Not Brand Echh #9

Background

We're five stories in with only two to go and, so far, the issue is a steady four webs. Arch and the Teen-Stalk is a six-page romp with Spidey doing the exact same thing in both of his cameo appearances. The last story is "Where Stomps the Scent-Ry!" with no Spidey appearance but, you know the drill, we're going to take a look at it anyway.

Story 'Arch and the Teen-Stalk'

  Not Brand Echh #9 (Story 6)
Summary: Spider-Man Parody (Spidey-Man) Cameo
Editor: Stan Lee
Writer: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Jim Mooney

Arch and the TEEN-stalk! is a parody of the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” starring Archie Andrews from Archie Comics. Roy Thomas is back as writer and he says in the intro that Marvel “found a bunch’a pulsatin’ public-domain plots that aren’t copyrighted, natch - so we don’t have to keep makin’ up our own.” Is there truth behind this? Roy doesn’t say in his AE #95 article. Artist Jim Mooney is not someone you associate with the Echh style of humor (this is his only artwork for the comic) but he does a very nice job here.

Arch E. Android is hanging out at home, taking a knife to a Millie the Model comic, perhaps because the “New” Millie look was very like an Archie comic. At this time, Stan Goldberg was drawing Millie. He would soon leave Marvel and eventually draw Archie Comics for over 40 years.

Arch’s “kindly if Unhuman old lady,” according to a caption, is Medoozy. (She looks at that caption and says, “Who’s that cotton-pickin’ caption calling an old lady?”) She tells Arch to “sell the family dog Lumpjaw.” Jughead (called “Plughead” here) is peeking in from outside, looking sinister. Woody Woodpecker is hanging, apparently dead, out of the cuckoo clock on the wall.

Arch ventures out, riding Lumpjaw. Dr. Deranged sees them and recognizing Lumpjaw as “the dog that can travel thru spacewarps – toll-free, yet” casts a spell on Arch so that he sells Lumpjaw for a bag of jumping beans. (Lumpjaw thinks, “Sheesh! Doesn’t the faithful dog have any lines in this mess? Even Little Awful Angie’s mutt Sandhog gets to say ‘Arf’!”) As Dr. Deranged rides off on Lumpjaw, Plughead peers out at Arch from behind a tree.

When Arch returns with the beans, Medoozy snatches them away. She calls him a “runt-sized reject from a Dopey Gillis re-run.” (Is he supposed to look like Dobie Gillis from the old TV show? I don’t know. What do you think?)

But then Medoozy trips over her own hair and drops all of the beans out the window. The next morning, Arch looks outside to see a giant beanstalk has grown. It has a note on it that says “This way to giant’s castle (First left after ionosphere.)” A trashcan below Arch’s window has a note that says, “Return to Dig Tracy.” I only mention that because it comes back in the final panel, believe it or not. “Well, I may as well climb it and get the show on the road!” says Arch, “This story ain’t gettin’ any younger, y’know!” He scoots up the beanstalk so quickly that he knocks Ka-Zoo and Spidey-Man off of it. “Gangway, you lowlife loiterers!” he says, “Last one to the top is a rotten Echh!” “Someone clobbered Ka-Zoo!” says Ka-Zoo. “So what else is new? Yesterday you were trampled by Tarzam!” says Spidey.

Arch arrives on “Cloud 9.” There is a sign on the top of the beanstalk, as if it grew there, that points and says “Giant’s castle.” There is another sign on the cloud itself that says, “Welcome to Limbo! This way to the giant’s castle!” Three hooded figures are waiting for him. “I wonder who they are?” says Arch. “Ah, how quickly they forget!” says one of them, “But then, we have been here in limbo since ’55.” One of them carries a briefcase that says “EZ, an Entertaining Zombie” on it. If this isn’t enough to identify them, the following panel shows them clearly to be the Crypt-Keeper, the Vault-Keeper and the Old Witch from the EC horror comics. (The Witch holds a comic entitled, “Scales from the Crypt.”) They point out the giant’s castle to Arch. (It has a big neon sign on it that says, “Giant’s Castle.”) With Plughead sneaking up the beanstalk behind him, Arch heads to the castle. (The Vault-Keeper holds a copy of “Classics Infiltrated” as he says, “It’s time to start rehearsals for MacBeth again!” Think there’s a resemblance?)

Arch climbs intro a castle window. “At least…I’m here, so we’ll finally get this story moving!” he says, “According to the script, I’m supposed to take some stuff from the giant, so I can live happily ever after! Now if only the giant’s read the script!” He soon finds, “a golden harp…and a bird surrounded by golden eggs!” The harp has Elvis Presley’s face on it and it is singing, “Take a walk down lonely street to Harp-break hotel. The bird is Donald Duck with a “© Walt Dizzy” on his nest. In AE #95, Roy Thomas writes, “We worried that perhaps the humorless Disney attorneys would pop up to object to the bird that laid the golden eggs looking quite a bit like Donald Duck (in those pre-Howard the Duck days)…but thankfully the heirs of ‘Walt Dizzy’ had other things to do that year.”

Suddenly, with a “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum,” the giant appears. He is the Frankenstein monster, the Boris Karloff version. Arch dives into the oven to hide, hoping that “the giant isn’t in a mood for peasant under glass.” Counting his money (in a sack labeled, “Moolah (So What Did You Expect To See On a Sack of Money..a Dollar Sign?)”), Frankie wonders “how Wolfy and Drac are doin’ these days? I haven’t heard from those two since they changed their names to Allen and Rossi.” This is a very strange joke. Marty Allen and Steve Rossi were a comedy team and I suppose you could consider Rossi in his tux to be like Drac and Allen with his curly hair to be like Wolfy but I wouldn’t bother, really.

A caption tells us, “A short time later, when the giant is soundly sleeping,” and Arch sneaks in, thinking, “Now’s my chance – if that caption isn’t puttin’ me on!” He returns to the beanstalk with Donald and a bag now marked “Shekels.” Donald tells him that the harp is more valuable, hoping to be let go, but Arch ties Donald to the beanstalk and goes back to get the harp. (The bag now says, “Bread.”) The giant is still asleep and the harp is singing Love Me Slender. But when Arch grabs it, the harp shrieks “Halp! I’m All Shooked Up. This wakes the giant who chases after them. “Yipes!” says Arch, “For this, I gave up bein’ second-string drummer for the Mopy Grape!” (The real band is Moby Grape.) The harp sings Don’t be crude to a harp that’s stewed. Arch scrambles down the beanstalk but the giant follows. The harp sings Let me be your teddy boy. Arch bumps into Ka-Zoo and Spidey again, sending them falling off the stalk for a second time. “Sorry about that, fellas,” says Arch, “Don’tcha have anything better to do?”

Arch gets to the ground but the giant is right behind. He aims the harp at the stalk and when Elvis sings You ain’t nothing but a Hot Dog, the beanstalk shatters from the force of the song. The giant falls to earth with a “Kee-Rash!” and breaks apart, revealing himself to be a robot controlled, inside, by Plughead. “I got tired of getting’ second billing all’a the time,” he says, “so I decided to take over Limbo-Land in this disguise.”

As the harp sings Wear my ring around your nose, Arch realizes that he’s got the harp, “money-sack – and the golden egg-laying duck! Now I can finally live happily ever after!” But somebody yells out, “Wanna Bet?” and it’s Dick Tracy emerging from the garbage can. (Remember that “Return to Dig Tracy” can earlier in the story?) He puts the cuffs on Arch. “Fairy tale or not, you stole all this loot, plain and simple! You didn’t really think you could get away with that – in a code-approved comic, too?” says Dick. The harp sings Dance to the Jailhouse Romp. “Oh, shut up!” says Arch. And the story ends with a caption: “Moral: Crime does not pay! (But then, neither does reading Not Brand Echh!)”

But sometimes it does pay to read NBE, particularly when you’ve got a story like this. It’s clever, with such moments as Medoozy tripping over her hair to spill the beans, the appearances of the EC ghouls, Donald Duck as the golden egg-layer, and Elvis as the magic harp. The reveal of the Frankenstein giant being a robot inhabited by Plughead is a complete surprise and it plays fair, since we’ve seen Plughead keeping an eye on Arch throughout the story. Dick Tracy’s appearance is also a surprise but is also set up with the garbage can sight gag earlier. I like the story ending with Arch’s “Oh, shut up!” and I even like the moral. The whole thing works for me and, at six pages, is just the right length. I give it five webs.

Marble’s Space-Worn Superhero! Captain Marvin! “Where Stomps the Scent-ry!” (Or “Out of the Holocaust – Hooo-Boy!!” is based on both “Where Stalks the Sentry!” from Marvel Super-Heroes #13, March 1968 and “Out of the Holocaust – a Hero!” from Marvel’s Space-born Superhero! Captain Marvel #1, May 1968. But, not so fast. First a quick rundown on the history of the name “Captain Marvel.”

The original Captain Marvel first appeared in Fawcett’s Whiz Comics #2, February 1940. He was Billy Batson, a young boy who became the World’s Mightiest Mortal when he said “Shazam!” (Which was also the name of the wizard who granted him his powers). Captain Marvel became so popular in the 1940s that he outsold Superman. DC Comics was not pleased with that and sued Fawcett for copyright infringement. (Never mind that the only thing the two heroes really had in common was super-strength. Never mind that Superman could only “leap tall buildings” and wasn’t flying until after Captain Marvel was flying. Never mind that characters like Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel preceded Superboy and Supergirl.) In the 1950s, with superhero books declining, Fawcett settled with DC and got out of the comic book business. The name sat, unused, until 1966 when Myron Fass (MF Enterprises) published his Captain Marvel #1, April 1966. This was the character who could separate his body parts by yelling “Split!”

(I actually bought this comic when it came out.) Marvel’s Martin Goodman perceived this as Fass trying to horn in on the Marvel trademark. (Seeing as Fass also had a hero name “Plastic Man,” it seems apparent that he was trying to horn in on more than just the Marvel trademark.) According to Britannica.com’s Captain Marvel entry, “Marvel Comics, recognizing that low-quality imitators could do lasting damage to their brand, moved to secure the Captain Marvel name.” Goodman offered Fass $6,500 for the trademark but Fass turned him down. So, Marvel went ahead and published Marvel Super-Heroes #12 and Fass sued them for trademark infringement. He later settled for $4500 and Marvel owned the Captain Marvel name. In the 1970s, DC gained the rights to the Fawcett characters but eventually had to call the original Captain Marvel “Shazam” because Marvel challenged their use of the name. Which is sort of poetic justice.

Seeing as Captain Mar-Vell was created solely to gain ownership of the name, it’s not surprising that he was a problem character. Stan writes the first story in MSH #12 but then immediately turns it over to Roy Thomas. Gene Colan does the artwork from the start. (Both Roy and Gene are responsible for this Echh parody.) But both Roy and Gene are gone by #5. The character undergoes various changes over the years until Jim Starlin kills him off in Marvel Graphic Novel (No. 1) Death of Captain Marvel. Eventually Carol Danvers takes on the name and will probably hang on to it for a good long while seeing as she is the “Captain Marvel” in the Spring 2019 film. (There is also a Spring 2019 film of the original Captain Marvel called “Shazam!” which is rather an interesting serendipity.)

If you want a full rundown on the “Captain Marvel” name, check out that Britannica article I referenced. It gives you everything you need to know.

Okay. So Roy has taken on a character that is only there for copyright purposes. What does he do with it? Let’s look at those first few issues beginning with Stan’s MSH #12. In that issue, the Kree Captain Mar-Vell is sent down to Earth to determine how the Kree Sentry #459 and Ronan the Accuser were defeated. (I think. It’s actually not all that clear what his mission is.) He is sent alone by Colonel Yon-Rogg because Yon-Rogg is in love with Medic Una and wants to get his rival, Mar-Vell, out of the way. While exploring, Mar-Vell disrupts a missile test and gets the US Army after him. He changes into Earth clothing and hides out in a hotel. That’s all Stan gives to Roy who takes over with MSH #13 in which Mar-Vell tries to return to the Kree ship but Yon-Rogg decides to shoot him out of the sky. However, a private plane gets in the way and Yon-Rogg shoots it down. Mar-Vell checks on the pilot and finds him dead. His credentials show him to be Walter Lawson who was an expert on missile guidance systems and had been assigned to the nearby base. Mar-Vell assumes his identity. There he meets General Bridges who takes him to a hanger to reveal the inoperative Sentry. He also meets head of security Carol Danvers. Spying on all this, Yon-Rogg activates the Sentry. Mar-Vell finally reveals his mission to the reader. He is to “carefully study this world to help the Kree decide if it should live or die.” With the Sentry heading for the nuclear warhead testing area of the base, Mar-Vell decides he must stop the robot. All indications are that this story will continue in Marvel Super-Heroes #14 but, instead, Spidey stars in that issue and Mar-Vell gets his own series after only these two appearances. Martin Goodman is very anxious to hang on to his copyright. So, in Marvel’s Space-born Superhero! Captain Marvel #1, Mar-Vell fights the Sentry. Carol Danvers gets caught in the middle of the battle. The Sentry is looking unstoppable until Mar-Vell reduces his Uni-Beam to “a tiny pinpoint of searing light.” This opens a seam in the Sentry’s armor. Mar-Vell adds a magnetic charge and the Sentry fuses together and implodes.

Was this story popular? Was the series selling? I don’t know but, according to Brittanica, “Mar-Vell was created by the editorial necessity of a trademark claim, and his early stories reflected that the writers of the Marvel Comics ‘House of Ideas’ had little enthusiasm for the character.” So, was Roy lampooning his stories because he didn’t have any respect for them? Or is this story in Echh to try to get more readers for Captain Marvel? In AE #95, Roy doesn’t say. But Roy does say that he “supplied Gene with ample reference materials so that Fawcett’s original Captain Marvel and crew could make some cameos, at a time when his (totally unanticipated) revival by DC was still several years in the future.” And we’ll see these cameos throughout the story.

So, here we go. Captain Marvin is up in the foothills using his binoculars to spy on a truck carrying the Scent-ry. “I’d better get on with my top-secret mission I’m performing for my race, the infernal Kreeps,” he says, “Soon as I remember what my mission is, anyway!” (Which I love because, as I said, it’s not clear what that mission is, until Roy deals with it in CM #1. Clearly, Roy realized it, too.) Beside Marvin is his “Special Secret Cylinder” (that Mar-Vell carries around in the actual comic) with a note on it that says, “Nightclerks, keep out!” riffing on the hotel clerk who gets into his room and snatches the case in CM #1. Mr. Mind, the evil worm, is sitting on top of the case. This new Captain Marvin puzzles him. (We can tell because he has a “?” over his head.) Mr. Mind is one of the original Captain Marvel’s greatest villains and Roy says, “I was particularly happy to get a chance to personally pencil Cap’s invertebrate enemy Mr. Mind – probably his first appearance in a professional comic book since 1946.”

Marvin’s tries to contact his ship but gets “Dig Tracy” talking to Tess on his wrist-radio instead. On his 47th try, he gets his ship and Colonel Egg-Nogg. (Different messages appear in Marvin’s Saturn symbol on his chest throughout the story, all riffing off of “Kreep.” This one says “Grok before you Kreep,” both a play on “Look before you leap” and a “Stranger in a Strange Land” reference.) Egg-Nogg is busy on the ship getting a hair cut from a guy who looks like the comic strip character Henry. Popeye is spraying Egg-Nogg’s cigar with some sort of green goop and Spock (who is actually the Sunk-Mariner) is polishing Egg-Nogg’s shoes. Spock (or Sunky) thinks, “Heh heh. One more guest shot in this nutty ish – and I can apply for unemployment insurance.!” Off in the corner Medic Uno-Who is well into her box of Kleen-Ecchs. She has to “shed [her] monthly quota of tears over [her] star-scorned lambie-kins Captain Mar-Vinn.” (She does do her share of crying in those original issues but she can also be very resourceful.) “What?” says Egg-Nogg when he answers the call, “You say you can’t remember what your secret mission to Earth is?” Egg-Nogg can’t help him. He’s involved in decisions “like whether to watch Bum-Nanza or the Smothered Brothers.”

Marvin picks up a big bag that has “Weapons Bag (Left over from Brechh #8)” written on it. (Remember the bag that Forbush-Man lugs around in “And the Dragon Cried…Forbush!” in Not Brand Echh #8?) With a constellation in the sky of Ignatz Mouse hitting Krazy Kat with a brick, Marvin says, “Oh well. I guess I’d better change into my Alter Ego. Uh, er, I mean my secret identity.” In a footnote attached to “Alter Ego,” Stan says, “How many times do I haveta tell ya, Rascally? No free plugs!” to which Roy replies, “Sorry about that, noble leader.” And this is a gag that still works today.

Marvin heads to a phone booth at the top of a mountain. Below him is the “Seven Deadly Enemies of Man” which was a series of statues in the wizard Shazam’s underground hall in the original Cap stories. Here, the seven enemies are represented as the Seven Dwarfs. While in the phone booth, Marvin wishes he had an easier way to change. “Why can’t I just stamp a cane like the Mighty Sore or have a magic word like maybe ‘Shazam’.” He also references “Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy!” which was a phrase used by Smilin’ Ed McConnell to summon Froggy the Gremlin in the 1950s kids’ TV program, “Smilin’ Ed’s Gang,” and later by Andy Devine when the show became “Andy’s Gang” after McConnell’s sudden death.

After several hours in the phone booth (with the constellation in the sky now that of Tom trying to shoot an apple off of Jerry’s head), Marvin emerges in his identity of Wotta Lawsuit, an appropriate name considering the lawsuits surrounding the various Captain Marvels (The original Captain Marvel is waiting with his dime in hand to use the phone booth. He seems to be scratching his head in puzzlement either at the new CM or the lawsuit that sidelined him.) Wott heads down to the Cape, “Or maybe I should say the c*p*. After all, it’s just a fictitious base – not like anyplace in real life.” (And it certainly is a fictitious base to start. When it first appears, it seems to be in the American Southwest. Later, I think, it is firmly established as Cape Canaveral.) There is a sign that points “To the C*p*.” Wott finishes by saying, “Sure wish I could remember what my secret mission is.”

Back on the spaceship, Egg-Nogg takes a handful of “little blue pills” from Jimmy Durante. (I don’t know what that’s all about.) Una-Who is still crying and has run out of tissues. Sammy Davis, Jr. offers her a “Crying Towel.” “Who’re you?” she asks. “Do the name Ruby Begonia strike a familiar note?” he replies. This was a line that Sammy Davis, Jr. used to elicit laughs, on Laugh-In and other places. (Flip Wilson may have used it, too.) Some think that it’s a line from an old Amos and Andy radio show, said by the Kingfish. (When spoken by Sammy Davis, it was said in the Kingfish’s voice.) But others claim it is nowhere to be found in Amos and Andy. Why was it considered funny? Why are any of these catch phrases considered funny in their times? I guess you had to be there.

Wotta Lawsuit enters the C*p* and meets General Britches and Clairol Dandruff. Behind them, Lex Luthor (Lothario here) and Dr. Sivana (another of the original CM’s villains, spelled “Sivanna” here) are working on the Scent-ry. (I think that’s Sgt. Fury in the background, too.) Lothario says, “I just hope Stuporman doesn’t find out I’m moonlighting.” Clairol grills Wott, asking him, “Why are you wearing those long white tresses, hmmmm?” Wott replies “Wouldja believe my mother was frightened by a Beatles album?” (Referring to the White Album…I think.) Wott is wearing a button that says, “Alf Landon lives.” And he did, then. He died in 1987. (Alf Landon was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt in a landslide in the 1936 Presidential election.) There is now a sticker on Wott’s secret cylinder reading, “Vacation at beautiful Mordor!” (All you “Lord of the Rings” fans get that joke.) The general has a patch on his shoulder that says “Bomb Haight-Asbury now!” Haight-Asbury was the epicenter of hippiedom in San Francisco. I don’t think joking about bombing it was funny even back in 1968 but it was probably something some people actually joked about.

Suddenly the Scent-ry comes to life. Wott runs away, smashing right through the building. “I hope my rushing off like this doesn’t make a bad first impression!” he says, “I wouldn’t want the General and Miss Dandruff to think I’m beating a cowardly retreat when actually, I’m merely making a strategic withdrawal…to Buenos Aires!” Instead he rushes back up to the phone booth. (Billy Batson, the original CM’s alter ego is peddling papers outside.) Changing into his Captain Marvin suit, our hero discovers he can’t get out of the phone booth because a “two-foot thumb” is holding the door shut. (The booth has graffiti on it; a heart with “A.G. Bell + Don Ameche” inside of it. Don Ameche played Alexander Graham Bell in a 1939 bio-pic.) The thumb belongs to the Scent-ry and Marvin escapes by lifting up the phone booth and running away while still inside it. The Scent-ry chases after him, knocking the booth apart until Marvin is running with the phone from the booth in his hands. (The sound effect for his running is “Run! Run! Run! Run!”) He uses the phone to call the spaceship. Egg-Nogg answers and tells him that the Scent-ry has no weaknesses. Una-Who, still crying and holding a case labeled “Dr. Killscare’s First-Aid and Last-Rites Kit, says, “Ask him…sob…if he needs any band-aids. It’s such a long trip!” This gives Marvin the idea to trip the Scent-ry. (The bottom of the Scent-ry’s foot has a note that reads, “Made in the Kreep Galaxy by Kreeps!” This is a riff off the stickers that were on new Saab cars at the time, reading, “Made in Trollhattan by Trolls.”)

The Scent-ry lands in a big hole and Marvin thinks the battle is over. “Now I can get back to the things in life that count!” he says, “Like trying to remember just what my secret mission is!” While he’s trying to figure that out, the Scent-ry attacks again. Marvin runs for it, until he remembers, “on my wrist – in my looney beam – is the ultimate weapon!” He points at a boulder and fires his beam. The Scent-ry stops and looks. “It’s the one thing I can’t fight! The one thing no living creature can withstand!” he says, “It’s home movies! Complete with eight-track long-playing commentary no less! Yechhh!”

And while the Scent-ry is glued to accounts of Marvin’s first birthday and his time at the zoo at age three, Marvin uses a screwdriver to dismantle the robot. As he takes the Scent-ry’s head off and shovels its pieces into a bag, he comments, “By the way, I forgot to tell you, I just remembered what my mission on this planet is…and why you’re so important to me. You see, we infernal Kreeps came to Earth to collect…scrap metal!”

The one problem with this parody is that you really need to have read the Thomas/Colan Captain Marvel stories to fully appreciate it. You miss the real punch of bits like Una-Who’s crying, the “Nightclerks, keep out” sticker and, especially, the “What’s my mission?” continuing cry that pays off nicely at the end. You also need to have a little knowledge of the original Captain Marvel, which was not a sure thing for Echh readers in 1968. Still, it plays very well without the inside knowledge and it has a clever little plot of its own that lampoons but branches off from the original story. I love the home movies bit and the way Marvin dismantles the Scent-ry. In AE #95, Roy says, “[Gene’s] pacing was superb, especially the final page, on which the hero meticulously dismantles the Scent-ry even as he reveals the secret of the Kreep mission to Earth.” It’s a great final page but Colan’s artwork is terrific throughout. As Roy says, “Gene wasn’t generally thought of as a humor artist – but he handled the funny stuff very well indeed. It probably helped that he had also illustrated the ‘Captain Marvel’ stories being spoofed.” It also helped Roy that he wrote those stories. He was clearly aware of their flaws and he exploits them very nicely here, making fun of himself in a charming fashion. I’m giving this story five webs.

General Comments

In the letter page (which is called “This is a Letter Page?”), John Bolge of Kitchener, Ontario says, “NBE is going over so fabulously that Natural Comics already has a Brechh imitation out on the stands.” I think John must be referring to Inferior Five. We looked at Inferior Five #7 not too long ago and Inferior Five #10 will be coming up soon.

Overall Rating

The issue finishes strong with two “five web” stories. I already gave the earlier stories a combined four webs. So, call the entire issue four and a half webs, a strong beginning for the new King Size Echh. Too bad it craters immediately with an all-reprint issue in Not Brand Echh #10. We’ll be getting to that, too, soon enough.

Footnote

But we do have a few other issues to get to first. I’m pretty sure we left Spidey with an injured arm and about to face the Vulture. Amazing Spider-Man #64 is next!