But while the characters are cleverly satirized, it's the actual humour that makes the book shine.
I love action figures but I never buy them. I'm too old to play with them (when people are watching) and I don't plan on sacrificing my comic money on toys. Occasionally, I'll see a toyline that tempts me greatly (The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, Gorillaz and The Simpsons to name a few) but in the end it's always comics over action figures. Despite this, I still pick up Toyfare Magazine every month so that I might appreciate the art of the toy... OK, it's mostly for Twisted Toyfare Theater. Yeah, yeah, I know that spending about $9 (keep in mind that's Canadian money) a month for a 6-8 page comics seems silly but I do. I enjoy a lot of the articles, but I can't deny that it's the appeal of a surly Spider-Man is what keeps me coming back. TTT (as the fans call it) is featured in the pages of every issue of Toyfare since it began and has since become the most popular feature in the magazine.
Using photography rather than illustrations, Twisted Toyfare Theater uses popular action figures (and the occasional custom made figure) as the players in an off-colour parody of comics, cartoons, movies and all those things that fanboys love. The result is one of the funniest comic books even though it is hidden away in a toy magazine. The writers of the comic even teamed up with Seth Green to create an animated take on the premise called Robot Chicken. Luckily, for those who don't want to buy an entire magazine for six to eight pages of comic content can now get trade paperbacks collecting various strips, with Volume 7 being the latest.
The interesting thing about the series is that the cast is comprised entirely of licensed characters with no original ones of their own to speak of. I'm not sure of the legal implications of this (save that Toyfare was forced to stop using DC comics' characters) but what interests me is the fact that they are able to make the majority of the characters their own. They make Spider-Man a wisecrackin' straight man who actively tries to ignore the shenanigans from issue to issue unless they somehow benefit him. The Storm Troopers resemble blue-collar wage slaves. The Hulk is a naïve man-child who doesn't know his own strength and is obsessed with bodily functions (not much of I stretch I know…). The Thing is a bullying frat boy who never grew up. We all know the characters but TTT turns them into hilarious funhouse-mirror versions of themselves. Yes, they're caricatures, but they are exceedingly amusing and well-developed caricatures.
But while the characters are cleverly satirized, it's the actual humour that makes the book shine. Though it is probably easy enough to win over readers with pictures of toys in compromising positions, TTT goes beyond being a one note joke to proving it has a real sense of comedic timing. In one comic, the Lord of the Rings villain Sauron hears a knock on his giant door, which he orders a troll to open. After the troll spends three panels opening the massive door, Sauron finds the man on the other side is a Jehovah's Witness. Sauron panics and screams at the troll to close the door. By the time the door is finally closed the Jehovah's Witness had enough time to give his whole speil and even drop off a few Watchtowers. The 100th issue special creates a musical montage of evil deeds (which isn't easy to do in a comic) that features great gags like Baron Zemo throwing a bag of baby emperor penguins into the river, Dr. Octopus using his arms to steal from a vending machine and Magneto putting a "kick me, I'm genetically obsolete" sign on someone's back.
If there is one criticism I can give this comic, it's that a lot of the humour comes from knowlegde about Marvel characters, toylines and nerdish trivia, but the writing is relatable enough that it doesn't become too much of an obsticle. Yes, in a lot of cases a joke is better if you can remember the names of the background characters in Star Wars, are familiar with from popular cult movies and TV series and know who the hell the Power Pack are, but even though it's full of obscure references, it never becomes distracting enough to take away from the humour. It manages to poke fun at the fans, obscure references and geek culture in a manner that doesn't alienate those who are unfamiliar with it.
TTT is a perfect blend of bawdy humour (the sophisticated way of saying dick and fart jokes), sight gags, quips and spoof. I've been reading the comics since about the beginning and the timing and outlandishness of the gags gets better with each strip and this volume is the best to date. Though it might be targeted at the fans of toys and obscure pop culture references, don't that let it scare you off (assuming that's the kind of stuff that scares you off). A lot of books like this think that simply making those references makes it a good book, but Twisted Toyfare Theatre is one book that really knows how to turn it into comedic gold.