BONUS BOOK – Lightning Racers (January, 1990)
Written, Drawn, Colored, Lettered, and Edited by… someone, I guess! Was it you? Please, let me know!
I always say… if you’re gonna do something, ya do it all the way. Last month we started our journey, weaving through Insert Prevues and Bonus Books, taking a look at every last one. Well, I use several sources online for my information… and, around Christmastime, when I was perusing Mike’s Amazing World’s “Bonus Books” list… I was reminded of this very Lightning Racers insert. This is something I’d seen a couple of times during various read-thru’s of old DC Comics… but, certainly not anything I’d ever stopped to actually read.
Well, we’re going to fix that today… and, with it… officially draw a line under our Bonus Books coverage!
Though it appeared in several DC books around this time, I am reading it from Superman (vol.2) #39 (January, 1990). Oh, by the way… if you have even the foggiest who wrote/drew/contributed to this story, please lemme know! I have not been able to find even a single credit for this bugger!
Our story opens with a trio of lads engaged in micro-racing battle! Who will wind up in the winner’s circle? Will it be… that one kid’s Grasshopper? Perhaps the other kid’s Rising Bird? Or, maybe… just maybe, the third kid’s Avante. I’m going with the last one, because it’s got the fanciest name. Well, as it turns out… it’s a moot point. Ya see, MRC-Tamiya Racers are so easy to assemble, customize, and optimize… that these racers were neck-and-neck for the entire duration! There’s no photo-finish in micro-race land, so I suppose we’ll have to call this one a three-way tie. Though, if I’m being impartial and honest, I’d probably give it to Grasshopper. Just then, a fourth lad arrives on the scene to show off his latest and greatest. Ya see, he dumped that piece’a crap micro racer he used to run… and wisely bought himself an MRC-Tamiya. His is the Vanquish, Jr. Junior? Is there a Senior version? Can micro cars reproduce?
The boys are overjoyed that their pal joined them on the darkside of Microcar racing. When asked how he could afford such luxury, this new kid reveals that, Vanquish, Jr. didn’t break his bank in the slightest! In fact, he only had to save up less than one week’s allowance. Less than one week’s allowance? Is this little jerk paid by the day? I don’t think that’s how allowance works. He bought it from Mr. Gibbons’ store… where, wouldn’tcha know it, he’s got The Official MRC-Tamiya Racing Circuit set up! What luck! Now the kids won’t have to use “lengths of hose” to keep their cars from bumping into each other!
Less than thirty-minutes later, Vanquish, Jr. has been assembled. Ya see, check this out… with MRC-Tamiya Lightning Racers, you don’t even need glue! Bah God, they just snap together, and you’re good to go! So easy, even a dullard can do it! Though, it’s worth noting, this particular dullard looks mighty proud of his achievement… smug, even! We follow the quartet to the mall, where they’re keen to get down and dirty on the regulation racetrack.
Just then, from across the way… there’s a bit of a to-do at the jewelry store! Ya see, a costume baddie has shown up… and he’s threatening to use his Shrink-Ray to, well, shrink all of the jewelry in the joint so he can steal it. I mean, isn’t jewelry already small enough? I dunno. The proprietor of the jewelry store doesn’t take this goofball seriously, and even pulls a “Get a load’a dis guy?” to ol’ Mr. Gibbons.
The baddie don’t cotton to bein’ mocked… and so, he unloads his Shrink Ray in Gibbons’ direction. Gibbons, who just happened to be standing on a ladder, finds himself off-balance when the very ladder itself is shrunk down to fun-size.
Our fearsome foursome are not happy to see their MRC-Tamiya Lightning Racers Pusherman knocked on his butt… and decide this is a job for, well… them. Our villain responds by blasting them with the Shrink Ray, reducing them to just inches in size (and as luck would have it, 1/32 in scale!). Ya see where this story might be headed?
Dr. Micro… that’s the bad guy’s name… then shrinks an entire counterful of jewelry and flees the scene.
As this is going down… get this, the boys spend… I’m going to assume, less than a half-hour… putting together some MRC-Tamiya Lightning Racers… which, now that they’ve been shrunken, are “life-size”. Thank all that you find holy that they don’t even need glue! They each soup-up their rigs in different ways in order to handle all sorts of obstacles and terrain. I’m not sure these cars actually have, ya know, engines… accelerators… hell, even steering wheels, and all that… but, we’ll allow it. Worth noting, one has a spoiler which reads “Being Nuts is NEAT!”, which… I’m not a tattoo guy, but if I were… that’d be the one I’d go with.
As luck would have it, by the time the boys are done building… Dr. Micro still hasn’t left the mall yet! He’s being hassled by a Security Guard who the jewelry store guy tattled to! Whatta revoltin’ development!
Dr. Micro tires of such tomfoolery… and decides, screw it… I’ma just gonna run. He rushes through the parking lot, with the Lightning Racers hot on his trail, and hops on his motorcycle.
On his bike, he drives right into… a parade? Well, that’s a lucky break for our Lightning Racers, who take a short-cut through a nearby construction zone in order to get a jump on the Doc. Looks like it was wise of the boys to prepare for all sorts of obstacles… that foresight is definitely coming in handy right now!
The kids manage to follow Dr. Micro all the way back to his hideout… which, is really just a garage. I wonder what his neighbors must think? Anyhoo, only three of our racers are able to get inside before the door slams shut… leaving one straggler (the new kid) stuck outside.
Our Junior Vanquisher, however, spies among the refuse, a piece of lumber tilted diagonally pointed right toward an… open window, and gets an idea. Waitasecond, this supervillain leaves his windows open? C’mon. I can believe kids can be shrunk down… and operate cars that don’t have gas pedals or steering wheels, but this is a step too far.
Inside, Doc Micro plops his mini-jewels down (minds out of the gutter, gang) and uses his enlarging ray to restore them to actual size! Waitasecond again… this clown has an enlarging ray… and rather than causing the jewels to grow to gigantic size… he just brings them back to their actual size? Would stand to reason that ten-pounds of gold would be of more value than ten-ounces, right? C’mon, Dr. Micro… think man!
While Micro twirls around cackling like an idiot, our original trio bails from their Lightning Racers to… I dunno… do, something I guess. When it doesn’t involve MRC-Tamiya Racers, these kids don’t seem to be the best of planners. Micro notices them… and plops a very convenient glass dome over them. Ya see, he plans to zap them with the Shrink Ray again… to make ’em even smaller! I mean, why not just have different settings on the gun itself?
Just then… the Junior Vanquisher flies in through the window, konks Doc Micro on the head… causing him to bonk into the enlarger ray button… which just so happens to be hanging from the ceiling? Fair enough.
This causes our tiny trio to grow back to full-size. They manage to tackle the goofball baddie… proving that three dumb kids can overpower a supervillain… so long as they’re the right dumb kids.
With Micro bound and gagged, the boys return Junior Vanquisher back to normal… and, just then… a gaggle of Police burst in the garage! So… was this whole thing pointless? Like, were the Cops going to catch Dr. Micro anyway? Did the kids risk their lives for no reason at all?!
The Police Lieutenant (took me four tries to spell that right) and the Media arrive. The boys try and tell their shrunken story… which the Lt. doesn’t buy for a minute. I mean, there were witnesses to that, right? Like a mall-full of ’em? What’s this guy’s problem? Anyhoo, he takes all the adulation and praise… and makes it sound like he was the hero of the story.
Back at Gibbons’ Place, the boys are congratulated for being in the wrong place at the wrong time… and are even allowed to keep the cars they’d built during their adventure! Heck, Gibbons is so overjoyed he’s going to give them the next round of MRC-Tamiya Lightning Racers that come in the shop as well! That Mr. Gibbons… one shrewd businessman.
We wrap up with our boys racing on the regulation track… Ready! Set! Go!
Okay, this might be the goofiest thing I’ve covered here in quite some time… but, I can’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy the heck out of it! Sure, it’s just a commercial for some toy cars… but, ya know… I’ve definitely read worse comic book stories. Hell, I’ve read worse comic book stories this week!
It’s difficult for me to actually, ya know, analyze this one… because, it is what it is. It’s not high-art, it’s not trying to be anything other than what it is… an enticement to rush down to your local Hobby Shop and procure mass quantities of MRC-Tamiya Lightning Racers and MRC-Tamiya Lightning Racers accessories.
Now, growing up, I was never a “car guy”. Sure, I had my fair share of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars… I think all little boys do/did! But, I’d rather have been playing with action figures. I feel like I lack the imagination to make a “play session” involving little cars be fun. I didn’t even think Transformers were fun! So, with that having been said… this little excursion into Ad-tertainment would not have worked on me. If you are/were into toy cars and racing, however, your (no pun intended) mileage may vary.
These sort of cars were apparently quite a big deal in the world of boy’s toys back in the late-80’s. Being a fella who was a boy back in the late-80’s, I gotta say… that’s news to me! You can check out this piece from New York Magazine:
Even Boys Life Magazine… which, as a Cub Scout at the time, I’m sure I was subscribed to, listed Lightning Racers as one of their top Christmas gifts of 1989! Then again, they list WrestleMania for the NES too… so, maybe we don’t put too much stock into what they say.
For me though, this was just a silly story… and one with, almost shockingly good art! I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to who might’ve drawn this… I see flashes of different artists in some of the panels. Dr. Micro gives me very strong Carmine Infantino vibes in some of the panels, but I couldn’t make a definitive statement either way. The rest of the story looks nothing like latter-day Infantino… at least not to me!
Now, if you were concerned about the reality of this story… first, c’mon… second, c’mahhhhhhhn… third, here’s a disclaimer/warning that was included at the end:
So, after telling (and showing) us how these li’l buggers can handle all sorts of terrain and obstacles, we’re told explicitly not to run our Lightning Racers on the streets. What’s more, if it happens to find its way into the street… just abandon the damn thing, it ain’t worth risking yer neck to retrieve it! Oh well.
In our latest Bonus Books features, we’ve spent a little time getting to know our creative teams. Since this story doesn’t credit one, we’ll have to get a little bit creative. Let’s meet Tamiya!
Tamiya Incorporated was founded (as Tamiya Shoji & Co.) in 1946… and is still in operation today. While they began as a lumber company (hey, maybe they were responsible for that piece of wood Vanquisher, Jr. used to bust in on Doc Micro!) in more recent years they manufacture models of all sorts… plastic, radio-control, sailboats, even solar-powered models!
This here comic book wasn’t just an “Insert Prevue” or “Bonus Book”, or whatever we’re calling it… this one was actually both a standalone giveaway and a pack-in with the Rising Bird model set. The box advertises an “18 Page” booklet… and since this story is only 14 (counting the cover and text pages), I gotta wonder what “challenges” appeared on the other four! Man, don’t tell me I actually gotta track one’a these buggers down…
If we flip the box over… well, it looks like all of the Lightning Racers were “Juniors”! Whodathunkit?
Overall… had wayyy more fun with this one than should’ve been possible… and I recommend giving this one a full read, should you come across it during a (re)read of a circa-1990 DC Comic. I’d still love to know who was involved in the creation of it… if anyone happens to know, please pass that information my way!
(Not the) Letters Page/Interesting Ads (???):