The comics follow the adventures of the titular Mortadelo and Filemón, two agents of the fictional Spanish secret service T.I.A. (In Spanish 'tía' means 'aunt', making this a Shout-Out to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and a pun on CIA.) The two are totally incompetent and especially Mortadelo is prone to major goofs. The basic setup is that Mortadelo has some wacky idea on how to complete their mission, it backfires, and Filemón gets hurt as a result, angering him and applying some kind of punishment to Mortadelo. However, this basic setup is twisted, subverted and inverted enough for it to never get boring. The action is very fast-paced much like a Looney Tunes cartoon, with Stuff Blowing Up and Amusing Injuries all over the pages. Also, Ibáñez usually mixes his wacky stories with real world current events and fills the dialogues with every single style of pun imaginable... which they usually work (at least in the original Spanish).
Created in 1958 and still running, the strip has released more than 200 books so far (and even more short stories), it is the most popular and respected comic book series ever produced in Spain, and probably the only local franchise that can still compete in sales with Manga and American Comic Books at this point in the Spanish market. The series has also had numerous crossovers with both Ibáñez's other strips (like Rompetechos, Pepe Gotera & Otilio or the wacky neighbors from 13 Rue del Percebe) and series from other Spanish comic book artists (like Zipi y Zape, Captain Trueno, etc...).
The two main characters are Mortadelo and Filemón:
- Mortadelo: Tall, thin and completely bald (which is something of a sore spot to him), usually dressed in black and always wearing glasses. He is a Master of Disguise, able to change into some unlikely disguise in an instant, which is useful in his work as a secret agent, and even more useful for making a quick getaway when someone is chasing him. The latter happens quite frequently due to his inherent clumsiness and total lack of common sense.
- Filemón: Full name Filemón Pi. Slightly shorter than Mortadelo, usually wears a white shirt and red trousers, and has two hairs on the top of his head. He is Mortadelo's chief and always sent on assignments with him, a job which he doesn't enjoy since that makes him suffer the consequences of Mortadelo's goofs more often than anyone else. Of all the major characters, Filemón is the only one who displays some common sense. Mortadelo calls him "Boss" for no real reason (see The Artifact in the trope pages below).
Other important characters are:
- Supervisor Vicente: Superintendente Vicente Ruínez in Spanish, written like that because it rhymes, although he is usually called the "Súper" for short. He is Mortadelo and Filemón's direct boss. He is usually the person who assigns them their new missions, and the one who punishes them when they inevitably fail in just about every way imaginable. (Although sometimes they strike back at him, if it turns out that their "vital mission" was not that important after all.) Short-tempered, inconsiderate of his employees' needs and incredibly cheap, he is the ur-example of the Bad Boss. In "De los ochenta p'arriba...", it is revealed that his full name is Vicente Ruínez, Ruínez being a pun in both ruina (ruin) and ruin (vile).
- Profesor Bacterio: The resident Q (this one, not that one) of the T.I.A. who sometimes provides Mortadelo and Filemón with the items which they need to complete their mission. His inventions almost always backfire in some improbable and spectacular way, and sometimes they drive the plot. The bearded inventor was directly responsible for Mortadelo's baldness, and for this Mortadelo hates him with a passion.
- Miss Ofelia: The blond, heavily overweight secretary of the Súper. She is in love with Mortadelo (well, kinda), but he is not at all interested in her, and usually makes fun of her... which is always a bad idea, because Ofelia is extremely strong and prone to senseless violence when provoked. Sometimes, she makes passes at Filemón or even at the Súper, with the same predictable results.
- The General Director: T.I.A.'s Big Boss. His appearance varies greatly from comic to comic, but he is always a well-dressed old man, usually wearing glasses and sporting an impressive moustache. Even though he is normally portrayed in a more positive light than the Súper, he is not above being vain and tyrannical. He has very little relevance in the stories, and most of the time he is here just to get severely beat up and, subsequently, exert George Jetson Job Security on his underlings.
- Miss Irma: Her role varies from story to story, but she is usually the secretary of the General Director. She always has the same appearance, though: she is everything Miss Ofelia strives to be. Sexy, curvy and cute, and, to add insult to the injury, she dresses just like Ofelia, in a tight red dress. Mortadelo is head over heels for her: sometimes she returns his affection, but most of the time she seems oblivious. Even if Irma is usually a giggling airhead, she has been shown to be extremely smart on occasion, especially in the issue named "El Ascenso" ("The Promotion") when she acted like a real femme fatale. In the later comics, however, she has not appeared at all.
- Agent Bestiájez: A recurring character whose appearance, like that of the General Director, changes from time to time, but he is always a hulking brute who uses brawn before brains, just as his Meaningful Name suggests (Bestiájez, in Spanish is something like "Brutesson"). When Mortadelo and Filemón want to skive off work or flee from a mission they consider too dangerous, the Súper always sends Bestiájez after them. Sometimes Mortadelo is able to fool him with his innate talents, but Bestiájez is a relentless hunter and always ends dragging the escapeés back to the T.I.A.
Mortadelo y Filemón provides examples of:General examples
Tropes with their own pages