Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bad Breath

Previously, in a dusty, overly-pollinated corner of the Marvel Universe:
That quick recap chronicles a previous adventure that pitted Captain America and his new young asthmatic friends John and Ruth against the "Asthma Monster." When the day was done and the villain was defeated our heroes breathed easier.

As you can see in the last panel as he is being carted away, Scooby Doo-style, the Asthma Monster was just some guy in a mask who wanted to stop the world from breathing. That actually sounds pretty bad when you think about it.

But he was safely locked away never to return...or was he?
"Captain America: Return of the Asthma Monster" (Written by Howard Mackie! Penciled by Mark Bagley!) was a free promotional comic book from 1989 given away in doctor's offices to children who suffered from asthma. The concept was to use Cap and the comic book format to educate kids about the condition in an ass-kicking manner that could only be accomplished by the great Captain America.

The story begins with the Asthma Monster's daring escape from prison with the help of his allergy inducing henchmen (more on them later). As he sprays the warden with a face full allergens from his Aller-Gun he swears vengeance on his easy breathing opponents John and Ruth and especially on the one person he blames most of all for his imprisonment: Captain America!
Meanwhile at the schoolyard, John and Ruth are touting their superior knowledge of all things asthma to their friend Davey. As Davey gasps for breathe he still needs convincing that he does, in fact, have the dreaded disease.

Luckily there is a grown man wearing a mask who hangs around the playground and just happened to overhear the conversation.
Cap calms Davey down just enough to convince him to see a doctor. A starstruck Davey complies but not everyone on the playground is quite so taken with the Star Spangled Avenger. You'll notice a kid in the background with a a kick ass snake tank top:
Sure, she (or possibly he) wants to get a look at Cap but anyone with a shirt that bad ass knows how to play it cool around a celebrity. She keeps her distance and says nothing.

So even though there is a madman on the loose that wants to stop everyone in the world from breathing they all (well, everyone except for the snake shirt girl) head to the doctor's office so Davey can get hooked up with a an inhaler and various asthma pamphlets and promotional comics books.

A few lectures later, Cap realizes he really ought to get John and Ruth home since there's a super villain out there that wants to kill their families. During this process we learn that Cap is a "van guy." We also learn that despite his asthma, John is on the swim team. While it's a great lesson for the asthmatic readers of the comic, would it really have killed John to show a little more enthusiasm?
It takes a special kind of comic to teach kids that it is OK to get in a stranger's van. But it takes an even more special comic to show kids how to deal with home invaders. Which is exactly what Cap and the kids do when they get to John's house.

The house seems eerily deserted until the Asthma Monster jumps from the shadows to blast the gang in the face with his Aller-Gun. Luckily Cap and the kids are ready and quickly unholster their inhalers for quick relief.
You see, the common everyday inhaler is the cure for the Asthma Monster's Super-Allergens. You would think that would render the villain moot but think again. He teleports out of John's kitchen (did I mention he has a teleporter?) to hold his parents hostage. But where?

So Cap decides to do a quick sweep of the house with John and Ruth in tow just to be safe. He also calls in the cavalry in the form of Dr. Franklin, the asthma doctor, to help fight this mass murdering (or at least attempted mass murdering) super villain. I guess he didn't want to bother any of the other Avengers. I mean why bring in the Hulk or Iron Man when you've got Dr. Franklin?

And so out come the villain's henchman. (Remember them from the prison break scene? No? They were there.) They are a foul smelling, throat scratching, asthma attack inducing gauntlet through which the gang must persevere in order to save John's parents.
First up is "Rugburn" the roller skating, smoking allergen. John gets rid of him by smacking him with a dust buster (or possibly a Type 2 Phaser). Next is the "Dust Dragon" allergen from the air vent who gets a face full of shield for his trouble.

Our heroes continue to "Die Hard" their way up to the master bedroom and continue to encounter allergen lackeys like "Feather Boa," "Hairball" and the "Mold Patrol." Cap takes it in stride until he meets the king of the allergen lackeys, "Allergen Al." At this point Cap has had just about enough of this nonsense and starts to take care of business - America-style!
As they finally make it to the master bedroom they find John's parent's being held captive by the Asthma Monster. All it takes is a quick shield throw and a left cross and the incident is over just as quickly as it began.

The Asthma Monster, a.k.a. Daniel Tyler, is taken into the care of Dr. Franklin and in three short months he is completely rehabilitated. No longer does he want to choke people to death and, in an extraordinary leap of logic, he is made coach of the swim team!
OK, so we've had a lot some fun at Cap's expense today but all kidding aside this is a fun, if somewhat heavy handed, example of using the comic book medium to educate. Each of the allergen lackeys is representative of a real life trigger for asthma attacks. By being aware of these triggers and watching Cap and friends fight them in a fantasy world, a child can be more prepared to "fight" off asthma attacks in the real world.

I would imagine that being told that you have asthma would be very frightening for a young child who is unfamiliar with the condition but seeing their favorite superhero (or in this case, Captain America) both suffering from and fighting the disease would be of some comfort and hopefully bring out the child's "fighting spirit" so they can also take on their own Asthma Monster.

I don't see the book winning any Eisner Awards but at least it's a step in the right direction.

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