I’m not sure that even Laurence ‘Mr.T’ Tureaud himself could have envisaged the longevity of his larger than life character. Since his role as Clubber Lang in Rocky III, he’s taken in WWF Wrestling, children’s information films, and, of course, one TV role in particular that he will forever be associated with. Despite the fact that The A-Team doesn’t always hold up that well nowadays, the sight of B.A. throwing bad guys left right and centre still brings back great memories. Iconic just about hits the nail on the head.
Having successfully permeated most other forms of media, it’s no great surprise to have seen him reincarnated in comic book form for a new generation. British comic book writer Christopher Bunting is the man responsible, having released a number of comics starring the big man. This limited advance edition 100-ish page graphic novel (just 4,000 copies are out there) plays on the myth of Mr.T, while also introducing new characters and placing him in a whole new fictional universe over four separate interlinked stories.
The book also attempts to deal with the two distinct, but very different aspects of the big fella. On the one hand, Mr.T has become such an iconic, well-referenced character, one mention of one of his many catchphrases (and they are all included here, including the always hilarious ‘Quit your jibber-jabber’) raises a smile. His outfits also are all too familiar, and they’re all here, with my favourite dungarees and red shirt combo taking centre stage.
However, there is the other, more serious side to Mr.T that he himself has always tried to keep in the spotlight. His caring attitude towards children is well documented, with the educational videos he has taken part in especially notable in this area. The foreword to the book sums up this mix of morals and nostalgia perfectly. So, while the first line is all about the catchprhases (‘Listen up, it’s me, Mr.T! That’s right, first name ‘Mr’, middle name ‘period’, last name ‘T’!), he also sees fit to preach about what would really make him happy is for readers to respect parents, stay off drugs and be faithful to your beliefs.
Ultimately the book’s downfall is that the marriage of Mr.T’s morals and the heavy themes and levels of violence present throughout doesn’t work. In one breath he’s telling a kid off for graffiti (although hey, he sees he’s got talent so maybe he should just, like, use those talents elsewhere), the next he’s setting fire to some robotic contraption that’s about to kill all and sundry.
The plots end up feeling slight and contrived, as if Bunting has tried to shoehorn in lines about the need for everyone to just be good to one another in stories that are essentially violent tales of saving kids from molesters or Hicksville kidnappers. It’s also worth noting that in between the stories are some Q&As with the man himself which are quite a nice diversion, although Mr.T’s responses are rather slight at times (‘What were your hobbies as a kid?’ ‘Sports’).
In the end, I guess I’m just a little unsure as to whom it’s really aimed at. The suggestion from the foreword and the themes throughout would be that it’s for kids, but I’m not sure that the levels of violence and heavy themes of child abuse are appropriate if that’s the case. If it’s those looking for a bit of Mr.T nostalgia, the sentimental side of things will not appeal, for despite the catchphrases and the outfits, the stories are too blatantly packed with moral lessons and end up becoming a little tiresome.
Perhaps the real issue though is that for all his muscles and bravado, Mr.T is a lover, not a fighter. He’s used his image in the past to try and do his best to teach kids how to live life with morals and how to do the right thing, and that’s fine. It’s just that in stories where he beats seven shades of crap out of people, takes some hallucinogenic substances (albeit unwittingly) and ends the whole shebang by shooting a decidedly unholy priest, the moral side of things sits uncomfortably with his take no prisoners shtick.
So, Mr.T the graphic novel, then. I pity the fool who forks out their hard-earned cash on this. Ahem.
The Mr.T Graphic novel is out now