The late Paul Reubens was an actor and comedian who had a talent for making people laugh using the simplest means to his advantage. This was best shown with his most famous character, Pee-Wee Herman, who lived like a child and saw the world the same way. Through his many adventures, Pee-Wee Herman spoke to the inner child of the audience and reminded them that it was okay to embrace the adolescent things everyone loves. While this character was just as hilarious as he was fun, Pee-Wee was nothing compared to another Reubens character, The Spleen, in the underrated comic book movie Mystery Men.
Mystery Men was based on a little-known team from Flaming Carrot comics and was created by Bob Burden. Like the movie, the comic version of the Mystery Men wasn't the first, second or third-string choice of heroes if lives needed to be saved. Their roster also had an unconventional team with lackluster powers, to say the least. This included The Shoveler, whose powers came from a sentient shovel. Nevertheless, the team got results and was the perfect inspiration for what has become a cult classic superhero movie featuring many iconic performances.
Who Was The Spleen in Mystery Men?
In the comics, The Spleen was the child of hippies with the ability to shoot acids and glues from his body. His powers came as the result of a chemical accident, and he used them to his advantage, mainly as a kleptomaniac. However, as a member of the Mystery Men, alongside his allies, he worked to stop evil in any way they could. But his abilities, while unorthodox, may have been one of the most valuable as they had many offensive capabilities that other heroes couldn't dream of. Even still, the comic version of The Spleen was nothing compared to the iteration shown in Mystery Men.
In Mystery Men, a group of low-level heroes found themselves as the only hope against the villain Casanova Frankenstein after they accidentally killed their city's resident hero, Captain Amazing. Of the many heroes they auditioned, The Spleen wasn't one of them, as his powers of super flatulence left him as one of the undesirables among a league of undesirable heroes. When he finally caught up with the team, The Spleen explained that he gained his powers from a gypsy woman he insulted when he broke wind and blamed it on her. Anyone who pulled Spleen's fingers activated his power, which he had honed to create various offensive gaseous attacks that were so potent they could knock out a victim. Coupled with his social awkwardness, The Spleen was a fan-favorite hero that brought out a side Reubens could never explore with Pee-Wee Herman.
What Made The Spleen Funnier Than Pee-Wee Herman?
Part of what made Pee-Wee Herman such a fun character was that he was like a living cartoon. In many ways, the childlike whimsy that made the character so beloved was the very foundation that characters like Spongebob Squarepants could springboard off of as another adult icon that never let go of his youth. However, the big difference, especially in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, was that Pee-Wee often got caught in adult situations, like being trapped in a biker bar. But his infectious optimism and kindness turned everyone on his side, and he gained dozens of friends as a result. Along the way, there were more than enough laughs that set a precedent for his future adventures, like in the TV series Pee-Wee's Playhouse. On the other hand, Mystery Men focused on a similarly adolescent form of humor that resulted in a totally different character from Pee-Wee.
Mystery Men showcased characters that were aware of their surroundings and how ridiculous they often looked. Without proper street cred, even the most optimistic hero could be brought down by the cutthroat superhero community. Even still, this never stopped The Spleen from shopping out his powers to any team that would accept him, and what made the character so magnetic was his weirdly placed confidence. While he wasn't adored by anyone and had poor hygiene, he knew his strength was in his powers, and those same powers pushed him out of his comfort zone, even if he was still awkward.
What made The Spleen far more hilarious than Pee-Wee Herman was that the world didn't change to better fit his humor. Where Pee-Wee faced a world where even the worst people had goodness in them, The Spleen was against almost everyone. Yet, rather than grow bitter, he shined and ensured those that didn't like him would at least accept him. As a result, there were many moments of hilarity as those that were repulsed by him grew to like him, and he returned the favor, letting out a final blast before passing out from being shot in the rear. Pee-Wee was far more iconic, but nothing compared to the comedic timing of The Spleen.
The Spleen Proves Why Mystery Men Deserves a Revisit
Mystery Men may not be The Avengers or the Dark Knight Trilogy, but it had a fun and hilarious story filled with heart. It also had characters that offered a grounded and fun departure from the usual heroic tones of what's come since. These same characters also helped make Mystery Men a cult classic among comedy and comic book movie fans, and it could be argued that The Spleen played a major role in this.
While there are many memorable actors and characters in the movie, Mystery Men's Spleen may be the standout as he had some of the funniest moments, as well as some of the most unexpectedly heroic. He brought constant levity to the team and redefined toilet humor in a way that proved it still had a place in comedy and could make anyone laugh. In the end, fans who choose to revisit Mystery Men may be in for a strange movie but also one that brought to life one of Paul Reubens' most hilarious performances.