Repeat.
Unfortunately, we only get the briefest glimpse of Fargo in this story, and we don't get a true taste of the gut-wrenching, permanent insanity that comes along with watching him trying to solve 'crimes' and read 'clues'. But trust me, in a few issues, you'll wish you never heard of Fargo North, Decoder. That, or you'll already be drooling into your sanitized droolcup, and won't give a damn about it anyway.
So back to Rita the director. As usual (see Issue 2, Story 1), she decides she can't actually talk to her actors, that would be demeaning or something for her, so she just has a stack of 150 cue cards with various words printed on them that she lugs around everywhere she goes. Whenever she wants an actor to do some kind of acting in one of her shows, she just holds up a cue card. They say specific things like "SWING", "THROW", "DANCE" and "YOUR CHARACTER IS A 17TH CENTURY FRENCH PROSTITUTE WHO HAS JUST BEEN DUMPED FOR A YOUNGER WOMAN BY THE MARQUIS, YOUR ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME, WHOM YOU LOVE DESPITE HIS TERRIBLE DEFORMITIES, AND YOU'RE PREGNANT WITH HIS CHILD, WHO MAY BE HORRIBLY DEFORMED AS WELL. NOW SHOW ME SOME EMOTION, DAMMIT." Unfortunately, we don't get to use that last cue card in this story, that would be too interesting. We also don't get to see the now-infamous "SHOW ME YOUR SPIDER-LOVE BIG BOY" cue card that caused thousands of children to go blind back in the 70s.
So Rita's examining her cue cards, figuring which inane one-word commands she wants her actors to do today, when up walks the "Show-Stopper". The Show-Stopper is basically a 13 year-old Heidi with a major dose of obsessive-compulsive disorder and a mad-on for theater. Much like an x-girlfriend of mine. Except for the 13 year old part. At least, I think she was 18... Anyway, so the Show-Stopper has long, blonde pigtails like the kind you'd find on fat Nordic women singing Wagnerian opera, she has freckles, and bright blue eyes. She also happens to be dressed exactly like Rita the director that day, though I'm not claiming that's a coincidence. The Show-Stopper probably stalked Rita to her house, hid under her bed all night, watched Rita get dressed in the morning, and then snuck out of Rita's apartment and ran to a clothing store open at 6 a.m. and bought the exact same clothes Rita was wearing that day and still somehow made it to the Electric Company studio before Rita did. You know, on second thought, let's just chalk that up to coincidence.
So the Show-Stopper runs up behind Rita, pushes her into her closet full of cue cards and locks her in there. While she's doing this, she steals Rita's director beret and the (I'm not kidding) attached hairpiece - I'd ask Rita about it, but in my experience women don't like men asking whether they're really bald and wearing a wig. Some women find that insulting. So the Show-Stopper, wearing clothes identical to Rita's and now Rita's beret (and sewn-in hair), looks exactly like Rita. Except for the fact that she's a 13-year old pasty-skinned white girl who still has long blonde braids down her back, and Rita is a 38-year old Latino woman. But this 'disguise' only has to fool Easy Reader, Fargo North, and Spidey, which is like tricking water into taking the shape of its container.
So we begin flashbacking to the Show-Stopping origin of the Show-Stopper.
Mr. Caption: Once the Show-Stopper was a girl who tried out for the school play...
Mr. Caption: ... but she didn't get the part.
Mr. Sweater-Vest Junior High Drama Teacher: Sorry, kid.
Mr. Caption: So she went to work backstage.
*she's backstage holding a six-foot dandelion in a flower pot and looking dejected*
Mr. Sweater-Vest Junior High Drama Teacher: Don't feel so bad, kid. The show must go on!
*She gets that crazy-don't-mess-with-me-I'm-a-junior-high-student-on-the-edge-rip-tear-eviscerate-kill look in her eyes. I know it so well by now.*
Show-Stopper: Don't be so sure! If I can't be the star... there won't be any show!
So on opening night, the Show-Stopper climbs up to the catwalk above the junior high play, gets a giant sandbag... and... and dumps a bit of sand on the actors. The least she could've done was comically bop someone on the head with the sandbag, that might actually stop the play, but no, they have to contend with a light sprinkle of warm sand. Gosh, I hope none of them got any in their eyes, they might become irritated. Great plan, loser chick.
But what's much weirder than anything the Show-Stopper could dream up is the play that she's trying to interrupt. From the two panels we can see, this play consists of exactly the following:
1) A four-year old black child with an afro,
2) A mutant six-foot dandelion, and
3) A forty-year old naked white guy.
I was involved in a few theater productions in junior high. I think we did "Our Town" and "Guys and Dolls". We certainly didn't try any avant garde experimental theater experiences involving tree-sized weeds, toddlers, and naked guys. I'm pretty sure you're not allowed to have naked people in a junior high play. That's kinda nasty. And I didn't think Spidey Super Stories was allowed to draw naked people. Admittedly, we can only really see him from the waist up, but it sure doesn't look like he's wearing any pants to complement his bare old man chest. You don't believe me? Page 17, panel 1. Check it out. *waits.... waits* Ha! Got you to go look at a naked old guy! Told you he was there. Man, I rule!
So then the Show-Stopper "turns to a life of crime, stopping shows everywhere." We next see her on Broadway, pushing a plywood house in the backdrop on top of the actors in the middle of a show. This is where I always fail to make the logical leap. You've already achieved a pathetic sprinkling-sand revenge against your junior high drama teacher, not nearly as severe as what's going to happen to him in prison once the authorities find out about his little "theater" experiment. And it's really probably better for your career that you weren't in that particular show. (What part was she auditioning for, anyway? The afro kid? The weed?) But somehow she now has a burning desire for revenge against every play performed in America. Um... right.
Apparently she's (greatly) broadened her criterion for what constitutes a "theater play", because stopping one of Rita's rehearsals for a short on the Electric Company apparently gets the Show-Stopper's mad-on for theater all-a-twitter. (Don't think about that last sentence too much.) So her grand plan (hold onto your seats) is to impersonate Rita the Director (already accomplished - poorly) and then to read the WRONG cue cards to the WRONG actors. This will cause a mild amount of chaos at the rehearsal. Also, topple the government of Luxembourg. No, dammit, that last bit was just wishful thinking on my part. Where oh where, did all the good super-villains go?
So the Show-Stopper walks into the rehearsal and starts ordering everyone around.
Show-Stopper: Okay, let's get this show on the road! Easy Reader - ACTION!
*she holds up the cue card labeled "SWING"*
Easy Reader: Dig that cue card! But, I'm a reader, not a swinger!
C'Mon Easy, it's us, we know that you're a swinger. It's not like we're cops who've just pulled you over in your pink cadillac upholstered with imitation tiger fur, wearing your gold chains and jean jacket with a backseat full of hoes, and you're trying to talk you're way out of a trip downtown. "No, officer, I ain't no jivin' swinger. These hoes all my cousins. On my Daddy's side." It's ok, you can tell us all about what a swinger you are. I say, be proud of what you do, Easy.
So I was hoping we'd get to see Easy put the moves on some foxy lady in a bar with the "SWING" cue, maybe learn from the master, but he takes it too literally. He grabs a random power cable hanging from the ceiling, rips one end out, and tries to "swing" across the set like a big pimpin' Tarzan. And swinging on sparking power cables near children is highly recommended by that guy who writes all the big yellow "(Something) for Dummies" books. (New from that guy: "Enchiladas for Dummies" and "Theoretical Astrophysics for Dummies".) The more people whose frontal lobes are electrically fried, the more books he sells. But most other people think that to rip a power cable off the ceiling and go swinging on it is kinda stupid.
Not our Easy, though. Easy always seems to like doing things the hard way. He tries swinging around, but falls off the cable into the ground face first with a giant "SPLAT" and knocks himself unconscious. I hope his customers didn't see that. "Uh.... yeah Easy, rather than pay for my lady, I'm just going to hand you this slip of paper with the word SWING on it." And Easy would forget all about being paid and go off in search of low-hanging power lines.
So back to our fake Rita the director:
Show-Stopper: Fargo, read the card.
*she holds up the cue card that says "DANCE"*
Fargo: I only decode - I don't dance!
Show-Stopper: Do what the card says!
*she makes a threatening gesture as if to hit Fargo with that conical paper megaphone thing all directors have*
Fargo: Okay, okay boss! I'll dance!
Not that any human culture to have evolved on this planet would classify what Fargo does next as "dancing". It's kind of like watching a jellyfish receive electroshock therapy for bipolar disorder, only more disturbing. Every muscle in his body tries to twitch at the same time, but in completely different directions. Somehow by the next panel Fargo's managed to "dance" himself straight at the ground hard enough that while his chest is flat against the ground, his lower torso is sticking up in the air behind him at a right angle. Like in a direction that no human spine should ever bend. In three seconds, this man just danced himself into becoming a paraplegic. And just remember, this is one of Fargo's least embarrassing appearances in these hallowed pages.
We then get to see that Spider-Man has been casually watching all this from the sidelines.
Spider-Man: My Spider-Sense tells me... something is wrong!
Yeah, NOW it does. You know, I'm almost bothered by the fact that Easy ripping cables out of the ceiling and knocking himself into unconsciousness and Fargo dancing himself into a wheelchair doesn't make Spidey think "something is wrong". Spidey watches all this but it's not until his Spider-Sense blips that he thinks maybe something's up. I'm afraid to think that this is just a typical day at the Electric Company set... Well, if you think about it, this is the fifth time we've seen Easy knock himself into unconsciousness. (More than even the Po-leese MAN that's always keeping him down.) And Fargo is... well, Fargo. Most days he's just lucky his spinal column doesn't lead a revolt against his brain. So I don't think the Show-Stopper has even made anything in this "show" go worse than it would on a typical day. That makes her 'plan' even more lame.
So the Show-Stopper's now ordering J. Arthur Crank to "THROW" pies at some random girl, when Spidey's keen Holmesian observation sense notices something.
Spider-Man: But WAIT! That's not our director. That's the Show-Stopper!
Oh, so you finally noticed that she's a 13-year-old white girl with pigtails wearing similar clothes, not a Hispanic woman a foot-taller and three times her age? What gave it away, genius-boy? The freckles?
Spider-Man: Show-Stopper, this is your last act!
*Spidey shoots a web around her deadly cue cards and her lethal paper megaphone. He just lets the actual criminal run away, though.*
Easy Reader: You might even say... it's curtains for you!
And guess what Easy does? He pulls on a rope and drops some heavy curtains right over where the Show-Stopper had run. Easy has defeated the "villain" several times before, but I don't think he would catch any criminals if he didn't always use some conveinient background prop that allowed him to make some fantastically unclever pun. "It's curtains for you!" as he buries the theater-based villain in curtains. Ha. You just know if some kind of carpentry-based villain (Mr. 2-by-4 or something) attacked, Easy'd have to run out to the hardware store and buy a nailgun so he could come back and shoot the guy in the head and say "Well, I sure nailed him!" while standing over his leaking corpse.
So Spidey goes and rescues the real Rita from the cue-card closet.
Rita: Hey you guys! We go on the air in five minutes.
Show-Stopper: *from within a giant pile of curtains* I'm sorry! Don't cut me out of the show!
Actually, remember you weren't trying to be part of the show anyway, you were a fake director trying to stop the show. So I don't know why you're upset about being cut out now, you were the director, you were never going to get any screen time anyway. Even if the show happened despite your best evil efforts. But ok, you're all whiny and sad, sure, whatever.
So Rita (who has successfully retrieved her combination beret/hairpiece from the Show-Stopper) takes pity on the poor spoiled lunatic girl.
Rita: Uh Hey! What a voice! I'll give you a part.
Then, with one minute to go before their exciting live TV performance of "Spider-Man, Easy Reader and Fargo North Do Some Stuff Written on Cue Cards", Rita decides to screw all that and just get a giant kick-line going like a group of demented Las Vegas showgirls. Seriously, as the broadcast begins, they all join arms, including the not-really-reformed Show-Stopper, and they start high-kicking and singing the damn "We're Going To Turn It On" song that the Short Circus loves so much.
Mr. Caption: Well -- that's showbiz!
Actually, if watching people in pajamas, toupees and trenchcoats doing a kickline and singing like hard-of-hearing banshees is what "showbiz" is all about, I think I'd rather take a sledgehammer to my TV and go read the phonebook for a while.
I still can't get over the junior high play featuring a naked guy with grey hair, a little clothed kid with an afro, and a giant mutant flower on stage. I mean... But, no... It couldn't... *ack* Bonus points in life for the first person who can find me an actual play that involves a scene like this. Or have this make any kind of sense, 'cause even as insane as these stories usually are, this is a little bit over-the-top.
Eric's Short Interview With the Show-Stopper:
Eric: So, your plan was to cause everyone to practice with the wrong cue cards, and then film them being idiots on camera a few minutes later? And this would sorta 'stop the show'?
Show-Stopper: Yeah, something like that. I'm only a 13-year-old girl, I don't think things through very much.
Eric: So you didn't intend to knock Easy unconscious or to snap Fargo's spine in two?
Show-Stopper: Uh no, they pretty much did that on their own.
Eric: Yeah, I was afraid of that. Those two are sad.
Show-Stopper: Yeah, I thought so too.
Eric: So... what was up with that junior high play with the naked dude?
Show-Stopper: Uh, I'm not legally aloud to talk about that. Terms of the settlement, you understand.
Show-Stopper: So... do you want to get out of here and get a bite to eat or something?
Eric: Oh no, no no, I've been down this road before. Last thing I need is the vice squad breathing down my neck again. Plus, you just TOLD me you were 13. And insane.
Show-Stopper: Um, well... *she fumbles in her pocket, pulls out a green card and hands it to me*
Eric: *examining the ID card* It says here your name is Rita Moreno and you're a 38-year old Hispanic woman from Belize. *looks her up and down* Well, good enough. Let's go get some malts!
3.5 webs. The Show-Stopper kinda sucked, but it's got Fargo North and a naked old guy running around the junior high. A winning combination if I ever saw one. Kind of like if Albert Einstein and Mark Twain had teamed up to fight crime.