Friday, April 21, 2006

The Mystery of Space Cabbie

Ordinarily, when I have a question about comics I can't answer, I turn to Devon Who Erreth Not over at Seven Hells. But I know for a fact Devon can't help me answer this question, so I'll ask you.

What is the appeal of Space Cabbie?

I find it a mystery deeper and more unanswerable than even "Why would someone swordfight on the bottom of the ocean floor?" The Mystery of Space Cabbie thrusts itself into my face by way of this week's poll, in which Space Cabbie (incomprehensibly!) is beating out all other contenders for "most desired Showcase Presents", even the famously inventive Sugar & Spike and my obvious favorite, the fabulous Red Bee.

Why would some make a Space Cabbie out of Legos?

How can a character with no name, no origin, and no personal details at all be so popular?

Particularly when his last "real" story, not just an "appearance" (outside his JLU gig) was in, what, 1972?

Can anyone, without hitting the internet, name a single Space Cabbie story (JLU excepted) or remember its plot?

Why does Michigan State library have a Space Cabbie collection?

I'm not the only guy stymied by this Space Cabbie mystery.

My operating theory is that Space Cabbie is an empty icon, a sort of comic book Golden Calf, worshipped precisely because it has no meaning, and turned to as a rejection of the more difficult demands of modern comic book gods as we wander through the Desert of Decompression.

As such, Space Cabbie's vacuuity works to his advantage, a blank screen upon which we project our own concepts of "how innocent" comics used to be. Devotion to SC thus becomes a shibboleth for the Silver Age Apologists, the Whimsy Huggers, the ardent Argentophiles, who think that because they like literary candy bars for dessert that it would be great to consume them night and day.

What do YOU think of Space Cabbie?

33 comments:

Steven said...

How can a character with no name, no origin, and no personal details at all be so popular?

You mean the Phantom Stranger?

Jeff R. said...

Space Cabby is the DC/Silver Age equivalent of Proust's Rememberance of Things Past, or possible Finnegan's Wake. Even though very few people actually have bothered to read it, it is still a great comfort to those who dwell in nearby literary fields to know that it does, indeed, exist.

Zaratustra said...

Space Cabbie needs no description aside from his name. He's a cabbie, and he's in space. It's like Snakes On A Plane.

Devon said...

"Space Cabbie needs no description aside from his name. He's a cabbie, and he's in space. It's like Snakes On A Plane."

Nail meet hit.

Brian Mac said...

I've never particularly cared for Space Cabbie (or "Snakes on a Plane," for that matter), but this post is completely worth it because you coined the word "argentophile," which is stunning. My jeff cap is off to you, sir.

Marcos said...

Gee, and here I had thought the Space Cabbie was made up just for that issue of JLU.

But come on. This is the same DCU that hosts Lobo: an alien bounty hunter named after a Terran animal who rides a space-motorcycle (sorry, space-HAWG). How, exactly, does Space Cabbie not fit in?

Jeff R. said...

Actually, it's a Knundian dialect for "He who devours your entrails and thoroughly enjoys it."


(Can't resist unvarnished running-joke straight-line cues, me.)

Jeremy Tobin said...

Wasn't Space Cabbie in a few issues of Young Justice, in the 20's somewhere. They played baseball on another planet and Space Cabbie was there catcher or some crap like that.

Dr. Flem said...

Really, I think the appeal of Space Cabbie is as more of an emblem of the absurd space aspect of DC. I think a lot of the appeal of Who's Who for me as a kid was the way it put people like Space Cabbie, Bat Lash, Viking Prince, Atari Force, etc. on the same par as Superman, Batman, Ragman, etc. A huge part of the appeal of DC in general (for me, at least) is its willingness to keep pretty much everything in continuity, forever.

Really, I think that the main reason I liked Robinson's Starman so much was his understanding of this idea (even to the point of actually doing a Space Cabbie story). The JLU people (both animated and written) clearly are working on a similar principle of pan-genre inclusion (though this season of the show kind of feels like a running contest between writers as to who can include the strangest characters).

Anonymous said...

Space Cabbie could work okay as a framing sequence. I can't remember any Space Cabbie stories as I wasn't born in 1972, but I think there's story potential there and I wouldn't mind seeing a relaunch.

Bully said...

I've got no beef with Space Cabbie, but c'mon folks! Who among you is choosing a Showcase of Space Cabbie over Sugar and Spike? Cultural ingrates.

Actually, I do have one beef with Space Cabby: after dark, he won't go to the Bronx.

joncormier said...

Isn't there a Space Cabbie story where he gets a space-limo and his old car is being used to rob banks, sorry space-banks and asteroids and stuff?

Harvey Jerkwater said...

I'm neutral on the idea of "Space Cabbie," but I will go on record as saying his nineties "grim and gritty" revival was a poor idea.

"Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, nebulae, asteroid fields, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man...

"Someday a real meteor shower will come and wash all this scum off the spaceways..."


Between 1950 and 1980, it seemed the way to revamp any tired concept was "put it in space." Dick Tracy spent a long time in outer space. How about Gilligan's Planet, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, The Partridge Family 2200 AD...oy.

"It's a dry cleaner shop...IN SPACE!"

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Does the cosmic hack
Upon his astro-seat keep
A bead seat cover?

Franny said...

Come on, don't you wish the closest library to where you lived was thorough enough to have even the most obscure DC characters tucked away in its vault? MSU Special Collections is amazing. Not only do they have one of the largest catalogued collections of comics in this country outside of the Library of Congress, it's housed in the same department as every single issue of Playboy, the American Radicalism collection featuring a lot of weird stuff including both lesbian separatists and Nazis, and 500 years of cookbooks. Space Cabbie is just the cherry on top.

jacob munford said...

Space Cabby is just fun. There's really nothing special about it and nothing that really has to be. I'd watch a television series about a cab driver who gets mixed up in some sort of crazy convoluted heist or weird paranormal phenomenon every time he stepped into his cab and I'd sure as hell read a comic about it.

J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...

I've only read one Space Cabby story and I remember it well. It involves Space Cabby pciking up some criminals whoi he doesn't know are criminals at first and later does, the tries to tell the ippy but fails most of the story then finally does. It was the best story I'd ever read. So yes I remember a Space Cabby story. His appeal is that he's so insanely ridiculous! I'm glad someone else reads the ludic log. I found that stie when googling around for Kraven info for Marveldatabase. (Yes I admit it I worked for the MARVEL database for awhile.)

Mallet said...

Space Cabby.

You have intergalactic police, a lone human defending an entire planet, and the end of the universe is a big wall with giants stuck in it.

You have to have something to lighten that up.

Blockade Boy said...

I remember the exact same story, J'onn, J'onzz! It was collected in the old "Mysteries In Space" softcover that I got my 'old-school" Star Hawkins scans from, not too long ago. I've even memorized the future pop song with the slightly altered lyrics that Space Cabby "nonchalantly" sang into his radio in one of his attempts to alert the space-cops. ("Ippy." Jeezum Pete!)

"It's a crime to fly
To a car nearby,
Trailing through space,
To a cabby place!"


Crime car trailing cabby! Get it?

I guess I like Space Cabby because he's a resourceful, good-hearted, underdog-type... in space! There's not much else to him. And yeah, his personal life is a cypher but maybe one of the reasons he's endured is that they haven't gone too far in the other direction. He hasn't had to suffer through umpteen retcons, he hasn't been replaced by a guy in a cybernetic cabby's uniform, he hasn't turned evil and crashed his cab into a really tiny planet, killing countless tiny millions, and he never had to worry about whether or not he was a clone. Hell, if Bill Jemas ran DC, we'd have "Space Cabby: Origin" which would be a multi-part squarebound miniseries laying out in excruciating detail his years from birth to age five, over about eight hundred pages and at a total cost of about seventy dollars. And then we'd all wait five years for "part two." So while there's not much to Space Cabby, that also means that there's not much to him that's bad.

Sleestak said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sleestak said...

He's DC's version of Space Jesus.

Walaka said...

If there had never been a Space Cabbie, we would never have had Firefly/Serenity.

Scotus said...

You know, if Grant Morrison or Alan Moore had created Space Cabby, I can't help but think people would be falling all over themselves praising the character as sheer genius.

Anyway, aside from that one Starman issue, I don't think I've ever read a Space Cabbie story in my life. But here's the appeal of the character for me: everyone else in the DCU is some do-gooder adventurer type. Even the more unmotivated superheroes. But Space Cabbie is just a guy trying to make a living and get his fare from A to B, and would probably just as soon not have any excitement in his life. Plus, as previously noted, everything you have to know about the character can be summed up in just his name. How often is that the case?

Having said all that, anyone who would prefer a Space Cabby Showcase collection over Sugar and Spike, is clearly a filthy crack addict.

Ununnilium said...

Space Cabbie.

Space... Cabbie.

Space Cabbie.

How can you not love it? On sheer concept!

(Whereas, I've never read Sugar & Spike, and the concept there's not nearly as strong - from what I've heard, it's the quality of the humor that sells it.)

Big Blotto said...

I think he should be played by Judd Hirsch (circa late sevenities-early eighties, of course).

rafi-el said...

Space Cabbie and Interplanetary Insurance are two of my favorite shorts from MiS and Strange Adventures. The concepts are so simple and yet so unusual...

Mike Condon said...

Jeremy, that wasn't Space cabbie in those Young Justice isswues that you read but another space traveling cab driver named Doiby Dickles. Doiby was the amusing fat side kick with funny speech patterns to the Golden Age Green Lantern. As you saw in the Younfg Justice comic, he somehow became the consort of a queen of an adavnced extraterrestrial civilization and had his cab Goitrude adapted for interstellar travel.

Word verification. yezbu worst tippers in the Milky Way's Durlan arm.

Hoosier X said...

I only know about Space Cabbie from an article in Comic Book Marketplace.

I love the concept and I would buy the Showcase collection.

Space Cabbie beats Red Bee by a hair, in my view.

I don't know why. Maybe because Sapce Cabbie sounds like an old radio show ... and I love old radio shows. Ever listen to Nightbeat? Or Box 13?

Gokitalo said...

I insist, nay, demand that the DC Universe starts a Space Taxi Service! Its drivers should either all be clones of Space Cabbie or old space characters who've faded into obscurtiy and became space cabbies to pay the rent.

Brack said...

"Ventura, Ventura, Space People"

The chant used in Urusei Yatsura to inadvertantly call a space taxi. I came across the idea of a space cab first in this much loved anime and manga series, when I discovered in Starman that DC Comics also had a Space Cabby, it was reassuring in some strange way.

I think it's the undercutting of sci-fi with mundanity that appeals to me.

Gokitalo said...

Apoligies for a mistake I made in an earlier post: I'd forgotten Spce Cabby was a member of the revered Cosmic Order of Space Cab Pilots. However, the DCU should take advantage of this service more often! I'm sure it'd be much easier than using a power ring to travel around the galaxy.

Bill said...

I agree with Bully - while I wouldn't mind reading a Space Cabby collection, I'd much rather have a phonebook-sized chunk of Sugar & Spike reprints at my disposal.

Of course, given the sort of treatment DC has given the idea of reprinting Sugar & Spike in the past, we're more likely to see Space Cabby or your Red Bee collection first, Devon.

Anonymous said...

The stories were always a lot of fun, even though tha science was all wrong.
JOE