Even My Hero Academia Knows Thomas the Tank Engine Is Terrifying

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes is the official manga spinoff to Kohei Horikoshi's My Hero Academia franchise, and while Vigilantes is part of the same universe, it has a few distinct narrative styles when compared to the main story. Vigilantes often acts as a dumping ground for jokes, references and what-ifs that only it could pull off.

On the whole, My Hero Academia is a rather meta franchise, borrowing heavily from classic American comics and Japanese manga series of previous decades. While the main series does have some clever Easter eggs in it -- drawing from the likes of Star Wars and Marvel -- the Vigilantes spinoff makes downright silly references just because it can. The meme-able Thomas the Tank Engine is a noted example of this.

How A Kid-Friendly Steam Engine Became A Villain

The villainous Tommy S. Gordon appears briefly in Chapter 44 of the Vigilantes manga, ambushing the plucky vigilante hero Koichi Haimawari as he steps out of a shop. Tommy's strange Quirk morphs his upper body into that of the familiar tank engine character, granting him remarkable speed and endurance like an actual train. He chases Koichi down the street until Shota Aizawa/Eraser Head intervenes and captures him, putting a quick end to the meme-tastic villain's brief rampage. Thus far, Tommy S. Gordon has not appeared again in the manga.

Many odd Quirks and pop culture references appear in both the main MHA story and the Vigilantes spinoff, but Tommy S. Gordon just might be the most conspicuous and amusing of all, especially since the character isn't paying tribute to American comics or classic shonen titles. He is based on the ever-present internet meme of Thomas the Tank Engine, and adding Internet memes to comics is certainly a recent phenomenon. This would have been unthinkable or downright impossible 20 to 30 years ago, but MHA is a 21st-century franchise for 21st-century readers. Youths who read manga and watch anime have grown up with an internet whose culture was already well-established, and jokes such as Tommy S. Gordon feel like second nature. Internet humor is here to stay and has been normalized to the point of appearing in official franchise spinoffs like Vigilantes.

Tommy S. Gordon & Other Conspicuous References In MHA Vigilantes

It is true that even the main story of My Hero Academia is packed with pop culture references and throwbacks to classic comics and manga series, but Horikoshi found ways to make them relevant to the characters and plot while adding a great deal of depth. Gran Torino, for example, is this series' Yoda, being a tiny, wise old man who acts goofy at first before becoming serious to teach the young hero a few new moves. Meanwhile, Vigilantes uses references almost entirely for humor, which can be obvious to the point where they would be disruptive to the main series. However, purely in the context of Vigilantes, no harm is done. Readers soon come to expect fun and meme-able characters such as Tommy S. Gordon.

Tommy S. Gordon is Vigilantes' most flamboyant reference thus far, but not the only one. Two characters introduced early on are clear references to Wolverine and Cyclops of X-Men fame, and Pop Step is all about pop idol culture. The character blends pop idol stardom and superhero vigilantism to a degree that wouldn't make sense in the main MHA story, but it works just fine in the spinoff. Knuckleduster, meanwhile, is a Batman character who even outdoes Eraser Head in Batman-ness. Here's to more memorable -- and meme-able -- manga tributes.

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