Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Atari, the super-hero

My friend's first gift to this blog isn't even a guest post, but grist for a post from me! During the great grand hardware pickup, he shared with me an anecdote regarding a barely-remembered Yellow Peril pro-Atari comic book in an early gaming magazine. Because the fans are rigorous, a little Googling turned up the remembered pages: the superhero Atari adventured through the pages of The Atarian magazine, foiling the plans of the sinister Ninja-Endo. (Subtle much?) In the tradition of Ming the Merciless and Fu Manchu before him, Ninja-Endo was an inscrutable Oriental mastermind who really had it in for the wholesome Aryans over at Atari. The scans were floating out there, but never yet that I could see compiled and transcribed, so here, for the first time in one place: less famous than Johnny Turbo, the worse comic that was a better fit for the Atari name than Atari Force... I present to you... Atari the Atarian!
That's quite an array of gaming hardware he's balancing on his arm (that can't be proportional!), and I gather those are boxed game cartridges in the centre of the comets? Also, I was moved to investigate: did Atari even have a light gun? Turns out, the answer is: yes. (Also: not that capes confer flying ability, but surely even in a world where they do, they wouldn't work folded like that, paper airplane style? I also like the letters S and B emerging from the Atarian's metallic leg-bands for no discernible reason.) Now that we've seen the character, on with his adventures!
(Is that story credit to David Ahl to David H. Ahl of million-selling BASIC type-in fame, thanks for Wumpus, Hamurabi and Star Trek? And the answer is, again: yes.)

ATARI CORP HAS DEVELOPED THE MOST ADVANCED PRODUCTION LINE IN THE WORLD...
BRINGING TO IT[']S CUSTOMERS THE HIGHEST QUALITY VIDEO GAMES AT THE LOWEST POSSIBLE PRICES.
PRODUCTION LINES ARE PRODUCING...
QUALITY CONTROL CHECKERS ARE CHECKING...
SHOPPERS ARE SHOPPING...
SALE! ATARI GAMES
... AND EVERYONE IS HAPPY. [CENTIPEDE IN BACKGROUND, getting a bit long in the tooth by 1989.]
BUT WHEN A NEW GAME, ZENOASTRA, GOES INTO PRODUCTION, THE LINES INEXPLICABLY SLOW DOWN. [ZENOASTRA: the next Polybius?]
FIRST TO A 1000 PER DAY...
THEN TO 500...
THEN TO 200...
QUALITY CONTROL CHECKER: (THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG HERE!)
ATARI TROUBLESHOOTER MILO MINDER VISITS... [Any relation to Joseph Heller's Milo Minderbinder from Catch-22?]
MILO MENDER: WHAT'S HAPPENING?
MANAGER: I WAS HOPING YOU COULD TELL US. OUR COMPUTERS ARE ACTING AS IF THEY HAVE A MIND OF THEIR OWN!
QCC: I TRIED TO GET A PRINT OUT OF THE PRODUCTION FILE AND THE SYSTEM DUMPED OUT A MILLION RANDOM NUMBERS!
AND THEN WE TRIED TO CUT POWER, THE TERMINAL FLASHED "FORGET IT TURKEY." FOLLOWED BY A STRING OF STUFF THAT LOOKED...JAPANESE.
NOW WE'RE LOCKED OUT.
MM: LET ME TAKE A LOOK AT THE COMPUTER.
MEANWHILE, FAR OVERHEAD, A STRANGE CRAFT HOVERS OVER THE ATARI FACTORY.
COOLIE: OUR COMPU-LASER BEAM HAS TAKEN FULL CONTROL OF THE PRODUCTION COMPUTERS, CAPTAIN-SAN.
CAPTAIN-SAN: AH SO! NOW WE HAVE THEM WHERE WE WANT THEM.
NOW TO INTRODUCE THESE SUBTLE VIRUSES IN THEIR GAMES. JUST ONE OF THESE NASTIES...
WILL RUIN AN ENTIRE GAME LIBRARY AND FORCE THEIR CUSTOMERS TO BUY FROM US.

QCC: HEY, MAYBE IF I TURN THIS KNOB...
M: MILO, THE MEN ARE GRASPING AT STRAWS -- YOU'VE GOT TO HELP!
MM: (THE COMPUTERS SEEM TO BE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF AN OUTSIDE FORCE.. BUT FROM WHERE?)
MAKING A QUICK EXIT, MILO HEADS FOR THE NEAREST PHONE BOOTH..
MM: (THIS LOOKS LIKE A JOB..)
... FOR ATARI!
OH NO!
A COMPULASER BEAM, JUST CRAWLING WITH HIDEOUS BUGS!
LET'S SEE WHERE IT LEADS.
C: SIR, STEALTH SCOPE SHOWS AN OBJECT CLOSING FAST!
CS: READY DISINTEGRATOR!
FIRE!
ZAK!!
MM: UGH! SO THAT'S HOW THEY WANT TO PLAY, EH!
WELL, LET'S SEE HOW THEY LIKE A DOSE OF THEIR OWN MEDICINE!
USING HIS GREAT POWER, ATARI REFLECTS THE RAY BACK TOWARDS THE CRAFT.
CS: WHA! ABANDON SHIP!!
BOOM
MM: SO IT'S YOU, NINJA-ENDO! WHEN WILL YOU EVER LEARN YOU CAN'T BEAT THE POWER OF ATARI!
CS: I'LL BE BACK ATARI! I'LL BE BACK!!
JOIN US NEXT ISSUE FOR MORE ADVENTURE!

(Clearly it's time for someone to file this under the Yellow Peril in comics section over at TVTropes. Strangely as the series go on and on, Ninja-Endo gets more and more deformed to the point that he no longer resembles an Asiatic stereotype, but some kind of extraterrestrial humanoid. Sadly, the stupid name persists.)

(At once so much more and somehow so much less than the cover artwork, this looks like a teenaged intern used the Photoshop airbrush tool inexpertly to blur all the linework, but I must imagine that actually this is just the result of colouring the art with felt pen markers. Yuck!)

AFTER FOILING THE PLANS OF NINJA-ENDO* ATARI ACE MILO MINDER HEADS HOME.
MM: GEE I WONDER HOW BETH IS DOING.
MM: SHE WAS PLAYING THAT NEW GHOULS N'GREMLINS GAME YESTERDAY.
* SEE LAST ISSUE
MM: SHE'S GONE
MM: AND THAT DOORWAY WASN'T HERE BEFORE!
MILO ENTERS THE DARK DOORWAY AND DESCENDS A LONG STAIRWAY.
MM: WONDER WHERE THIS LEADS?
HE FINDS A TRUNKFUL OF USEFUL TOOLS.
MM: THESE SHOULD COME IN HANDY.
BETH: HELP
MM: BETH'S VOICE! GOT TO MOVE IT!
MM: BUT -- HOW DO I GET PAST THIS ICEWALL?
MM: I KNOW! BY FOCUSING THE LIGHT WITH THIS MIRROR I CAN MELT THE ICE.
MM: HMM... THIS KEY I FOUND OPENED THIS TRAPDOOR.
MM: BUT IT'S A LONG DROP DOWN.
MM: BETTER TIE THE ROPE AND SLIDE DOWN.
UNKNOWN TO MILO HE IS BEING OBSERVED BY THE EVIL NINJAENDO
NINJA-ENDO: HA! HA! HA! THAT MEDDLING BOYFRIEND OF YOURS HAS FALLEN RIGHT INTO MY TRAP!
B: YOU FIEND!
NE: NOW NOW MY DEAR, HE'S ABOUT TO REACH THE SPAWNER!!
MM: LEAPING LASERS! A GHASTLY GROUP OF GHOULISH GREMLINS!
MILO DISPATCHES ONE WITH A DART...
THEN ANOTHER.
BUT THE GHOULS SURROUND MILO.
...LITTLE REALIZING HE HAS AN ALTER EGO...
ATARI!!
MM: LET'S SEE HOW YOU LIKE...
POW
MM: MY DOMINO PUNCH!
MM: MY LASER LIGHT GUN SHOULD TAKE CARE OF THEIR SPAWNER!
MM: NINJAENDO! I SHOULD'VE KNOWN IT WAS YOU!
NE: BAH! NEXT TIME I WIN!
JOIN US NEXT ISSUE!

(The references are all so specific, it must be to a particular Atari game, but which one? Talk of the spawner brings Gauntlet to mind, which was an Atari property, but the rest doesn't jibe.)

AFTER UNTYING BETH, ATARI SETS OFF IN PURSUIT OF THE EVIL NINJA-ENDO.
ATARI: COME ON BETH, STAY CLOSE.
THE LOWER CHAMBERS ARE FLOODED. WE'LL HAVE TO BORROW A BA-1 SUB* TO TRACK HIM DOWN.
* SEE "TOWER TOPPLER." [Not the most substantial reference: "Towers are linked together via a voyage through the sea in your trusty MK.7 submarine."]
TIGHT FIT FOR TWO IN THIS MINI-SUB. [Doesn't look like she especially minds the tight quarters!]
BETH: THESE FISH HAVE ALL MUTATED. WHAT COULD BE CAUSING IT?
ATARI: I DON'T KNOW, BUT OUR TRACKING SONAR HAS PICKED UP --
-- "NINJA-ENDO!"
NINJA-ENDO: THOSE CREEPS FOLLOWED ME -- JUST AS I KNEW THEY WOULD!
NOW TO MARSHALL MY ARMY OF UNDERSEA CREATURES! [I like the one in the baseball cap.]
ATARI: AN ARMY OF MUTANT SEA CREATURES ARE HEADED THIS WAY!
(BUT I CAN'T LEAVE BETH ALONE IN THE SUB.)
BETH: I THINK THAT DOLPHIN IS TRYING TO COMMUNICATE WITH US!!
ATARI: YES! I CAN ANALYZE HIS SOUND PATTERNS WITH THIS MEGA-ST.
HE SAYS THE USS TRITON* IS ON THE BOTTOM NOT FAR AWAY AND IT'S LOADED WITH EXPLOSIVES!
*THE TRITON SANK ON 3/15/43. [David H. Ahl, 2003: "I'm currently the editor-at-large for Classic Military Vehicle magazine"]
ATARI FOCUSES THE BA-1 LASER ON THE TRITON AS THE SEA CREATURES PASS OVER IT.
BOOM!
REGRETTABLE PACIFIC ISLANDER GOLLYWOG CARICATURES: PRAISE NEPTUNE! FRIED BLUEFISH AND SMOKED OYSTERS! [Gollywogs who worship the ancient Greek god of the sea, apparently.]
WILL ATARI CATCH NINJA-ENDO?
TUNE IN NEXT ISSUE AND FIND OUT!! [Is Atari giving a left-handed thumbs-up on his right side? Ouch!]

(There was no next issue. From the same interview: "I published Atari Explorer for five years and started Atarian magazine in 1989 (only three issues) for Atari Corp. until they were buried by Nintendo in 1990." Buried! If you can't compete with a superior product, you can offer racism, but that approach only succeeds sometimes.)

And there you have it: the complete story of an unworthy footnote, but it was a curio regardless and as such I couldn't just leave well enough alone.