In his detailed Not Brand Echh reminiscence, “Echh Marks the Spot!” in Alter Ego #95, July 2010, Roy Thomas recalls that he and Gary Friedrich pitched the idea of “doing a book along the lines of the original Mad comic book” that would be “doing a lot of take-offs on DC characters.” Stan Lee loved the idea “but instantly decided that, rather than poking fun at rival companies’ heroes…it would be specificially devoted to burlesquing Marvel’s own characters.” But that doesn’t mean that the DC characters don’t show up. Such as when Spidey-Man battles Gnatman and Rotten. Or Gold Key characters don’t show up. Such as when Ironed Man meets Magnut, Robot Biter. Or Tower characters don’t show up. Such as when Knock Furious takes on the BLUNDER Agents.
In presenting the FF, Dr. Doom, and the Silver Surfer recoiling from a long underwear-wearing Forbush Man, last issue’s cover introduced us to the idea of parodying Marvel super-heroes. This issue’s cover highlights the specific stories within, with “Spidey-Man” front and center. The cover is designed as if Spidey has burst through a big piece of black paper, which is peeled back showing a stark white background behind. Spidey is on our side of the black paper. He is nice and imposing except that he has a band-aid on the middle finger of his right hand (right over his glove) and a tattoo on his right forearm (JJJ written inside a heart pierced with an arrow) and the webbing emerging from his left hand ends in a yo-yo (“Web-web Yo-yo” is written on it) and instead of a spider on his chest he has a picture of Aunt May’s head. He also has a thread coming off of his tights on his left leg and a comb sticking out of his right boot. If it is possible to look imposing and ridiculous simultaneously, Spidey does here. Which is a credit to the cover artist, Marie Severin. Seven other characters stay on the other side of the black paper but peer out. They are, clockwise from right, Ironed Man, Magnut, Nobody, Dynaschmoe, Knock Furious, Rotten, and Gnatman. We’ll get to all of them in their stories but two are worth examining here. Not Gnatman, though he is the only one looking at Spidey-Man as he prepares to throw his “gnat-rope” at him, which establishes their adversarial relationship right off the bat. No, the two I want to point out are Rotten and Knock Furious who seem to see the reader on the other side of the black paper. Rotten is staring right at us with a wicked grin on his face and his thumbs in his ears. He mocks us from behind the black paper. Knock Furious, however, seems terrified of us. He points at us and stares wide-eyed, hiding behind the black paper as much as possible. A nice touch.
Up in the panel above the price and issue number, we have Spidey in profile facing Gnatman, Ironed Man facing Magnut, and Knock Furious opposite Dynaschmoe. Each has a bit of dialogue; a classic bit of Stan foolishness. “Sez who?” “Sez me!” “Sez you?” “No, him!” “Who him?” “Hooo boy!” Notice has been served; this issue features Marvel characters versus non-Marvel characters…and it’s all going to be ridiculous.
The contents page (again called, “This is a Contents Page?”) continues the “background as paper” motif that the cover started. Here it is white paper that has apparently been posted on a wall. It is crumpled and peeling off. We can see the paste dripping off of it. It has a hole in it, fingerprints, a cigarette burn, a stain and a coffee ring. The red “Not Brand Echh!” banner is tacked on. The same tack holds the red contents sheet on at its top but it is held on by tape at its lower left. This tape also holds the panel advertising the Spidey-Man story (repeating panel 6 from page 6 of the story). A piece of tape also holds the Knock Furious panel (page 4 panel 5 of the story with a sound effect… Foosh!...added, strangely enough) but the Ironed Man panel (page 5 panel 1 of the story, with Ironed Man’s “Yogi Bear” chest emblem changed to Mickey Mouse and Magnut’s costume changed) has no visible means of support. Also worth noting is that Marie Severin gets a cover credit here with the comment “Jack Kirby beware!” I agree. It’s a terrific cover. Now let’s get to the stories.
Peter Pooper vs. Gnatman and Rotten is also drawn by Marie Severin and she does a wonderful job with the caricatures and the little sight gags that crop up in almost every panel. Stan does the writing. In spite of the Batman and Robin parody, the splash page feels more like a lampoon of the Marvel style. It has “The Aging Spidey-Man!” written across the top in imitation of Spidey’s own book. The title is written with “Peter Pooper” on one side and “Gnatman and Rotten” on the other much as “Iron Man” and “Captain America” are stacked on the covers of Tales of Suspense. A circular caption announces “Also co-starring J. Jawbone Junkton, full-time fink,” in the manner of many Marvel splash page promos. There is even a bill taped to the wall that says, “Bucky Lives!” a Marvel inside joke (and, of course, it took forty years but it is now true). The only jabs at Batman and Robin are Gnatman’s outfit (with a gnat instead of a bat on his chest and jester’s bells on his “batears”), Gnatman’s “gnatrope” (with a gnat on the end of the rope), and Spidey reading “Defective Comics” (instead of Batman’s Detective Comics) with “featuring Gnatman, Gnatboy, Gnatgirl, Gnatcat, Gnats to You!” on the cover, making fun of all of the Bat-characters (Batman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Bathound, Batmite, etc.) that have appeared over the years.
At the Daily Bagle, J. Jawbone Junkton gets a phone call that literally makes steam come from his ears. It is Jimmy Olson calling from a phone booth (the phone is marked “temporarily in order”) to tell him that “Spidey-Man is back in town!” Junkton can’t stand it. Everywhere he goes, he gets reminded of Spidey-Man. He goes for coffee at the Bugout Café which is selling “Spider and Coke,” “Spidey Sandwich,” “Spidey Soup,” and Spiders and Eggs.” While driving, he has to stop because the Lizard comes out of a manhole, followed by Spidey-Man. (Thor is hanging out, leaning on a lamppost.) Spidey tells Liz, “You were winning for the first ten pages of the story, so now it’s my turn!” “Shucks!” Lizard replies. When JJJ relaxes at home (in his chair with the dollar sign upholstery), the TV is all about Spidey. When he goes to bed, he opens the latest issue of Peek magazine and finds that Spidey is Mister June and featured in the centerfold. Junkton can’t stand it any longer. He runs to the phone, clad in his nightgown with “Bring Back Doc Ock!” written on it, and calls “Commissioner Good-Guy” who looks very much like Neil Hamilton who played Commissioner Gordon on the 1966 Batman TV show. So now Stan and Marie have tipped their hands. This is going to be more a lampoon of the Batman TV show than of the Batman comics. (Junkton’s wall has a note taped on it that says, “Alfred Lives!” so this was probably during the time when Alfred was dead. Yes, Alfred was dead for a time back in the 60s. Well, okay, he wasn’t dead. He became a villain called the Outsider. But we’re not going into that.)
Good-Guy turns on “the famous Gnat Signal” and Rotten sees it as he and Gnatman are out on patrol in their Gnat-Mobile. (The mobile has just run over somebody and it has a grill that looks like Gnat-Man, in imitation of the Joker-Mobile perhaps. It also has a toilet plunger attached above the left front wheel and a lunch box, boxing gloves, and a hot water bottle attached on the left side. I’m not sure what that’s all about.) Rotten suggests they heed the signal but Gnatman says, “What’re you, some kinda nut or something? If we pretend we don’t see it maybe it’ll go away.” “But, in their desperate dash to avoid trouble, the Dyspectic Duo take a wrong turn” and end up scaling the wall right outside J. Jawbone’s window. (Lampooning the moments in the Batman TV show when the Dynamic Duo encounters different celebrities as they scale various walls.) By the way, it looks like Superman is flying above them here.
Junkton invites them into his office and tells them “I want you to defeat a public enemy for me.” Gnatman accepts. “We can use the work since our ratings have been slipping!” But first Gnatman’s “staff of lawyers” must be brought in to construct a contract. Five lawyers doffing their hats walk in. The first two have their names on their briefcases. “Flee Bailey” and “Melvin Belly” are take-offs on famous attorneys F. Lee Bailey and Melvin Belli who is more known now for playing the Gorgon in the Star Trek episode “And the Children Shall Lead” than for all the cases he won back then. The last two lawyers, by the way, are Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson.
Once the contract is signed, Junkton tells Gnatman and Rotten that his job is to “get rid of Spidey-Man for me.” Rotten jumps into Gnatman’s arms as both recoil in terror. “Spidey-Man!!” they say, “But he fights for keeps!!” Forced to carry out the job, (“Holy legal fees, Gnatman!” says Rotten using the favorite word of the TV Boy Wonder) the duo tracks down Spidey-Man. (Who is standing on a wall reading “Raising Hobbits for Fun and Profit.”) Gnatman tries to push Spidey over Rotten who is kneeling behind him but the trick fails when Spidey stoops to pick up an MMMS button in the street. (Rotten laughs as they set up this trick, thinking “Won’t ol’ Mort Wienieburger be proud of us.” Stan footnotes this with “In joke! If your name isn’t Wienieburger, forget it!” Mort Weisinger was the overbearing Superman editor at the time but if there’s anything more to this joke, you’ve got me. Stan did say it was an in joke.) As Spidey stabs himself with the MMMS pin, Rotten tries to recover from being smooshed by Gnatman. “Mom always liked you better, anyway,” he says to Gnatman, in imitation of Tommy Smothers. The “Dyspeptic Duo” try a couple more stunts but just end up pounding each other. (A wall to which Spidey clings says, “Foswell Lives,” in reference to Frederick Foswell who just died in Amazing Spider-Man #52, September 1967, out at around the same time as this issue.) One attempt fails because Spidey-Man recoils from his Aunt May strolling “with a boy friend,” namely Doc Ock. This bit (and JJJ’s nightgown slogan) presage Ock’s return in Amazing Spider-Man #53, October 1967 and his relationship with May anticipates their meeting in Amazing Spider-Man #54, November 1967 all of which reaches hilarious proportions when May almost marries Ock in Amazing Spider-Man #131, April 1974. Finally Gnatman sprays Spidey in the face with “Gnat Gas.” (The label on the can says “Ptui.”) Holding his nose, Spidey says, “Y’know I’m just beginning to suspect something…I think you two are hostile towards me!” The big fight ensues (for a couple of panels) until Spidey takes a picture for the Daily Bagle and webswings away. But, as Gnatman points out, “your web’s not attached to anything!!” It isn’t and Spidey falls to earth. “Gnatman, you’ve got a biiiiiig mouth!!” Spidey says as he wanders off on crutches, that hot water bottle on his head.
Gnatman calls Junkton to tell him “Spidey-Man is definitely DC.” (“DC: Definitely Clobbered,” says Stan in the footnote.) JJJ is ecstatic until he sees the Gnat Signal all over town, then gets trampled by Gnatman and Rotten as they pursue their enemy, the Pelican, then finds Betty Brunt wearing a “Gnatman and Rotten Fan Club” shirt at work, then sees Gnatman and Rotten on TV, then sees them swing by his window. Again, Junkton has had enough. He winds up wandering the park with a lantern looking for Spidey-Man, like Diogenes looking for an honest man. “Come back little Spidey, wherever you are!” he calls. Nearby, Peter Pooper sits on a park bench with his arms around MJ and Gwen (the bench says “Wet Paint”). He is having far too much fun to acknowledge JJJ. His Spidey costume is in a garbage can nearby in homage to the scene in Amazing Spider-Man #50, July 1967. A bearded man is pulling the costume out of the garbage but, if he’s supposed to be someone specific, I don’t know who he is. Roy doesn’t seem to know either. In his brief rundown of this story, he doesn’t mention the bearded man at all.
So, is it funny? Well…kind of. Marie has inserted a ton of sight gags, many of them amusing. Stan has some nice gags going. But it’s all pretty mild stuff. Cute, but nothing special. I give it two webs.
No Spidey in the next two stories but we’re going to look at them anyway.
Roy Thomas and Don Heck bring us The Unrinseable Ironed Man Meets…Magnut, Robot Biter!which continues this issue’s theme of pitting a “Marble” hero against a hero from another company. In this case, it is a take-off on Russ Manning’s Magnus, Robot Fighter who was a Gold Key Comics character back in the 60s but who has gone on to appear in Valiant Comics, Acclaim Comics, Dark Horse Comics and who know where else. Like the actual Magnus feature, this story takes place in 4000AD “give or take a decade.” Magnut is busy fighting (and biting) robots because “robots are making mankind weak so that one day they can take over.” (A sedentary bystander scoffs at this, then orders his robot to “Carry me across the street! It’s time for my nappy-poo!”) Afterwards, Magnut thumps his chest and declares that he learned a “special kind of karate bite” from his robot teacher A-1 Sauce. (His teacher is 1A in the Magnus comic.) Concerning Magnut’s chest thumping, one robot says, “It’s not his fault! His artist also draws a mag about Tarz an’ the Apes!” (Russ Manning did draw the Tarzan newspaper strip at one time.) Magnut’s (apparently empty-headed) girl-friend “Needa Brane” (Leeja Clane in the comic) arrives with her father Senator Brane, who gets beaten on by a woman outraged over the way Magnut took bites out of her robot. This inspires Magnut to explain why he bites robots. He conjures an image of a man stretched out under a tree with a beautiful woman (robot?) feeding him grapes. “Peel the grapes this time, my dear,” he says, “I don’t want to bruise my bicuspids,” illustrating how dependent humanity has become.
Meanwhile, in the present Bony Stark is tired of being harassed by Investigator McBird, who is based on Senator Byrd from the Tales of Suspense comics of the time but, I suspect, is also named for Barbara Garson’s 1967 play “MacBird!” which condemned President Lyndon Johnson by casting him as MacBeth. (The “Mac” comes from “MacBeth” and the “Bird” comes from Lady Bird, LBJ’s wife.) Bony is hanging out with his avaricious girlfriend “Luvva Munny” who wants more more more. “Be fair, Luvva!” Bony says, “I’ve already had all my atomic missiles painted polka-dot! You can’t expect me to buy you Miami Beach, too!...For one thing, Jackie Gleason won’t sell!” (Entertainer Jackie Gleason was BMOC of Miami.) Luvva leaves Bony, heading “To Florida natch to look for Jackie Gleason!” and Bony decides to get away from it all, as Ironed Man, by using his time machine. Of course, he winds up in 4000AD where Magnut thinks he’s a robot and takes a bite out of his golden armor. (“Lemon, one of my favorite flavors,” says Magnut as he bites.) Ironed Man fights back with his “repulsive ray” which he says is, “my only [weapon] that ever works the same way twice.” Just when he has Magnut on the run, his transistors short-circuit “just like they do every issue” forcing Ironed Man to flee. He winds up in a factory (“It looks more like one of Jack Kirby’s closets!” Ironed Man says of it’s elaborate high-tech design) making evil robots, which he can tell because the robots have a skull and crossbones and the words “Evil Robot” on their chests. Ironed Man tries to blend in with the robots (standing between an evil robot and the Tin Woodsman of Oz) but he can’t keep his cool when the beautiful Needa walks by. Magnut arrives to continue the fight until Senator Brane appears and reveals he is actually A-1 Sauce in disguise. He also reveals he is the creator of the evil robots. He tells Magnut, “I just wanted you to get rid of all good robots with that karate-chomp I taught you! Then I’d finish you off with a super-karate chomp and my evil robots would make me ruler of Earth!” (Stan’s footnote says, “That, honest Injun, is our plot!”)
A-1 Sauce clobbers our two heroes but then he stops to thump his chest giving Ironed Man “one last desperate chance.” (“There’s always just one last desperate chance in a Marble mag! Why should this one be different?”) He sprays A-1 with bubble gum, gumming up his works. Then he travels back to his present. After Ironed Man is gone, Magnut realizes that Needa must also be a robot if her father was one. Needa admits that she is.
Back in the 20th century, Bony Stark has decided to “give up super-heroing.” Instead he reclines under a tree while Luvva feeds him grapes. “Funny…how Magnut thought people were getting soft!” he says, “Peel the grapes this time, my dear! I don’t want to bruise my molars!” And in 4000AD, Magnut lies under a tree while Needa feeds him metal. “Oil the bolts this time, my dear!” he says, “After all, I don’t want to bruise my bicuspids.”
Stan may belittle the plot in his footnote but, as Brand Echh stories go, it is a pretty good one. It has surprises (come on, admit it, you didn’t see it coming when Senator Brane was revealed as A-1 Sauce…also making Needa a robot), a strong story structure (what with the image of the man being fed grapes under the tree coming back around in, not one, but two final panels), and some clever topical humor (how can you not like the “MacBird” reference?) Roy does a particularly good job of jabbing Stan’s scripting techniques (and that little tweak at Jack) with his snipes about Ironed Man’s transistors always going out, that the “repulsive ray” is the only weapon he has that stays consistent, and the comment about “one last desperate chance.” Don Heck’s art strikes a nice balance between genuine super-hero action and the exaggeration of comic lampooning, though the sight gags (and little signs on buildings and such) don’t work at all. This story feels like something Mad might have published back in its comic book days and that’s high praise. I give it four webs. (It might have gotten five if the sight gags had worked.)
Finally, Gary Friedrich and Marie Severin bring us, Knock Furious, Agent of S.H.E.E.S.H. Takes On…The BLUNDER Agents! featuring a lampoon of Tower Comics’ T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, pitting two of comics’ acronymic series. (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. stood for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves and S.H.E.E.S.H. stands for Secret Hang-up for Evil Emissaries of Satanical Hyde-and-Jekylls. We’ll find out in the course of the story what BLUNDER stands for.)
Knock Furious tries to demonstrate the “latest addition to SHEESH’s arsenal,” the “fantastic micro-ionic epidermic vibrissim oscillator” otherwise known as an electric razor, and he ends up giving himself an electric shock. But it’s worse than that. The heli-carrier is falling out of the sky. “We gotta get outta here!” Furious declares, “I’ll go first ‘cuz I’m the scaredest!” Outside of the heli-carrier, which looks like an Army surplus blimp, we see the cause of the disaster: super-heroes are colliding into it from everywhere. They include the Flash, Wonder Woman, “the God of Blunder,” Snoopy flying his Sopwith Camel doghouse, and a fellow wearing a crown with a big cigar in his mouth and a “K” on his chest who announces, “Have no fear, King Kirby is near!” Furious and his agents successfully walk away from the wreck, singing the Merry Marvel Marching Society song.
The agents head to the diner that is the secret entrance to their underground headquarters. After a comedy of errors with the barstools rising up and down, the SHEESH agents arrive. They are followed by their “hard-hearted landlord” who tells them he’s renting the space to someone else. Just then, the BLUNDER agent called “Dynaschmoe” (“Dynamo” in the Tower series) crashes through the wall, ignoring the door right next to him. (The door is labeled, “Secret Headquarters S.H.E.E.S.H. No girls. Knock three times.”) Dynachmoe requests the office “on behalf of the Bedraggled League Uv Nations Defenseless Encroachment Reserves. He’s soon followed by “Nobody” (alias “NoMan” in the THUNDER Agents) and a battle royale erupts with the SHEESH agents. (Dynaschmoe excuses the mayhem, saying, “When you hafta run around in blue underwear all day, you gotta do somethin’ to prove you’re a man!” and when he takes a swing at Furious and misses, he says, “Musta been concentrating on my dialogue! Over at BLUNDER we just fight and let the competition talk themselves silly!”) The fight stops when Agent Spitwell (the Marble version of Jasper Sitwell, half the size of everyone else and wearing a Boy Scout uniform) reads a communiqué that “Cockaroach is expected to strike!” The landlord tells everyone that Cockaroach is “a subversive organization that wants to socialize property ownership! And I’ll give this office to whoever stops them!” Suddenly Cockaroach attacks, led by “Captain Cockaroach” who is a bit like the Thing only made out of cockroaches. As Furious fights Captain Cockaroach, Nobody gets obliterated but shows up in another body, which also gets obliterated. (In THUNDER Agents, NoMan is an elderly man whose mind inhabits a robot body. He can switch his mind to other copies of the body when the one he is in is destroyed.) The joke continues, with Dynaschmoe telling Nobody, “I’ve never seen nobody as careless as you, Nobody.” Finally, Dynaschmoe saves Furious from a falling safe, dropped by Captain Cockaroach. The safe lands on Nobody. “Don’t worry about it! says, Dynaschmoe, “Another Nobody’s probably on his way here right now!” But this time Nobody hasn’t changed bodies. Meanwhile Furious unravels his sock “woven from the wool of a lamb that got bitten by a radioactive moth.” He uses the “collapsible knitting needles which I conceal in my belly-button” and knits the ultimate weapon, which he uses to blow up Captain Cockaroach. Furious and Dynaschmoe go to claim the office but the landlord tells them that he has already rented it. The two agents pound on the door but when they see who the tenants are, they quickly back off. In the office, one man says, “Who was that, Eel, you didn’t even give me time to introduce them to our AUNTIE.” Eel replies, “Dat vas not necessary, Mr. So-Low! Dey vere not the usual spies! Der vas no chance of dem discovering dat Mrs. Waverly is really our beloved Fuehrer!” So, who are these guys? If you read this in 1967, you would immediately recognize them. Eel is Ilya Kuriakin and Mr. So-Low is Napoleon Solo, the two main spies from U.N.C.L.E., the other acronymic spy group of the time, from the TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E..
There’s a “Next Issue” page advertising, “The Unofficial Origins of the Mighty Sore! Charlie America! The Inedible Bulk!” We’ll get to that eventually.
As for this story, Gary Friedrich does a great job of lampooning Fury’s way of talking (“Awright, ya knee-knockin’, teeny-boppin’, gold-knickers!”) and why wouldn’t he? He wrote a bunch of that dialogue in all those Sgt. Fury issues he scripted. I also like the woven ultimate weapon, making fun of all the super-scientific devices in the SHIELD series. Marie Severin’s artwork is terrific, as usual, filled with vivid facial expressions and body positions and elaborate detail full of visual humor. She mimics three other artists’ styles here as well. There are traces of Kirby and Steranko in the SHEESH characters and a fine imitation of Wally Wood with the BLUNDER agents. And you can easily recognize Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo) and David McCallum (Ilya Kuriakin) in the last panel. But, unfortunately, the story is not very good. Even accepting it’s a parody, it meanders aimlessly and is thin as the paper it’s printed on. The characters are equally thin. Except for the bit about Nobody’s bodies, there is little that distinguishes the BLUNDER Agents, no reason why the THUNDER Agents are lampooned here rather than any other group of heroes. Captain Cockaroach is a completely senseless character. And the final panel, revealing the UNCLE agents falls completely flat, particularly the bit about “Mrs. Waverly” (who is Mr. Waverly in the TV series) being “our beloved Fuehrer.” I’m not sure what that’s all about. And, finally, the story commits the cardinal sin of a bad parody; it’s not funny. One web.
So, where are we this time? Two webs plus four webs plus one web divided by three is two and a third. Let’s round that down to two webs.
Aw heck, let’s round it up to two and a half because of the cover and contents page.
But really, just read the Ironed Man story and skip the other two.
What’s next? It’s been so long that I’ve lost track. Let me check. Oh yeah, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4!