It was enough to make a proud child of the ’80s cry.
One day, not too long ago, I discovered that Netflix carried The A-Team, that classic ’80s action show about — well, I’ll just let Announcer Guy explain:
“In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, if you have a problem, if no one else can help — and if you can find them — maybe you can hire… THE A-TEAM!”
In that opening-credits nutshell was everything you needed to know about those madcap mercenaries. Hannibal Smith: fearless leader and master tactician! Face: ladies’ man and con artist extraordinaire! “Howling Mad” Murdock: ace pilot and A-1 nutbar! Amy Allen: some chick reporter who occasionally proved useful! And last but certainly not least, B.A. Baracus: tough guy, mechanic, and all-around fashion fatality.
(Let’s face it, we did a lot of goofy things, sartorially speaking, in the ’80s: leg warmers, sequined gloves, pastel business suits, parachute pants, you name it. But at least — at least — we can go to our graves proud of the fact we never gave in to the desire to wear 85 lbs. of jewelry, a Mohawk, feathered earrings, denim overalls, and work socks pulled up over said overalls.)
It’s difficult for me to describe the near-fanatical choke-hold this motley crew had on my 10-year-old self’s imagination. Oh, it was juvenile entertainment for sure, but what can I say? I was a juvenile looking to be entertained. When you’re a kid on the cusp of learning that life ain’t always fair, the adventurous antics of a quintet of justice-seeking jokesters provided some much-needed escapism, pure and simple.
Anyway. My much older self had just discovered the show in my Netflix queue, and I invited my 10-year-son to come witness the majesty. I randomly selected an early episode and settled in with my boy, eagerly waiting for him to discover the magic for himself.
About five minutes later, he groans, “Daaaaaad, this is so boring! It’s just a bunch of hippies shooting at a bunch of hobos! Can I go now, please?”
I learned two things that day: one, my son has no idea what hippies and hobos are, and two… yeah, in retrospect the show was kind of dumb.
Every episode was pretty much the same: the A-Team would either be hired by someone seeking their help, or they would ride into a small town that coincidentally needed a few heroes at that very moment to save them from bad guys. The team annoyed the bad guys, got locked up in a toolshed/garage/broom closet or some other structure filled with tools, and used their mechanical ingenuity to bust out of their makeshift prison, humble the local thuggery, evade the entire U.S. Army, and win the hearts of good folks everywhere.
Given the show’s massive popularity among the young folk back then, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise the show eventually crossed over into the four-color world with a three-issue series published by Marvel in 1984.
“Wait a minute!” I hear you say. “You said the show was insanely popular! How come the comic only got three issues?”
Good question. Let’s answer that by taking a look at one of them, specifically “Who Kidnapped Kuramoto?” (The A-Team #2; April, 1984; Jim Salicrup, scripter; Jim Mooney and Joe Giella, artists). Because if you thought the TV show was over-the-top bizarre… well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
1. “Stay still, Hannibal — or I’ll ruin your make-up!”
Our story opens with our side-splitting soldiers of fortune speeding their way through the rain-slicked roads of San Francisco. Whilst Face updates his little black book and H.M. peruses the Fantastic Four’s latest adventure, Amy is putting the finishing touches on Hannibal’s disguise (his predilection for approaching prospective clients in all manners of outlandish get-ups being one of the show’s many running gags). “Stay still, Hannibal — or I’ll ruin your make-up!” she admonishes, working around the lit stogie that (one hopes) remains firmly in place while she applies the (one further hopes) fireproof makeup to his face. (Also, how does a man on the run from the U.S. military keep his little black book current? How often does he get to see the ladies in his book? How does he know the military won’t figure out he’s a dog and use one of those women to set a trap?)
2. “I can’t stop in time!”
“Suddenly, unexpectedly, appearing directly in the van’s path,” we are breathlessly informed, there darts a l’il doggie. “I can’t stop in time!” B.A. bellows just before electing to drive his van into a tree (because, you know, he’s a sensitive, animal-loving soldier of fortune). Murdock and B.A. take a page from their on-the-road comedy routine (“Smells like 1982, a very Goodyear,” wokka wokka) while Hannibal tells them to can the arguing and get to work fixing the tire. “We’ve got an appointment in twenty minutes and the A-Team’s never late!” (Hey, it says so right in their brochure…) Well, that entire scene was… entirely pointless. Moving on.
3. If Hannibal already knows who you guys are, then why bother repeating it? Oh, right: pointless exposition. Moving on.
Said appointment is with three brothers — the brothers Kuramoto, to be precise, creators and owners of “the vast Kuramoto video games empire.” Bruce, Kosei and Whasisname-with-the-glasses want to hire the A-Team because, while vacationing in the Grand Canyon, their dear old dad was purloined by rejects from the casting call for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, a dastardly deed captured on film by, we are told, “a fellow tourist.” Note the dramatic composition of those photos, by the way. We’re treated to a standard “say cheese” shot of the Kuramoto family… an overhead shot that must’ve been taken while the photographer was sitting in a tree… and a close-up shot of the kidnappers from behind! Assuming the kidnappers didn’t waste time swapping casserole recipes with Kuramoto’s kids while swiping their father, that’s one helluva photographer, I’ll tell you what. Someone get J. Jonah Jameson on the line, stat…
4. “This mission isn’t going to be easy. Except for the part where I just happened to figure out in five seconds who we’re looking for. Plus they have an address!”
Once the subject of payment is out of the way ($1 million, or 10% of the ransom the kidnappers demanded), Hannibal reunites with his teammates. “Look alive!” he barks. “This mission isn’t going to be easy.” Fortunately, finding the robed rogues isn’t the hard part; Hannibal recognizes the uniforms as those belonging to the Sons of the Desert, a “pack of cultist clowns” who just happen to have a compound out in the middle of the desert. And let’s just think about this statement made by our Fearless Leader. We have here three very wealthy businessmen who have just said they have “exhausted every means” of getting their father back. Given their financial resources, we can assume that means private investigators, the FBI, local law enforcement, the Boy Scouts, Chuck Norris, you name it. All kinds of people, one assumes, with the resources to look for clues and find evidence pointing them to the people behind this kidnapping. And we’re supposed to believe that all it took for Hannibal to figure out who the kidnappers were was a glance at their costumes in some random photos?
5. Remember how Hannibal always said he loved it when a plan came together? Keep in mind the guy came up with a lot of plans and not all of them could statistically be winners.
A plan is hatched, and it is, in hindsight, a rather simple one: Face and Amy will pose as reporters working on a story about cults, while Hannibal and B.A. will arrive at their compound posing as telephone repairmen. When they find Papa Kuramoto, they’ll signal Murdock, who will swoop in and fly them all to safety.
Cut to a wide-angle shot of Face and Amy speeding through the desert (you were expecting maybe downtown Moose Jaw?) in search of the Sons of the Desert compound. Upon arrival, our roving reporters (for Spy magazine, no less; it’s an ’80s thing) attempt to sweet-talk the guards into letting them in, and their efforts are rewarded with the arrival of Mr. Yamato the security chief and Miss Ono, the director of public relations. (Wait a second: “director of public relations“…? For a secretive cult?!?) Charmer that he is, Face convinces Miss Ono to grant them an interview, and the first question he asks is why there is no phone number listed for the compound. “That’s easy! We have no telephones here!” she purrs demurely. That’s the kind of thing you’d expect mercenaries looking at a million-dollar payday to know about before putting a plan in motion, but hey.
6. “This charade is over! There are no telephones here! I demand to know what you gentlemen want! If you value your lives, you will co-operate!”
Of course, no phones means no need for telephone repairmen, and Hannibal and B.A. are brought before Mr. Yamato. “This charade is over!” he growls. “There are no telephones here! I demand to know what you gentlemen want! If you value your lives, you will co-operate!” Two observations here:
(1) I’m no telecommunications expert, to be sure… but something doesn’t add up. First, we’re talking about an isolated sect that (we are led to assume) actively keeps out prying eyes… and yet they have a computer that “links up with FBI and Interpol computers” because… why? Do they often get fugitives from international justice stopping by for tea? And doesn’t it strike anyone as rather odd that there’s a networked computer like this on the premises, but not one bloody phone line in sight? I mean, we’re talking 1984 here, well before the arrival of Internet telephony, cellphones, and the like… was such a computer connection even possible back then without phone lines? Also, what do these guys do if they need someone to repair their computers, send out a raven?
(2) The “Arena of Death“…? Criminy. Why do I get the feeling that everything in this oversized Oriental outhouse has a dramatic name attached to it? Yamato himself probably made a trip to the “Employee Cafeteria of Earthly Delights” right before meeting with our boys.
7. There is nothing I can say about this line from Yamato that would make it any less weird or nonsensical.
Then we come to a line that — I swear to God — more than 30 years later I still have not figured out what the hell the writer was going for. As our captured heroes arrive at the “Arena of Death,” Mr. Yamato says the following: “I must admit, I indulge somewhat in melodrama! It’s probably why I chose a career in security!”
Is… this something I’m supposed to know about security guards? Was there a plot point in Paul Blart, Mall Cop that saw him auditioning for a Gilbert and Sullivan production? Did I miss the all-security guard revival of Oklahoma! on Broadway? I mean, yeah, occasionally Worf would belt out some Klingon opera for the Enterprise crew, but on the whole… yeah, I don’t recall his character being known for displaying exaggerated emotions. Like I said: weird.
8. “Send in THE SUMO!”
For no discernible reason whatsoever (other than, perhaps, killing time until the compound’s Bat-Computer spits out an answer or two), our heroes are led to a less-than-arena-sized room to match wits with two of the compound’s more eloquent members of the Intramural Debate Club. After Hannibal handily dispatches his nunchucked nogoodnik, B.A. faces off against… well, see for yourself. (“Send in the SUMO!”…? No, no need to send in the cheese with him; we’ve got plenty of that in here already…) And I gotta ask: what the hell kind of security system does this place have? Anyone who shows up unannounced can be just thrown into a death match for shits and giggles? What was the sumo wrestler and the other guy up to before the A-Team showed up to give them someone to fight — maybe some light paperwork to fill the time?
9. “Now you’ve done it, ‘Liz’!”
Meanwhile, the jig is up for our randy “reporter” and his female sidekick when Amy just up and says, “Miss Ono, we’re looking for a Mr. Kuramoto!” (Boy, talk about writing the book on covert ops, huh?) The suddenly startled Miss Ono excuses herself, but not to worry — two sword-wielding goons arrive soon after to entertain their guests. “Now you’ve done it, ‘Liz’!” Face groans, making a note in his mental “To Do” app to “make it look like an accident once this mission is over.”
(Side note: to this day, I will never know what purpose “the girl” served in the A-Team series. I say “the girl” because there were two of them, if memory recalls, and they were interchangeably inserted into the series by the writers — the aforementioned “Amy Allen,” played by Melinda Culea, and “Tawnia Baker,” played by Marla Heasley. And while I can appreciate the “eye candy” theory as much as the next red-blooded man-child, it still needs to be said that, in most episodes, the writers were pained to explain just how precisely “the girl” fit in with this close-knit team. For instance, Amy, a journalist, became the team’s fifth member only by resorting to out-and-out blackmail — she threatened to write an exposé on them unless she be allowed to tag along. Because if there’s one thing a bunch of guys on the run from the U.S. military are concerned about, it’s their public image. Any resemblance to logic is entirely coincidental.)
10. “The man’s big — and he’s strong!”
Back to the Battle of the Century, where the normally hot-headed B.A. is coolly analysing the situation. “The man’s big — and he’s strong!” he muses inwardly. “That’s a deadly combination!” (As opposed to what, exactly — tiny and bed-ridden?) “But I’m no fool! I won’t be tricked into fightin’ this fight! I’ve got me a plan!” Give yourself bonus points if you think that plan involves tossing some Hostess Fruit Pies at the gargantuan goober… because that, at least, would have made some sense. Instead, we get…
11. “STAND CLEAR, CHUMPS!”
Yeah, that’s his plan: grab the guy by his ponytail and throw him clear of the ring. If there are any medical professionals out there, I’d love to hear your insights on the physics behind this (undoubtedly highly illegal) sumo move. Given that the sumo wrestler looks to weigh 250, 300 lbs. easy, this move seems about as likely as whipping a full-grown Clydesdale around by its tail.
12. So… he built the place to be a haven from “deceit and death”? That explains the nunchucks and sumo wrestlers, I guess.
So the sumo guy picks himself up, dusts himself off, and bows to B.A. for being a worthy opponent, or something. Summoned by Miss Ono via walkie-talkie, Mr. Yamato brings our quirky quartet to the Atrium of Fish Tanks and Funky Statuary to meet with Miss Ono and… Mr. Kuramoto!! It turns out the old guy was never kidnapped at all! Instead, he staged his own abduction and intended to use the ransom money from his sons to complete his desert fixer-upper.
“My sons forgot the Old World ways in their relentless quest to build their empire,” the senior Kuramato expounds. “I was treated like a nuisance. Like old goods considered worthless in today’s market. I tried to leave but they wouldn’t let me. I was their prisoner! Destined to a life of tourism! Seeing the world entirely through a camera!”
Using his own money, the septuagenarian seclusionist continues, he began to create a desert paradise, one that would be a haven from games of “deceit and death.” “I want no part of my son’s cold, uncaring technological world which casts aside its older citizens!” he says, and, while touched that his sons would hire a cracked commando unit to find him, he asks our heroes to tell his sons they’re always welcome to come visit him if they choose to do so.
Well now, after a dewy-eyed denouement like that, what’s left for our boys to say to the old guy? Aside from [pick one]:
A) “So… we’re still getting paid for this gig, right?”
B) “Nice ‘Arena of Death’ you’ve got back there, Mr. K. Just the thing a man needs to get away from those ‘games of deceit and death,’ yessireebob.”
C) “No, really, what’s up with all the ninjas and sumo wrestlers running around the joint? What the hell do they do here when you don’t have guests?”
D) “You know, you could tell your sons yourself if you had a phone somewhere in this place. Maybe next to the computer connected to the FBI mainframe? Just sayin’.”
E) “Can’t we shoot something before we go? What about that vase over there? Is that worth anything?”
The A-Team’s comic-book adventures series only lasted three issues, and I’m pretty sure this is one licensed property that wasn’t eagerly scooped up by Dark Horse Comics when Marvel was done with it.
Which is, on reflection, just as well — as fun as the three issues were, they lacked a certain something that made the live-action show such a visceral experience. Perhaps it was the slapdash artwork combined with the long-weekend-coming scripts provided by usually dependable scribes like Mr. Salicrup. Or perhaps it was because the cold hand of the comic-book censors forbade the comic-book team from indulging in the madcap gunplay that made the TV show such a hit with the younger crowd.
Whatever it was, at least this once-impressionable street urchin had his A-Team lunchbox, A-Team Thermos, A-Team sweatshirt, and A-Team action figures to help him keep the faith. I most sincerely pity the fool who tries to take those away from me.