Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
Fat-Shaming Has No Place Here
In the not-too-distant past, there was a time where comedy writers thought making fun of fat people was funny. A large man or woman with a prominent belly would walk onto a scene and step onto a scale, and a card would pop out saying, “One at a time, please.” Often someone would queue a laugh track, and at that prompt other people would laugh.
An entire generation would think this sort of thing was a laugh riot. Even in my short memory, I can still vividly recall scenes from Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie where Dom DeLuise would dance on a table and drive it into the floor.
I can recall a scene from The Honeymooners where some guy points to Jackie Gleason and says, “Get a load of fatso.”
I can recall an immortal scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life where the rotund Mr. Creosote eats until full, vomits all over everyone, and then reluctantly eats an after-dinner mint and explodes.
Okay, that last one was funny.
But for the most part, in this day and age, fat jokes aren’t really funny. People who fat-shame nowadays are looked upon as just mean. The obesity epidemic in this country has led to a billion-dollar industry full of gym memberships, diet books, diet support groups, and stomach surgeries full of bands, staples, and sleeves.
It takes a lot of courage and strength to be okay with who you are when others are being judgemental. I applaud anyone who has taken a step toward a healthier outlook on life or has accepted themselves and their body images for what they are.
I speak as someone who is not svelt.
The thing I want you, the reader, to understand is that this article is not a condemnation of obesity. Rather it is an acknowledgment that it exists and that there are some characters in the Marvel Universe who are morbidly obese.
That said, please find six candidates within the MU who are not only obese but were written that way.
Meet Fredrick J. Dukes: mutant, bad guy, and all-around over-the-top fat guy.
Much like practically every candidate on this list, this Lee/Kirby creation is a caricature of a very negative stereotype. Everything about him is about him being fat. Fred has been this way ever since his powers manifested during puberty. Soon after he discovered his powers, he joined a carnival because he believed himself to be a “super strong freak.” When Professor X and the X-Men found him, he rejected membership into the group.
Dukes used his powers to take over the carnival and later attacked the X-Men at their own mansion in hopes of stealing some scientific equipment to become even more powerful. He was defeated easily by Xavier’s students.
Magneto eventually found him and recruited him to be in his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. There he stayed and became a core member of Magneto’s group as well as the federally funded "Freedom Force." While he had, at one point, lost all of his mass and later became a “weight loss guru” in Japan, he is now back to his corpulent self.
As the Blob, Dukes has an array of powers that take advantage of his size, weight, fat mass, and musculature. So insulated with fat is the Blob that he is impervious to most conventional forms of assault, up to and including explosions, burns, frostbite, gunfire, and lacerations. This would suggest invulnerability. However, he has felt the pain of being stabbed in the posterior as he’s landed on Wolverine more than once.
Consequently, any normal attacker who should punch the Blob usually gets his fist stuck in the folds of Dukes’s skin.
Secondarily, the Blob makes himself immobile by literally and psionically “rooting” (or bonding) himself into the ground. While he is rooted to the ground, he can absorb the kinetic impact of any blow and turn it against his attacker. He has done this with the Hulk. However, once the Blob is unrooted from his place (presumably by lifting him from the ground), he becomes vulnerable.
The Kingpin, Wilson Fisk
Wilson Fisk, by his own account, said he was an unpopular blubbery child.
The big mistake that people make with Fisk is what they perceive as fat is actually muscle. Very early in his childhood, he began a lifelong pursuit of bodybuilding. He also started his life of crime at an early age. As a child, he decided to work against his life of impoverishment and committed his first murder at the age of twelve.
As an adult, Fisk stands at 6’7” and weighs over 450 lbs. Given his size and muscular weight, he can lift/press approximately 650 lbs. While this is not superhuman, it is certainly impressive.
Fisk has trained his mind and body in the tradition of the Japanese Sumo. He is not fat and engages in intensive regular exercise daily—often sparring and defeating several combatants at a time. His combat skills are such that he has fought in hand to hand combat against Spider-man (who regulates his strength against Fisk for fear of killing him), Daredevil, and has fought Captain America to a standstill.
Originally Fisk started as an archnemesis of Spider-man but is more now the chief antagonist of Daredevil. The Kingpin has a longstanding war against the Devil of Hells Kitchen and is aware of his secret identity of Matt Murdock.
As the Kingpin of Crime in New York, Fisk has vast financial and personal power within the criminal underworld and the legitimate business world. While it is not a well-kept secret as to Fisk’s criminal ties when asked about his financial successes, he still professes to be a humble trader in spices.
Government investigations have conducted several probes into his affairs. No one has been able to prove that any of his crimes have been personally linked to him for long. Fisk is a master manipulator and self-made genius, specifically within the fields of strategy and political science.
Amahl Farouk, The Shadow King
There are few forces of evil who are as bed-wettingly-terrifying as Amahl Farouk, The Shadow King.
Farouk was one of the first significantly powerful evil mutants encountered by Charles Xavier in his early days. Farouk fought Professor X on the psychic plane. This excessively obese man on the physical plane, who engaged in practically no regular exercise, did not reveal his astral-self as that manifested as a large intimidating force that would often mutate during their duel.
When Xavier beat Farouk, he left him without a body to return to. Most people in this situation would be drawn into the afterlife—not Farouk. His astral spirit continued to exist until he could find another host body with a powerful psionic talent.
Years later, he showed up to torture Xavier’s New Mutants. As a malignant psychic entity, he possessed the new mutant known as Karma. Her psychic specialty was to psychically dominate people and animals. When Farouk took over Karma, he not only gained those powers but was able to live as Karma for several years. While he was in possession of Karma’s body, he enslaved a group of people who would bow to his/her every whim and overindulged in excessive eating.
By the time Karma could win back her body, he had left her morbidly obese.
Farouk took the name The Shadow King, and he currently exists as an entity on the astral plane. Periodically he finds ways to inhabit other bodies within the physical world, but most of the time, he’s usually stuck as an astral being.
What we know about Farouk is that he’s an excessively evil being who, when he is in the real world, enjoys living the good life through manipulating people psychically. When he’s done with his hosts, he typically leaves them worse than when he found them.
Big Bertha of The Great Lakes Avengers
Of all the things that comic book illustrator and writer, John Byrne, has to ultimately answer for, Big Bertha should be at the top of the list.
It is hardly an exaggeration that this character who is, for the most part, a female version of The Blob without the rooting powers is a sad endorsement for people with body issues.
In her superhero guise of Big Bertha, Ashley Crawford (aka Bertha Crawford), fights crime alongside the Great Lakes Avengers as a hugely obese woman whose body is extra durable and strong. She has the ability to increase her body mass at will. The good news is that she can grow and leap terrific distances in her Big Bertha form, and then when the job is done, she can reduce her mass again. The bad news is that she can only do it by vomiting.
That’s right…vomiting. Marvel has made the first bulimic superhero.
The thing that makes this extremely wrong and gives so many poor teenage girls with body image issues bad ideas is her civilian job.
She’s a high paid fashion model.
Let me draw this picture again. She makes herself extra-large and obese, and when she wants to be a beautiful fashion model, she throws up. This is a terrible message.
On the upside, I think Marvel has recognized how politically incorrect the character was. In later episodes, Ashley, not only changes her name to Bertha but also changes gigs to be a plus-sized model. She is also a skilled jet pilot.
One day a psychiatrist will get to John Byrne and figure out what’s really wrong with him.
This article would not be complete if I did not mention Pink Pearl, a villainess who made her premiere in Alpha Flight.
Her power? She’s fat. No, really, that’s it.
Because she’s fat, she has above average strength and uses it to bully people in her carnival and in the businesses she runs. She was behind a plot to kill the Canadian Prime Minister and the President of the United States. She was defeated by the Alpha Flighters, Aurora and Northstar.
She survived a direct knife attack from someone in her own team by virtue that she’s fat. No other reason. This was John Byrne’s first rough sketch of making obesity a superpower.
Since then, she’s gone into her own business of running a male strip club called “The Cloisters” and runs it legitimately. Outside of talking about herself in the third person, she’s a formidable foe by being surprisingly cunning and intelligent.
I’ve saved the biggest for last.
When you can’t be the Kingpin of Crime, the next best thing you can be is just an oversized mockery of him. This is not to say that Ulysses X. Lugman, aka The Slug, is a parody of Wilson Fisk. No, he’s a real character, and he’s a powerful figure in the underworld.
The Slug is extraordinarily fat. How fat is he? (Insert tired, over-used wheezes here.)
He is so fat that the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (Update 1989) had once considered he was a possible mutant because it was hard to believe that one person could be over a thousand pounds and still live. Indeed, he is so fat that if he went into a swimming pool, the fat in his body would keep him buoyant, and he would not sink. He is so fat that his metabolism gives him limited immunity to poisons and toxins.
For those who want to compare his BMI, he is 6’8” (when and if he could stand) and 1,048 lbs. He cannot move on his own and engages in no physical exercise.
Readers would think that a person who resembles a human version of Jabba the Hutt (this is not a joke) could not be physically dangerous to an opponent. This is not true. It has been documented that the Slug has killed people by immersing them in the folds of fat in his skin until they asphyxiate.
Another similarity he has to the Kingpin is that he has never put himself in a position where he can be arrested for any of his crimes. He has no criminal record despite being one of the most successful drug lords in the business, and the head organized-crime lord in Miami. He has built his empire by investing heavily in the Central American drug trade.
I won’t lie to you. There were parts of this article that when I wrote them, I heard the disembodied voices of Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman in my ears— especially when I said to myself, “How fat is he?”
Here’s what I heard:
- “He’s so fat that he falls asleep counting his chins.”
- “He’s so fat that when he goes to the Empire State Building, airplanes attack him.”
- “He’s so fat that he’s weighed by a seismograph.”
- “He’s so fat that when he sits around the house, he sits around the house.”
- “He’s so fat that he has his own zip code.”
Such humor is not worthy of my article and is better placed with people who still think the joy buzzer, fake vomit, and whoopee cushions are funny. If you think it’s funny, get to a doctor. Someone surgically removed your sense of humor, and you should get it back immediately before someone takes you to a Three Stooges marathon.
Fat jokes aren’t funny. They’re designed to hurt people.
Fat people exist. Obesity happens to people. You don’t know their story.
This is a true story. I had a professor in college who was one of my first writing teachers. He’d been teaching at my college since my father went to the school back in the sixties. He was a large man. So much so that he required a cane to walk, and when he had to teach his class on the top floor of my building, they let him take the freight elevator.
Outside of his weight and his shock of snow-white hair, I noticed that he was missing part of his right ring finger. When he taught the class, he stood at his podium and leaned into it. I will never forget his humor and his wit, which was as dry as the Sahara Desert in July. It was he who first ignited my desire to write. It was another teacher who helped me work on proper technique.
As a freshman, I’d heard other kids talk about how fat he was and how some thought it was disgusting that a man should allow himself to get that heavy. I remember him being around five-foot-nine and about three-hundred-and-fifty pounds.
Some made fun of him. Fat shaming in private.
That was until I spoke with some of the upperclassmen. They told me his real story about how he was a pilot during World War II and got captured by the Germans. He was in the actual Stalag 17. He was a teacher who taught English to other prisoners. While there, his weight diminished to under ninety pounds through starvation and torture. It was in that camp that he’d lost his finger.
When he got out at the end of the war, he said that he never wanted to be hungry again. So, he ate. Who among us would deny him that comfort? I know I wouldn’t.
The characters listed above are cartoonishly heavy. We don’t know all their early stories. The Slug’s backstory on how he got to be how he is, is specifically vague. Can you imagine how Big Bertha discovered that the only way to release the excess weight from her powers was through a bulimic path? How about The Blob? Fredrick Dukes, one day in his adolescence, discovered that the excess weight just wasn’t going away. What does that do to you? For Dukes, it made him into a bully.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were men of their times. For some reason, they thought fat people were funny because they’re fat. Or even worse, that their fat defined them. Their powers were that they were fat, and fat people naturally use their size, weight, softness, and insulation because that’s what fat people do.
Such thinking belongs in the crapper.
The only story of empowerment is with Wilson Fisk. He said to himself that he could either be a fat, lonely kid, or he could turn his energies toward improving his physical strength. One of the things that happen when a person works toward self-improvement is his confidence goes up. That’s why they put mirrors in gyms.
The opposite is also true when people stop listening to, not only derisive comments from others, but also the negative self-talk that is worse than what anyone else can dream up. It is the challenge of self-acceptance that comes from a personality at peace with themselves.
© 2018 Christopher Peruzzi
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on February 17, 2018:
Apologies for the typos. I just read that last comment after typing it up this morning on my iPhone.
"We have seen Kingpin on Netflix"
Yeah, I know it's OCD, but I crucify everyone else for bad grammar and spelling - so I feel I should not be an exception.
nestle02 from Florida, USA on February 17, 2018:
Will do, thanks!
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on February 17, 2018:
Well, actually, we have see the Kingpin on Netflix. If you haven’t seen him in Daredevil season 1, DO IT NOW. Vincent D’Onafrio’s portrayal is a mix of introvert and menace.
nestle02 from Florida, USA on February 15, 2018:
It would be cool to see King Pin or Big Bertha on screen.