Ah, Not Brand Echh #3! The Big Batty Origin Issue! Three whole stories! Only one tiny Spidey cameo in one of them. Well, when has that ever stopped us before?
So, who gets the origins in the Origins Issue? The Mighty Sore. The Inedible Bulk. Charlie America. (Originally called “Chaplain America” in Not Brand Echh #1’s “The Human Scorch versus the Sunk-Mariner in the Battle of the Century!”). Marie Severin’s wonderful cover shows our three heroes leaping from somewhere to somewhere. Charlie America and the Bulk look a bit freaked out as if they are fleeing from someone. The Mighty Sore just looks dim-witted. There is no background to this cover, just a white field. Off to the right is a grey rundown building and a clothesline which apparently goes from the building to…somewhere else. There are four items pinned to that clothesline; a dollar bill, a yellow shirt with four arms, a blue glove with six fingers and some red long johns perhaps left by Forbush-Man. It is details such as these that make this cover. Sore has a chicken on his head and a carpenter’s hammer instead of Mjolnir while Charlie America has a trash can lid as a shield. These gimmicks are also in the stories but Marie then adds real buttons to Sore’s tunic (one of which is coming loose), suspenders to Bulk’s pants and band-aids to Bulk’s right foot (I particularly like the small round one on Bulk’s little toe). From the motion lines trailing Bulk, it looks like he has leapt onto Charlie America’s back and then leapt off of it. And I love that Charlie seems to have picked up a big wad of gum on his right foot from the clothesline (or did he bring the gum with it and stick it to the clothesline…which is really more of a thick piece of rope). Great stuff.
The contents page depicts a broom (on which is written “Not Brand Echh!”) that is sweeping all sorts of junk (a banana peel, a “Poopsie Cola” can, a sock) into a dustpan. Three pages swept in introduce the stories. “The Origin of Mighty Sore!” shows page 3 panel 7 of the story. “The Origin of the Bulk!” shows page 5 panel 9. “The Origin of Charlie America!” shows part of page 4 panel 1. “Only Mighty Marble can make this guarantee!” it says on the dustpan, “If you don’t agree that this is the greatest mag you’ve ever read…you’re right!” And, by the way, the indicia still says “Brand Echh” here, instead of “Not Brand Echh.”
The Origin of Sore, Son of Shmodin! is by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. (It’s always fun to imagine Stan and Jack taking time out from creating those Fantastic Four and Thor masterpieces to do weird little stories like this.) There’s no Spidey here (though it does have Aunt May and a Spidey Daily Bugle headline) so I’m going to try to make this quick. (Or as quick as I’m able.)
The Mighty Sore is preparing to return to Jazzgard. (“Even my hair-dresser doth not know!” he says; a play on the Clairol Hair Color slogan, “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.”) But Hokey (“the God of naughtiness and nasty thoughts” who is Sore’s “second cousin, twice-removed on Uncle Sidney’s side”) attacks Sore with his “Sapuloid” robot (a take-off, I suspect, of Replicus from Thor #141, June 1967. The Sapuloid hits Sore on the chicken sitting on top of his helmet which sends a spray of rotten eggs into the robot’s face. With the robot knocked out (“Another mess you’ve gotten me into, Stanley,” says Hokey, imitating Oliver Hardy), Sore strikes his hammer on the ground. “Let the storm come down upon his evil head,” he says of Hokey, “For he hath not bathed in days!” Hokey casts a spell to turn the rain into garbage that falls on Sore’s head. “There’s only one thing to do,” Sore says, “I’ll stay here and cry for a while! And when Hokey invites me to his birthday party next week, I’ll show him…I’ll get there late!”
Time now for the flashback to Sore’s origin. Dr. Darn Bloke is wandering the rugged mountains of Norway, recovering from an injury incurred “after kicking a wallet loaded with rocks.” He falls off a rock and plummets down to a plateau whose top rises in the air allowing him to land inside. There he finds an umbrella stuck in a rock. Pulling it out, he finds a moth hole in it. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s shoddy merchandise,” he says and slams the umbrella down on the ground. The umbrella turns into a hammer and he turns into Sore. “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” he says, flexing, “Just look at me! I’m a living doll! Even my muscles have muscles! They sure know how to give a visitor a nice vacation around here!” He looks at the hammer. Written on the side is, “To Whom it May Concern: You are now a God named Sore. Signed: Daddy.” “Gosh! It’s just what I always wanted!” he says as he runs right through the side of the mountain, “Ever since I was a little kid I wished for a bike, a set of bongo drums, and godhood! Now, all I need’s the bike and the bongo drums!”
The “months that follow” are represented by a panel showing all sorts of newspapers with headlines. There’s “Villains mighty sore at Mighty Sore!” and “Republicans ask Sore to run for Presidency! – On Democratic Ticket” and, of course, the Daily Bugle’s headline, “Spider-Man is a Fink.” And then there’s Hokey, now called “God of rotten things,” who points a “Kirbyesque cannon” at Sore, demanding that he “lend me your can of hair spray.” The cannon blows up in Hokey’s face because, as Sore explains, “you won the battle last issue so now it’s my turn.”
Back in the present, Sore travels to the Rain-Soaked Bridge where he encounters Gumball. (Off in space, the Earth has a big sign on it that reads, “No Vacancies.”) Gumball wears thick “Coke-bottle” glasses and can’t tell who Sore is because, “I’m real big with hummingbird’s wings and falling feathers but I’m kinda shaky on stuff that’s up close!” “How’s about steppin’ back a few millions miles so’s I can make you out?” he asks Sore. “But I’m Mighty Sore,” says Sore. “So what?” replies Gumball, “I ain’t been feeling so good myself.” But he relents and lets Sore into Jazzgard because, “I’d know that whining, whimpering, wheezing tone anywhere!”
Sore enters, but finds Jazzgard very crowded because it is “the height of the tourist season.” In the crowd (on page 6 panel 1) are King Kong, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Mao Tse-Tung, Muhammed Ali, the Monkees (Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork), Don Knotts, LBJ, Jackie Gleason, Dr. Doom, J. Jonah Jameson, Charles De Gaulle, Mitch Miller (of “Sing Along with Mitch” fame), Aunt May (who yells, “Hey! Get in line! Get in line!”), Jackie Gleason, Herman Munster, Grandpa Munster, Kid Colt and his horse Steel, Adam Clayton Powell, Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow (married at the time), Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (also married at the time), Alfred E. Newman, Baron Strucker, and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t know who the yellow-skinned creature is. He looks like one of Kirby’s Deviants from his Eternals series but he’s about 9 years too early for that.
Sore soars over the crowd, passing his friends Bullstag the Belly, Hokum the Grin, and Farful the Fun-Loving on the way. (If anyone gets the joke of the “Legalize Potatoes” sign on Bullstag’s belly, please let me know.) Over in the imperial throne room, “a dramatic event is eventfully eventing.” Shmodin thinks that Seymour the Sorcerer (who is based on the long-forgotten character Seidring the Merciless) is planning to slay him with a big Kirbyesque cannon. (Shmodin thinks this because, in Thor #126-128, March-May 1966, Odin gives Seidring, his Prime Minister, the Odin Power to use to punish Thor but Seidring uses the power to defeat Odin and take over Asgard for himself.) But “I’m just bringing you the new imperial coffee machine,” says Seymour, “to see if you wanna keep it in here or out in the broom closet with the other junk!” Seymour complains that Shmodin made the Jazzgardians immortals so he could get eternal free labor. “Stokely and the boys want me to tell ya that the honeymoon’s over, Pops!” he says. (This is a reference to Stokely Carmichael, 1941-1998, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and advocate of Black Power. Much as Carmichael was very well known to the youth of the time, this seems a strange reference to appear in Echh.)
Sore obliterates Seymour with “a lightning bolt in the labonza” but Shmodin is not pleased. “Now there’ll be protest marches all over the place! And right in the middle of our busy season!” he says. (So, just after Seymour invokes Stokely, he is killed and all Shmodin can think of is the public reaction. This is before the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy…as can be seen since they are both in the Jazzgard crowd scene…but after the assassination of Medgar Evers and in the midst of the Civil Rights marches. It seems a little odd to make a joke out of it but perhaps Stan was clothing his outrage for recent events within this gallows humor.) When Sore tells his father that he will “protect you from all kinds’a stuff,” Shmodin takes a powder. The “Godsville Globe” has the headline, “Shmodin Cuts Out!” Down on Earth, in Darn Bloke’s office, Shmodin takes over the medical practice, including returning “Nurse Fester.” (Jane Foster had failed in her test to become an immortal and been banished from the scene in Thor #136, January 1967.) Shmodin operates on a radio, finds some music, and dances with Nurse Fester. “Why should a square like Sore make the scene on Earth,” he says, “From now on this is my hang-up!” “So be it, Daddy-O,” says Fester. (I have this feeling that most of this slang was already dated by 1967 but it’s so long ago now that I can be certain.)
Are these stories funny to kids? Were they funny to kids? I was ten years old when this issue came out. Did I find it funny? We bought every issue of Not Brand Echh back then but that doesn’t mean anything. We bought every issue of every Marvel we could find. We even bought Groovy! So, I don’t remember if I found them funny as a kid but I do know I don’t find them very funny now. There are a couple of bits that I enjoy in this story (the joke about wishing for a bike, bongos, and godhood plus Gumball asking Sore to back up a few millions miles), I appreciate Stan’s willingness to comment on opposition to Civil Rights and I love seeing Kirby drawing in this “silly” style but the best I can do for this story is two webs.
Well, my “Origin of Sore” rundown wasn’t so quick after all. The Origin of Brucie Banter…and Friend doesn’t have Spidey in it either and it will probably be just as quick. Marie Severin, artist on this story, was also the artist on the Incredible Hulk feature in Tales to Astonish at the time of this issue. Writer Gary Friedrich, interestingly enough, takes over the Hulk from Stan Lee just a few months later when Jade Jaws gets his own series with Incredible Hulk #102, April 1968.
The Bulk crosses a Manhattan street and everyone freaks out. There are a ton of gags on this splash page. These are my favorites: The police call box reads “To call police, yell.” A barber puts a sign in his shop window reading, “We do not cut green hair.” A terrified dog hugs a terrified cat and the dog says, “And to think it took this to make me tell you, Zelda.” Since I try to include cultural references, I should add that Herman Munster is looking out a window, yelling, “Lilly! Grandpa’s on the rampage again!” Also that the Bulk scratches his head and says, “Why everyone run from Bulk? Maybe that’s it! Bulk forgot to use Head and Shoulders this week!” There is also a small dog (a poodle, I suspect) jumping into a sewer grate, proclaiming, “Vive le France!” which I don’t get. Is this a “France-is-always-surrendering” joke?
While Bulk raids a Goody Humor ice cream cart, the Army shows up. (A bystander says, “Good grief! Here comes the Army again! You’d think they’d learn after more than thirty ishes!”) They fire a cannon at Bulk but he thinks it is only “Pesky bugs!” He ruins the tank without even realizing it. The tank operator cries out, “Call Spidey-Man! Call Gnat-Man! Call Stan Lee!” Bulk says, “Why everybody always holler at Bulk? Bulk never do nuthin’ to nobody…or other Blunder Agents.” (Now this is an obscure reference, dependent on the reader having seen Not Brand Echh #2 in which THUNDER Agent character Noman is “Blunder Agent” Nobody.)
The Army hits Bulk with bullets, a grenade and a missile. Fed up, he growls at them and they run away. Bulk doesn’t understand why everybody hates him and is afraid he’s going to get a “Charlie Brown complex.” (I don’t have to explain that, do I?) “All Bulk want is basic things in life,” he says, “new XK-E, color television, beautiful mod girl like Twiggy, maybe even a job!” (An XK-E is a sports car by Jaguar, considered top of the line in 60s automotives. Jaguar stopped making them after 1974. Twiggy was a very thin, big-eyed model; an icon of the British Mod scene.) “Why couldn’t Bulk have been born a handsome, intelligent, lovable movie star instead of handsome, intelligent, lovable nothing?” Bulk thinks. Then Bulk realizes that he wasn’t born at all, that he “was once Brucie Banter! Worked for Department of Sanitation.” Which is our cue for the origin flashback. There, Brucie’s boss Thunderdolt Ross is threatening to fire him unless he solves “our air pollution problem even if firing you means I’ll have my…ugh…daughter on my hands again!” For the moment Bitty Ross is hanging all over Brucie. She tells him that he must cure air pollution fast. “If you don’t I may never see you again!” “Is that a promise?” asks Brucie, “If it is, I’ll never touch another test tube!”
Brucie proclaims that he’s discovered a way to end air pollution by “combining certain secret elements.” Thunderdolt replies, “Sure! And I’m the Jefferson Airplane. All five of ‘em.” (In 1967, that would be Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Grace Slick, Spencer Dryden, Jorma Kaukonen, and Jack Casady. And, yes, I did that without looking it up. And, yes, that’s six members, not five.) Bitty, clinging to Brucie’s leg, says, “You may become as famous as Engelbert Humperdinck.” (And I think she means the pop singer, not the composer.) Brucie thinks he will go down in history as a great scientist “like Einstein, Von Braun, Gyro Gearloose, Simon and Garfunkel.” (The inclusion of Werner Von Braun is supposed to be funny, I guess. Gyro Gearloose is the inventor in Walt Disney’s (and Carl Bark’s) Uncle Scrooge comics. And I don’t get the Simon and Garfunkel reference. Why would they be listed as scientists?)
Brucie goes to the City Dump to test his formula. He climbs into a garbage truck but can’t get it to start because teen-ager Slick Jones is stripping it for parts. As Brucie pounces on Slick, his formula explodes. Brucie takes the brunt of the explosion and becomes big and green. “Suddenly feel like Playboy centerfold,” he says, and runs off to get “new pair of stretch pants.” Bulk declares, “Me gonna become a living legend, like Mr. Clean.” Slick decides to stick around.
Bulk returns to the “Dump Headquarters Lab” where Thunderdolt is enraged over the dump’s destruction. Bitty recognizes Bulk as Brucie but notes that he’s changed. “You bet I’ve changed! Bulk’s gotten too handsome for you! Now I’m more Brigitte Bardot’s type,” Bulk says. Bulk picks up the entire headquarters. Slick eggs him on, saying, “Sic ‘em, Bulky baby! I’ll make you more famous than Yubiwaza!” (Remember the “Yubiwaza” ads in comic books? “I weigh only 98 lbs. yet I can paralyze a 200 pound attacker with just one finger because I know Yubiwaza.” Yeah, it’s almost as obscure a joke as the Blunder Agents thing.) But Bulk realizes “he was destined to walk a long, lonely trail.” Leaving the headquarters on its side, he brushes Slick aside, saying “Can be only running and emptiness for a fugitive! David Janssen teach Bulk that line!” (David Janssen, 1931-1980, was the star of the Fugitive TV show.) While being knocked aside, Slick says, “Wait, Bulky! I’ll make us richer than Uncle Scrounge!” which is an obvious reference to Disney’s Uncle Scrooge but I have to wonder if there’s any rhyme or reason to using actual names in these gags or using an approximation. Why is it okay to use Gyro Gearloose’s actual name here but not Uncle Scrooge?
Suddenly, Bulk gets a “super headache” with no one “around to give Bulk Exceedrin.” (Another intentional misspelling. In the ‘60s, Excedrin promoted itself for tough headaches, numbering them in their ads… “Excedrin Headache #14” and so on.) He then turns back into Brucie Banter but doesn’t realize he’s done so, still raging in Bulk-speak until Bitty tells him “You’re not the Bulk anymore! Now come and kiss me!” He runs off. Bitty (“Don’t go, Brucie! We can write Dear Tabby about your problem!”), Thunderdolt, and some street sweepers chase him.
Later, Brucie grouses about how being the Bulk will ruin his life. He makes references to the musical Bye Bye Birdie (called “Bye Bye Brucie” here), Green Stamps (they used to give them out at the supermarket, you’d stick them in a Green Stamps book, and when you got enough of them you’d win prizes) and the original Captain Marvel’s nemesis Dr. Sivana. But I’m worn out with trying to keep track of all the references so let’s wrap this up.
We return to the present with the Bulk wandering the city. (You may have forgotten that this story had a lead-in that sequed to a flashback. I sure did.) Slick Jones catches up to him. He’s landed a job for the Bulk…as the Jolly Green Giant of canned vegetable fame. So Bulk puts on the leafy suit, starts “ho Ho Ho-ing,” and says “If you kiddies don’t eat my peas I’ll clobber ya in the kisser with a butter-soaked asparagus sprout!”
This story wears me out. It tries so hard and it is so full of topical references but it’s just a chore to read. I do love Marie Severin’s artwork, though. One web.
Don't forget the third story. It has an entry of its own at Not Brand Echh #3 (Story 3)!
Averaging it out, including the third story’s three webs, gives us two webs for the entire issue.