Given that there is still as an-yet-undisovered Easter egg in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, it should not be surprising that every inch of his movies is designed deliberately. That includes what’s on TV in the background, as the filmmaker confirmed last night that there was an Avenger in The Suicide Squad. Don’t get your Marvel/DC crossover scorecard out of your pocket yet, though; what he actually said was that the TV in the background of one scene was playing the classic Troma film The Toxic Avenger, originally released in 1984 from directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz.
The scene in question happens in the cafeteria at the Belle Reve prison. Playing on a TV in the background is The Toxic Avenger, something that some eagle-eyed fans had noticed back in August, but which had not been widely discussed. It isn’t the only scene in the movie that evoked a sense of nostalgia for Troma films; in the lab where some of Starro’s victims are being studied, some of the over-the-top gore and unsettling practical effects evoked the movies produced by the indie studio. One of James Gunn’s first jobs in film was writing Tromeo and Juliet for the studio.
Game of Thrones and Avengers: Infinity War actor Peter Dinklage is set to star in the forthcoming reboot of The Toxic Avenger from Legendary Pictures. The film, based on the long-running franchise created by legendary schlock film studio Troma, centers on a 98-pound nerd from New Jersey, who falls into a vat of toxic waste and is transformed into a good-natured and ultimately heroic monster. In addition to the film franchise and a short-lived animated series called Toxic Crusaders, the title character, affectionately known as “Toxie,” has become the mascot for Troma over the years, used on merchandise and title cards.
The Toxic Avenger franchise is just one of a number of multi-film franchises at Troma, like Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and The Class of Nuke ‘Em High — although outside of the indie film space, only Toxic Avenger has found a lot of mainstream success. It nevertheless dabbled a little bit in environmental themes, and the same kind of winking deconstruction of the superhero genre that made Deadpool a success years later.
“The people who made [Deadpool] are all big fans of Troma,” Troma chief Lloyd Kaufman told ComicBook.com during a 2016 interview at the Twin Tiers Comic Con. “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had fans come up and say those guys talk about Troma all the time.”
You can see Kaufman in the recent documentary The Last Blockbuster, talking about his hatred for the late, lamented video-rental retailer. His exact word choice is a little ironic in hindsight, as he pretended to be a Blockbuster employee and said, “Welcome to Blockbuster New York. We have 500 copies of Suicide Squad, and absolutely no copies of Troma movies, not even Toxic Avenger.”