THE ARCHETYPE: Here, I analyze what Toad is made of and why he can be an asset to stories.
TOADS OF FUTURE PAST: Based on the archetype, I analyze his past and speculate on what’s to come, including the movie.
Of the 50 years Toad, (a.k.a. Mortimer Toynbee) has been in the Marvel universe, he’s been drawn/written drastically differently in half of them. Understandably, he’s one of the last priorities for comic titles to focus on, so fixing his characterization is rarely on the agenda. He’s been stuck in a limbo where his design is constantly experimented with and never settled on. Let me guide you through his mess of a timeline to better understand how this true toad might be saved.
- THE PAST -
We all know him as Magneto’s toady back in 1964 (Uncanny X-Men #4), but his real story begins four years later when he finally grew independent of Magneto and betrayed him. Toad detonated his master’s ship and supposedly killed him (back then, Magneto’s death might’ve been more believable), and he saved the lives of all the Avengers and X-Men. (Avengers, vol.1 #53) His moment of glory was a twist ending to the big battle between the Avengers, the X-Men, and Magneto, and it provided Toad much needed character development. Despite growing into a unique and compelling individual in this issue, Toad would have scarcely any weight in comics for the next 32 years!
Toad was at his strongest from 1968 to 1985, as we can see in the great names he defeated, proving that he is no normal peon:
-Magneto (Avengers, vol.1 #53)
-Thor (Avengers, vol.1 #137)
-Iron Man (Avengers, vol. 1 #137)
-Wasp (Avengers, vol.1 #137)
-Spider Man (The Vision and the Scarlet Witch #11)
-The Vision (The Vision and the Scarlet Witch #11)
His existence was heavily reliant on his goal to win over the Scarlet Witch until after the events in The Vision and the Scarlet Witch in 1985. Toad had fallen out of love with her then and had no other preestablished objectives to keep him going. Even upon founding his own Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (X-Force vol.1), he was given no discernable objective and was a mere accessory to the stories that he appeared in. Writers focused more on making him quirky and comedic, which is a good intention and a trait that Toad mysteriously lacked in the past, but they neglected the rest of his character, and so it fell apart. He gradually degenerated into babbling cannon fodder (Uncanny X-Men #364) until his renaissance following the first X-Men movie.
Just when Toad looked like he might have been killed off for the last time, the first X-Men movie arrived in 2000, where Ray Park played him as an attractive, green-skinned punk flaunting a fantastic prehensile tongue. The success of the movie and new fanbase for Ray Park’s Toad instantly inspired Marvel to reinvent the character with X-Men Forever, debatably Mortimer’s most noteworthy appearance to date. Artists Kevin Maguire and Andrew Pepoy revived Toad’s facial construct from the first Jack Kirby days and created an expressive, colorful, and strikingly realistic depiction of him, while writer Fabian Nicieza breathed new life into a character who was becoming dangerously trite. Nicieza provided an origin story for Toad and engaged our sympathy for this strange man throughout his life experiences. It was explained that Toad’s fluctuation in personality and physicality over the years was due to the instability of his mutation and that he now takes a drug Ridilin to subside the affects, which both excuses his inconsistent portrayals in comics history and complements Mortimer’s need of psychological help. The omniscient Prosh speaks to Toad in regards to these diverse aspects of his personality: “Happily, I am dealing with… the best one. The caring one,” acknowledging that Mortimer is a good person under his tragic psychological mess, and he is on the road to recovery. (Iss. 1) Nicieza even made Toad blossom into a main character and a full-fledged “good guy” for the first time, and he gave Toad an extraordinarily plot-relevant role, the likes of which had only occurred once before in 1968. “Morty might be the most important player in this whole game,” Iceman realizes, voicing the team’s surprise that this unassuming flunky had proven to be their wildcard. “My survival depends on his survival,” Mystique monologues in disbelief. (Iss. 6) And what an unbelievable comeback for Toad this was! The story recognized Toad’s mechanical ingenuity that had been too often forgotten, established him as the sympathetic and compelling character he is, expanded upon his past, opened a gateway for further character development, and gave him the iconic superpower that had been introduced in the X-Men film: the prehensile tongue. There may have been a few jokes pointed at Mortimer’s misery, but one thing the story did not do is make him particularly quirky or comedic until after he transformed into a handsome man at the end, as if a lack of self-confidence and humor don’t go together.
Toad’s renaissance involved a trend to reinvent him as a slim, grungy, punk baddie of sorts with all the attitude and humor you could ask for. Plus, the subsequent storytellers almost instantly ignored the fact that Mortimer had become handsome, which was for the best; Toad’s ugliness is a core attribute of his character, so to remove it would destroy his very identity and betray his archetype. The punk concept worked well for the other Toads but was out of character for Mortimer. He dabbled in various villainous scenarios with no clear motivation to return to villainy at all, much less to rejoin the Brotherhood (X-Men, vol.2, #106) or to enter a blood sport tournament (Wolverine, vol.2, #167). Considering how “caring” he was established to be before, I guess Mortimer quit taking his Ridilin! While Ray Park’s Toad may have opened storytellers’ minds to allow the character to change and grow, the transformation it inspired in the main comics universe was unfounded and seemed to be an attempt at imposing certain marketable, quirky, comedic qualities onto a character that just don’t belong. The fact of the matter is that Marvel has an obligation to sell Mortimer because he’s from their main universe franchise, but frankly, Mortimer was never fit to be a punk.
|Left to right: Ray Park as Toad ("X-Men" film, 2000), Todd Tolansky (X-Men: Evolution TV series, 2000), Toad (Ultimate X-Men comics series, 2001), Mortimer Toynbee (Marvel’s main comics universe, 2000)|
In Wolverine and the X-Men, Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s bold redesign of Mortimer—a softhearted, portly, older man with now green skin— occasionally succeeded in combining his humorous side with his age and depression in a believable way (mostly by exploiting his misery) and was an educated step toward making him a marketable character in his own right. Aaron has done Toad a huge favor by giving him a full character arc complementing his struggle of becoming a better person complete with romance and genuine plot involvement. How rare! Artist Pepe Larraz helped to create a gorgeous contrast between the harmless, well-intentioned, love-struck janitor Toad has become and the monster he’s been suppressing when Toad discovers himself a true villain once again. (Iss. 41) I’ve even begun to notice a fanbase for Mortimer surface (not Ray Park, not Todd Tolansky, not the Ultimate Universe Toad—Mortimer) thanks to his role in this series, and I hope Marvel recognizes this attention as well. Many people don’t see potential in Mortimer to be a great character, but considering how sparingly and haphazardly he’s been used in the past, it should be hard not to see how much uncharted territory there is. Wolverine and the X-Men could likely be the beginning of Mortimer’s best run yet. That being said, I’m doubtful that he’ll stay consistent for long, because the jokes Aaron wrote for Mortimer are based on his depression and sadness, and there’s only so much comedy to be found there before his situation becomes just pitiful. On the other hand, if future creators portray him as a completely serious, tragic villain, I’m afraid that won’t last long either—he’s Toad, not Magneto.
Before moving on to the Toads of the future, there’re some things you gotta understand about Todd Tolansky, voiced exceptionally by Noel Fisher in the 2000 TV show X-Men: Evolution. I’d be remiss not to address the relevance of this Toad that was so well-received and lingers in the minds of fans today. Unlike his punk counterparts of the time, he was made sympathetic, which is a mark of a Toad portrayed at his very best. X-Men: Evolution director Frank Paurr commented on Todd’s depiction: “…I would say we do all our villains fairly sympathetically. They were people who life didn't treat kindly and then made a lot of wrong decisions. There's no real heavy black and white here.” Todd is a foil that brings out the best in other characters like Nightcrawler, has a character arc, has dramatic tension, has compelling romance, and is a very believable and compelling character; nonetheless, his primary role in the show is comedic relief. His well-roundedness makes Todd one of the truest and best representations of Toad. Todd revealed a new side of this archetype with his youth, vivaciousness, and endearing personal quirks, making him a very fun, amusing, and marketable character—qualities that have been imposed on Mortimer time and time again but failed to produce positive results.
- THE FUTURE -
Considering how often Mortimer is forced into comedic roles, Marvel must still be experimenting with how to sell this character as fun, quirky, and amusing. As sympathetic and compelling as Mortimer can be, his archetype is largely responsible for providing stories with flavor and colorfulness and memorability, so he seems incomplete without that fun, amusing quality that made Todd Tolansky so comedic and successful. Among other things, Todd’s youth allows for him to be concerned with his social status and with receiving attention from his attitude and bad behavior, but Mortimer is older and jaded and should be treated as such. He’s shown in his most honest moments to only want to live a good life and get revenge on those who ruin it for him. He tends to be a somber, depressed person, and I hope that Marvel can find an in-character way to lift Mortimer’s spirits so that we’re more often inclined to have fun reading about him than pity him. I have a recommendation: There is another character of the same archetype who exhibits confidence, playfulness, and vivaciousness like Todd does and age and experience like Mortimer does, and most importantly, he is legendarily successful. He is none other than Eli Wallach’s Tuco from the 1966 film “The Good the Bad and the Ugly.” I think that Marvel creators will find a more fun, amusing, in-character, and more marketable portrayal of Mortimer if they take careful inspiration from this fellow vengeful outlaw.
It’s clear that Toad has been developing a greater presence in comics over the years, largely influenced for the better by his occasional screen appearance. I hope this movie gives him the spotlight needed to remind people of the potential hidden behind his warty exterior. I can see Toad easily having his own spinoff comic or becoming a main X-Men character in the future with the right amount of dedication, and if I’m the only one who believes in him, I’ll offer to make it happen myself. Marvel has a dynamite character in their arsenal that can bring out an extra layer perspective and color and fun in their stories, and I hope they recognize it.