Tomorrow Stories 8 – Splash Brannigan
Below are annotations for Tomorrow Stories, No. 8 “Testostor the Terrible!” (6 pages, January 2001)
Writer: Alan Moore (AM), Artist: Hilary Barta (HB)
>return to Splash Brannigan annotations index
Note: some of this stuff is obvious, some very very obvious… but you never know who’s reading this and what their exposure is to any given reference. Apologies for stuff that’s too obvious to you. Sometimes there’s an obvious reference, then a deeper pun or connection that Alan Moore is making – yes it’s Ayn Rand ink… but why is Moore associating Splash Brannigan with Ayn Rand? If there’s stuff I missed or got wrong, let me know in comments, or email linton.joe [at] gmail.com
General notes: Overall this story parodies the world of comic book conventions, including a critique of 1990s-era superhero comics, which were often a bit more mindless and preposterously-muscle-bound than earlier superhero comics. Moore is having fun comparing “modern mindless brutality against old-fashioned inventiveness” (as D. Screensaver states on page 4, panel 6.)
(I confess that I lost interest in a lot of superhero comics around that time, so I may not be totally up to speed on all the references here.)
- Testostor the Terrible! is an impossibly muscle-bound inarticulate superhero. Though I can sort of imagine this class of superheroes, there isn’t a single specific hero I think he’s based on, though he’s a bit like the Hulk. Testostor’s speech (example “me am Testostor” – Page 5, panel 5) is all-too-common in comics, where some of the most muscle-bound characters speak a sort of imbecile-speech. An early example is Bizarro Superman; the most common one that comes to my mind is the Hulk.
Testostor’s red capital-T symbol (appears on his belt buckle, and on kids t-shirts throughout the story) reminds me a bit of the chest insignia of Legion of Super Heroes’ Ultra Boy.
- Just above the sign that says Today 2:00pm, in a panel of a comics page thumb-tacked to the wall, it’s Homer Simpson of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. This is perhaps a comment on how stupid 1990s superheroes were.
- “*If and when hell freezes over” refers to AM’s reluctance to appear at comic book conventions.
- “Rhetorical” vs. “Rhett Oracle” – Testostor speaks in mostly single-syllable words, so he doesn’t understand the word rhetorical, and mistakes it for a name Rhett Oracle.
- In the glasses and green shirt on the bottom right is Dan Pussey. Pussey is a comic book character created by Dan Clowes to make fun of the comic book industry.
- Not sure what “Ghidra-Goth” refers to. (Sounds like Gary Groth, editor of The Comics Journal, see below. Ghidra is a hydra character from Final Fantasy game – perhaps loosely based on Godzilla’s hydra foe King Ghidorah. Goth is a sort of cosplay, common at comic cons.)
- Not sure who that “Pub crawler” is – sounds like other crawler superheroes: Nightcrawler and web crawler, which is a nickname for Spider-Man. The bearded black-haired man image looks a bit like AM, but I don’t think of him as a pub person.
- Depicted are AM Tomorrow Stories characters: First American and Jack B. Quick.
- “Eisner Awards” are a series of comic book industry awards, roughly equivalent to film’s academy awards. They are named after comic creator Will Eisner.
- The lettering in Jack B. Quick’s word balloon is in the style that appears in his comic (example.) Not sure who’s responsible for that lettering, probably JBQ artist Kevin Nowlan?
- Joining FA and JBQ at the Tomorrow Stories booth are more AM characters: Greyshirt and Cobweb. (Both their faces look a little funny, might be because HB is not the regular artist for the series? or they may be based on some other people engaged in cosplay?)
- Not sure who “Evil Dweeb” refers to.
- “C.H.I.X.” comic book: so, it turns out there was really was a mercifully short-lived Image comic book called C.H.I.X.. The kid reading this has an erection and is sweating – so it references the sort of male-fantasy superhero women characters (examples.)
- “Big Bod #1” – the comic seller is mad at Splash for defacing a first edition comic, generally the most valuable of a series.
- Red button with letter “i” (on boy’s sleeve) looks like I logo for Image comics.
- “So I told Jack, ‘Hey! We own these characters! Now get outta here…” sounds a lot like Stan Lee treating Jack Kirby badly.
- “Ferdy” is Kaput Comics character Ferdy the Fantom Fetus, who first appeared in TS 6, Page 6, panel 4.
- “Yeah, right.” is a picture of Kaput Comics hero Sarcastic Thug.
- “Pokemon” are a kids card game.
- “Morry Pokemon” perhaps refers to Morrie Kuramoto, a longtime veteran production/layout staffer for Marvel Comics.
- “Debbie’s Dates” refers to the DC comic Debbi’s Dates.
- “Don Heck” is a comic artist who drew Marvel comics Avengers in the 1960s.
- Colleen Doran and Jill Thompson are contemporary comic book artists.
- “Chamber of Cheese” sounds like Chamber of Chills, Chamber of Darkness, and Chamber of Horrors, all horror comics series.
- “Vertebrae Comics” is a take-off on Vertigo Comics, DC’s mature sophisticated, less superhero-ey imprint line, which more-or-less evolved from AM’s tenure on DC’s Swamp Thing. That Testostor, a mindless superhero, is on Vertebrae seems to be AM’s making fun of the notion that Vertigo are any more intelligent than other superhero comics.
- Fan on left is wearing a Star Trek shirt.
- “X-wife” refers to the proliferation of X-men comics: X-Factor, X-Force, etc.
- “Pass gas” (tag in fan’s ear) is a whole lot of silly puns on the little name-tag-type passes used at comics conventions. I haven’t bothered to list all of these where they appear later: pass/fail, do not pass, pass out, pass away, etc.
- “America’s Worst Comics” refers to AM’s “America’s Best Comics” imprint.
- “The League of Dirty Old Men” refers to AM’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I think AM is making fun of the erotic content of his own LoEG, featuring the Alan Quartermain character who is getting on in his years.
- “The old ‘impossible hole’ trick” has been used in a bunch of cartoons, and goes by a few names. It’s in Yellow Submarine. It’s in Who Framed Roger Rabbit where there are boxes of Portable Holes. According to Wikipedia, “apparently” the earliest appearance of the portable hole was in the 1955 cartoon The Hole Idea. See below where AM states that it was earlier, in 1920s-30s black and white animation.
- “Koko from Out of the Inkwell” refers to Koko the Clown from an early animated series (embed above.) Koko is clearly one of Moore’s inspirations for Splash (and even makes a cameo in ABC A-Z.) Koko lives in an ink bottle, like Splash does. When Koko emerges, he’s animated to all kinds of impossible things, like Splash does. The question here might be: does Koko actually do the portable hole trick? There are certainly lots of very very similar very wonderful similar gags in Koko: the magic mirror here, the fishing hole here. (For more early animation influences on AM and Splash see annotations for ABC 64-Page Giant Specters from Projectors.)
- Rock, scissors, paper is, of course, a game.
- Wizard is a comic book magazine. I am not sure if “They’ve never harmed anyone” refers to some specific controversy… but Wizard stood for all the enthusiastic fanboy crap (ie: superhero comics as source material for superhero movies) that AM has been trying to get comics to get over. Makes me think of how AM is critical of comics as a pumpkin patch for the film industry… Wizard loves the pumpkin patch and the films. I don’t think I’ve read more than 2 or 3 issues of Wizard, but it’s probably the comics equivalent of People magazine.
- Hellboy Junior is visible just to the right of Miss Screensaver. For some reason, it looks more like the Bill Wray version of Hellboy Junior than the Mike Mignola version. HB drew and inked a Bill Wray Hellboy Junior story titled the House of Candy Pain.
- Julie Schwartz is Julius Schwartz, longtime DC comics editor (sort of DC’s counterpart to Marvel’s Stan Lee.) I don’t know enough about Schwartz to get Kaput’s reference… perhaps AM is making a veiled reference to DC exploitation of creatives?
- “Comics speculators” holding “Hot Buys $” and “Comic Book Price Gouge Guide” which “symbolizes the stark choice facing our entire comic field.” These all refer to the bursting of the comic book industry speculative bubble that occurred in the mid-1990s. For more information about it, read the Daily Standard The Crash of 1993 or TV Tropes The Great Comics Crash of 1996.
- “It’s T Time!” sounds a bit like the slogan of Fantastic Four’s the Thing: “It’s clobberin’ time!” (example.)
- The First American is cheering on Testostor.
- “Comics creator’s bill of rights” is A Bill of Rights for Comics Creators, written in 1988 to try to end exploitative practices where publishers benefited from comics, while artists and writers toiled under unfair contracts.
- Testostor is holding the legs of Gary Groth, publisher of The Comics Journal (TCJ.)
- “Gareb Shameless” is Gareb Shamus, founder and publisher of Wizard Magazine. I think Wizard and The Comics Journal are more-or-less the poles of the comics industry that AM is playing with in this story. Wizard is Testostor – stupid muscle-bound superhero. The Comics Journal is Splash – intelligent clever off-beat funky self-conscious but, yah, still a muscle-bound superhero. I would think that AM would generally like TCJ (which I am sure likes him), but he does make fun of it here, and earlier at TS No.7, page 6, panel 6.
- Flo Steinberg was Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee’s assistant for most of the 1960s, who later went on to become a publisher.
- Marie Severin drew and inked comics, mostly for Marvel.
- The “M.M.M.S.” is the Merry Marvel Marching Society, Marvel Comics official fan club during the 1960s.
- Can anyone tell me which comic creator has a “carefully controlled heroin habit”? Maybe it’s just humor.
- The guy carrying the stretcher (also in panel 4 below, and returns for a cameo in TS No.11 P2,p5) is a character who appeared in a couple of early Bill Elder stories in early Mad comics, including the story “GANEFS” in Mad No.1. He’s basically the muscle assistant to short criminal bosses. In the early Mad stories his only words are variations on “yes boss!” He also appears in the Mad No.8 story Frank N. Stein, where he goes by the name “Bumble.”
I think his appearance here sort of reinforces AM’s critique of the comics industry as basically corrupt and effectively criminal.
(Thanks commenter dvn61danny for spotting this reference.)
- The guy with the white triangle on the red shirt is AM’s Tom Strong.
- Below Tom Strong the blue character looks like Batman with a different logo on his chest?
- The animated corpse is a trope of horror comics (examples here.)
- The man with stitches across his head reminds me of the HB-inked Man with the Screaming Brain, though that wasn’t published until 2005.
- Miss Screensaver is on a soap box, used to express political speech.
- Miss Screensaver is, of course, preaching. Her rant, though caricatured and overblown, is more-or-less AM’s critique of the comics industry.
- “Entertaining Comics” is EC Comics, which, very early on published bible stories, but is best known for horror comics and Mad Magazine.
- Miss Screensaver’s big eyes, sweat beads, and dramatic uplighting are reminiscent of EC Comics covers (examples here) and even the infamous needle in the eye panel by Jack Cole.
- The big red-haired guy is Bill Elder’s Bumble – see P6 p1 above.
- That guy is carrying a bathtub marked “Blood bath comics” which seems like a generalized reference to horror comics, and I guess fights as bloodbaths. Not sure if there’s a specific reference here. I think it’s just a play on a blood bath including a bath tub, which it doesn’t.
That red and white striped shirt woman mopping is Mrs. Gowanus, from Mad comics No.7 story Shermlock Shomes, by Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Elder. Her presence here more-or-less indicates that comics conventions are a cesspool. Mrs. Gowanus made an earlier Splash Brannigan cameo in TS No.7, P2,p2.
- “No soap” apparently is a slang phrase meaning “no chance” or “I won’t give you money.” Here it’s mostly AM showing that Miss Screensaver’s audience has disappeared so she has no way to continue her soap box speech.
- Crossovers are common in comics – usually with the same publisher (for example Spider-Man meets the Fantastic Four) and rarely across publishers (for example Marvel’s Spider-Man meets DC’s Superman.)
- “Stone Cold” I think refers to Stone Cold Steve Austin, a professional wrestler.
- “Dunbier” is Scott Dunbier, executive editor of ABC Comics. He’s wearing an ABC shirt and has an ABC briefcase.
- “Biro-boy” is a very funny name for Splash Brannigan. Biro is a another word for ballpoint pen. Splash is, of course, made of ink.
See also Tomorrow Stories No. 8 Tomorrowgrams Letter Page.