As it says on the sign that Forbush-Man is holding in the upper-left Marvel Comics Group box, “Run for the hills. Echh goes king size!” In his comprehensive look at the entire Echh run in Alter Ego #95, July 2010, Roy Thomas notes, “Martin Goodman, flush with good sales on the early issues, had agreed to what I suspect was Stan’s notion (around the same time as the oversize Silver Surfer #1) to metamorphose the mag into a 64-pager (68 with covers) selling for 25 cents instead of the usual 12 cents.” There’s no reason to doubt Roy on this but he does also say that “Mercifully, concurrent with the page-count increase, the frequency of NBE was knocked back from monthly to bimonthly.” So, the comic went bimonthly from issue #5 to #6, features an all-reprint issue with #10, and is cancelled altogether after #13. It doesn’t seem like its health was particularly robust. Be that as it may, as Roy points out, “we actually had to churn out slightly more pages over a two-month period than previously. There were 23 pages of comics (counting the contents page) in issue #8 and 52 pages in #9.”
Let’s assume you’re buying Marvel comics back in the day. You’ve stuck with Not Brand Echh even though it hasn’t necessarily been that great. Now it’s suddenly king size. Is doubling the size of this comic something that appeals to you? Would you buy it or dump it? It doesn’t appeal to me but I’m willing to give it a try. It does have a cool Marie Severin cover, after all, and I just snuck in, underage, to see Bonnie and Clyde. So, let’s see how it is.
Let’s begin with that cover. Most of it is taken up with a billboard that features the heads of some of our favorite Echh characters. There’s, from left to right (more or less), the Human Scorch, Captain Marvin, the Sunk-Mariner, Cyclomps, Dr. Deranged, the Inedible Bulk, the Silver Burper, Spidey-Man, Medoozy (unless this is Marble Girl), the Mighty Sore, Charlie America, Scaredevil, the Thung, and Knock Furious. But not so fast! There is also someone’s eye in the small circle created by Sunk-Mariner, Bulk, and Dr. Deranged. He has a bluish mask on. It may be the Beastly but it’s difficult to tell. This is one of those little Marie touches that make her covers so fun.
Sprinting by from right to left with enough speed to cause some clouds of dust is a soapbox derby/skateboard. On it are “Boney and Claude” with Forbush-Man, his arms tied behind him, held prisoner. He sits on a crate attached to the front of the elongated skateboard, which is a plank with roller skate wheels attached to it, just like we used to make. Yes, that’s right. At the time of this issue, kids created their own skateboards by screwing roller skate wheels into two-by-fours. There may have been professionally designed skateboards at that time but not in my neighborhood. Boney and Claude have tommy guns and they are scattering bullets all over the billboard. Spidey-Man has taken two hits; one in the eye and one in the cheek. There is cover copy on the billboard promoting some of the stories inside including, “They’re young, they’re in love, and they hoit people!” Here’s Roy again from Alter Ego #95: “With Warren Beatty’s new “Bonnie and Clyde” film doing fantastic boxoffice and being heralded as an instant American classic…it made sense to Stan to have Marie feature them on the cover…I always found the movie tagline (‘They young! They’re in love! And they kill people!’) pretty repulsive, no matter how ‘hip’ it was supposed to be – though I did like the film – but we still parodied it on the cover.” Roy may find the tagline “repulsive” but I find it nicely ironic.
The contents page is designed as a jigsaw puzzle with pieces for credits and seven stories. (There is also a piece that calls the issue “The New Not Brand Echh,” one of Gnat-Man, and a tiny piece that shows the dollar sign insignia from Stuporman.) The stories are “Captain Marvin!” (with the illustration from page 7 panel 4 of his story), “Bulk vs. Sunk-Mariner!” (from page 8 panel 1 of their story), “Casey at the Bat!” (page 5 panel 4 of its story), “Boney and Claude!” (page 6 panel 7, but recolored), “Arch and the Teen-Stalk!” (page 2 panel 4; a panel that includes Spidey but not on the contents page), “The Mean Hornet!” (page 2 panel 4), and “Super-Hero Greeting Cards!” (page 2 panel 2, with the Vulture accidentally colored as all-white like the Invisible Girl)
So, we begin with Capt…er, Bulk vs. Sunk-Mariner because the stories are not in the same order as the contents page. And the story isn’t called “Bulk vs. Sunk-Mariner” for that matter. It’s Bet There’ll Be Battle! and it’s a direct parody of “Let There Be Battle!” the story that combined the Subby-Hulk features for the anniversary issue of Tales to Astonish #100, February 1968. So we can’t really judge this parody without first looking at that story. Like this Echh take-off, Marie Severin penciled “Let There Be Battle,” giving us the opportunity to compare her straight work with her parody work. Stan wrote the script in the 22-page original, while Roy wrote the Echh version, condensing it down to 9 pages.
In the original story, the Sub-Mariner, on his computo-viewer, sees the Hulk falling and decides he would be “an invincible ally.” On his way to meet the Hulk, Subby unwittingly spoils a Puppet Master scheme and, in revenge, the villain creates a Hulk doll to order him to kill Sub-Mariner. Hulk’s fall has buried him under a ton of rubble. Thunderbolt Ross and Glenn Talbot want to use explosions to get to him but Rick Jones stops them. When Hulk frees himself, Rick goes to him but Puppet Master orders Hulk to treat everyone as an enemy, so Hulk swats Rick away, injuring him. The Puppet Master leads Hulk to Sub-Mariner and the fight begins. During what amounts to a 15 page fight scene, the duo wind up in Miami Beach where the Hulk gains the upper hand. (After Subby gets the upper hand when they fight in a swimming pool.) Somewhere in the middle of it, Betty Ross discovers that the Hulk has injured Rick and thinks she has lost Bruce Banner forever. Tormented by his feelings for Betty, Glenn Talbot decides the only way he can get her to forget Bruce is to destroy the Hulk. (Probably not the best way to get in Betty’s good graces.) Meanwhile, not wanting to kill, Hulk resists the voice in his head, allowing Namor to maneuver them into the sea. There, he defeats Hulk, inadvertently creating a tidal wave that wipes out the Puppet Master’s island hideout. The Puppet Master dies…except he doesn’t. He’s back in Avengers #63, April 1969. When Namor looks for the Hulk, he only finds Bruce Banner. Not realizing that Banner is the Hulk, Namor returns to the sea.
Our Brecch takeoff, whose official full title is The Inedible Bulk Meets Prince No-More the Sunk-Mariner and We…Bet There’ll Be Battle!, also begins with a Hulk falling and a Subby observing. But this time the Bulk is falling into a garbage dump and the Sunk-Mariner watches on his “Sea-Nith” (as in Zenith) color TV. The credits list Stan (The Man) Lee, Roy (The Boy) Thomas and Marie (The She) Severin with no accompanying assignment so it may look like Stan and Roy co-wrote while Marie did the artwork. But Stan’s credit is actually as Editor. According to Roy in AE #95, “Marie and I decided to spoof the issue-length…’Let There Be Battle!’…as closely and relentlessly as we could…starting with the splash.” He further notes, “Marie and I may have tossed more ‘chicken fat’ into this tale than into anything we ever did together.” No kidding! Look at all the business on the splash page. No-More sits in an armchair drinking a can of “Pepsi-Bismol.” There are a pile of empty cans on the floor next to him with labels such as “7-Urp,” “Instant Sunka,” “Pest Milk,” “Flab Diet Cola,” and more. (If you need any explanation on any of the take-offs here, drop me a line.) There is a bumblebee riding a tuna. (By the way, did you hear about the Bumblebee employee who was accidentally cooked along with a huge load of tuna? For real!.) There is a pennant on the wall that reads, “I Tappa Keg.” There’s a “Wet-in-House De-Humidifier.” And more and more and more. “I bought this color TV so I could watch old Buster Crab movies!” says No-More, but all he gets is the Bulk. Deciding he “could use an ally…a soul-brother! And I’ve got nothing else planned for the next few pages,” No-More ventures out to contact the Bulk. (My favorite bit in this panel is the bar of Ivory Soap on the bottom of the ocean. “It sank,” it says on it.
In the original story, Namor disrupts a hydrofoil staffed by people taken over by the Puppet Master. Here, No-More crashes through a rowboat, knocking its occupant into the sea. That occupant turns out to be the Puppet Mister who is himself a puppet. In fact, he’s Howdy Doody or, in Mad-speak, “Howdy Doodit.”
The Puppet Mister emerges from the sea onto shore. “Blamed superheroes – always crampin’ my style!” he says, “I’ve been clobbered by every Marble character except Auntie May! Maybe I should’ve kept that TV show with Buffalo Blob.” (That last is a reference to “Buffalo Bob” of the Howdy Doody show.) The Puppet Mister knocks away a marionette of the Sunk-Mariner. He also has one of Pinnochio. “I am not Arthur Godfrey,” is written on his sleeve. You make the comparison yourself.
Looking for someone who can defeat No-More, the Puppet Mister reads the headline on the “Daily Bagel,” which says, “Bulk Buried in Garbage Heap” even though it just happened moments ago. (That’s the latest edition!) He badly glues together the “Awrats” model of the Bulk. (The slogan on the Awrats box is, “It’s Too Easy,” which is absolutely true of those super-hero and monster Aurora models.) Puppet Mister then puts the Bulk model in his radioactive kiln. “Then, I’ll have the most obedient slave this side of Rascally Roy Thomas.” (Remember it is Roy writing that line.) There is also a face peeking out of a pot-bellied stove and it is saying, “S’all right?” What is that all about, I hear you ask. Well, I can tell you…but I think I’ll wait on that until it comes around again later.
The Puppet Mister telepathically contacts the Bulk, rousing him in the garbage dump. Also there are Bulk’s friend Slick Jones, Blunderbolt Boss, and Major Tailbone. (The last two have clothespins on their noses to combat the dump’s smell.) Bulk emerges, covered in garbage and Slick Jones tries to talk to him. In the background, Blunderbolt Boss tries to yell, “Stop!” but no one can hear him because his lettering is too small. He complains, “I told Sam Rosen to make my lettering bigger!”
Bulk stands transfixed, listening to the Puppet Mister in his head. He has an empty can of “Birds’ Eye Bird-Eyes” on his head. Slick tells him “we’ll start our own club in San Francisco…I’ve even brought some flowers for your hair.” (That bit is a riff on the Scott McKenzie song.) “[F]rom now on, Bulk listens to no one,” says Bulk, “except maybe Stan Lee when is near payday!” In the original, Hulk swats Rick away. Here, Bulk kicks Slick away, right by a sign saying, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.” (You’ll recall, that “Alice’s Restaurant” begins with taking a half of ton of garbage to the city dump. If you haven’t heard Arlo Guthrie’s song in a while or haven’t heard it at all, here is the entire glorious 18 minute rendition.)
Puppet Mister tells Bulk to “find the Sunk-Mariner and pulverize him” so Bulk bounds away and finds Sunky on the beach making a sand castle. “Bulk will do what sponsor says,” says Bulk, “Then maybe disk jockey play Bulk’s favorite song…’green is the color of my true love’s hair’.” That’s three song references in four panels. The actual song is Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair.
Bulk smashes the sand castle “because is symbol of exploitation of masses by ruling class.” Sunky throws sand in Bulk’s face. “If we’re gonna fight, let’s get it over with fast! I just remembered …’Star Trick’ starts shooting again tomorrow. And my Mr. Spook outfit’s still at the cleaners!” Stan gives us a footnote, “See NBE #4!” so let’s check that out. Or, better yet, let’s quote my Not Brand Echh #4 review: “Then No-More gets the idea of replacing “Mr. Spook” on ‘Star Trick.’ He clobbers Mr. Spook over the head and takes his place (because, you know, they both have pointed ears) until he’s told that their last adventure will be an exploration of an underwater kingdom. ‘Aaargh!’ says No-More, ‘Kranky, I’m comin’ home,’ and jumps out of the starship. ‘Oh well,’ says the Captain, ‘maybe he can hitch up with Losted in Space’.”
The fight continues as the jokes and sight gags ease off a bit. Puppet Mister orders Bulk to send No-More to him “Bulk mail.” When Bulk wonders why Sunky doesn’t “talk like refugee from road-show of Hamlet,” Sunky replies, “Oh that! My agent made me give it up! He said they’d never understand me in Chillicothe, Ohio.” (I’ve been to Chillicothe but I have no idea if there’s a reason Roy chose that city beyond that he thought it sounded funny.) When Bulk says, “Joke is on Sunk-Mariner,” Sunky replies, “So how come I’m not Laugh-In?” A reference to the hit TV show of the time…unless it was an innocent hyphenation.
Back at the dump, Laurel and Hardy are the white-coated paramedics who take Slick away on a stretcher. As in the original, Betty laments that she’s lost “Brucie Banter” forever. (Here, she is wearing a Bulk sweatshirt. Whereas, the actual Hulk shirt says, “Here Comes the Incredible Hulk,” this one says, “Howcum the Inedible Bulk?”) Instead of plotting the Bulk’s destruction, Major Tailbone, now dressed as a street sweeper complete with push broom, thinks, “It ain’t fair! I’m gonna quit this crummy mag and start my own comic strip…Tailbone Tommy!” (A word play on the old comic strip “Tailspin Tommy.”)
Back to the beach for the Bulk-Sunky battle, where a face peers out of a treasure chest and says, “S’all right?” Now it’s time to talk about this routine, which comes from the ventriloquism of Senor Wences, who was often seen on the Ed Sullivan Show. He mainly used his hand as a ventriloquist dummy named Johnny but he also had this bit of “S’all right? S’all right!” with a head in a box. If all this sounds bizarre to you, check out this YouTube clip of Senor Wences in action. It was bizarre but also very funny. Senor Wences, by the way, lived to be 103 years old.
In the following panel, Robinson Crusoe and Friday observe the fight from the background and, in the panel after that, the Bulk throws Sunky so that he almost collides with a flying Daffy Duck. “Sufferin’ succotash!” says Daffy, which, as we all know, is actually the catchphrase of Sylvester the Cat. (Daffy’s catchphrase is “You’re desthpicable.”) Bulk declares his toss of Sunky to be practice for “Spring Training for later in ish,” a reference to the upcoming “Casey at the Bat” story! Stan footnotes it, saying, “We’ll do anything to get you to read this whole mixed-up mag!” Don’t worry, Stan! We will!
The Bulk tries to “relax for a few pages,” until his “Casey” appearance but the Puppet Mister won’t let him. “Where do you think you’re going, you green-skinned goof-off?” he says, “This story’s still got three pages to go!”
Puppet Mister tells Bulk he must follow Sunky to Miami. (He sings, “I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles, Miami Mine!” a riff on the old Al Jolson song My Mammy.) With “Miami or Bust” tattooed on his chest, the Bulk takes a Jackie Gleason pose and says, And awaaay we go! because Jackie Gleason filmed his show in Miami. (There is a clam on the beach holding a sign that says, “Won’t you come home, Pearl Bailey?” a triptych of a bit with the “pearl” playing off the clam and the line riffing off the song “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey,” which was, in this instance sung by Pearl Bailey.) And the gags mentioned in this paragraph are all in one panel.
Meanwhile, Sunky attempts to land in the ocean but lands in a swimming pool instead. Bulk follows and the fight resumes but a kid getting out of the pool declares, “Look, kids…it’s Mr. Spook!” (The kid has “Don’t trust anyone over 12” on her swimsuit, a riff off the 60s youth declaration “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”) “Hey gang,” she continues, “it’s Mr. Spook from Star Trick!” One kid with an autograph book comes jumping in and accosts Bulk, because he thinks he’s Mr. Spook. “I collect mostly singers,” he tells the Bulk (even though the only autograph we can see in his book is “Stan Lee”). “Elvis Presley, Moby Grape, Everett Dirksen,” he says. (Elvis, I’m sure, you all know. Moby Grape was an actual band. Everett Dirksen was Senate Minority Leader.) A mob of kids arrives, trying to get to No-More. Bulk holds most of them back while Puppet Mister can’t figure out where they all came from. “Is this a comic mag or re-runs of Camp Runamuck?” he says. (Camp Runamuck was an actual sitcom on TV for only one year from 1965-66.)
The Sunk-Mariner escapes the kids by getting in the water. “We’d go after him ourselves but the water’s too cold,” say a couple of kids. “See ya around, Bulky,” says No-More, “I’m going back to Atloonis.” The Puppet Mister screams inside Bulk’s head and the kids all scream, “Good-Bye Mr. Spook!” “All these voices making somethin’ funny happen to Bulk,” says Bulk and he changes back to Brucie Banter. He conveniently has his glasses, which he puts on. A kid who looks like Dennis the Menace with a five o’clock shadow says, “Kids! Hey, look! He’s really…” and they all scream “Woody Allen!” Brucie runs for his life as the kids chase him. The Sunk-Mariner contentedly strolls along the ocean floor. “Ah, me! Fame is fleeting,” he says, “as what’s-his-name always used to say!” (I have to admit that I don’t get this reference unless it refers to General George Patton’s comment that “all glory is fleeting.” Anybody know about this?) And what is the Puppet Mister doing as his plan falls apart? He is “making a puppet of every member of the MMMS! Then, I’ll make ‘em all write their local TV stations! Me an’ Buffalo Blob are gonna make a comeback!”
In AE #95, Roy says, “I’ll confess it up front: this is another of my favorite NBE stories…There are no brilliant points or morals made – it’s just a fun romp, parodying the classic Stan the Man and Marie the She story – but it made the perfect lead-off for the issue.” And I have to agree. It’s chockfull of Severin sight gags and plenty of Roy’s up-to-date references and self-aware humor. You don’t have to know the story it parodies but it works so much better if you do. How often did a comic company make fun of one of its own stories, particularly one that was supposed to be a special event in a one hundredth issue? These nine short pages demonstrate the ridiculousness of that whole bloated 22 page Tales to Astonish battle with some of the same artists involved. Beautiful. Five webs.
We skip over a full-page ad for The Spectacular Spider-Man and come to our second story, Casey at the Bat! by Ernest Lawrence Thayer and it really is the Thayer poem aided by a whole lot of characters drawn by Tom Sutton and some dialogue added by Roy Thomas.
I'm not going to write out the entire Thayer poem, which is included in this story. You can find the full text here. I will quote when needed but let's not draw this out too much. I’m also going to (mostly) use the actual Marvel character’s names rather than the Echh names.
In AE #95, Roy says, “As soon as the expansion of NBE was decreed, it was inevitable that I’d do ‘Casey’…partly because of my love of the Kurtzman/Jack Davis rendition in Mad #6, August-September 1953, but also because having the basic story and script largely laid out for me in advance would make up a bit for the extra time spent on other NBE stories.” And this just may explain why the poem in the NBE version is slightly different than the four online versions I’ve checked because the poem in Mad #6 is the same as Roy’s version here. It looks like Roy took his copy of Mad #6 and copied the poem from there. The story in Mad is much the same as the one here. A cartoony rendition of the poem, only this one uses known comic book characters.
So, in this version, Dr. Octopus is the pitcher, the Watcher is the umpire and the Sub-Mariner is the water boy. Cooney who “dies at second” is portrayed by “Bunky Barnes” so that there is a tombstone for him at second in the next panel. (“1941-1949, 1953-1954,” it says, laying out the years that Bucky was in the comics. This is all well before the Winter Soldier, of course.) When “a pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game,” Tom gives us a shot of the crowd. It includes the Captain from the “Katzenjammer Kids,” Goofy (with a five o’clock shadow), Donald Duck villainess Magica De Spell (I think), the Spirit and Commissioner Dolan, Mickey Mouse (with a five o’clock shadow and pointing up to the “pallor” text and saying, “What the heck does that mean?”), the Frankenstein Monster, Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Green Lantern, the Scarlet Witch, Lil Abner, Attuma, and others. When the crowd “got up to go,” it is mainly Albert the Alligator (from Pogo) who we see leave. “Wonder if it’s too late to catch the Gator Bowl?!” he says. Popeye, Odin, Dick Tracy, Archie, Mickey Mouse, Cousin Eerie and Uncle Creepy remain. The popcorn saleman is the Silver Surfer. He rides his surfboard right into the back of Dagwood Bumstead’s head. Meanwhile, Uncle Scrooge pays Mickey Mouse off in Confederate money. (It says, “The south will rise again,” on it.) When Flynn comes up to bat, he is portrayed by Daredevil who faces the wrong way at the plate. (The catcher is Dr. Doom.) Flynn’s single is actually hit off the back of DD’s head. Then Thor steps up to the plate as “Blakely” and he “tore the cover off the ball” by whacking it with his hammer. (The Mole Man sneaks a peek from beneath home plate.) The “joyous yell” of the crowd comes from the Rawhide Kid and Ka-Zar (called Ka-Zoo here) who give out a “Hoo-Boy!” That cry “rumbled in the mountaintops” forcing Forbush-Man to run for his life. “For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat!” And Casey is, as he implied in the first story, the Inedible Bulk. He comes leaping in, yelling “Bulk stomp!” His bat is Mr. Fantastic. (You can tell by the FF “4” on it.) Instead of the “ease in Casey’s manner,” the “pride in Casey’s bearing,” and the “smile on Casey’s face,” the Bulk jumps all around the stadium, making a THOOM with each landing. (King Kong, holding Fay Wray, looks in from outside the stadium, scratching his head at the insanity within.) Bulk finally ends up at home plate (and now his bat shows Mr. F’s head and feet). Dr. Doom has had the metallic stuffing knocked out of him. (His foot has a Mattel trademark on it.) When Bulk is supposed to doff his hat, he flourishes someone else’s cap while still wearing his own. “Doff your hat, dummkopf,” says Doom. When Casey wipes his fingers on his shirt, Bulk, having no shirt, uses Doom’s cloak. “Not my shirt, schweinhund,” says Doom.
Doc Ock prepares to throw the pitch. He also has a glass of ice water, a fancy-looking rifle, a paddle ball, and a pennant that reads, “Bad Guys” in other arms. (And it is only at this point that I caught on that it is the Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys with non-partial Watcher umpiring home and above-it-all Galactus umpiring third. I’m ashamed of myself for missing this.) What Ock actually throws is something he didn’t even have…a football. Bulk lets it go by and the Watcher calls “strike one!” but the pitch is actually so high that Doom has to extend his mitt up in the air using an accordion-type contraption. Now it is Giant-Man who leans in from outside the stadium and he cries so much at the umpire’s call that he fills the stadium with water. The Wasp floats by on a bar of Ivory Soap. (Remember the Ivory Soap gag from the first story?)
When Bulk raises his hand to protest the crowd’s assault on the umpire, he has a note taped on his palm that says, “More!” Bulk stomps hard enough to propel crowd members into the air and the game continues. Now, Ock throws a ball that is attached to a small rocket. It has a lit fuse coming out of it. He holds a pennant that reads, “Send a Met to camp!” and a second that reads, “Any camp!” (The New York Mets were an expansion team in 1960 and so moribund for years that they were the frequent butt of jokes. But one year after this issue, the “Miracle Mets” would win the World Series.) Bulk lets the pitch go by for strike two and the bomb-ball explodes in Doom’s mitt. “Where’s Doc Bloom?” says Bulk, “Maybe he went fission!?” The crowd reacts again. This time, Bulk stops them by yelling, “SHADDUP!” so loudly he knocks over Beetle Bailey and Sarge and frightens Little Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks.
Bulk grows “stern and cold” as he holds a bat in his teeth, two more under his arm (it appears) and a fourth one down by his foot. That fourth one has a bear trap attached to it. Bulk holds a net in front of him with his two hands. Doom, who has recovered from being blown up, holds up two (literal) signs for the pitcher. One says, “Bean Ball” and the other says, “A bean ball you dolt!” Bulk “pounds with cruel vengeance his bat upon the plate.” His bat is now Batman. Robin looks on from behind. Doom holds up a sign that says, “Wouldja believe a spitball?”
Doc Ock throws his pitch “mit der Jack Kirby pose, yet!” (Ock, like Doom, has a German accent.) The ball is a take-off on the DC symbol of the day.
The middle says “AC.” (AC/DC, get it?) The wording above is “Stuporman” and the wording below is “Rational Comics.” When “the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow,” a sonic boom occurs but “Somethin’ funny happenin’ to Bulk.” And what that something is is that he has turned back into Brucie Banter. “Mighty Casey has struck out!!” and Brucie pounds the ground in frustration. In AE #95, Roy says, “For the final panel, I adapted the ending of the ‘Bestest League Meets Da Frantic Four’ parody that Grass Green and I had done back in Alter Ego (Vol. 1) #6in 1963, [It was cover-dated March 1964.] bringing in two teams that wanted [to] use the baseball diamond.” One side features Pogo and other characters from the Okefenokee Swamp. (Albert Alligator, Churchy LaFemme, Howland Owl, Beauregard Bugleboy, and, perhaps Miz Beaver’s fish in a fishbowl. Churchy carries a pennant that reads, “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better,” an appropriate Animal Farm reference.) The other team is composed of characters from “Peanuts.” (Charlie Brown with a five o’clock shadow and a cigarette behind his ear, Lucy, Snoopy, Pigpen, and two bland looking kids who are, perhaps, Sally and Linus.) “I know just how you feel, sir,” says Charlie to Brucie, “Just the same, could we have the field now for our game, please?” (Snoopy thinks, “Who ever heard of a man with green skin? Sheesh!” If this is a reference to something, it beats me. Anybody?)
It may be repeating an idea from an old issue of Mad but this is a gem of a story. It is so full of comic characters that half of the fun is finding and identifying them. Roy says of Tom Sutton, “He was as indefatigable as Marie!” and that is high (and deserving) praise. There are some wonderful sight gags (I barely scratched the surface in mentioning them) and Roy doesn’t overwhelm the poem with his own input. The choices of characters in the various roles (the Watcher as the umpire, Doc Ock as the pitcher, the masked Doom as the catcher, the Bulk as Casey) are inspired. And I love how the Bulk refers to this story in the first story. And the way Ivory soap comes back. I give it five webs.
So far, this is a first-rate NBE issue. We’ve got one more story before we continue on a different review page: the Green Hornet parody The Mean Hornet. Now, why would there be a Green Hornet parody in 1968 when the Hornet was created for radio back in 1936? Because there was a TV series on for one season from 1966-1967. It was produced by William Dozier, the same man who executive-produced the Batman ’66 TV series and it starred Van Williams as Britt Reid/the Green Hornet and Bruce Lee as his “faithful valet” Kato.
The story starts with a parody of the opening to the Green Hornet television series with the narrator asking if you remember different details. “Ya don’t remember that, huh?” says the narrator, “Well, don’t feel too downhearted, Charlie! Apparently nobody else does, either…or else we’d all still be watching the befuddled boob-tube bumblings of…the Mean Hornet.” The Black Beauty (called the “Black Bootie” here) comes crashing through a billboard, driven by Kato (called “Plato” here). In the back seat, the Mean Hornet says, “That @#*8$ secret door didn’t open fast enough again!” Ant-Man on an ant and the Wasp flee for dear life from the Black Bootie (which is an Edsel). “Gangway!” says the Wasp, “Here comes the Mean Hornet – off on one of his most vital missions…namely, looking for a new job now that his TV show’s folded!” In the car, the Hornet tells Plato that the creditors are after him. “Even the rag I publish as Brick Weed has gone bankrupt, thanks to our last headline!” He holds the paper in his hand. The headline is “Dewey Wins!” This is a reference to the famous Chicago Tribune headline of “Dewey Defeats Truman” which turned out to be embarrassingly wrong.
The Hornet tells Plato that “First we crash the gate at the TV studio.” They head to NBZ studios (its motto is “Abandon Ye Bob Hope, All Who Enter Here”) They first stop on the set of “Star Trick” where the Hornet points his “gassy” gun at Captain Quirk and asks for a job “or else.” Off to the side, Mr. Spook is thinking, “What would they say if they really knew that Mr. Spook is none other than mighty Marble’s own Sunk-Mariner?” This is a cute tie-in to other stories except that we know from those other stories that Mr. Spook is not mighty Marble’s own Sunk-Mariner. Meanwhile, Sulu and Plato wave karate hands at each other. “Don’t mess with me, boy,” says Plato, “ or I’ll clobber you with a half-Nielsen.” (This is not the first Asian stereotype in this story and it won’t be the last but it is somewhat excusable in that Bruce Lee was known for his martial arts.) A female crewman says, “We do need somebody as stand-ins to fight the dread eyeless monsters from Venus…otherwise known as the Venusian blinds!” In AE #95, Roy says this is his “personal favorite bit,” adding, “There aren’t many things some writers – at least this one – enjoy more than a wicked pun!”
The Hornet and Plato tackle the Venusian blinds. The Hornet asks Plato to “clip ‘em with the ol’ gung fu” but Plato says he can’t. “Not till you say the secret word,” a reference to the old Groucho Marx (“You Bet Your Life”) TV show. The Hornet uses his gas gun but it backfires, putting the whole Star Trick cast to sleep “for a month.” “And we can’t wait for them to wake up,” says the Hornet so they move on to the next studio set, which is filming “Hi, Spy.” There, they run into Bob Culprit and Bill Costly.
This is a parody of “I Spy,” a program starring Bob Culp and Bill Cosby as US secret agents. When the Hornet sees them, he says, “One of whom resembles my uncle.” I think this is simply a lead-in to the Man From U.N.C.L.E. joke rather than a play on the Hornet’s actual uncle. (The Green Hornet’s great-uncle was the Lone Ranger. More on that in a moment. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was another spy show on TV at the time.) So, after the Hornet’s line, Bill says, “He shouldn’t mention that word around here, man!” to which Bob replies, “What word…spies?” to which Bill replies, “No, man…uncle! Besides, he looks just like ol’Weird Harold!” This is a reference to one of Bill Cosby’s characters from his stand-up routine (who later appeared on the “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” TV show). Bill and Bob are not interested in giving a job to the Hornet but they have one for Plato. They toss a grenade into the Hornet’s hands and lead Plato away. “Will I be a big TV star,” says Plato, “like my cousin Oddslob?” which is a reference to the James Bond villain Odd Job from “Goldfinger.”
So, the filming of “Hi, Spy” begins. Bill is wearing a Thing “It’s Clobbering Time” sweatshirt. Bob is making out with a redhead, since he was the love interest in the show. Bill says, “So, like I was sayin’ to Cryin’ Charlie…” who is another character from a Bill Cosby routine. Bob says, “It’s about time for our weekly spy fight!” That is the cue for Plato, disguised as a palm tree to attack. (He has the palm tree on his head and has been concealed in a pot.) “This is where you whip off your potted plant disguise,” says Bob, “and come on like Auntie Mame!” “Maim?” says Plato, “That is secret word I’ve been waiting for!” So that finishes off the “secret word” gag.
And Plato is not kidding. He rips into Bill and Bob as well as the TV camera. “I started out as a child,” says Bill (another riff of a Cosby stand-up routine), “And I think I should’a stayed that way.” Bob complains that Plato is attacking them with tennis balls. (Culp’s “I Spy” character was a tennis pro.) “Hah! Honorable hand-chops make mince-meat out of boob-tube James Bombs…while honorable foot-chops finish off enemy spies disguised as TV cameras,” says Plato (as the Road Runner runs past in the bottom part of the panel with Wile E. Coyote right behind). All of this just gets Plato literally thrown off the show. He returns to the Mean Hornet who still has the grenade in his hands. “When’s this blamed grenade gonna go off?” he asks. “Well, Mistah Brick, now that you’re not off-panel any more, it should happen about…now!” And it does. The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote appear again in the bottom of the panel. “I coulda told you that!” says Wile E., finishing off that gag.
“Two hours later,” the smoke clears. The Hornet and Plato’s clothes are blown to tatters but they are fine. Plato decides to “go back to old job as Charlie Chin’s number-one son” but the Hornet has a better idea. “We’ll get into a sure thing…namely a TV western!” (“Sure thing? You not been reading TV Glide closely again, boss!” says Plato, which probably means that there had been articles about how Westerns were finally on their way out.) The Hornet means to “ride over to Central Casting” but Plato tells him that “Honorable loanshark’s lawyers just repossessed Black Bootie.” So the Hornet rides on Plato’s back. There is even a “Clippetyclopetyclip” sound effect as if Plato, on all fours, makes the sound of a horse. The Hornet wears a big button that says, “Member: Bee Lilly Fan Club.” I do not know what this means. Also cryptic is the arrow that points them to “TV casting department” with the parenthetical “Tammy Grimes look-alikes, keep out!” I remember Tammy Grimes but I couldn’t tell you the point of this joke.
I can tell you about the next gags, though. The Hornet winds up getting the role of the Lonesome Ranger, which, he says, he was “born to play.” Roy adds a footnote that reads, “Halcyon Historical Note: Many people do not realize that the Mean Hornet and the Lonesome Ranger were really different versions of the same character! (In fact, we’re not too blamed sure of it ourselves!)” Actually, the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet were both creations of George W. Trendle and Fran Striker for WXYZ radio in Detroit. They also created Sgt. Preston of the Yukon for WXYZ. In the Green Hornet radio show, we learn that Britt Reid is the great-nephew of John Reid, who is the Lone Ranger.
There are arrows everywhere, including in the Hornet’s ten-gallon hat and in the side of the panel. Plato has a bow in hand and may have shot the arrows unless an annoyed-looking Hawkeye who is approaching from behind shot them. A tailor is measuring the Hornet for his outfit and he says, “By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I killed seven with one blow?” This is a reference to the Brothers Grimm tale The Brave Little Tailor.
The tailor finishes up by handing the Hornet his box of silver bullets. “As certified by U.S. Treasury, Bank of America, and Zsa Zsa Gabor,” it says on the box. Then a director pipes up and tells him it’s time to “shoot all the baddies, of course! After they beat up on you for a while, natch!” The Hornet has a better idea. “I told you this is where our money problems would end, didn’t I?” he says to Plato, referring to the silver bullets. “So now all we gotta do is…trample ‘em into the dust…while we dig out for parts unknown with a lusty…Hi-Yo Silverfish!” And, as the sound effects say “Dust! Dust! Trample! Trample!” the Hornet (on his horse Silverfish) and Plato run over the baddies and head to Miami “along with all other re-run heroes.” They hang out on the beach with Ralph Kramden, Ed Norton (who is reading NBE), Paladin from “Have Gun will Travel” (his pop gun has a flag that says, “Bang, You’re Dead! Ratings Wise!”), Mike Nelson (not the MST3K comedian but the Lloyd Bridges character from “Sea Hunt”), Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz. The Hornet is thrilled that he could ditch his overcoat. “D’ya know how hot it got runnin’ around in that thing – in August, yet? Just pray that these solid-silver bullets hold out, Plate! By the way, let’s slip a stinger in my next mint-julep, shall we?”
In AE #95, Roy says, “We ended the story on a note we’d struck before – the Hornet and Plato…lounging on a beach with ‘other re-run heroes’.” He’s referring to the end of “The Human Scorch versus the Sunk-Mariner in the Battle of the Century!” in Not Brand Echh #1 (Story 3) where the Scorch and Sunky go to the “Happy Haven Home for Hoary Halcyon Heroes” along with various old comic strip characters like Dick Tracy and the Little King. But I think Roy is being too hard on himself. This ending feels very different to me.
I get a kick out of the ending to this story with the Hornet using the silver bullets to finance his retirement. I like the tie-in to the Lone Ranger and I like some of the bits (“Dust Dust Trample Trample,” the Wasp and Ant-Man fleeing for their lives, even Roy’s “Venusian Blinds”). But many of the bits fall flat (including a bunch that I didn’t even bother to mention). The “Star Trick” segment doesn’t work for me and the “Hi, Spy” part just feels overbearing. But the real egregious bits in this story are all the Asian stereotypes. I try to review these issues with the eyes of the times but I think all of the “Honorable” this and “Honorable” that and the references to Plato being “Charlie Chin’s number-one son” and the cousin of “Oddslob,” would feel like too much even back in 1968. Worst of all is the moment where the Mean Hornet rides Plato like a horse. Was this funny 50 years ago? I doubt it.
The idea of the Hornet searching for a new series after his has been cancelled is clever but not clever enough to overcome all the negatives here. I give it two webs.
Time for a break! The fourth story, Super-Hero Greeting Cards features Spidey so it has a review all its own. (Well, not all its own. Boney and Claude will be in there too.) So, let’s total up what we have here and continue the review over there.
A very good start to the first king-size issue in spite of the awful Asian stereotypes. Five webs plus five webs plus two webs divided by three sounds like four webs to me.
Threre are still four stories to go. Let’s skip over to Not Brand Echh #9 (Story 4) to continue the review.