Monday, May 09, 2005

Does Puck suck?



Imagine you're a popular comic book artist/writer of Canadian descent named John Byrne. Don't worry, this is just pretend. You're pitching your new series, Alpha Flight, to an unnamed editor at Marvel. Your proposed series features a team of Canadian superheroes that have already appeared several times in The Uncanny X-Men. Sounds good, your editor likes it. But wait. You have a new character you want to add to the team.

Editor: "Okay, a new guy. What's his name, what are his powers?"

Byrne: "His name is Puck. He doesn't really have any powers per se, but he's an acrobatic martial artist type."

Editor: "Sort of like Daredevil or something. Why's he called Puck? Is that a Shaekespeare reference?"

Byrne: "Well, he's a little hairy dwarf guy with a misshapen ear that sort of bounces around and kicks people. He wears a black costume... Puck. Get it? He's Canadian. He's like a hockey puck."

Editor: "Stop fucking with me, John."

Byrne: "No, really. Readers will love him. He's been around the block, got a lot of experience, a little bit of attitude. Plus, he jumps around and stuff. Puck, man. Puck!"

Editor: "Umm... I don't know, John..."

Byrne: "Here's a picture of him."

[shows sketch of Puck to editor]

Editor: (Gasp)

Byrne: "What? What's the problem? You don't like him?"

Editor: "Gosh... I don't know what to say, John. Can I see that sketch again?"

Byrne: "Sure. You keep shaking your head; what's the problem?"

Editor: "It just... It just seems kind of stupid, John. Puck. Couldn't you have a polar bear guy, or another Indian or something?"

Byrne: "Look, Puck is on the team or I don't do the book."

Editor: "...okay."

That's probably not what happened, but you see where I'm going with this. Who thought Puck was a good idea? Well, John Byrne, obviously. And you know, when Alpha Flight #1 first came out back in the day, Young Dave Campbell thought Puck was pretty cool.

I think I may have been mistaken.

So I put it to you, Gentle Reader: Does Puck suck? Or is this just a case of a cynical adult looking back with a jaundiced eye on a character from my childhood and mocking said character for easy laughs? Should I go easy on Puck?

Originally Puck was Eugene Judd, a hirsute Canadian who stood about 3'6", tops. He was sprung from jail to participate in Department H, the Canadian government's superhero program that gets cancelled due to lack of funding. Puck was a member of Beta Flight, who were the minor league team compared to Alpha Flight, Department H's heavy hitters. The founder of Alpha Flight, James MacDonald Hudson (aka Guardian) decides to go freelance, and summons Puck to help them in a battle against Tundra, a huge Godzilla-size monster. Puck shows up late for the battle, which is just as well, because what's an acrobatic dwarf going to do against Godzilla? Get crushed, that's what. Puck joins Alpha Flight anyway, and a Legend is Born!

Seriously, would you have Puck on your superhero team?

He's not super strong, he's not super tough (in the very next issue he nearly gets eviscerated by a teamate during a training exercise), and he's certainly not super tall. He doesn't even have a gun or "Puck rays" or anything. Plus, he's named after a hockey puck, for fuck's sake. That would be like The Avengers hiring a non-powered guy with a pointy head and calling him "Football" because, you know, Americans like the football! How long would you expect Football to last on The Avengers? Exactly - Kang or Ultron would fry Football's ass.

Yet, inexplicably, Puck survives and thrives as a member of Alpha Flight. Look, here he is kicking The Master in the head:



That has got to be the low point of The Master's career as a villain, right there; getting brained by Puck.

One of the fundamental problems I always had with Puck, even as a youngster, was that the guy jumped around like a frickin' jack rabbit, but had no super-strength or anything. I know that this is comics and everything, but seriously, how high can a dwarf really jump? I don't know any dwarfs, but I'm betting they can't jump very high. Yet Puck regularly bounces off walls like Spider-Man, kicking people in the chops. I don't know, that's stretching it a little.

According to the good folks at AlphaFlight.net, Puck eventually developed moderate super-strength and nigh-invulnerability. Also, it turns out that Eugene Judd used to be a normal-sized adventurer around the 1900s who tried to steal an evil magic blade called Black Razer, but ended up having to imprison the evil sword's spirit within his body or something - turning him into a dwarf. I'm just guessing, but I bet that wasn't John Byrne's idea - Puck's backstory was revealed after Byrne left the book. Couldn't he just have been born a dwarf? That would've been cooler.

One theory as to Puck's popularity: some people find him sexy. There's a fetish for everything these days. You can't tell me there's not some truck driver somewhere in Minnesota who has pictures of Puck all over his walls. I'll bet there's a newsgroup devoted to naked fan art of Puck. Look at the hairy little bear:



Thankfully, they eventually drew pants on Puck. Really, nobody wants to see that.

So I ask you: does Puck suck? Or am I just being a big meany? Discuss.

[UPDATED: Judging from the feedback I received, almost everyone admits that Puck is kind of goofy, but most have some degree of grudging affection for Alpha Flight's resident "pocket bear." So it looks like Puck does kind of suck, but in a good way. You know what I mean. I should just stop typing now.]

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Well, he's a little hairy dwarf guy with a misshapen ear that sort of bounces around and kicks people."

That's one talented ear.

Ha ha. Anyway, I thought Puck was cool at the time as well. He does suck, but not as much as the guy from the Real World who used to pick fights with DC's latest supahstah.

Greg M. said...

Weirdly, I was just going back through my Byrne/Mantlo ALPHA FLIGHTS the other night (I was drunk). I think Puck is one of those cases which is so spectacularly lame that it somehow becomes cool again -- like blogosphere darling MODOK. He's a likeable dude, noteworthy on a team comprised almost exclusively of assholes. And you're right, the Mantlo retcon in which he was only short 'CUZ THAR WUZ A DEEMON LIVIN' IN HIM was dreadful.

There's no way Shaman wasn't worse. Stereotypical Indian in Touch with Powers at Which the White Man Scoffs. In a FRIGGIN' GREEN AND ORANGE SPANDEX BODYSTOCKING.

RobB said...

Well he is a midget. And how many midget super heroes are there? Unfortunately he is Canadian as well, which almost negates the whole coolness of midget factor.

Mark Hale said...

Let it put it this way: I just sold off my Alpha Flight collection and I feel much better about myself.

Nik said...

Naw, man, Puck is cool! How can you not love the man who sticks up for "little people" everywhere? What did suck with the fiery white heat of a million suns is the godawful "origin" Bill Mantlo gave him later on in the run, the whole "he's not really a midget he was cursed by an ancient god" thing. Now THEM was some sucky comics, true believers!

Nik said...

The worst Alpha Flight member by far had to be "Marrina." Proto-anime wide-eyed aquachick whose only function on the team was apparently to turn into an evil monster and shag the Sub-Mariner. Borrrrrrring.

David Fiore said...

I always hated Alpha Flight...even the Mantlo issues--and Mantlo is fuckin' awesome!

you know what it must've been? Byrne was thinking--they like Wolverine? Fine--let's see how they it shorter, hairier, and even less powerful! (that also sounds like a drunken Bizarro come-on) it's still Canadian--and it's still Byrne! They'll love it!!!!!

G. Bob said...

I know puck worked for a young G. Bob back in the day because here was this little tough guy who may not have been as powerfull as the other people on the team, but he never gave up and was scrappy to the end. What kid in junior high doesn't feel like that? It's only us jaded older bastards who wonder about the virtue of having a little person acrobat on your crime fighting roster.

Actually, I think it could be usefull to have a midget acrobat. The confusion factor alone makes it worth it. If I was Dr. Doom or something I would just sort of assume that guy must have some incredible superpower if he was alowed to hang with the team. Death beams from his tiny fingers or soemthing.

I imagine in the Marvel Universe Canada uses Alpha Flight for their motto "Welcome to Canada. Even our superheros are lame."

Adam Reck said...

Think of all the other useless John Byrne creations. Puck is way cooler than anything the guy created for the Legend imprint.

gorjus said...

Aww! You don't like the Next Men?

Puck suxxit. The only thing Alpha Flight EVER had going for it was the faux-mystery of the Wolvie connection (which was fascinating to my 9-year-old eyes) and the vintage Byrne artwork.

Vaklam said...

"Couldn't he just have been born a dwarf? That would've been cooler."

Damn, right! That was the lamest thing in a string of lame things that happened to that comic after issue 12.

I liked Puck a lot mostly because of his utter out-classedness. He was the real Captain Canada. ;)

Kingmob said...

Not to turn this around to Byrne himself, but at this point in time when Byrne was going wild writing and drawing everything at Marvel, he was on the top of his game, writing wise and art wise. Sad to say that this was his peak. Towards the end of Namor, his art started to fade tremendously, and now we're left with Byrne art that's sloppy as hell.

As for Puck, he's pretty lame, but Byrne drew him well.

Konstantinos Stamoulis said...

Hey, it's about time you grew the balls to tackle Greg Horn's J.U.D.G.E.

I dare you

Brad Curran said...

I like Puck, but I have an affinity for lame characters of all stripes. I like Silver Sable and the Wild Pack for god's sake!

David Campbell said...

I remember reading a Bill Mantlo issue of Alpha Flight with Wolverine as a guest star - I don't remember which one - and there's this scene where Wolverine is fighting a bunch of bad guys, as he often does. Puck, piloting a Quinjet (I think) comes in low to rescue his fellow Canadian - but comes in too low and bashes Wolverine in the back of his head with the fucking jet! I remember thinking at the time, a) man you have to fly really low to do that, and b) what a tool Puck was for doing that.

That's all.

David Campbell said...

I forgot:

"That's one talented ear."

I would PAY to see a comic book about a dwarf with a misshapen ear that detatches from his head and bounces around and beats people up.

Dorian said...


One theory as to Puck's popularity: some people find him sexy... Look at the hairy little bear


Never under-estimate the appeal of the pocket bears...they're always very popular at the bear events.

layne said...

Sad But True Confession #638: I didn't figure out the 'Hockey, Not Shakespeare' name thing til I was 15.

My Worst Canadian Ever certificate should be coming in any day now.

Crow said...

When I first saw Puck I thought that he was the result of Wolverine procreating with a hobbit. Upon learning that he wasn't even a real dwarf I lost all interest in the character, and realized just how lame he really was. In conclusion, I don't think your being too harsh. The comic industry needs to know that if you are going to have grotesque small people on a team make em real midgets.

Joe Shakespeare said...

He had a giant 'P' on his costume. So...he's got THAT going for him...

Seriously though, as a Canadian and loooong time comics reader, I must admit that I have a fondness for the early adventures of Puck and company. And I still think 'Alpha Flight' is a sharp, sharp name...

Martin Wisse said...

Was there ever a non-sucky or non-stereotypical member of Alpha Flight anyway?

Why pick on Puck?

Martin said...

At least DC ended up giving the Atom some powers.
And he wasn't as hairy.
But he did wear a medical support truss, and Puck doesn't.
But Puck's not a real dwarf, so that's a big down.
The Imperial Majestrix has reached a verdict! Puck sucks!

Mike Loughlin said...

I see untapped potential in Puck:

1. fight Batroc the Leaper and Gambit for title of best overall bouncy guy with annoying overdone accent.
2. go crazy, and have all his former teammates team up to fight him, only to end his unholy rampage after maudlin speech about love and teamwork from, I don't know, Purple Girl or someone.
3. spin-off into She-Puck.

Shane Bailey said...

I like Puck. I have no idea why. It is one of the great unanswered mysteries of the cosmos.

Anonymous said...

LOVE Puck as the stereotypical Canadian who says "eh" a lot, never understood the name though. I know comics is full of stupid names, but seriously, how does it happen? "Hey, you're a hairy dwarf who jumps, that reminds me of a hockey puck", is that the way it went down? Seem to remember some character sketch of Byrne's where Puck has this "signature move", his "Puck Attack" if you will, where he cartwheels into people, and the action lines of him spinning around suggest a...yeah, right, Byrne.

Still, I like Puck as originally conceived. "You chicks must think I'm about the dirtiest guy in the hospital, eh?" Later on they give him a lot of problems with introspection which is not so nice, but then when didn't they abuse characters in that series? Like it isn't enough to be a Shakespeare-reading dwarf who's a bouncer or a big asshole who turns into an orange monster, or a snooty French guy who can fly...

Puck could've had some special super-rare dwarfism condition that just made it so he was more jumpy than the average person, or something. That would've been cool. Or he just could've had a super good attitude! about being a dwarf. I'd accept that, in a comic book. Just someone being superhumanly plucky, that'd be okay.

Nope, now that I think about it...Puck's cool! Shocking, unexpected, but true.

nshumate said...

Okay, I have to admit it: I grew up in Canada. I followed Alpha Flight faithfully. And I never once related Puck to a hockey puck.

I always thought it was a reference to "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Yes, I am an over-literate, under-athletic moron.

(On the other hand, I refuse to accept anything Mantlo did on the series. ANYTHING. I've heard people praise Mantlo's work on other books, but I thought his work on Alpha Flight was suckalicious beyond all previous conceptions of sucktacularicity.)

David Campbell said...

Is Don King posting on my blog or what?

Martin said...

"1. fight Batroc the Leaper and Gambit for title of best overall bouncy guy with annoying overdone accent."

How about Tarantula? He'd fit right in there as well.

Chris Durnell said...

Came over from Neilalien.

Puck was a great character. His height made him very different, but it was his personality that made him interesting. Comics always has some guy without super-powers being a superhero: Batman, Captain America, Hawkeye. Sure they all had a gimmick, but the "low powered super hero" was an established concept.

Plus his height did have advantages. Low center of gravity for better balance. Less surface area to hit. People overlook you. Furthermore, you can put more emphasis on all that judo stuff and use your opponents on strength, reach, and height against him.

I thought he was a very original concept. I like it more now than I did then. Too bad future writers mutilated the concept.

Having a dwarf do impossibly physical things is no different than having Batman do impossibly physical things.

Anonymous said...

"Less surface area to hit"

Oh, man, what can I say? Chris Durnell is obviously a pseudonym for Stan Lee, because that is some pure comic-book scientific reasoning there! That is someone who understands what superheroes are all about. Kudos to you, Mr. Chris Durnell! In my mind, you prove Puck cool beyond any possible counterargument.

Love this question! Pity about New Puck, I liked Puck Classic a lot actually.

MissHapenskull said...

Don't forget that Puck was constantly in pain from being a little person. I remember this tragic aspect of his life resonated with me when I was ten.

Or am I remembering this wrong?

Jon Hendry said...

I also thought it was Shakespeare. After all, Wolverine is the one who explicitly mimics an item of sporting equipment, when he does the 'fastball special' thing.

Maybe it was a double pun. I gather Puck's personality was rather 'puckish'.

The retcon away from being a natural dwarf sucks. It's like coming up with a story that Black Panther, Luke Cage, and Storm were all pale-skinned red-haired Irish until some magical event turned them black.

Scott Harris said...

I think Puck sucks, but he could have sucked less had he been a little more like a character I *do* like, John "Mongo" Frederickson from George Chesbro's out of print Mongo Mysteries. A dwarf who's a circus acrobat, black belt in karate, Ph.D. in criminology, and private detective? Sign me up! Of course, Mongo, would probably work better as a supporting character in the Batverse, but still...

Sparky Ryan said...

Puck is one of the saving graces of a nothing 80's mess. The insipid Aurora & Northstar, the pug ugly Marrina. Even the Outsiders was better than this dreck. I hate Alpha Flight but there was something heartwarmingly pathethic about Puck especially his love for Vindicators wife. Ha. (Do I have too much time on my hands?)

Wolverine296 said...

Crack out the Xmen vs Alpha Flight mini from a while back with John Cassaday on art and then you'll know you don't fuck with Puck!

Anonymous said...

So, was Puck French-Canadian?

In any case, he just voiced my sentiments about this entire site: This is one entertaining blog. Even though I don't read many american comics.

Sinister said...

The Master later got back at Puck by turning his body into a genetic freakshow and keeping him in a liquid-plasma-tube-thing.
No one messes w/ The Master

verif:
lognhf:
sound of being kicked in the head by the weakest guy in Alpha Flight.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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