The Honest-to-Irving, True-Blue, Top-Secret Original Origin of Charlie America! is the reason why I’m even reviewing this issue because it has a Spidey cameo right on the splash page. The web-slinger is in a phone booth but we can only see his head because Charlie America blocks the rest of him. That’s it. That’s the appearance. But we’re here so let’s look at the story, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Tom Sutton.
Knock Furious and Charlie America are having a few ice cream sundaes at the soda fountain and there are gags all over the place. The Human Torch is the soda jerk, Cyclops is at the counter reading the “Gloom Patrol” but his eyeblast punches a hole in the comic. Aunt May is there, sharing a sundae with Dr. Strange. Daredevil is there in his mask but also in Matt Murdock’s suit and dark glasses. There’s a Hydra guy in mask with a suit and tie. The Thing is reading a comic off the rack but has bumped his head on the story’s title, scattering rocks. The comics on the rack are “Brand Echh,” “Brand Yich,” “Brand Aargh” and so on. Knock tells Charlie America that, even after all their adventures, he doesn’t know how he “got to be Charlie America.” “Chazz” says, “[M]y origin hasn’t been reprinted in a couple of weeks, so I might as well tell somebody!”
Back in World War II days, Speedy Rogers is hard at work on his paper route. (He delivers “Nitty Gritty,” a take-off of “Grit,” the “family newspaper” that advertised for delivery boys/girls in comic books.) Speedy is dodging the draft but thinks the draft board is “beginning to suspect my claim that I’m only seven years old.” (The comic strip character Henry is peering out of a window in this panel, for no reason that I can see.) Pedaling his bike, Speedy sees his “gal down the street.” She is Little Orphan Annie (or “Little Awful Angie” here), complete with her dog Sandy (or “Sandhog,” who says “Barf!” instead of “Arf!” here). Dick Tracy and Pigpen (from Peanuts, not the Grateful Dead) observe from two trash cans. Pigpen (or Agent 007-11, as Tracy calls him) says, “Good Grief, Chief, that’s the very man we’re looking for!” “Howzabout a movie tonight, howzabout?” Speedy asks Angie, who is reading “Mollie the Middle,” a “Millie the Model” take-off. “Get lost, Schlump!” says Angie, knocking Speedy aside and pulling off her “Annie” mask to show that she now looks like Playboy’s (and Harry Kurtzman and Will Elder’s) “Little Annie Fanny.” “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve changed!” she says, “I’ve got a date with a real man tonight, a guy named Batrock the Beeper.” (A take-off on Captain America’s foe, Batroc the Leaper.) This whole bit is an homage to Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s “Superduperman” in Mad #4, April-May 1953 in which Clark Bent, then Superduperman himself, can’t get anywhere with Lois Pain who thinks he’s a “creep.”
Suddenly a bunch of secret agents looking like Linus, Lucy and other Peanuts characters (plus Pogo Possum) come out of the woodwork and abduct Speedy, taking him to “Terry’s Candy Store.” (“Secret Agents must knock 3 times!” says a sign on the door.) Speedy waves two small American flags and screams for help but Superman, Batman, and the Golden Age Flash who are all at the candy store counter reading “Sunk-Mariner” are too chicken to do anything. The agents take Speedy to a phone booth and through to a secret room where they drag him through a fireplace. (“This secret-agent racket’s getting easier!” says one Peanuts character. “Yeah! Last time we did this, the fireplace was lit!” says another.) Speedy falls down to an underground installation where someone points a tommy gun in his face. “Haven’t I seen you someplace before?” asks Speedy, “I know! It was in the funny papers! You’re Mary Warts!” And, yes, it’s Mary Worth, only with warts on her face and smoking a cigarette. She takes him to the secret lab. (“Turn left for secret lab” says a sign on the wall.) Once there, she removes her mask, revealing herself to be “Wondrous Woman, the famous Glamazon princess.” The professor turns out to be “Werner Von Broomstick,” a take-off on Nazi and later American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, though he looks like the Joker. Speedy is strapped to a table, wearing an oversized red, white, and blue uniform. “Und, don’t mind the crazy threads!” says Werner, “Our last hideout was in a flag factory!” Werner hits a switch and a machine comes out with all sorts of “pinball machine noises.” “[I[f it don’t vork,” says Werner, “ve send all dis junk back to Twilight Zone.” (Whatever that means.)
Speedy has grown right into the suit, becoming Charlie America. “Suddenly I feel compelled to leap around with my feet never less than four feer apart!” he says. (That one made me laugh.) He punches Dick Tracy in the nose, shattering him like porcelain. Then, while flexing his bicep, he punches Werner in the jaw. Wondrous Woman looks on lovingly. “I wonder if he’s got a girl friend,” she thinks, “Our costumes would look so glitzy together.” Then, one of the “Peanuts character” agents removes his disguise to reveal himself as a Nazi spy, in full uniform. He tells Charlie, “I must destroy you…before you can begin to battle der Nazi menace!” But Charlie has no intention of fighting. “Actually, I had in mind something more like posing for ads for Charles Fatless,” he says. “Den, first I shall kill der professor,” says the spy, shooting Werner. Charlie quickly pages through the book “1001 Fast Routes Out of Town by I. M. Yella.” One of the wings on Charlie’s cowl clucks like a chicken. Not finding an adequate place to run, Charlie decides to hide, wedging himself into a trash can. He holds the trash can lid in one hand. Wondrous Woman thinks this is a clever plan. “You’re using the lid as a shield,” she says. “You’re outta your nest,” says Charlie. The spy fills Charlie full of holes. Trying to flee, Charlie throws the trash can lid, hitting the spy in the face with a “socko!” “So much for my part in dis story,” says the spy, “Oh, vell. It’s better than gettink shot last week in Sgt. Furious.”
Healing, Charlie becomes “ex-private Speedy Rogers” and meets camp mascot Bunky Barnes. “And then just one panel later, it happened,” says Charlie. Bunky finds Speedy showering in his Charlie America uniform. “So, you gotta make me your kid sidekick or else!!” he says. One panel after that, “that fateful day” arrives where “Zero, the man whose mask is stuck on him with bubble gum” (the Echh version of Baron Zemo) guides “a stolen secret plane with a bomb tied on it.” Bunky gets stuck on the plane with bubble gum and, when it explodes, Charlie falls into the sea. “He was kind of a finky kid, anyway!” he says of Bunky. “However, like any comic-book super-hero plunged into ice-cold waters, I did not drown. I just froze solid till the world was ready for me once more!” says Chazz. (Aquaman, Sub-Mariner, and a fish wearing ear muffs watch him sink.)
Twenty years later, the Revengers are out at sea. Giant Sam is fishing and he snags the ice cube with Charlie in it. The Mighty Sore uses his hammer to chip the ice off Charlie, which brings us back to the present again.
In the soda shop, Furious tells Chazz it’s too bad he never caught Zero. Chazz says he “sent him to that big bubble-gum factory in the sky” but Furious removes his disguise to reveal that he is Zero “masquerading as Knock Furious these past few years.” Chazz removes his disguise to reveal that he is Bunky Barnes. “You didn’t really believe that fish story about Cap bein’ frozen in ice, didja?” he says. (And shouldn’t it be “Chazz,” not “Cap?”) “Nobody’d buy a corny story like that, not even Rip Van Winkle. It was Cap who got pulverized, not me!!” (Again with the “Cap!”) So, the two old foes drink hundreds of sundaes (if the piles of empty glasses can be believed) and reminisce. “Actually, it’s not bad being the head of SHEESH,” says Zero, “I get a fancy car, lots of five-cent cigars, and free tickets to the latest James Bond movies! My only hang-up is remembering to use bad grammar!” “It’s great to be a super-hero without that square Charlie America around, too!” says Bunky, “I get to go to Revengers meetings, fight crooks, and stay up to see Johnny Carson! Next week, I may even cross the street by myself! And, best of all, I got my MMMS badge for half price!”
It’s not really saying much but this is the best story in the book. Roy and Tom go all out on the comic character in-breeding, merging everyone from Little Annie Fanny, Dick Tracy, Snoopy, Mary Worth, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and others in a seven page story that even makes a little bit of sense…until the ending, of course, when it all falls apart, which is wonderful, too. Roy and Tom completely ignore any sort of “Echh” continuity that may be building, turning Knock Furious into Zero and Charlie America into Bunky. And not just for this story since Zero confesses that he’s been Furious “these past few years” and Bunky reveals that “Cap…got pulverized, not me.” This is all forgotten by the next time these Echh characters appear. The jokes try too hard, as often happens with these Echh stories but Charlie’s cowardice is amusing, particularly the way he ends up with a trash can lid shield and the way his cowl wing chicken-clucks. I also got a kick out of Bunky stuck to the bomb-plane with bubble gum. Tom Sutton’s art is not as inspired as Marie Severin’s Echh work but the story is chock full of visual gags and, as I said, all of those guest-stars.
Give this one three webs.
Next issue “the Bad Guys All Win!” The full-page promo advertises, “Electrico Shocks Scaredevil,” “Warlord Krank sinks Sunk-Mariner,” and “Magneat-o X’s the Echhs-Men” but there is just enough Spidey to warrant covering the furshlugginer thing anyway.
But, not so fast. First, let’s get back to the real reason we’re here: the Amazing Spider-Man. Doc Ock is about to become Aunt May’s boarder. That’s in Amazing Spider-Man #54 and it is next.