Monday, April 04, 2005

The Flaming Carrot: Don't Eat Your Vegetables!

(UT-ter heroism, Flaming Carrot-style...)

His most frequently spoken word is "Ut" (which is the first note in the diatonic scale, from Medieval Latin, from the syllable sung to this note in a medieval hymn to Saint John the Baptist). He shoots first and sometimes never asks questions later. Certainly not your garden-variety vegetable, yet in a sense organic and decidedly original, this symbolic human-plant mutant fights crime and puts an "A" for assualt in Vitamin A. With a bemuscled man's body, a grotesque, over-sized orange carrot-mask head (with a flickering torch atop), and green flippers on his feet ("in case I have to swim"), the Flaming Carrot is the world's most unique super-hero.

Comic book artist Bob Burden, a 1952-born Buffalo, New York native, graduated from the University of Georgia (Athens) in 1976 with a degree in journalism. An existential poet with a propensity for maniacal metaphor, Burden describes his herbal anti-hero as "more a force of nature than a traditional, coherent, erudite sleuth. His appearance harkens more mystery than sense, not unlike a random face on a totem pole of some extinct race." Combining idiot savant gallantry and primal stupidity with a polarity of zen brilliance (Flaming Carrot once vowed "to hit someone so hard that there'd be blood on the moon that night," and when asked why he fights crime his response was "I needed the exercise"), this vegetable vigilante strikes fear in the hearts of anyone of criminal ilk in the Palookaville section of his hometown, Iron City.

The Flaming Carrot's true identity is unstated and the rumored origin of his merged personas stems from having lost his mind after reading 5,000 comics in one sitting. Burden said in the comic book's letter columns and in subsequent interviews that the Carrot does have a secret identity. Burden has said he would reveal the Carrot's secret identity to any correspondents who correctly guessed it.

Always equipped with an ample supply of Silly Putty and Pez dispensers, his allies include the famous inventor Dr. Heller, a potato bug, Uncle Billy, the Shoveler, Mr. Furious, Screwball, Bondo-Man, Jumpin' Jehoshaphat, and an array of young, buxom women (dressed in halter tops and ultra-tight cutoffs). These motley maddies often accompany the Carrot in his feisty forays against enemies such as alien swingers, clones of Hitler's dead feet, The Man in the Moon, and recurrent visits from a deadly dead dog.

According to the folks at "The Flaming Carrot's world is plucked from a poetical dream - but not a grand mythic Lovecraftian dream; more of a rambling, free verse, absurdist dream in which one thing leads inexplicably to another, and everything you encounter is familiar, except it's not. (i.e., "We were in my apartment, except it wasn't my apartment. My high school music teacher was dancing on a table, except she wasn't my high school music teacher and it wasn't really a table").

Unlike certain other superheros whose boy sidekicks lend suspicions of homoeroticism, Flaming Carrot has a decidedly heterosexual libido. Extremely sexual women are drawn to him despite his ongoing dementia and create perfect compliments to his bizarre machiso. Socially Flaming Carrot comic storylines are retro-conventional, harkening back to an idealized era when people were friendly and uncomplicated, the stuff made of poetic imagery from a bygone era. As desrcirbed by the writers, Flaming Carrots' world is "A rambling, free verse, absurdist dream in which one thing leads inexplicably to another, and everything you encounter is familiar, except it's not. (i.e., "We were in my apartment, except it wasn't my apartment. My high school music teacher was dancing on a table, except she wasn't my high school music teacher and it wasn't really a table.")

The Flaming Carrot first appeared in an edition of Vision comics in 1979. When Flaming Carrot Comics debuted independently in 1984, it was an overnight sensation among what has been termed as "a certain class of socially stunted young adults". The mid-1980s marked a period of experimental and independent books that redefined the superhero genre. Part of the underground charm of Flaming Carrot Comics is that the series never achieved the mainstream success of its contemporaries, such as Frank Miller's The Dark Knight or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but its stylistic influence and allegorical anomalies allowed for an element of surrealism in comic book storytelling (Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, and Keith Griffen's Justice League).

There are unanswered questions from the original series: For example, the Flaming Carrot awoke with a mysterious speaker implanted in his chest after a three-day drinking binge. The speaker activates to transmit mysterious instructions, as well as "special insights, secrets of the universe and race track tips." The Carrot does not know who implanted the speaker, or what, if anything, they want from him.

The Flaming Carrot is also a singer, having appeared with bands such as Sexface. One of the songs he performed was "Hello, I Love You." He also sang "Volare" and "Georgy Girl," a testimony to his pop music persuasions and general bad taste. In Issue #20, Flaming Carrot is seen with two old friends, rock groupies "from long ago, when the scene was psychedelic, star-spangled hippies, electric guitars and Flaming Carrot was known by a different name." Herein lies inferences to his actual identity. In one of his rare past reveries, Carrot says: "I had it all once... The marbled dream of a golden age... And I threw it all away... I had fame and fortune, love and glory, fast cars, popcorn and sunny days forever.. My art and craft was strong and full of laughing eyes and lightning...But I was writing words in water with a stick..."

The current adventures of Flaming Carrot (in his brand new series from IMAGE & DESPERADO) find him even deeper in Dali-esque dilemmas as he solves the mystery of the pygmies in the woods who are constructing a giant ear out of French bread. The newswoman, who Flaming Carrot seduced to avoid bad press and character assassination, flies into a rage when she learns of his date with a two-headed woman. The singing zombie runs amok, killing a man in a computerized dog suit, and...Flaming Carrot pops some bubble wrap.

As Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden says of his cartoon oddling: "He's a simple, child-like hero with a great carrot on his head, flames coming out the top, and flippers. He is "Zen stupid," whatever that is, and solves his crimes with violence, fun, and completely illogical deductions. He has no super powers. When he's in a spot he blasts his way out in a hail of gunfire and destruction."

(any resemblance to carrot-headed superheroes is purely coincidental)

Is the Flaming Carrot headed for Hollywood? Apparently not in the near future. The series was optioned as a movie property but never left the storyboard. A subsequent Bob Burden project, Mysterymen, was made into a largely unsuccessful Ben Stiller movie. Flaming Carrot, despite his comic book alliance with the Mystery Men, did not even make a cameo appearance in the film. For now, this hero of American illogic and the working class will continue to wage war and spout zen ptolemics from the rooftops of the cartoon canyons in Palookaville.