You know the panel: Doctor Doom raises a knobbly instrument to his metal mouth as Namor the Submariner yells at him to stop. “Fool!,” Doom declares, “Doctor Doom toots as he pleases!”
A sound effect appears above the horn: TOOT!
This image has rightfully joined the internet’s lexicon of hilarious, context-less comic book panels, even though folks with a keen eye are quick to point out that the dialogue has been photoshopped.
But here’s a secret: It really hasn’t been photoshopped much at all. And when you start looking into where this panel is from, it uncovers one of the hidden gems of Marvel Comics’ long history with film adaptations. In order to find out why Doom desired to toot, you have to dig into the first — and maybe the weirdest — live-action Spider-Man series ever made.
Each Monday, while the comics industry takes a bit of a break, we’re looking back at some of the stand out moments in comic history — or at least in weird comics history. Think of it as part society pages of superhero lives, part reading recommendations, part “look at this cool art.” There may be some spoilers. There may not be enough context. If you missed last week, read this.
Fewer toots, still funny
Here’s the original, unedited panel, from its 1981 appearance. All the unknown internet photoshopper did was add a couple extra toots to the dialogue — frankly, the image is funny enough on its own.
You could really be forgiven for thinking this is from a normal Marvel Comics issue. Both Namor and Doctor Doom are pretty florid guys, so the dialogue seems entirely in-character. They’re both Fantastic Four villains, so it’s no stretch to imagine that they’d find themselves at odds. And the original Fantastic Four comics were rife with weird stuff like mystical undersea horns. What other context could there possibly be for this image?
Well, the first live-action Spider-Man series, for one.
Spidey Super Stories
Did you know that The Electric Company — the 1971 children’s television show from Children’s Television Workshop — had a recurring Spider-Man skit? You would if you had spent a weekend trying to figure out which Fantastic Four comic had Namor and Doctor Doom blowing a big sea horn in it.
“Spidey Super Stories,” running from 1974 through 1977, was a recurring mixed-media segment featuring the adventures of Spider-Man as he foiled various petty crimes, sometimes with the help of Electric Company characters. Marvel licensed the use of Spider-Man to the educational program for free, which is pretty cool. It was the first appearance of Spider-Man in a live-action work of any kind, and the first time Marvel characters had been seen in live-action since 1944’s Captain America, a black and white film serial.
The skits took place on sets decorated to resemble comic book drawings, and in lieu of fight scenes or special effects, action would simply cut away to a static comic book panel. Notably, Spider-Man never spoke out loud in these segments. Instead performer Danny Seagren would pause, mug for the camera, and a word balloon with Spidey’s dialogue would appear on screen, as a way of encouraging kids to read.
Most notably, despite coming out after the 1967 Spider-Man series, the segment thought it would have a go at its own Spider-Man theme song, and the brief, haunting lyrics may never leave my mind again:
Spider-Man, where are you coming from?
Spider-Man, nobody knows who you are!
Here is an example of the segment, in which Spider-Man investigates a series of pranks at P.S. 8 1⁄2:
I think the thumbnail alone really speaks for itself.
And now you’re ready to find out what The Electric Company has to do with Doctor Doom and the toot heard round the world.
Spidey Super Stories had a tie in comic series
The comic book version of Spidey Super Stories ran for 57 issues, from 1974 to 1982, holding itself to the educational standard of the Electric Company series, if not the canon. Spider-Man spoke in the Spidey Super Stories comic, and would sometimes appear as Peter Parker, so we definitely knew who he was. But the book was closely monitored by the Children’s Television Workshop to make sure it maintained content and a reading level appropriate for children ages 6-10.
For Marvel’s part, every issue included full-page origin stories for any featured villains, and would usually feature a team-up between Spider-Man and another Marvel hero, in order to get the kiddos hooked on Marvel characters. 1981’s Spidey Super Stories #53 featured a story in which Doctor Doom tried to team up with Namor. Emphasis on tried.
So, Doom put a mind control collar on Namor, forcing him to fight Spider-Man, and then demanded to be taken to the undersea realm of Atlantis, where Namor is king. Specifically, he wanted to view the throne room.
It might be hard to tell you’re looking at a young readers book from the Toot Panel, but in these, it’s abundantly clear. Writer Steven Grant is making a comic book for six year olds, and doing a good job of it! For once, there’s an explanation for the absurd simplicity of a weird comic book storyline.
In Namor’s throne room, Doom spies a strange horn hanging from the ceiling, and, well. A meme is born:
What could make such a noise? Why a big ol’ monster that Doom is gonna ride like a pony back to the surface to wreak havoc.
But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending. Once Namor gets his subjects to remove the mind control collar, he swims back up to the surface and helps Spider-Man end Doom’s control over the monster, which turns around and carries Doom right back into the sea.
Usually, finding the context of an out of context image makes it less funny or less interesting. Otherwise, why would it have spread around without context? But Doom’s desire to toot shows that context really can be king — or at least master of the world.