We all know the big players in the MCU. Iron Man. Thor. Black Widow. But, have you heard of one of Marvel’s best-kept-in-the-wings? It’s Kool-Aid Man, “The Thirst Avenger.”There’s nothing quite as awkward and splendid in pop culture as a product placement tie-in that bastardizes the media which it infiltrates. One that is shoehorned into a format in such a ham-handed way by corporate executives so far out of touch you picture them sitting around the board room table slapping each other on the back while lighting cigars exclaiming, “Johnson, you’ve really outdone yourself this time!”
Whether it’s Batman professing the great cigarette taste of a nice Winston or Superman meeting the Nestle Quick Bunny (hey, even Kryptonians can’t resist the chocolatey goodness of Nestle Quick), crossover advertising into mainstream youth-related media is as inevitable as Thanos.
My favorite, though, has to be the infestation of the Kool-Aid Man into comics and video games. Yes, that boundary-challenged interloper came in like a wrecking ball long before Billy Ray’s baby donned a thong.
The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man
The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man was released by the Marvel Comics Group in 1983. The only way to get it was to mail in proof of purchases from Kool-Aid powder packets. What kind of pathetic kid would do something like that? Right here, baby! Why did this seem like a good idea to the fine folks at Kool-Aid and at Marvel?
It appears that Kool-Aid did their best to crash this character through as many walls of the marketplace as they could, just like he did in the commercials. (Why not, as Dane Cook points out, use the door instead of destroying a family’s homestead in the name of thirst?) And it’s not like it wasn’t given the proper attention with heavy hitters like John Romita and Jim Salicrup involved.
The Kool-Aid Man battled the evil Thirsties through three issues and even got his own Atari 2600 game; it makes “E.T.” look like “Call of Duty.” I even remember him battling Pete Rose in a Saturday morning commercial. Maybe he was his bookie. Kool-Aid Man was everywhere. Was he a ploy to distract the nation from their beverage’s part in a 1978 mass murder? “If an ice-cold glass of Kool-Aid isn’t the best choice for quenching your thirst on sweltering jungle day, my name’s not Reverend Jim Jones!” Yeah, that’s not gonna get it done.
Better to bring out the portly pitcher and foist his wares on kids whose thirst is so extreme that massive property damage is in order so that their whistles can be wetted. Is that a load-bearing wall? Probably, but that kid is parched!
The fact that Marvel and Atari became part of the lexicon that is the Kool-AidVerse is a delightful and whimsical corner of the 80’s that many have forgotten. Not me, though.
The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man is one of the few comics I have framed and hung on my walls. Is it worth anything? Not really, but it is worth remembering if only to remind you that there was a time when kooky things like this existed and kids like me cared enough to take the time to get their Kool-Aid stained fingers on it.