It’s one of those “holy grail” items for me: something that you’ve always wanted, or had at one point and then lost, and are trying desperately to get into your collection now. We all have those “special” items we seek out, right? Well, for me, it’s one of the most delightfully random comic books I owned as a teenager growing up, both for nostalgic and for actual pop-culture significance: a copy of Marvel’s ‘Ren & Stimpy #6,’ featuring the only appearance of a Marvel character in the entire comic’s run: your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. But that’s not all, oh no: Spidey didn’t just swing by in one random panel… he spent the entire issue going toe-to-toe and head-to-bread with one of the greatest ‘Ren & Stimpy’ characters of all time, Powered Toast Man!
A bit of background before we jump into the comic: my first job at 16 was in a small comic-book/collectibles shop, and I was in Heaven. Like many things in our lives, I didn’t realize just how truly awesome it was until I had left it behind, but it did start me on my passion for comics and solidified my love of pop-culture in general. I quickly found myself seeking out the comics that were a bit more “off the beaten path;” quirky characters like The Tick, The Flaming Carrot, and Scud: The Disposable Assassin became just as important to me as my burgeoning love for more “mainstream” fare like The Punisher, Green Lantern, and The Guardians of the Galaxy. Whenever quirky collided with mainstream, I was doubly-enthralled. My collection found itself being filled with fun crossovers like Batman/Predator, the entire Amalgam line of DC/Marvel mash-ups, and more. My prized possessions were two “WTF” crossovers: the one-shot ‘Archie Meets the Punisher’ (just as crazy as you’d imagine) and the Spider-Man/Powdered Toast Man fight-fest featured in ‘Ren & Stimpy #6.’
Times got tough and my collection had to be sold off to help pay for college, but a few years later I started collecting again. Much of what I originally had was quickly replaced, but ‘Ren & Stimpy #6’ always eluded me, for some reason. Now, as I visit more and more conventions and comic shops across the country, I always keep my eye out for it – sure, I could buy it online anytime and have it to my door within a few days, but where’s the fun in that? Last week, I was in my local Half-Price Books, and I spied something in the comic clearance section – it was a copy of the Ren & Stimpy trade paperback, collecting issues #1-8 of their mid-1990s Marvel series. I’m still seeking the actual #6 issue, but for now – this one’s close enough! I’m jazzed to have it return to my collection.
So about the issue itself, yeah? Our stalwart heroes, Ren Hoëk and Stimpson J. Cat, are getting ready to enjoy their morning breakfast – but their hero and topper of their toast, Powdered Toast Man, is nowhere to be found. Instead, in through the window flies Spider-Man himself, telling the duo that he’s filling in for PTM because the bread-head is nowhere to be found. We quickly discover that Powdered Toast Man’s brain has been taken over by a villain, Dr. Dough-Naught, and he’s wreaking havoc in town. It’s up to Spidey to go up against the pant-inflating hero and try to bring things back to normal.
It’s the type of sheer lunacy you’d expect to find in a Ren & Stimpy story – the entire comic run at Marvel actually did an incredibly good job of emulating the “random” feel of the Ren & Stimpy TV show (a nonsensical cartoon series that itself is worthy of a future #TBT entry, most likely). What made the issue so intriguing, though, was that Marvel committed to having one of its primary superstars not only “swing” by but also be heavily engaged in the plot as an actual device of the story, instead of just being a cheap money-grab cameo on the cover and a page or two of disassociated panels.
And make no mistake – Spidey and PTM go at it in a pretty epic fight for the ages. Spider-Man’s normal humor-fueled spoken quips are ratcheted up in this issue to even greater heights than I even dreamed was possible, and Powdered Toast Man, for as dumb as he can be, was verbally giving it back to Spidey just as much as he was taking it. At the conclusion of the story, of course, PTM breaks free of the spell, becomes “good” again, and he and Spidey are friends – but they still good-naturedly wonder about which one of them is more powerful. In another surprising Marvel move, it’s actually shown that Powdered Toast Man is stronger than Spider-Man – keen!
It may only truly be a “holy grail” item for me, but it’s a delightfully random piece of Marvel’s comic history that should be read at least once but any true Spider-Man fan, and anyone who fancies themselves a connoisseur of the quirky. It’s good old-fashioned 1990s fun, and worthy of the Throwback Thursday moniker!