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In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, the protagonist, Calvin, has several alter egos. He often pretends he is someone else and often gets lost in imaginative landscapes. His hyperactive imagination leads him to imagine himself as other characters with different abilities and goals to escape difficult situations such as school quizzes. Under these circumstances, the strips blend fantasy and fiction as Calvin morphs elements in the "real world" with his fantasies, and the reader is taken along for the ride. Hobbes is not seen taking part in Calvin's Alter ego fantasies other than to criticize his choice of alternate personae. On several occasions, Calvin has appeared as either a larger or a smaller version of himself, wreaking havoc like Godzilla or crawling across a book page as "Calvin, the human insect." More frequently, however, his imagination transforms him into a being of a different kind. In many comics which involve Calvin in an alter ego, the strip is heavily stylized in such a manner as to portray Calvin's environment from his imaginative point of view. However, it's often the case that the strip starts off in this stylized fashion, and ends up with the last panel or two back in the "real world," providing the reader with some backstory to that particular flight of fancy, or simply to show the consequences of his actions in his imaginary world on the "real world" (such as, in his Spiff personae, dousing an "alien" with a Hydro Bomb, when later the alien is revealed to be his father).
The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book provides background on Spiff's character. Watterson first conceived an earlier version of Spiff when he was taking a high school German class, producing a two-page, short-lived comic titled "Raumfahrer Rolf". When he was in college he reworked the strip and renamed his hero "Spaceman Mort". Later on, after finishing college, Watterson came up with the name "Spaceman Spiff" and made what he hoped was a professional strip with Spiff as a hero. There was little resemblance to the Calvin-Spiff character: The early Spiff was a "diminutive loudmouth" with a Charlie Chaplin moustache who explored space in a dirigible with his sidekick Fargle. The newspaper syndicates all rejected this early strip, and the present Spiff was finally born as one of the many imaginary alter egos of Calvin when the Calvin and Hobbes strip began.
Spaceman Spiff, "interplanetary explorer extraordinaire," explores the outermost reaches of the universe "by popular request" in a red flying saucer with a bubble canopy. He talks in third person in all but three strips. As the comic developed and evolved over time, Watterson began to introduce Spiff's adventures with alliteration, ranging from the first phrase or sentence to eventually the whole first panel, featuring phrases such as, "Poised precariously over a percolating pit of putrid pasta."
The galaxy in which Spiff travels is a cruel place where Spiff is shot down or captured by ferocious and disgusting aliens. In reality, these aliens are often people such as Calvin's parents or Miss Wormwood. Frequently, Spaceman Spiff becomes stranded on an unexplored planet due to alien attacks or malfunctioning equipment. Most of these planets seem devoid of civilization, and often have hostile environments or alien predators. Spiff rarely lands on a planet without crashing or experiencing some technological malfunction.
Early in the strip's career, the alien planets Watterson invented were, in his words, "rather generic." As his work matured, Watterson brought the Spiff saga in line with his principle that "Things are funnier when they're specific, rather than generalized," basing his alien landscapes on the rock formations of southern Utah, as well as the landscapes within the comic Krazy Kat. Gradually, the monsters became more detailed.
The vocabulary, and Spiff's array of high-tech gadgetry, offered a caricature of the "science" found in many science fiction books and TV series. Watterson described Spaceman Spiff as a parody of Flash Gordon. The grand "space opera" style of Spiff's adventures may also spoof Star Trek and Star Wars. Since all the Spiff adventures have a lone protagonist playing with reality, they are close to the early work of Philip K. Dick and that of other writers who have featured lone individuals going to the edge of their perceived world.
In the final years of Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson began to show an interest in information technology, often pitting the progressive and computer-savvy Calvin against his technophobic and reactionary father. Watterson's satire of the personal computer and its effects spilled over into the Spaceman Spiff strips. In one strip, Spiff's ship had a computerized weapon control system that was so finicky and slow that Spiff was hit by the aliens before he had a chance to use any of his weapons.
In the Introduction to Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best, fellow comic strip artist Berke Breathed noted that in 1981, he had begun a storyline for his character Milo Bloom in Bloom County, which he described as 'a little blond-haired boy with an over-tweaked imagination working out his real-life anxieties and passions via space hero fantasies'; had it continued, it would have featured 'Dukakis and Donald Trump aliens'. Daunted by the negative reaction from the fans after the first strip based on this story, Breathed decided not to continue with the story, and began a new storyline by introducing a Penguin who watched the 'Mister Rogers' Show - an idea which sat much better with Bloom County readers. Five years later, Calvin rocketed into his adventures as Spaceman Spiff, which Breathed says 'was just how the comic universe was meant to be'.
Spiff carries a futuristic sidearm, originally named the Atomic Napalm Neutralizer. Later on, the name was changed to the simpler Death Ray Blaster, or Death Ray Zorcher. It is difficult to say whether it was a replacement weapon or not, since both guns were similar in shape; on one occasion Spiff also used a similar one called an Atom Blaster. The Death Ray Blaster had cooking-based settings ("Shake-n'-Bake", "Medium Well", "Deep Fat-fry","Liquefy" and "Frappe"), yet they prove useless against every enemy Spiff faced. The real-life equivalent of these fantasy weapons often turned out to be Calvin's dart gun, water pistol, rubber bands, spitballs, or snowballs, explaining their ineffectiveness. Spiff's other weapons include Demise-O-Bombs (water balloons) a Zorcher (his water gun) at least one Hydro Bomb (a jar or glass filled with water) and one Stun Blaster (a rock).
Spiff's saucer has just enough room for Spiff and little else; yet the craft is equipped with an astounding array of weapons, detectors and propulsion devices, many of which tend to malfunction. The design of the ship appears to be based on a toy spaceship of Calvin's, which appeared in one strip.
Spiff wears square glasses, or goggles, whose lenses change their shape according to his emotions.
Spaceman Spiff first appeared in the twelfth strip of Calvin and Hobbes on November 29, 1985.
Spaceman Spiff had a ten-page watercolor mini-graphic novel devoted to him in the Lazy Sunday Book. In the story, a giant Naggon space shuttle fired a laser at Spiff that caused his ship to malfunction and crash. He discovered a bat-webbed booger being, and fired his ray gun. The being sent a siren call to the Naggon mother ship, and a gigantic Naggon emerged. Spiff tossed a Demise-O-Bomb, and prepared another, only to be caught by the Naggon. He was sent to the dungeon, where he set a trap for the Naggon King. In reality, Calvin was kicked out of the house, and he saw Susie. He squirted his water gun, only to make Susie angry. Susie told on Calvin to his mother, and Calvin filled his water balloon with water. When his mom came along, Calvin tossed the balloon and was filling a second when his mother caught him. He was sent to his room, where he placed a bucket filled with water on top of his door, waiting for his dad to come in and thereby be soaked.
Spiff's last appearance was on October 1 1995. In this story, Spiff must find food. The vegetables are poisonous and the meat looks disgusting. He finds ice cream sandwiches, which is what Calvin is eating for lunch.
Spaceman Spiff is also referenced in the South Park episode The Wacky Molestation Adventure.
Stupendous Man is a superhero Calvin often becomes. He, like Spaceman Spiff, talks in third person. Stupendous Man has several nemeses: Mom Lady (Calvin's Mom), Babysitter Girl (Rosalyn), Annoying Girl (Susie Derkins), and the Crab Teacher (Miss Wormwood). Despite his frequent use of various "stupendous powers", Stupendous Man has admittedly only won "moral victories".
In one strip, Stupendous Man had a battlecry, in which every letter that makes up the word stupendous, stood for something--a parody of Captain Marvel's magic word, "Shazam." This had limited success.
- S for Stupendous!
- T for Tiger, ferocity of!
- U for Underwear, red!
- P for Power, incredible!
- E for Excellent physique!
- N for ...um... something... hm, well, I'll come back to that...
- D for Determination!
- U for... wait, how do you spell this? Is it "I"??
Occasionally, Watterson seemed to use Stupendous Man to parody popular superhero comics with his use of superhuman powers for useless plans, like rotating the Earth around to give Calvin another day off school. This is a take-off from the 1978 film, Superman in which Superman spins Earth backwards to reverse time so that he can save Lois Lane. In one strip, Stupendous Man is identified as "Six-year-old billionaire-playboy Calvin", which could be a homage to Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne. Coincidentally, the strip takes place in a dark city which closely resembles Gotham City, Batman's home.
Stupendous Man's powers include high speed flight, "the strength of a million mortal men," enhanced vision, "ultra-sonic hearing," and superhuman intelligence. Calvin often gives Stupendous Man titles such as "the masked man of mega might."
Stupendous Man's imaginary clothing corresponds to what Calvin is wearing. He wears a mask similar to the ones he uses to play Calvinball, but with a spandex hood and a cape that his mother made for him. Calvin only possesses the crimson cape and cowl; his imagination supplies the rest of a colorful spandex outfit. He seems oblivious to the fact that his costume does not disguise his identity, and is baffled when he is punished for things he did while wearing it.
At least twice, while changing into his costume, Calvin has audibly hummed some kind of tune (Bum ba da da BUM...bumba da da BUM...), which is apparently meant to be Stupendous Man's theme.
The character of Stupendous Man first appeared in the strip dated October 30, 1987, in which Calvin, sitting at the top of the playground slide, imagines himself as a superhero ready to leap from a tall building. His appearance was slightly different in this strip, only wearing a simple eyemask and cape rather than the hood and spandex costume that would later define the character. Calvin would debut his Stupendous Man costume a year later, in the November 2, 1988 strip. A possible predecessor of Stupendous Man was Captain Napalm, Protector of the American Way, who wound up trapped inside the closet while changing.
Stupendous Man's last appearance was on August 31 1995 in a story where Calvin mentions that are aren't many real super heroes. He is shown putting on the costume, mentioning that, as the world cannot look up to certain people, it is up to him for there to be any real super heroes.
Tracer Bullet is a hard-boiled private investigator styled after film noir and detective fiction stereotypes, who spouts incisive metaphors and similes in a style reminiscent of the styles of Raymond Chandler and Frank Miller. He wears a trench coat and fedora. He resembles Calvin, though the high-contrast art style Watterson uses in the Tracer Bullet strips obscures Bullet's features.
Watterson considered this style dramatic but regarded it as time-consuming, so he drew few Tracer Bullet strips (Tenth Anniversary Book). There have been only three strip sequences that involved Tracer Bullet. Every Tracer Bullet comic starts out with an alcohol reference (ex. "I keep two magnums in my desk. One's a gun and I keep it loaded. The other's a bottle and it keeps me loaded.")
The name Tracer Bullet is a pun on tracer ammunition, a type of round used in machine guns. Tracer bullets were fitted with luminescent phosphorus to let the operator see where the shots are hitting.
Watterson first used Tracer Bullet in a story where Calvin has Hobbes cut his hair because, "the barber never cuts it the way I like." and ended up bald. This story turned out to be one of Watterson's favorites: the sight of Calvin's haircut was one of the few times his own work made him laugh aloud, and Calvin's use of a fedora to cover his head led to the introduction of Tracer Bullet. Watterson would later lament, "Wish that I could write like this more often" (Tenth Anniversary Book).
Tracer Bullet only appeared twice more. In his second appearance, Calvin had to solve a problem on a math test (and calculated the answer as 1,000,000,000--the actual answer was 15, as stated by Susie Derkins). He last appeared March 2, 1991, in a story wherein Calvin and Hobbes break a vase.
- Calvin loves dinosaurs and imagines himself as a dinosaur in many of the strips, usually a predator (such as a Tyrannosaurus rex) on the hunt. Once, he claimed to have discovered 'Calvinosaurus,' a monstrous theropod that could devour even the largest sauropod, an Ultrasaurus in one bite. On one occasion, he delivered a "tasteless and entirely uninformative" report on overpopulation, in which Susie Derkins is devoured in the schoolyard by a pack of Deinonychus dinosaurs, thereby, in Calvin's own words "the weak and stupid are filtered out in a heartless but essential process keeping the human population in check... at least, that's how it ought to be." He also pretended to be an Allosaurus fighting a straggler in a Brontosaurus herd. His adventures pretending to behave like dinosaurs usually end with him getting in trouble for making loud dinosaur noises in inappropriate places.
- Calvin appears in several strips as an adult, often when he's been roped into playing make-believe with Susie Derkins, and the comic itself is drawn in a much darker and more realistic art style reminiscent of early Judge Parker or Rex Morgan, M.D. strips until Calvin gets fed up with the game and the real world scene is revealed. According to Calvin and Hobbes Sunday Pages 1985-1995, Watterson expected the reader to wonder for a moment if Calvin and Hobbes had been dropped in favor of another strip. Calvin resents playing this part and is very disruptive. Generally, Calvin would be playing with Hobbes when Susie walks over and asks them to play "House". Calvin sometimes agrees, but only because Hobbes has a "crush" on Susie. Watterson mentioned that he enjoyed having the adult Calvin (and adult Susie) get into ridiculous dialogue and actions.
- On a number of occasions Calvin appears as a Godzilla-like character and runs around (in reality, almost always naked) creating havoc.In one instance he actually refers to (his) mom as Megalon, one of Godzilla's actual enemies
- In one Sunday strip he imagines himself growing to gargantuan size and destroying a town. In fact he is just crushing his toy cars. Another time, he appeared to have grown so enormous that he was the size of a galaxy.
- in various strips Calvin imagines becoming the size of a bug, this involving him trying to pass 'messages' to his parents (i.e., writing 'help I'm a bug' on a letter to his grandma.)
- Calvin often imagines himself to be a pilot. One time he piloted an F-15 to destroy his school (Watterson received a great deal of hate mail over this strip; he noted that the negative reaction to a childish fantasy indicated that perhaps the writers were never children themselves); another time he was flying in the model F-4 he had built. Other times, he imagined himself piloting a civilian airliner where he is about to crash over a crowded highway, or where he must take on a rival airline's pilot to compete for the same runway, in a Lockheed L-1011. He once also imagined himself as a pilot headed for St Louis, Missouri, in a McDonnell Douglas MD-80, but decided he wanted to see the Grand Canyon up close. In reality, he was in the family car, going to the store with his mother. He is also seen running for hours in circles outside the house pretending to be a Boeing 727. (the picture showed a 727-200. He is also seen once flying a Boeing 747-200.
- Calvin sees himself in a variety of animal bodies as well, from large mammals to insects, ranging from a veiled chameleon, an ant, a bat, a Great White shark, a Nile crocodile, a Sumatran tiger, an African elephant, a Pot bellied pig, a dragon, a werewolf, an Blue-ringed octopus, a humpback whale, a chicken, a Song sparrow, an Bald eagle, a hummingbird, a Beaded lizard, a Masai giraffe, a Barnowl, even a tiger.
- Forces of nature/objects
- Calvin sometimes imagines himself as a gigantic thunderstorm, a light particle, an active volcano, a planet causing a solar eclipse, a "C-bomb," an omnipotent deity, a safe, and so on.
- Calvin occasionally finds himself being changed into various forms or having rather peculiar things happen to him. For example, he occasionally becomes a giant or tiny form of himself, somehow reverses his "personal gravity," or becomes half-human, half-fly (as in The Fly). On one occasion, he became 2-dimensional.
- Captain Napalm
- A superhero who protects "truth, justice and the American Way." Only seen on three occasions and is a satirical Captain America. Calvin draws this character from a comic book hero of the same name, leader of the "Thermonuclear League of Liberty," whose exploits he reads, though he is rarely seen with a new issue. According to Calvin, Hobbes reads Calvin's comic books, neglects to put them back in the correct order, spoils the plots of Calvin's new issues by reading them first and commenting on the story as he reads, and mistreats the comics. Captain Napalm trading cards can be obtained from bubble gum packs, and Calvin, being an avid gum fan, has collected nearly the whole series "except 8 and 34" after chewing almost $50 worth of gum.
- Pirate ("Cap'n Calvin")
On several occasions Calvin has imagined himself as a pirate. In the first, it was shown from a 'real world' point of view, with himself and Hobbes playing in the treehouse.
- Safari Al
- In one small instance, Calvin imagines himself as a safari-explorer, hacking his way through a thick jungle (which later turns out to be his messy room) with a machete.
- Calvin the Criminal
- In one strip Calvin imagines himself as a convicted criminal on his way to be hanged, when he is forced to put on a tie.
- Calvin the Living Dead
- The Living Dead don't need to solve word problems. In this series of comic strips, Calvin is supposed to be doing his homework. But, as usual, he daydreams off. Calvin puts on an obscure face and as he faces Hobbes, both of them begin to pretend to be zombies together. During the time of Hobbes' transformation, he uses the quote, "When in Rome", referencing to the act of doing as the Romans do.
- Calvin the tiger
- In one comic strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin uses his transmogrifier to turn himself into a tiger, though Calvin and Hobbes spend the day doing practically nothing. Also in another comic strip, Calvin has just finished a bath, and is fed up with the world, so he resorts to turning himself into a tiger. He puts on red sleepers, a stuffed sock as a tail, and Hobbes draws whiskers on him. Then Hobbes notes that the tiger suit is missing something. So Calvin goes to get his plastic vampire fangs. The two of them then go into the woods where Hobbes is supposed to teach Calvin to be a tiger. They end up dividing the woods because the encyclopedia states that tigers are territorial by nature. Calvin decides to turn back to a boy when Hobbes reads that tigers are an endangered species.
Watterson, Bill (September 1990) (in English). Weirdos From Another Planet. USA: Scholastic, INC.. ISBN 0-590-44164-7.