In Alter Ego #95, Roy writes, “When it came to spoofing the origin of Superman, Marie and I were both eager – and a bit apprehensive. After all, “Superduperman!” in Mad #4 (April-May 1953) had been one of the best efforts ever to flow from writer/layout artist Harvey Kurtzman…and, with the added artistry of Wally Wood, and because it spoofed a property trademarked by rival DC, it had become perhaps the most important single story in the 23-issue history of the color Mad. Some of us would rank it among the best comic book stories of all time.” Thank you, Roy, for mentioning “Superduperman” so that I don’t have to. It has to be included in this conversation, of course, because it is a classic. If you haven’t read it, find a copy and do so right away. It’s been reprinted enough that you should be able to track it down.
So, how do you dare tackle a parody like this when it was already done so well a dozen years before? Well, as Roy says, “Luckily for us, Kurtzman & Wood hadn’t touched on Superman’s origin – so at least we didn’t have that looming over us.”
In the upper left corner of the splash page is a takeoff of the DC logo. A little circle with AC within it (AC/DC, get it?), it reads, “Stuporman, Natural Comics around it (as opposed to the actual, “Superman, National Comics.” A blurb reads, “In answer to your demands: (Aww, the heck with it! We’re gonna present this story anyhow!)” The scene is a grimacing Stuporman, his cape held on by a safety pin, a $ as the logo on his chest. “Boy, am I mad!” he says, “In case you couldn’t tell by my Blechh facial expression.” A window washer (who looks like Ringo Starr) watches him go by. “Look! Up in the ever-lovin’ sky!” he says, “It’s a goony bird, it’s a Jefferson Airplane! Naw! It’s nothin’ but Stuporman! Him we gotta look at every day! I wuz hopin’ it wuz maybe a goony bird!”
The angry Stuporman flies right into the building housing Natural Comics. Two people leap out of the crumbling building. One says, “Stuporman is Decidedly Cross! We’d better jump!” The other says, “I’m Definitely Coming, Boss!” What a perfect time for a flashback! It is the planet Kreepton and Spark-Ell is trying to convince the Royal Science Council and Easter-Egg Painting Society that the planet is going to blow up. “That’s what we get for namin’ the place after an element.” No one believes him. (“Last year he was claiming the sky was gonna fall in! Or was that his cousin Chick-Enn Litt-Ell?”) He goes home to tell his wife Ta-Ra-Ra and she says, “You mean we’ve got to selflessly put our only son in a rocket, shoot him off to Earth, and the whole bit?” “Yeah, and snap to it, will you? We only got one panel! You think this is a novel?” (The baby, meanwhile, says, “goo-goo Etaoin Shrdlu.” Wickipedia tells us that Etaoin Shrdlu is, “a nonsense phrase that sometimes appeared in print in the days of ‘hot type’ publishing because of a custom of type-casting machine operators…It is the approximate order of frequency of the 12 most commonly used letters in the English language.”)
And so, the baby Twink-Ell is “sent away in a spare rocket that just happens to be lying around the house.” In it, he says his first word…”Halp!” He arrives at “the Natural Comics version of the Earth,” landing at Hicksville, U.S.A. where he is found by Mr. and Mrs. Kettle, who look like the figures from Grant Woods’ painting American Gothic. Roy again: “The ‘Kettle’ permutation of ‘Kent,’ of course, was owed to the series of Ma and Pa Kettle movies starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride that had filled seats for years at the Palace Theatre.”
So Twink-Ell becomes Kluck Kettle. As a small child he carries a shopping cart with one hand. Ma Kettle is inside it because she told him to “put that ol’ bag in the shoppin’ cart.” Kluck speaks in DC-style baby talk. “Me behave good…Then me get new sandbox for Christmas…like maybe Gobi Desert!” “He’s such a good by, Paw!” says Ma, “Not like that naughty Peter Pooper down the road!” (Don’t worry, that is not the last Spidey-Man reference.) As a young adult, Kluck thinks of putting on a pair of glasses and Ma and Pa don’t recognize him when he’s wearing them. “You’re not my Kluck, stranger! What did y’all do with my chile?” Roy says he is “particularly happy with such touches.” It is a pretty good bit.
The time comes for Kluck to don his blue and red suit (with a ? for the chest logo) and leave home for Megopolis. “An’ don’t come back, yuh lazy low-life!” says Pa, “Not till yuh can pay bed ‘n board!” Kluck gets a job at the Daily Platitude. Here, “Perry Bright” looks like Lyndon Johnson. He praises Kluck for his story about Stuporman, wondering how he got it. (Lois, called Locust Pain here and sitting at a desk with the nameplate “Miss Information,” sticks her tongue out at Kluck who beams at the reader, thinking “But we know, don’t we, Dear Chum?” in response to “Perry’s” wondering.)
Kluck does have his troubles. When he tries to change in a phone booth, the cops haul him off. “Indecent exposure again, eh, Kettle?” He also has to deal with Locust Pain’s advances. During World War II, he nearly wins the war all by himself much to the consternation of Sgt. Furious. But Blunderbolt Boss is convinced that Stuporman’s destruction of tanks will make him a General. “I’d have already made it if half those tanks weren’t ours!”
Then, one day, as Kluck waits in line at his favorite phone booth behind Loki who is behind Mary Jane who is on the phone saying, “Okay Petey-O, I’ll meet you at Doc Ock’s malt shop! Dig?” (And that’s not our last Spidey-Man reference either.) a fellow named Birdwell spots him. He grabs the coattail of his boss, Mr. Wienieburger. “What is it, Birdwell? You’re Denting my Coattail!” “But there’s the guy we’ve been Diligently Closing in on, Mr. Wienieburger!” “By Jove, Birdwell, you’re Devilishly Correct!” Roy again: “Picking up on Stan’s mention of ‘Mort Wienieburger’ in NBE #4, we rang that Natural/Defective Comics editor into the tale; as his foil, we added his assistant ‘Birdwell,’ a caricature of ‘Superman’ assistant editor E. Nelson Bridwell. Each of the pair’s dialogue balloons contained a phrase in which two words began with the letters ‘D’ and ‘C’.”
Stuporman signs up with Natural Comics but Birdwell and Wienieburger want to bring him up-to-date. “None of this ‘more powerful than a loco motorboat’ jazz – as I shall Demonstrate, Clyde…Even an A-Bomb Detonation Can’t hurt you now. Also, that ‘faster than a speeding bulldog’ bit is old-fashioned…and Despairingly Corny.” Now, Stuporman can “travel at the speed of light.” “That means I get airsick 186,000 times faster’n before,” he says. None of this makes Stuporman happy. “There’s no challenge anymore! Everything’s too easy!” That’s when Wienieburger and Birdwell come up with “Kreeptonite.” With Kreeptonite in his repertoire, the Jokester can stymie Stuporman. Phyllis Diller repels him with “Kreeptonite lipstick” and Captain Marvel (the Shazam! one) takes care of Stuporman with his Kreeptonite mouthwash. Roy notes that he and Marie “didn’t even try to resist the temptation to toss in a panel of Captain Marvel (in limbo ever since 1953), even though most of our younger readers wouldn’t recognize his once-familiar red-and-gold costume.” Captain Marvel is worth including because DC quashed Fawcett Comics and Captain Marvel back in the early 50s, then took over the character. But, more importantly, Roy and Marie had to put Captain Marvel in because he (under the name “Captain Marbles”) is Superduperman’s main opponent in the Mad #4 story.
Stuporman gets so frustrated by all the Kreeptonite that he curls up in a box in an alley. Birdwell and Wienieburger track him down. “We have some Darling Characters we want you to see!” says Wienieburger. First, they introduce him to Kreepto the Stupordog, ten Stuporgirl and Sneaky the Stuporcat as they cope with Polka-Dot Kreeptonite, Peppermint Kreeptonite, and Pistachio Kreeptonite. “Time was when I was the big cheese around here…me, Stuporman, sole survivor of the planet Kreepton. Now, the most I can hope for is to be head of the family!” says Stupey. But there’s more. Sneaky takes Stuporman to Stuporland where he meets Stupor-Snake, Stupor-Monkey, Stupor-Rhino, Stupor-Horse, Stupor-Salesman, Stupor-Skunk and more. (“For this I’ve been knockin’ my brains out for thirty years?” says Stuporman.) They are joined by Stupor-Grandpa, Stupor-Uncle, Stupor-Nephew, Stupor-Brother-in-Law, Stupor-Old-Maid-Auntie, Kandid the Stupor-Bottle, Stupor-Boy, and Stuporbaby. “That did it!” says Stupes, “I’ve sat back long enough, watchin’ myself be pushed out of my own meshugana mag! But, even a mild-mannered Stuporman, with powers far beyond those of mortal men, can be pushed just so far! From now on…no more nice guy! In other words…AARRGH!”
This brings us back to the beginning where Stuporman crashes into the Natural Comics building. Inside, Mr. Wienieburger is reading a copy of “The Aging Spidey-Man” with Spidey-Man on the cover. (That’s still not the last Spidey-Man cameo in this issue.) Stuporman flicks Wienieburger right through the panel of the comic. He picks up the two men and drop kicks them into a rocket ship along with all the Stupor-beings, then sends the rocket off into space. “Hah! I did it! I did it!! No more Stupor-Girls, Stupor-Grandpas, or Stupor-Third-Cousins! Just me – the tried and true, red-yellow-and-blue Stuporman!” But there’s one thing that Stuporman hasn’t taken into account. “Who says this isn’t the Marble Age of Comics?” say the Fantastical Four, Scaredevil, Charlie America, Ironed Man, the Inedible Bulk, the Sunk-Mariner, Knock Furious, the Flying Nun, the RCA Victor His-Master’s-Voice Dog (who is eyeing a fire hydrant-shaped Mr. Fantastical) and Spidey-Man! (And that is the last Spidey-Man appearance in this issue!) Stuporman leans against the edge of the panel, bowing it out, and cries. “Just when I thought I had it made – three zillion new nebishes! Daddy Wienieburger, come home! I love ya!”
In his Alter Ego #95 article, Roy says, “I don’t know about Marie – but this was my absolute personal favorite among the stories I worked on in the lucky thirteen issues of Not Brand Echh.” And why wouldn’t it be? From Twink-Ell yelling “Halp!” to the Kettles not recognizing Kluck with his glasses on, to Kluck hauled off for indecent exposure for trying to change clothes in a telephone booth, to the stuping up of his powers, to the creation of Kreeptonite to counter the stuping up of his powers (and the inclusion of Polka-Dot Kreeptonite, Peppermint Kreeptonite, and Pistachio Kreeptonite), to the proliferation of Stupor-beings, to the invasion of the Marble heroes at the end, this story hits every note and fires on every cylinder.
It’s Roy’s favorite Echh story? It might be my favorite too. Five webs.
Are you still tired of Brand Echh? Not me. This issue has rebooted the series. It gets a combined score of 4 webs.
Next: We’re back to the flagship! Spidey has just discovered that the Brainwasher is the Kingpin! It’s ASM #60 coming right up!