Of all the various actors to play James Bond — Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig — you will notice that none of them really resembles Smokey Bear very much. That’s because they are all human males and not stuffed bears. However, if you want to say that a stuffed bear cannot be a highly-trained secret agent, well, you have clearly not met Mr. Stuffins. He is the title character of a new limited series by BOOM! Studios centering on a bear that is also a spy and trained in the use of firearms. While he may not have passed Consumer Reports list of safe toys, Mr. Stuffins does bring a great deal of wit, energy and enjoyment to the table.
Mr. Stuffins was conceived and co-written by Andrew Cosby, the co-founder of BOOM! Studios and also creator of the Sci-Fi Channel show Eureka. It’s easy to see why the series has come along now in particular as the concept is a great one, riffing on the ubiquitous nature of spy agents, but supplying some much needed humor through the choice of agents. From 24 to the Jason Bourne movies, no-nonsense government agents/spies have been quite popular this decade due to a combination of deft writing, gritty details and high-stakes drama. One could even suggest that the emergence of “secret agent entertainment” is a result of 9/11, as many saw, perhaps for the first time since the Cold War, the importance of the Intelligence community.
Suddenly, espionage agents were heroes. If you amp up the action quotient (and happen to nuke a part of Los Angeles in the process), it’s a hit. At the same time, the long history of the James Bond franchise, from the swinging bachelor pad era of the ’60s to the gadget-wielding technology-obsessed Bond of the ’80s and ’90s, demonstrates that people have always liked unflappable secret agents. The twist of Mr. Stuffins is that the comic turns on the overly dramatic tone of something like 24 and knocks it down a bit by making the secret agent something so harmless that it seems ridiculous: a teddy bear.
Of course, this raises the question of why someone would make a teddy bear into a secret agent. It highlights the fact that there’s a crucial difference between great concept and great story. Cosby and Stokes make it seem plausible as a hunted scientist working on a program for Artificial Intelligence plants the program in a teddy bear just as he is captured in a toy store by nefarious government agents seeking to turn his discovery into a weapon. Fate has it that young Zach is picking out the bear moments later as a bribe by his absentee father who would much rather his son pick out a sports toy or tank. Zach’s parents are separating, and this is played more believable than one would expect, as we feel a bit of Zach’s melancholy. The story, overall, is a nice mix of action, character moments and clever humor.
Of course, Zach’s bear, who seems normal at first, boots up the AI program and suddenly starts barking out military orders. He phones the toy manufacturers phone line to find out his mission. When he reaches the recording for Tattertot Toys safety line, he says “Roger That.” Mr. Stuffins is also not pleased that none of Zach’s toy guns are “regulation.” He becomes obsessed with securing a perimeter of Zach’s room against intruders so that they can get out of their mission alive, though Stuffins seems clueless about the details of the actual missions. This is all played for excellently understated comedic value, as Mr. Stuffins appears to be simply a fish out of water — a secret agent mind stuck in a toy world.
Consequently, all of his announcements seem silly and delusional. Or at least until the government comes looking for their AI tech, and then Mr. Stuffins starts to appear more perceptive than it had seemed. Throughout the first issue of the three-issue series, Mr. Stuffins alternates effectively between action-adventure and a story about boy and his toy. As such, it bears resemblance to films like Toy Story or this summer’s Transformers. There is a balance to the tone over its various elements so that it never appears too serious or too goofy. It might not reach the frenetic highs of the Bourne movies or the nailbiting suspense of 24, but Mr. Stuffins does offer us another type of agent: the kind you take to bed not for romance, but for comfort and security.