To truly appreciate the best parts of pop culture, you need to have a deep and patient love for all things stupid. You understand and accept, on some terrible level within yourself, a Power Rangers villain named Cat o’Clock which is a giant, evil cat with a digital clock embedded in its chest and a watchband for a tail. Or you cherish that Monsters episode written by Stephen King where a 20-foot long, humanoid finger inexplicably starts poking out of the sink of a guy who really likes quiz shows. You’ve watched all four Wishmaster movies, and liked at least three of them. Stuff like that. It’s beautiful.
Along this line of wonderful is Hot Wheels’ attempts to make scale cars that represent all types of pop culture characters. These Character Cars include fantasy vehicles that borrow details from Darth Vader’s jet black mask, or Swamp Thing’s mossy patterning. There are dozens of these weirdo vehicles for everything from Minecraft to Looney Tunes to Despicable Me 3, and their designs range from clever to absolutely ridiculous. Do you need a car that has Yoda ears? Maybe not, but can you afford to NOT have it?
Presumably, these cars exist in a world where each hero or villain uses them to get around in some Wacky Races-style nonsense, and until now, that leap of imagination was pretty much enough to paint a full picture for why these things exist: narrative play. Gladiator Hulk hops into his kind-of-homoerotic, leather-strap-clad garbage truck and races to fight evil. Superman, suddenly unable to fly, needs a car that looks like his costume to get to the scene of the crime.
Enter Infinity War, and the revelation that was Thanos. 4 bucks seems cheap to get the absolutely insane pickup truck designed to look like it just rolled out of his intergalactic garage.
On a level that has nothing to do with play, the design challenges of making a 4-wheeled vehicle that mimics the characteristics of a human enough to be identifiable is an awesome iconographic challenge. That’s the beginning and end of why these Character Cars are outstanding: many are design masterpieces, even if they’re too bizarre for words.
Thanos is a pickup truck with a ripply, purple front (like Thanos’ chin), topped with a gold roof (which resembles Thanos’ helmet), and best of all, comes with a bizarre box in its cab, festooned with Infinity Gems. It’s Thanos, remixed through the mind of a half-asleep five-year-old and a robot that speaks only in clipart and regret. But it gets so much better.
Now, imagine a world where all of your favorite Marvel heroes don’t just zip around in sassy Hot Wheels vehicles that kinda look like them. No, in this world, these Marvel super-people ARE the trucks.
The reverse of Thanos’ pickup’s card reveals the unthinkable: that Thanos IS THE FUCKING TRUCK. A brief bio refers to the truck, Thanos, as “he”, and it’s a fevered fanfic dream even the loneliest manchild couldn’t have dreamed up on his most manic sugar high.
“Thanos is one of the most feared conquerors to inhabit the universe.”
Okay, so far so good.
“This multi-purpose all-wheel drive hauler wreaks havoc everywhere he goes, unleashing brute force through a generator powered by the Infinity Stones found in the truck’s bed.”
“His helmet protects the cab from head-on collisions and the dual-bladed glaive at the sides serve as a safeguard against all his enemies.”
At this point, it’s become clear that the car itself is wearing a helmet, it’s a “he”, and somehow, it’s also going to fight things off using a glaive. It’s deeply insane, but is a reality full of cars fighting each other any stranger than a reality made up of humanoid animals doing the same? That exists. It’s Marvel’s Earth-8311. And it’s so stupid that, during the process of turning every hero into an animal, they turned Black Panther into Black Panda. He was already a panther. Issue #17 of Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham, a book obviously meant for kids, begins with a suicide attempt. There’s really nowhere to go but up.
The theme of characters-as-cars is inconsistent through Hot Wheels’ character cars; in many instances, these cars just embody the spirit of these characters. Groot “possesses the brute force” of his own track, but The Joker “takes commands of the streets in the form of a 1960s hot rod”. In a world where heroes are cars, sometimes but not always, does it even matter?
While the Batmobile isn’t really an alternate universe version of Batman who happens to have four wheels, the vehicle is always a very direct reflection of who Batman is as a character at any given time. It has a personality. Still, he’s the kind of hero that needs a car to get around; even on his worst day, Thanos probably has fifteen ways to get across vast expanses of space in a relatively short time, and none of those ways are a pickup truck with Infinity Gems hot glued to its ass. It’s all an exercise in the beautifully stupid, and even if you’re not into cars, it’s pretty hard to deny that it’s so ridiculous that it just may be worth embracing.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.