Tandy Computer Whiz Kids in “The Answer to a Riddle”

I think this is technically #SciFiComicsMonth? I mean, computer science is a science and this is fiction …

Anyway, the Tandy Computer Whiz Kids comics are something that I didn’t know existed until a few years ago when I ran across a beat-up copy of a Superman team-up issue in a cheap bin and grabbed it. I’m not sure what happened to that book–it may have been thrown into a purge pile at some point–but I remember it being a bit cheesy and definitely the type of thing that was produced for a product tie-in but without any of the cache of, say, the Masters of the Universe mini-comics that came with those toys back in the early 1980s. I wasn’t exactly setting out to collect the complete appearances of Alec and Shanna, but when I saw this in the “Fill a Shortbox” sale at my LCS, I snatched it up because … seriously, how could I not?

This is a book that was published by Archie Comics for Radio Shack in 1987, is written by William Palmer, whose comics work seems to be contained to books featuring the Whiz Kids, so I’m assuming he was someone at Radio Shack? But the art is by Dick Ayers and Chic Stone, two artists whose names I recognize from the early X-Men days and I believe a few war books from the Silver Age. So in the very least, there’s going to be something dynamic about the art because experienced comics professionals were at the helm.

I’m going to do a full synopsis and review of this thing because while I don’t plan on keeping it, it’s worth it.

We begin at a remote airstrip just before dawn where two guys are being shady and taking off then flying low so that they stay under radar. We’re not sure why they’re being so shady and don’t get an answer just yet because we cut to Coastal City Elementary where it’s the first day of school and Ms. Wilson is having the kids tell everyone about their summer vacation. Shanna and Alec are so excited to talk about what the science club did and for some reason everyone is excited for them, or at least faking it because they bring that goody-two-shoes sense with them that you know at least someone in the back of that classroom has to be rolling their eyes and going, “Here we go again with these two assholes.”

After they share about how awesome and science-y their summer was, Ms. Wilson tells the kids she has a surprise in the library, and when they get there, something is under a sheet. Ayers and Stone give us a shot of Ms. Wilson lifting up the sheet like she’s revealing a corpse at the morgue and then we see that it’s a New Color Computer 3, video monitor, a program pak TRP-100 text and graphics printer, disk drive and modem!

Look, I kind of sort of had a computer in the 1980s–it was a Franklin, which was an Apple clone that my dad brought home from work–but a few of my friends had computers. The Commodore 64 was the champ. Tandy? Probably either tied with or just below and Apple IIe. A friend of mine had it and we would play Epyx Winter Games on it, but I don’t think I was ever that impressed. I honestly wanted the Commodore 64 so I could play California Games and the Aliens video game.

Anyway, back to the library and Alec and Shanna are being total brownnosers and giving everyone a Radio Shack sales pitch that goes so hard, you’d think they were recruiting their classmates into their downline or something. We spend a few pages checking out all of the computer’s features, including an online encyclopedia. These were fairly new in 1987. Prodigy, which would really gain momentum around the late 1980s and early 1990s until the World Wide Web coalesced into what we know today, had launched in 1984 and I remember thinking it was really cool that you could look up information on a computer like that. Yes, I’m a nerd. I would go to the public library just to flip through the World Book.

But I wasn’t as much of a kissass as Alec and Shanna.

By the way, between shots of this prolonged sales pitch that shows us what a modem can do, the two mysterious guys from the beginning of the comic are in a diner stressing about the weather and the plane and … well, something’s up. We know that they’re doing a “run” and feel like they have a go-ahead to get done what needs to be done. And they’re headed for Coastal City!

Back in Coastal City, by the way, Ms. Wilson has another surprise for the class (GEE! WOW!). It’s Laura, who is a student at Coastal City Junior High and who is a member of the school’s “Say No to Drugs” committee.

Wait, what? Thirteen pages into the comic and we go from a Mattel-Mars Choco-Bot Hour ad for Tandy computers to some Nancy Reagan anti-drug PSA nonsense? This took a turn.

Laura gives some rehearsed lecture about the dangers of drugs and the fact that the kid next door to all of them could be shooting heroin several times a day and they wouldn’t know it, then they’re all “YAY FOR LAURA! SAY NO TO DRUGS!” Then Laura returns to the junior high and cuts math so that she can get lit under the bleachers with Johnny Dakota.

Ms. Wilson has another surprise, which really is setting a bad precedent for the school year. These kids are going to expect surprises every single day at this point. She’s only setting them up for a lifetime of immense disappointment. Billy is going to be in a therapist’s office at 40 saying that he’s been divorced three times, can’t hold down a job, and lives in a van down by the river because Ms. Wilson never surprised them after that and he thought they would. Plus, she gave all the attention to Alec and Shanna and he grew to hate them and damn the restraining order, he’s going over there tonight and …

… the two guys in the plane talk about possibly quitting “this game.” The weather starts getting rough, the tiny plane is caught, and …

… Ms. Wilson tells the class that they’re doing a science fair and the Whiz Kids, Alec and Shanna, are going to be dismissed to go with Ms. Williams the science teacher to set it up. The kid behind Alec says “Yaay!” because it’s obvious he’s sick of these two little shits and wants some peace and quiet.

Meanwhile, the plane is not doing so well in the storm and the pilot calls in for an emergency landing but also wants a cop to meet them. His partner realizes that he’s going to turn them in for whatever criminal activity they’re doing and pulls a gun on him. But before anything can happen, the plan crashes right near the school and Alec and Shanna pull both of the guys from the wreckage before the plane explodes.

The cops, fire department, EMS, and the Coastal City News show up and we find out that the two guys were drug smugglers. Then, we find out that they’re giving it up because Shanna and Alec pulled them from the wreckage and they realize they need to be better in life. Redemption!

And the next day, there’s a Hurrah for the Whiz Kids banner and the principal declares the day “Alec and Shanna Day”, not realizing that this would lead to Shanna forming a cult in the upper northwest and Alec starting his own tech company, which he would eventually lose after blowing most of his profits on cocaine.

The rest of the comic is a glossary of computer language and some info strips about what computers are used for, and the history of computers in our society. And there’s all sorts of Radio Shack ads.

If you can’t tell by the way I took the complete piss out of this comic book, it’s more of a goofy artifact than anything else. These types of comics, pamphlets, and books seemed to be ubiquitous in my elementary school in the 1980s, and I’m sure that most of them got thrown in the trash when kids emptied out their desks and/or backpacks at the end of the year. I rarely spent much time in a Radio Shack, except to buy the occasional cable adaptor and some other sort of audio/video cable thing. Is it worse than any other anti-drug comic that I’ve read in the past? Eh. They were never exactly good to begin with except for maybe that first New Teen Titans one (and that’s because of the Perez art).

But was this worth reading? Oh heck yes. But I’m not holding onto it.

Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?


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