None Like It Hot

Maddest of mad props to ComicBookHarriet for her timely and courageous reporting on this wildfire that has ravaged a huge swath of southern California.

If I can ever replicate and distribute this font, I shall name this font Reckless Death Stunts.

OK: well, I sorta lied yesterday when I commented about having watched The Phantom Empire (heretoafter referred to as TPE) as part of a midnight show at the old Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey. There I may indeed have taken in an episode or two, mixed in with some choice Three Stooges shorts, wacky commercials, and Star Trek bloopers. But this was the late 1970’s, kids. And, blame the microdot I guess, but for the life of me I cannot recall a whole helluva lot about TPE. Do you suppose Tom Batiuk get turned on to The Phantom Empire as a  stoned young Kent Stater, maybe as part of a midnight show at the Agora? Or did he discover it as a striped shirted, balding young boy, much like the one he draws as Jff’s boyhood alter ego in today’s strip? So stressed out by the obtruding smoke and flame is Jeff that now his hallucination is having hallucinations. Come to think of it, back in May we had Funky hallucinating a robot while jogging. That’s kind of an odd thematic well to which to return. These humanoid, robotic apparitions, then,  will likely turn out to be in reality some abandoned movie gear that Jff spotted while hiking in.

Anyway, I never did watch my dollar store TPE DVD, and  I’m not about to YouTube all “Twelve Dazzling Chapters” (each between 20-30 minutes in length; the Wikipedia entry about TPE has a link to a 70-minute feature edited from the serial).  The Phantom Empire trailer that I’ve shared below makes the serial look much more like an oater than a sci fi thriller: more Roy Rogers than Buck Rogers, more Buffalo Bill Cody than Commander Cody. As you watch the trailer, be sure to savor the truly excellent typography of the title cards.


Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

54 responses to “None Like It Hot

  1. Captain Gladys Stoatpamphlet

    Well I don’t want to watch TPE, but now I do want to listen to a dozen episodes of Sparks Nevada.

  2. William Thompson

    Robots? What happened to the three-headed dog that guards the Gates of Hell? (I’d ask about the sign that says “All Hope Abandon,” but that’s the order of the day in the Funkyverse.)

  3. J.J. O'Malley

    Forget the geographical odyssey that Battyuk’s “Cowering Inferno” arc has taken readers on the last few weeks. What about the thematic potpourri that he seems to be subjecting us to like some subpar Chinese buffet? From the maudlin movie mayhem that is Les coming to terms with a mere mortal playing Lisa to Cindy’s misplaced jealousies to the oddly timely wildfire “action,” and now another hallucinaton—or IS it?–with robots, this is the comic strip equivalent of throwing various pastas against the wall to see what sticks. And, unfortunately, we’re the wall.

  4. Epicus Doomus

    So now the Great Lisa’s Story – The Movie arc of 2020 features robots. And not just robots, mind you but antique eighty-five year old robots who live in the old Batcave. Strangely enough this does not strike me as odd or unusual in the least.

    He obviously borrowed Jff’s “the heat of the fire” line from the famous scene in Titanic where Roe says, “I (glug) can feel the wet of the water (glug glug)!”. Oh, how I cried. The whole angle with Jff’s younger self is just weird and confusing if you ask me, even more so than the antique 1930s robots.

    • spacemanspiff85

      Thinking Batiuk is actually making a reference to another work like Titanic is giving him way too much credit. It’s a really awkward line. You’re three feet from the edge of a massive inferno that’s destroyed all of Los Angeles. If you can just feel a little heat and talk about it, you’re doing pretty good.

      • Epicus Doomus

        Hey, if current trends continue “Titanic” is going to be a major FW plot point in around fifty years or so, when Skyler Jr. will attend Titanic-Con over in Dayton.

        • Y. Knott

          Titanic? Too mainstream and generally popular. It’s got to have that special mix of being obscure, geek-worthy, and generally unimpressive to almost everyone who saw it after reaching the age of seven. Right now the early odds favour William Shatner’s TekWar, though Vegas insiders report heavy betting action on Psi Factor and M.A.N.T.I.S.

  5. billytheskink

    Zanzibar better be with these robots!

    Hallucinated young Jff’s hairline is more receded than senior citizen Jff’s.

  6. I wonder if Tommie B ever shows his work to his therapist. ( One year ago) “And this is what I’m working on now.” Therapist: “Ooookay. Looks like we have to increase your dosage again, buddy.”

  7. Gerard Plourde

    I really don’t know what to make of this. Is this Jff having a final hallucination before being overcome by the smoke? Are the “robots” going to turn out to actually be firefighters coming to the rescue? Does TomBa want us to believe that the Phantom Empire really exists and that the entrance actually is to be found in Griffith Park?

    I’m with billytheskink. A Zanzibar appearance would take this to the only imaginable conclusion.

  8. I watched one of the old serials, “Underwater” something. It was repetitive to the point of boredom, sorry. “Guy finds new place, gets captured, escapes, gets captured, escapes, gets captured, escapes, gets captured, escapes” and on and on until you’re so damned relieved to see “The End” appear. Yes, as Lou Reed once sang, “Those were different times” but time marches on.

    I still haven’t forgiven Batiuk’s put-down of “King Kong” from some years back, where he got pretty much everything wrong while trying to prove he was some genius, taking down a classic. Screw “The Phantom Empire” and everything he loves, including Les Moore.

    • Epicus Doomus

      Today’s strip features a character from a different strip and his very confusing imaginary younger self encountering some imaginary 1930s movie serial robots in a cave during a massive wildfire. BatNut has been doing FW now for over two hundred and forty-eight years (or something like that) yet he still writes stories that read like something a not especially gifted eleven year old wrote on the bus on the way to school after forgetting all about it the night before.

      “And the man was imagining that he was young again like when he used to watch the old movies and he went in a cave where they made the movies and there was a big fire and then the magic robots came out of the cave”.

      Yeah, and maybe tomorrow the magic robots will transform into fire trucks and Jff and Young Jff will fly away to safety on a glider they ordered from an ad in a Silver Age comic book. It’s not any dumber than what’s really happening here.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Yeah he can’t let anything go. Always has an axe to grind. From high school, to King Kong, to Batman, to modern technology, he carries around a lot of baggage.

    • Professor Fate

      Yeah I remember that King Kong strip – and yes he got everything wrong – it got me annoyed enough to email him about it. Not that he got back to me or anything. And while you probably can talk about some plot holes in Kong (like what the hell does Anne see in Jack Driscoll?) the one he tried point out isn’t one. And considering he seems to regard the Phantom Empire as the pinnacle of the Art of film he’s got no business talking trash about King Kong.

    • Charles

      Heeeeeyyyyyyy! It’s the Undersea Kingdom for you and for me, where the men are in dresses….!

      I turned on the YouTube playlist of Phantom Empire last night and fell asleep before anything happened. That might have been 45 minutes in. That queen lady who Batiuk is going to have save the day showed up and tried to look busy but she did a whole lot of nothing before I fell asleep for good.

  9. Y. Knott

    “Hmmm…. and you say people pay you to write this. And it appears in newspapers all over the country….” “Deborah, have the folks at Bellvue standing by. Yes, with the jacket ready…”

  10. spacemanspiff85

    You know, if you sit on the ground coughing while a massive wall of fire comes towards, and you have your back to a cave that you know is there and actually came to visit, and you just sit there and wait for the fire to take you rather than running away from it, like, maybe, into the cave, I think you deserve what happens.

    Combining this with Funky hallucinating a robot while running really has me convinced that Batiuk has given the idea of people just stumbling across robots in real life a lot of thought. I feel like if someone wanted to abduct Batiuk, all they’d have to do is wrap some cardboard boxes in aluminum foil and stagger around outside his window, then say you were there to take him away to Murania.

    • Epicus Doomus

      The problem (well, one of them) with abducting BatHam is, obviously, that you’d be stuck with him until you collected the ransom, which seems both unlikely and way, way more trouble than it’d be worth.

      “Hey Tom! You remember those old “Terror Robots From Pluto” movie serials that came and went twenty-five years before you were born? Well, one of the terror robots is over at the pizzeria right now! No, really, I’m serious! You gotta see this! Come on!”

      • Y. Knott

        It’s “The Ransom of Red Chief”! Except, to keep it appropriate to Batiuk’s style, all the humour and suspense is taken out, the ransom has to be paid out in comic books, and the surprise twist ending is that the kidnapper is a talking ambulatory desk lamp who dies of bulb cancer.

  11. Banana Jr. 6000

    Yes, Jeff, go into the cave so it’s even harder for emergency services to rescue your dumb ass. If my experience with hurricanes is anything to go by, you’d be on your own right now. Authorities don’t have the resources to rescue idiots from their own failure to follow evacuation orders. How much time in a 1935 Gene Autry serial did you need, anyway? This fire was 25 miles away when you got there!

    Just let him die, LAFD. I don’t think he even wants to be rescued.

    • SeaCountry

      It’s not like he’s looking forward to going home to Pam or Crankshaft.

    • Professor Fate

      My brother who has a beach house somewhere told me a story where as the police were going to each house to make sure they were evacuated (there was a hurricane coming) they asked the people who didn’t go to if they would write their social security number on themselves with a sharpie (they had one) in order to make identifying the body easier – and they added it’s best if you write it on your torso – arms and legs can get detached. It managed to convince a few more folks to leave.

  12. Hitorque

    1. Why is it once again daylight?

    2. Why did the old man stand in one place with his thumb up his ass for God knows how many hours until he was completely surrounded by smoke before deciding to do something?

    2a. As I pointed out yesterday, that cave won’t save him…

    2b. But I guess those magical sci-fi geek illusions dressed as robots will guide him to safety because TB has run out of ideas..

    • William Thompson

      Fun fact about the robots: The costumes were made for a 1933 Clark Gable/Joan Crawford movie, “Dancing Lady.” The robot scene was cut, no doubt mercifully, but some photographs remain:

      Robots - Dancing Lady   Joan Crawford  1933

      It’s funny because yet another example of Batiuk’s nostalgia kitsch was rejected by better people.

      • Professor Fate

        Not surprised – serials always had extremely low budgets so any way to save money (using a lot of stock footage, or the same shot over and over again or using existing robot costumes) was used. Republic Pictures reused the Robot Costumes from Undersea Kingdom at least twice more (The Mysterious Dr. Satan, and Zombies of the Stratosphere) and even the Robots from The Phantom Empire were re-used for “Captain Video Master of the Stratosphere” (I think they may have reused the plots as well).
        I actually rather admire the folks who made these films they had no budgets and impossible deadlines and yet by hook and by crook they got the job done – it wasn’t great art but it did its job. They did the best they could with what they had. Something I don’t think one can honestly say about the author. He’s got plenty of time to work things and yet his plots are as slapdash and as tossed together as someone who needed to finish filming on Tuesday.

        • Gerard Plourde

          That’s exactly what I find inexcusable. He claims to work a year in advance but that appears to mean he throws a first draft script together and never revises it for plausibility. When it comes time to ready it for submission he discovers a sticking point and, rather than do more work to resolve it, the throws in something like the Ohio Highway Patrol coverup of Bull’s suicide so he can get back to his St. Lisa of the Cancer Chew Toy obsession.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          Even Twilight Zone re-used a lot of props from science fiction movies of the time.

          • William Thompson

            The Outer Limits</I reused earlier props and sets, too, taking them from an earlier series called Men Into Space. And some of Wah Chang’s OL props, creatures and make-up techniques made it into Star Trek. The repurposing isn’t a bad thing; I just think it’s funny that Batiuk would regard these top-hatted tin men as part of a brilliant lost-world design.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            @William Thompson I don’t know where Batiuk gets his fandom from. It’s like he took one look at Phantom Empire and The Flash, and decided he didn’t need to see anything else for the rest of his life.

  13. Hitorque

    I know it’s late, but since someone cited SCTV yesterday I’ve been lost in that dude’s YouTube account watching all the episodes and I came across this scene from the set of the Lisa Movie, starting around the 7 minute mark:

    • Y. Knott

      There is never any need to apologize for posting an SCTV clip … especially one that contains Count Floyd, Bobby Bittman AND Dick Cavett! And yes, that is *exactly* the bench scene from Lisa’s Story….

    • Dood

      That is “Lisa’s Story”! “Now this is called ‘leader,’ Dick. Every number represents a second.” So very Batiukan.

      Also, is “Funny Stuff” accidentally or intentionally evoking those few public clips from Jerry Lewis’ “The Day the Clown Cried”?

      • Y. Knott

        SCTV always worked on a couple of different levels, and they would throw in all sorts of esoteric references in the most unlikely places. (If you’re Canadian, the show had a complete layer of hilarious references/in-jokes that zipped right past most American audiences.) There’s no question in my mind that the writers/cast/director all had prior knowledge of “The Day The Clown Cried”, and came up with their own fun-house mirror version of it. And Bittman’s “The Complete Filmmaker” is absolutely a riff on Jerry Lewis’ 1971 book “The Total Film-Maker”.

  14. SeaCountry

    The one thing that amazes me about this is a casual reader or someone who missed a few strips will wonder why a child, even one with a middle-aged man’s hairline, is there. We beady-eyed nitpickers know this kid is a hallucination of Jeff’s inner child.

    However, there is no indication, in visual or dialogue form, that the kid in this strip is a hallucination. Could he be Jeff’s grandchild? Why didn’t anyone mention that? Is he someone else’s kid? Why aren’t members of his family trying to save him? I can’t see anyone feeling charmed by or interested in this, especially when the robots come out.

    • Epicus Doomus

      “After wandering off into the hills to explore a cave used as a set in an old 1930s movie serial then imagining he is accompanied by his wide-eyed younger self, Jeff (and his hallucination) is trapped by a fast-moving wildfire and encounters a group of old movie robots”.

      This is why I never try to explain FW to anyone who doesn’t understand.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Anyone who understands FW can’t understand why one would want to read it and then talk about it.

  15. DreadedCandiru2

    Watching a dying man hallucinate the worst glurge ever makes me tend to channel the role Peter Capaldi was famous for before he became the Doctor: Malcolm “Sir Swears A Lot” Tucker. Right now, he’d be calling Batiuk and Jffff fucking mental. Batiuk, he’s an omnishambles, he is. He’s like a defective coffee maker: from bean to cup, he fucks up.

  16. William Thompson

    Batiuk knows that the cave is really a tunnel. Jff will at long last flee into it, following the robots until they emerge at the (very far, week-long-run) other end of the tunnel. Where there will be no fire or smoke and the grass will be green. Jff will be rescued by Mason, just as the wildfire suddenly remembers it’s spreading and rushes to attack them. Jff will credit the Muranian Mechanoids with saving him and little Jffy. Of course they’ll have to leave Mindy behind to make room for the imaginary boy, but sacrifices must be made.

  17. Chyron HR

    Funky Winkerbean is a reality-based comic strip that depicts contemporary issues affecting young adults in a thought-provoking and sensitive manner.

    • SeaCountry

      That dated description makes me laugh harder than anything in the strip!

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Lisa would be proud

    • Rusty Shackleford

      On his blog last week, Batty talks about the change over from joke a day to ~contemporary issues~ cancer.

      The problem is, he just isn’t interested in anything contemporary and so he has nothing interesting to say.

    • Bless the Beasts

      Made possible by a grant from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and readers like you.

      Discretion advised. Not suitable for all ages.

      Void where prohibited.

    • Not anymore it isn’t.

    • none

      And that’s one major point which he totally misses about all of this.

      As shown by Susan’s Monolith of Text VS. Angry Spamalot Fan With Misshappen Thighs, he thinks we criticize and find fault with his desire to make the strip something more than joke-a-day fluff.

      No, we criticize because he makes his lofty goals perfectly clear and manages to completely fail at achieving them in every perceptible way.

  18. Vermont Friebus

    At what point does Batman come out and yell, “Get off my lawn!”?

  19. Barnaby Scones

    Resounding above the din of this raging inferno, and reverberating throughout the cosmos, the laughter of Cayla and Pam is hale and hearty.

  20. Olive McSweeney, LLC

    Is one of those robots carrying a “Hair Club for Boys” brochure?

  21. Professor Fate

    Well as typical with anyone in the FW universe, Jff when confronted by a threat simply sits down and passively waits for death. And oh yes Jff -it’s the smoke that kills you – the flames will just reduce your body to charcoal.
    And let’s not get into the whole wheels within wheels nonsense were his first hallucination sees another hallucination.
    Of course they will be carry him to the land of what’s its name where the queen will demand to see his decoder ring which will enable her to solve the mysterious message written on the wall -and the message when decoded will read ‘drink more Ovaltine”
    And again one is struck by how old his older folks are – The Author completely ignores pretty much anything that happened after say 1949 or so – which is weird as heck. I saw someone suggest that Jiff was born in 1955 which is not a bad guess but that would also make him one year older than Johnny Rotten – Hell Dylan is in his 70’s I find the Author’s attempt to ignore the popular culture of the last 50 years very weird.

    • Gerard Plourde

      “I find the Author’s attempt to ignore the popular culture of the last 50 years very weird.”

      It is weird. He graduated from Kent State in 1969 but he seems somehow to have been untouched by anything outside of Flash (and DC Comics) that happened in his tween, teen, and college years. His description of waiting for the Batman TV premiere shows that tunnel vision. By his account, he spent significant time sitting through other shows so he could have a good seat (as if a crowd of young adults on a college campus would be watching network tv at 7:30 on a weeknight).

      I also find it weird that the inevitable exposure to more sophisticated literature that high school and college would have afforded him didn’t wean him from the simplistic plots that dominated comics of that era.

      • William Thompson

        I’d bet that Batiuk skated through his high school English classes and managed to avoid literature in college–either by taking classes that didn’t involve it, or by accepting a reduced grade when he couldn’t avoid it.

        I wonder what a psychiatrist would make of his obsessions with death, “The Phantom Empire” and Les’s endless grief, along with his bland female characters, weak family relationships, and near-total absence of pets. Plus the abrupt way the first Starbuck Jones arc ended–the copy of Variety that announces its success is tossed in a wastepaper basket. Not to mention . . . uh . is there anything normal in this strip?

  22. The Merry Pookster

    Robot props…undistrubed for 80 years…. Yet these metallic cloth and thin metal suits will protect anyone wearing them as they walk through fire.
    Just watch.