Sunday, February 14, 2010

Phil McDougall, a.k.a. the Sensational Sand Dollar

On page 7 of Worlds Apart, we meet a rather intriguing minor character. Just as the Trishy Tanaka Hostage Crisis starts heating up, Chet, the talking head from Lyon News, introduces a guest analyst to provide expertise and perspective on the unfolding horror: Phil McDougall, better known to the world as the sensational Sand Dollar.

Okay, you may be asking. Just who the heck is the Sand Dollar? And what would he possibly know about the superheroes and super-villains of the Trademark Universe?

The answer to this question lies in the history and career of two major Trademark heroes. The first, Airfoil, we’ve already met. The second, Beachcomber (later known as Aquarius), won’t be appearing in Worlds Apart per se. However, his influence in the Trademark Universe should be addressed.

The titanic Trademark Handbook provides this entry on the Beachcomber:

Beachcomber/Aquarius (Bobby Sands) An aimless drifter most of his life, Bobby Sands could claim one talent that set him above the rest -- hydrofoils. An ace-mechanic and pilot, Sands invented a revolutionary new hydrofoil system and started his own company, Aquarian Technologies, to profit from his ideas. Quickly proving a failure in the business world, Sands gladly accepted the buy-out offer from a large aeronautics firm interested in commercially marketing his innovations.

Suddenly finding himself a millionaire with no direction in life, Sands opted for early retirement in the quiet coastal California community of Lasher Beach. Envisioning an endless summer of bitchin’ waves, bikini-clad babes, and tinkering in his workshop, Sands slowly came to realize that Lasher Beach wasn’t truly the sleepy seaside town it first appeared to be. Run by a local crimeboss called Yellow Beard, Lasher Beach was actually a safe haven for drug smugglers, pirates, arms dealers, and other lowlifes.

Trying his best to steer clear of the local criminal element, Sands found himself slowly drawn into the brewing conflict between Lasher Beach’s law-abiding citizens and the unsavory thugs now in control of the town. One such thug was a brutish bully dubbed Phil the Enforcer, a brawny, red-headed brawler who walked around Lasher Beach like he owned it. On more than one occasion, Sands and Phil traded words and punches, with Sands typically coming out worse for it.

Then one night Bobby Sands’ life at Lasher Beach took a drastic turn. As Sands was testing out his newest invention, a hydrofoil bodysuit, he inadvertently stumbled across a major drug bust gone horribly and violently awry. As Sands quickly learned, his nemesis Phil the Enforcer wasn’t a thug at all, but rather an undercover DEA agent named Phil McDougall, who had been infiltrating Yellow Beard’s gang in an effort to bring it down. With Yellow Beard’s thugs getting away in high-speed motor boats, the good guys had only one chance to catch the fleeing murderers.

Bobby Sands chased the motor boats using his hydrofoil suit, and then battled the bad guys long enough for Phil McDougall to call in reinforcements and arrest the miscreants en masse. Angry that corrupt sources within the DEA had ratted him out to Yellow Beard, McDougall resigned his position and fell in with fellow retiree Bobby Sands.

With Yellow Beard’s boys still controlling much of Lasher Beach, Sands and McDougall took up the fight for law and order vigilante-style. Combining Sands’ mechanical genius and McDougall’s knowledge of explosives and weapons, the two would-be adventurers re-invented themselves as superheroes: the Beachcomber and the Sand Dollar. In addition to the ability to travel at high speeds over water, Beachcomber’s hydro-suit also converted its water jets and air jets into non-lethal weapons. For his part, Phil McDougall armed himself with a variety of sand-dollar-sized disks outfitted with various gimmicks: explosives, knock-out gas, Taser-like electro-shocks, etc.

After an inauspicious start, the “Beach Bums,” as they were known in the super community, fought a host of pretty unspectacular villains like Yellow Beard, Crowbar, and the Longshoremen. The duo didn’t vie with any truly powerful superbaddies until they tangled with Tempest, a madman possessing a trident power-staff that enabled him to control water. Completely out of their league, ‘Comber and Dollar were quickly beaten and taken prisoner. It was at this point that a friend of theirs, world Frisbee champion Larry Kramer, modified Sand Dollar’s disk arsenal into larger Frisbee-like weapons. Thus was born the hero Airfoil.

Together, the three Beach Bums ultimately defeated Tempest, and Beachcomber “inherited” the villain’s power-staff. Over the course of several years, as Sands’ proficiency with the staff grew, he became more and more powerful. Signing on for a stint with the Protectors, Beachcomber used the group’s training exercises to increase his control of the staff to godlike levels. Here he came under the watchful eye of the super-villain Pythoness, who gradually seduced Beachcomber with a hodge-podge of New Age mumbo-jumbo and mind control.

Under the influence of Pythoness, Beachcomber discarded his old identity to become the apocalyptic world-beater Aquarius. Convinced he could single-handedly reform the world in his image and usher in the Age of Aquarius, the former Beachcomber subsequently ran afoul of the combined might of the Protectors, Challengers, Irregulars, Fury Force, and United Front. Eventually, after repeated struggles, Sands saw the error of his ways and vanished into seclusion beneath the sea.

Being closer to Bobby Sands than anyone, Phil McDougall has seen firsthand how dangerous and corrupting super-powers can be. As a hero who has fought alongside the Protectors, Challengers, and hosts of others, Phil McDougall makes up in savvy what he lacks in power. Opinionated, bull-headed, and bit rough around the edges, the sensational Sand Dollar dispenses the kind of compelling, sound-bite-driven analysis that Lyon News loves.

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