Comics

Mr. Stuffins #1 of 3

Jim Bush

A comic that asks what if Jack Bauer was a stuffed bear, with equal measures action and humor.


Mr. Stuffins #1 of 3

Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Contributors: Artist: Lee Carter and Pablo Quiligotti
Price: $3.99
Writer: Johanna Stokes
Display Artist: Andrew Cosby and Johanna Stokes
Length: 22
Formats: Single Issue
US publication date: 2007-05
Website
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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.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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