You’re reading The Complete Infinite Crisis, a Comprehensive and Encyclopedic look through the universe-changing superhero event published by DC from 2005 to 2006. Shelfdust are proud to provide a complete overview of the story, and everything that happens in it. We’ve had to get some experts in though – there’s so much going on that needs to be explained!
Oh baby we’ve heard the blues a-calli– wait, no, Frasier month is over. Or is it? Because if we’re ever going to have to find a way back into the world of comics, we’re going to need to be absolutely certain that we’ve had enough fill of Kelsey Grammer. And have you had your fill of Kelsey Grammer yet? Of course you haven’t. Welcome to 2021 – Katie Schenkel, let’s talk about Sideshow Bob!
Katie! This Frasier sure seems great! It’s a relief he never turned his talents to evil, right? Can you even imagine such a character existing??
Katie Schenkel: Steve, I have some bad news. For the last 30 years, Frasier actor Kelsey Grammer has been playing a similar yet sinister character named Sideshow Bob on little-known indie cartoon The Simpsons. Once a sidekick for Bozo-esque Krusty the Clown, Robert “Sideshow Bob” Terwilliger turned to a life of crime: first framing his boss for armed robbery, then attempting to murder a well-off older woman on their honeymoon, and later threatening to blow up a whole town. Also he’s a republican.
Like Fraser Crane, Sideshow Bob has delusions of elegance and class while more often being ruled by pettiness. Putting insult to injury, he is constantly foiled by a young boy with a slingshot – and occasionally the rapscallion’s younger sister.
Whoa, okay. That’s a lot to take in. What else can you tell me about Sideshow Bob’s life?
Schenkel: There are so many details added to the Sideshow Bob canon over the years, but to get to the heart of Bob’s character, watch S05E02: “Cape Feare”.
The episode starts with Bart getting anonymous death threats, later learning that they’re being sent by Sideshow Bob. This is the first time Bob’s plan is entirely fixed on killing Bart. Before then, it was always another crime that Bart would sniff out and thwart. This episode is the turning point where Bart truly becomes Bob’s mortal enemy — the person he will spend the rest of his life trying to destroy.
Despite the uncouth act of violence he’s planning, aesthetics are the most important element here. For instance, Bob writes all his death threats in blood, even when it causes him to pass out. His less cultured prison mate tells him “Use a pen, Sideshow Bob” but the blood loss is worth it when it strikes such terror in the heart of his foil. Bob gets lost in the details … which we’ll see happen again in the episode’s climax.
There’s also a real sense that Bob can’t commit to an idea if it’s against his taste. He’ll try to play into it, but will become disgusted by the very notion. In an homage to the film Cape Fear (where the episode borrows its title), Bob is passive aggressively rude to intimidate the Simpsons at the movie theater. However, he gets so annoyed by Homer’s own rudeness competing with his own attempts that Bob turns to complain at Homer instead. His own sense of propriety takes precedence over his plans.
Bob is also manipulatively charming. This is why he is able to woo Bart’s spinster aunt and run for public office in later episodes. Here is a cheerful, soft spoken Bob able to weasel his way out of jail, even convincing the parole board that his “Die Bart, Die” chest tattoo is actually German for “The Bart, The.” He’s able to get away with so much because being a well-spoken man with the talent for faking gentleness gets you far.
In one of the final scenes of the episode, we get to see Achilles heel of Sideshow Bob. With Bart right in his clutches, Bob is tricked into delaying his revenge by Bart’s final wish – to hear Bob sing the entire score of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera H.M.S. Pinafore. What comes next is a montage of Bob putting his heart and soul into performing the opera, complete with dance steps, props, and even a duet with Bart. The performance is just long enough to get the attention of the police. Despite having everything he wanted right in front of him for the taking, his own ego, desire for performance, and love of classy art is his downfall.
The last thing we can take from the episode Cape Feare is that Bob’s life is defined by pain. Throughout the episode, Sideshow Bob cackles evil, but immediately steps on a rake. And then steps on several more rakes. As he hides under the Simpsons’ car, the family decides to drive through a cactus patch. When Bob attempts to scare Bart on the street, he gets stomped by a parade of elephants that happened to be scheduled for that time of day. Bob started his life of crime because he loathed the humiliation of getting pies thrown at him by Krusty the Clown. But Sideshow Bob will always be smacked in the face – whether with a pie, by his own hubris, or simply several dozen rakes placed haphazardly around him.
This Simpsons programme sounds like a riot! Could you give us all some more background about the show as a whole, please?
Schenkel: Originally loosely based on the childhood of cartoonist Matt Groening, The Simpsons has over 30 seasons, with the first nine or so seasons considered the gold standard. Personally, I think seasons 4-7 is where the show shines the most. As of 2021, The Simpsons is a huge part of the cultural zeitgeist. Even if you’ve never watched an episode, you’ve certainly come across jokes turned memes like the Steamed Hams scene, the Homer retreating into a hedge gif, and Old Man Yells at Cloud. While the quality of the show has wavered over the years, no one can deny its influence on modern comedic sensibilities.
And when it’s funny, the show is very, very funny.
Thank you Katie! A more thorough understanding of Robert does not exist! This does raise a bit of a question for me though, to be honest – who is Matt Groening??
Katie Schenkel is a comic book writer and reformed critic who is best known for comics including Cardboard Kingdom and 100 Light Years of Solitude – which you can find, alongside all Katie’s thoughts, over on Twitter here!