Thursday, November 15, 2012

Guilty Pleasures: Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman

Here are three things I dislike: incompetent villains, whitewashing (in the sense of changing previously non-white human characters into white ones), and bugs. But when I started to watch reruns of the Fred Wolf Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, I realized I now liked its Baxter Stockman, a character I had no opinion of as a kid, and no interest in.

It's a little embarrassing, first because I want creators to create the best antagonists they can. Even a comedy show shouldn't make the villains dumber than the heroes, because that writes the end of a story before it starts. Baxter is a particularly bad example, being inept, cowardly, and just plain stupid, the kind of villain nobody should write.

Also, while it's very funny that so much bad stuff happens to Baxter, it's obvious there's no real running joke meant or considered…it was just a bunch of random stuff the writers threw at the wall, with some stuff left unexplained. Again, that's a bad way to write a character—you should be aware of what you're creating, make it clear, and then play to that.

What bothers me even more, though, is that Baxter is a whitewashed character. It is true that the kind of character Fred Wolf Baxter is would have looked very, VERY wrong with his original race, but nobody had to write the character that way to begin with. Many people believe Baxter's race was changed over concerns of a recurring black character being a villain, and while I can get behind that sentiment, they didn't have to make him a regular character to begin with. I just can't make any excuse for the racelift, or get around the fact that I'm enjoying a whitewashed character, either.

I agree with the choice to have other versions of Baxter Stockman keep his original race and go for robotic transformation over the insectile. I particularly like the 4Kids Baxter Stockman, who is what you would get if you took a similarly terrible life, but actually had it written by people who gave a damn about creating an effective villain and giving him a clear arc. 

However, despite all this, I like Fred Wolf Baxter. I just find him to be surprisingly funny, which becomes acceptance of most of his faults. It's his comically crappy life, of course, and that he's so tiny and nebbish and ridiculous that he becomes lovable. Because of this, all the asinine things I've seen silly villains do suddenly become amusing when Baxter's the one doing 'em. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I like this unholy fusion of Jerry Lewis and R.M. Renfield.

As you can guess, I slightly prefer Baxter in human form, post-sanity, though I'm not sure why, since as a fly, he's a more distinctive character. In bug form, Baxter gets dumber, but keeps that same appeal, now with the bonus weirdness of being a mutant and hanging out with a Hal 9000 parody. He's still lovable, probably only as a consequence of streamlining his design for animation, but it works for me. I'm not too sad that Baxter never got a resolution, because that was a consequence of the sort of show he came from, but I still feel sorry for 'im.

(But I don't look at Baxterfly as an innocent villain, the way some other people do. C'mon, he's silly and gullible, but he still does evil stuff, and he likes it.)

Baxter going through more lasting change than any other character in the series, and then becoming a guest villain, might also make him go over better with me. It makes Baxter interesting, and also keeps him from getting stale. I couldn't follow any character through the almost two hundred episodes of TMNT, because there are limits to what I can take of the series, even if I'm looking at it with amused, ironic detachment.

It's still so weird for me to like Fred Wolf Baxter, and I can't forget that by all rights I should find him incredibly annoying, or let my principles overcome my interest. But even if I layer it with cynicism and irony, this liking is genuine, an exception to a few personal rules.

(The other Fred Wolf TMNT villains, though, man, forget those guys.)

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