Rat-Man (comics)

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Rat-Man
Rat-Man logo.png
Rat-Man logo
Publication information
Publisher Panini Comics (formerly Marvel Italia and part of Marvel Comics)
First appearance Spot 2, supplement to L'Eternauta #86 of June 1989
Created by Leo Ortolani
In-story information
Alter ego Deboroh La Roccia
Team affiliations None, The Second Secret Squad, The Ex-Men
Notable aliases Rat-Boy; Zappo, L'Uomo Imbarazzante ("Zappo the Embarrassing Man"); Marvelmouse
Abilities None. On the contrary, he sports a complete lack of common sense or other forms of intelligence.

Rat-Man is an Italian comic about an inept superhero of the same name, created by Leonardo Ortolani in 1989. Although it was initially meant to be a satire of other superheroes, most prominently Batman, it has since evolved into an independent comic sporting a complex, evolving continuity. The comic is well known for its nonsense humor à-la Monty Python, its engaging storytelling and its frequent breaking of the fourth wall. Ortolani often pays both direct and indirect tribute to other comic authors (Jack Kirby above everyone else) and he frequently makes his characters use pop-culture references, either generic or specific to the native Italian context and background. The comic is currently being published by Panini Comics both as new installments under the name of Rat-Man Collection and as reprints of older stories in Tutto Rat-Man.

Publishing history[edit]

The character of Rat-Man appeared for the first time in the second issue of Spot, a supplement to the Italian magazine L'Eternauta #86 of June 1990, shortly after Leonardo Ortolani won a young artists' contest. From 1990 to 1995 Rat-Man was published on the fanzine Made in USA. After the debut, Leo Ortolani chose to self-publish the comic alongside his primary job as a geologist; however, in 1997 Leo signed a contract with Marvel Italia, today a brand owned by Panini Comics (and, at the time, a branch of Marvel Comics itself), to publish the comic under the Marvel brand, which allowed Leonardo to become a full-time comics author. The contract also allowed him to use popular Marvel characters like Captain America, Wolverine, Doctor Doom and Elektra in Rat-Man stories; however, copyright problems have since prohibited such use of characters in the Rat-Man world.

Leo Ortolani stated his intention to close the series with issue #100, which would be published around January 2014 if no changes are made to the current bi-monthly publishing schedule. He later on remarked how this was a joke not to be taken seriously (as on Rat-Man #92), and that the series would have ended after #100.

Structure of the Comic[edit]

Rat-Man was born as a parody of Batman, which is reflected in his name, in his gadgets and in the details of his first story. For example, while Bruce Wayne took inspiration from a bat coming through his window, Deboroh took inspiration after a similar search from his weekly Mickey Mouse comic. They both lost their parents at a young age, both vowed to fight crime to avenge them and both inherited a large fortune with which they fund their activities. Rat-Man even had a sidekick named Topin (Topo, in Italian, means mouse) who was clearly inspired by Robin. Rat-Man's stories were initially either classical superhero stories, with the main character fighting various supervillains to save his city, or, sometimes, the world, or parodies of famous works of fiction. Sometimes, there would be stories revealing Rat-Man's past and troubled origins as a superhero. Lately, the "normal" superhero stories have been abandoned in favour of telling his present problems as he struggles to find his identity. The parody stories continue as usual, often used to break between story arcs. Among the parodied works, there are Star Trek, Star Wars, 300, Titanic, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, 007, and many others.

Summary of Rat-Man adventures[edit]

Before Rat-Boy[edit]

In Rat-Man's universe, two entities fight against each other: the Light, representing all that is good and pure, and the Shadow, a force of evil and corruption. After the Second World War, the First Secret Squad, a team of superheroes led by the Pipistrello (bat), combats for truth and justice backed by the Light, in an age of great prosperity and peace. After this failure, in 1954, the Shadow abandons the current vessel it had to take the body of the criminal boss Boda Valker, and contaminates his son, Janus, as well. Despite the best efforts of Samuel Krik, then a simple cop but already affiliated with the Light, the child is irrimediably corrupted, and is taken by his father to be trained as his successor.

Under Boda's leadership, the Shadow instills fear in the heart of the No Name Country, who starts to doubt the superheroes. Feeling that they are manipulated, the First Secret Squad quits and is subsequently killed by the traitor Lupo (wolf) in 1965. Two years later, Deboroh la Roccia is born.

Rat-Boy[edit]

Deboroh is not an intelligent child, but he is well-meaning and willing to become a superhero after reading their adventures in comic books. He is taken in an orphanage after being lost by his parents in a mall sale, and he is rescued by Janus Valker, who believes him to be his son. However, this is a lie installed in his brain by his brother, the insane Joba, in order to control him and make him weak with the affection for someone. Janus falls for it and becomes attached to the child, despite being very stupid. The young Deboroh still carries his dream to become a superhero.

In the meantime, the Shadow, through its agents and the scientific research centre Elsewhere, in which Janus works, is planning the Second Secret Squad in order to control the nation and influence it. Since the program involves total anonymity, Janus has Deboroh join it as Rat-Boy as a way to fulfill his wish to become a superhero and protect him from the Shadow, who is constantly seeking to further corrupt him. The Second Squad, led by Wolf, however, fails to unite the nation and is seen as a tool of the government. They also clash with the Men in Tights, heroes who spontaneously embraced the teachings of the First Secret Squad and consider themselves the true heirs of their legacy. The No Name Country loses faith in superheroes.

In 1984, Rat-Boy quits the squad. Janus contacts him one last time after he discovers Joba's deception in order to erase from both minds any memory of the other. He hopes that by doing so they can escape and rebuild new lives. Unfortunately, after using the machine, Joba reaches them to kill them. The Shadow has abandoned Boda for the failure of the Second Squad, and his seeking a new vessel. Joba wants to make sure that he is chosen by eliminating Janus. In a bloody showdown, the two brothers clash and Joba is defeated. Janus buys Rat-Boy some time by embracing the Shadow and becoming its vessel, and letting him escape. Rat-Boy flees to No Name City, where the effects of the machine finally kick in and he forgets much about his past life. The Shadow loses track of him, and the only tool that it has to find him again is his mental track, which is hidden by Janus' wife, Kalissa, who has gone into hiding.

MarvelMouse[edit]

Deboroh becomes MarvelMouse, a superhero who fights in the Arena, a brutish coliseum where the last remaining superheroes fight for the crowd's amusement. Their kind is dying, being replaced by the newer and more stylish manga, but MarvelMouse's determination and goodwill convince one of the last agents of the Light, only known as Teacher, to end his reclusion and train him as a proper superhero. The Teacher, who had mentored the First Secret Squad, helps him embrace his potential, and MarvelMouse becomes Rat-Man.

In his last fight in the arena, Rat-Man is pitted against the Dragon, the greatest of the manga, who wants to kill him to end all superheroes. Just as he is defeated by him, Rat-Man realizes that his destiny is to help the nation, not to fight in the Arena. Before his demise, though, he is saved by the other remaining superhero, the Man With A Spider Costume. With their triumph, the country remembers the superheroes and Rat-Man starts fighting crime.

However, Janus, who is now fully under the Shadow, seeks to destroy him with the Guardian, a colossal robot built to eliminate the First Squad and abandoned after the same goal was accomplished through other means. When the Guardian detects a new superhero, it is sent to kill him. In fact, it detected the rebirth of the Teacher as Pipistrello: he had escaped the destruction of the Secret Squad and lived since then in hiding blaming himself for the failure and death of his comrades. The Guardian kills him, but not before he leaves his legacy to Rat-Man.

Rat-Man[edit]

Though initially unwelcome, Rat-Man, with the help of Samuel Krik, becomes the last remaining superhero apart from the Second Secret Squad, which is still controlled by the Shadow, and starts protecting the city from many threats, such as the demon of desire Tefnut, the devourer of worlds Cosmicus and the publisher-gone-mad Spider. He inherits everything the Teacher had, including the wealthy Fuffa Corporation and butler Archibald, befriends Tadeus Brakko, and is the object of lust of transsexual Cinzia. This is the period when he is in his prime, and the animated series is set during it.

However, the Shadow still conspires to bring him down. Using the Buffoon, Rat-Man's first enemy, Janus Valker tries to destroy the Second Secret Squad in order to make space for the Third one. However, Rat-Man and his former teammates foil his plan, with all the others deciding to quit crimefighting after the confrontation. Rat-Man remains as the only superhero.

A while later, Kalissa uses the mental track to contact Rat-Man and convince him to participate in a cloning program led by the former scientists of Elsewhere. The project is to create an army of clones of Rat-Man to act as a powerful force of good, but the plan goes awry when Number Six, one of the clones, mutates and gains too much conscience. He frees the original Rat-Man, who stops the program. Hindered, Kalissa and the other scientists contact Janus to seek his help with the project, but they are unaware of how much he has changed.

Valker has fully embraced the Shadow and wallows in the complete knowledge it offered to him. However, the Shadow still conceals some information to him, and Janus, who craves omniscience, is forced to seek Rat-Man on its request in order to gain it. When the other scientists find him and reveal that they have the mental track, he takes it away from them and murders them brutally. After making sure that Rat-Man is completely unaware of their shared past, he deletes that information from his brain as well.

Demise and Rebirth[edit]

Rat-Man, in 2003, enters a coma which he comes out of in 2005. In the meantime, the city has forgotten him and replaced him with many new superheroes, and he struggles to fit in again. All the new superheroes, however, flee when the Guardian, sensing activity of the Light, returns to the No Name City. Rat-Man realizes that the existence of a supervillain is inextricably tied to the presence of a superhero, and, being the last one, he stops donning a mask to save the city. Without a purpose, he retires to private life.

This is in fact a ploy orchestrated by Valker, who is slowly destroying him. After robbing him of his secret identity, he drives the Fuffa Corporation to bankruptcy and undermines the faith of the nation in superheroes. Rat-Man tries to return with an animated series but it is shallow and it worsens his conditions. He becomes a hobo, ready to be devoured by the Shadow, but with the help of Krik, Brakko, Cinzia and his fan club, he overcomes it. Janus is further stopped by the last lingering memory of being Deboroh's father, his last sliver of humanity which prevents him to take the life of his adopted son.

Though he has defeated the Shadow, Rat-Man still struggles to return to his golden years and travels to New York to seek counsel from its superheroes, the comic book adventures of which inspired him to become one in the first place. After meeting them, however, he understands something is wrong: the villains are all gone, and the superheroes ostracize Wallcrawler, one of the more famous ones, for some obscure reason. Rat-Man finds out that they have all exhausted their purpose and are remaining fearing what lies beyond and addicted to their power. Rat-Man's efforts finally convince them to follow their due course and retire willingly, with a parting advice to him: when all the fights are over, he should know when to stop and not be afraid of stepping out. Full of hope, Rat-Man returns to No Name City.

Future[edit]

Leonardo Ortolani has often stated his desire to end the series with the comic book number 100. This will occur in 2014, which is also the year in which the Shadow is expected to find a new vessel. In 1954 it had taken Boda Valker, abandoning the previous body it had held since 1924, and in 1984 it took Janus Valker. Krik, an agent of the Light, is already preparing for this event.

Main characters[edit]

Rat-Man[edit]

A.k.a. Rat-Boy, Marvelmouse, Deboroh Valker or Deboroh la Roccia, he is always the main character of the story. He has no powers, no abilities and no intelligence, but his goodwill and greatness of heart compensate for this. Although he isn't very clever or strong, he has somehow managed to fend off many terrible threats against No Name City. Due to his character taking inspiration from a mouse, he harbors an unnatural and extremely violent hatred for cats.

Cinzia Otherside[edit]

Originally a postman with the name of Paul, she is a transgender woman who loves Rat-Man. Her coming out as such is deeply related with Marvelmouse's realization of being Rat-Man. She has tried to marry him and seduce him over the years, to no avail.

Tadeus Brakko[edit]

An African-American police inspector, he is Rat-Man's best friend, and easily his only one. He was the only person to support Rat-Man after coming out of the coma and he has great faith in him. Probably it helps their friendship that he is almost as dimwitted as Rat-Man himself, not even realizing, in certain circumstances, Rat-Man's racial prejudices against him. His wife, Clara, constantly cheats on him but loves him deeply as well. They have a son, who is in fact son of the postman. His physical appearance is based upon Danny Glover's character Sgt. Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon series.

Captain Krik[edit]

Head of No Name City's police force, he often employs Rat-Man in missions and is a friend of his, although he is a lot more sceptical of his abilities than Brakko. When Rat-Man started to become a superhero, he was the only one in the police force to correctly identify him as an aid and not a threat to crime-fighting. During the second coming of the Cat, he willingly abandoned the city to train with the Light, the organization bent on stopping the Shadow. His return to the city is instrumental in saving Rat-Man from his own dark side. As the name suggests, he is based upon Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame.

Thea[edit]

The only woman who Rat-Man ever truly loved, she appeared in only one comic book, where she died. She was the most advanced experiment of Doctor Denam, who was also one of the authors of Abbard's Second Squad Project. The Doctor's plan was to create a super race of sentient vegetable humanoids. In the end, he was killed by his first creation, the imperfect Primus, and Rat-Man only managed to escape thanks to Thea, who Denam had created out of a rose. She dies in the end of that book, and her memory haunts Rat-Man forever. His lifelong struggle to find a partner ends then in pornography (twice), but Thea's image saves him from brutish desire. She also was his wife in a parallel universe, had things gone slightly differently, and she was never forgotten by Rat-Man, even appearing in his fantasy as his final dream at the age of 80.

Archibald[edit]

Rat-Man's butler, he is one of the very few who knows of his dual identity and activities. Despite Rat-Man's antics and stupidity, he always remains by his side and helps him, even when his master loses his fortune. He is another element that proves Rat-Man's origin as parody of Batman, as he is clearly inspired from Alfred Pennyworth.

Notable Antagonists[edit]

Janus Valker[edit]

Rat-Man's nemesis was once his adoptive father, although now he is only the vessel for the Shadow. He and Rat-Man have clashed many times, with the hero always, in some way, emerging victorious. However, it is hinted in the stories that his good and compassionate self, who cared for Deboroh and tried to protect him, is still alive within Janus' conscience, and is till trying to protect his adoptive son. Janus' father, Boda Valker, was also a vessel for the Shadow.

The Shadow[edit]

An ominous and manipulative entity, the Shadow needs a body to control in order to live, in exchange for power or knowledge. The Shadow controls the Government of the Nation in which Rat-Man lives, and is constantly trying to tighten its grip on its citizens, mainly through the Superheroes and their Secret Squads. Three incarnations of this squad have been formed during the years to control the Nation. The current body is Janus Valker, although the Shadow has tried to corrupt Rat-Man to use as vessel.

The Buffoon[edit]

Rat-Man's very first enemy, he is an obvious parody of Batman's Joker. He is later revealed to be Nottolo, the member of the Second Secret Squad who was kicked out to make space for Rat-Boy, and has always resented the hero for this.

The Spider[edit]

Bitten by a radioactive man, he acquired human characteristics such as greed and lack of scruples. He was a comic publisher until he was brought down by Rat-Man. The hero, later on, must travel in the past to defeat him again with the help of the poorly disguised Fantastic Four, as he was a temporal anomaly.

The Cat[edit]

She is the physical embodiment of pleasure and desire, and as such she is very dangerous and ruthless. She has been stranded on our world and tried to return to her sisters through a series of bloody and murderous rituals. The hero, however, managed to stop her.

MasterMouse[edit]

He is the creation of an unknown scientist and is a perfect replica of Ratman. His sole purpose is to aid in the destruction of Ratman and all he stands for. The hero has a difficult time trying to stop his archrival since they have the same powers.

The Secret Squads[edit]

The First Secret Squad, a league of extraordinary individuals who fought crime during peacetime and in the Second World War, inspired a generation's dream for justice and helped control the Nation. The eventually disbanded when they felt that the Government, controlled by the Shadow, was trying too hard to manipulate them, and, for this defection, they were murdered. The original members are:

  • Saetta (Lightning Bolt)
  • Ripulitore (Cleaner)
  • Fantasma Azzurro (Blue Ghost)
  • Pipistrello (Bat)
  • Tròteo (Troutish)

After fighting the Second World War, they accepted a younger Lupo (Wolf) as a new member. He was the only one to survive the murder, probably because he was an instrument of the Shadow, as it was later revealed.

The Second Secret Squad was made by genetically engineering the DNA of unborn babies, who were then trained to become a new Secret Squad and control the Nation instead of the Shadow. They were trying to emulate the older squad, and thus have similar names and costumes. They were

  • Fulmine (Lightning, emulating Saetta)
  • Tresh ("Trash", emulating Ripulitore)
  • Spettro (Wraith, emulating Fantasma Azzurro)
  • Nottolo (Noctule, emulating Pipistrello)
  • Karpa (Karp, emulating Troteo).

Nottolo was almost immediately kicked out in favour of Rat-Man. The whole squad was led by Lupo, but they failed to create the same kind of national unity that the First Squad achieved and disbanded.

The Shadow, however, didn't give up on the project and prepared a Third Secret Squad, who is only seen on a poster shown by Janus Valker. In order to make space for the new one, the Shadow used Nottolo and Lupo to dispose of the Second Squad, but Rat-Man foiled their plan and the whole idea was finally abandoned. Spettro was originally and unwillingly chosen to be the leader of the Third Squad, as she was the daughter of Lupo. It is also thanks to her help that Rat-Man stops the sinister project.

Animated series[edit]

A Rat-Man animated series has been produced by the Italian public television company RAI and Stranemani Animation Studios. Up to now 52 episodes have been made, each 13 minutes long. The series is currently being aired on Saturday mornings in Italy and on occasional weekday afternoons in North America during the "Cartoni" segment on the RAI International satellite channel. An official website of the production is available, in it surfers can see a selection of episodes in video streaming, albeit the dialogue is just in Italian the linear nature of the plots and the visual gags can offer a rewarding experience even to non-Italian speakers. The series focuses on the "normal" superhero routine of Rat-Man, who has to defeat various threats to No Name City, and is therefore located within the timeline after he has become Rat-Man and before he fell into a coma.

Film[edit]

in 2008 it was released a film called Rat-Man - Il segreto del supereroe. The film is divided into five parts entitled The Superhero, Mousetrap, Copyrat, Fraudolent and To Rat or Not to Rat.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]