Time to wrap this issue up as a one-panel Spidey appearance earns this story its own review…whether it deserves it or not.
“This is the era of sick humor,” begins our story, “In fact, some of it is just plain unhealthy…even today’s TV soap operas make the old monster movies look like Mary Poppins…so what would happen if ‘Frankenstein ‘36’ [the film is actually from 1931] were remade today as…Frankenstein Sicksty-Nine!”
Now, back in Not Brand Echh #12 (Story 1), I talked about the cover of this issue and said, “I thought for sure there was an actual film entitled ‘Frankenstein ’69,’ which I thought I remembered from when I was a kid. But an online look only brings up Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, a Hammer horror flick that came out in 1969. So, maybe it was this issue of Brechh that I remembered.” But since writing that, I remembered that there is a 1958 film entitled Frankenstein 1970, so maybe I was thinking of that. This story has nothing to do with that. It’s more of a mish-mash of Universal horror movie tropes combined with a view of the 1969 counterculture, written by someone who had no clue what the youth culture was all about.
It begins with our Brechh version of Igor, the terrible Toad, rushing to the lab of Dr. Von Doom N. Stein with a bag labeled “goodies.” (It is later labelled “Toadie’s Bag.”) Toadie leaps down into an underground lab calling for “Baron Von Doomenstein!” He finds a body lying on a gurney, covered from head to ankle, with the feet sticking out and a bare arm dangling out of the covering; just like the classic Frankenstein films of the 1930s. Seeing the Baron is nowhere around, Toadie decides to “start the experiment myself.” He turns on the electricity and jolts the Baron (who looks exactly like Dr. Doom) out of his sleep underneath the sheet. (His bare arm is now covered in Doom’s armor.) “Himmel! Vas ist? Couldn’t a man grab a little shleep around here?” he says. (Yes, the Baron has a stereotypical German accent.) The doorbell rings and the Baron goes to answer it. While he’s gone, Toadie takes advantage and dumps the contents of his bag into a big vat. “Now I’ll make up for waking him by starting the experiment myself!” he thinks. Doom returns to say that “it was only Doc Derange come to borrow a cup of Black Widow Venom,” but Tom doesn’t bother to draw it so we don’t see it.
The Baron tells Toady that he “will create a super guy who will possess der brain of a nuclear physicist…der hands of a concert pianist…and der legs of a track-shtar.” The Baron imagines his creation; a blond man in red swim trunks, flexing his muscles. (It reminds me of Frank-N-Furter in “Rocky Horror.” I’m making a man with blond hair and a tan…. Unfortunately, what comes out of the vat is the Universal movie Frankenstein Monster, wearing a flower lei. “I sent you to get a famous Hollywood face,” says the Baron. “And that’s what I got!” Toadie replies, “The face of Boris Karload’s stand-in!” Doom tries to “work out some tough mathematical problems” to fix things but he drops his pencil and the monster retrieves it in his mouth, “on all fours.” Doom smacks himself in the forehead and asks Toadie if he got the brain of “der great atomic scientist…Pierre St. Bernard.” “To tell the truth, Master,” says Toadie, “some rotten grave-robber got Pierre! So, I figured any Saint Bernard would do.” “You got a dog’s brain?” asks the Baron. “Not any dog,” says Toadie, “he was ‘Best in Show’ at Madison Sq. Garden last year!”
The Baron asks his monster to “play me some Chopin” on the piano but the monster leaps up and uses his feet on the keys. For one panel only, he has horse legs so we can get this gag: “Aaaach! I said the legs of a track star!” “So? He was a horse track-star!”
Doom goes after Toadie and, while he does, the monster splits. (“Me go! These fellas no fun!”) He finds himself on McDougal Street in New York’s Greenwich Village “This strange place,” he says, “full of beads and flowers! Is either Indian village or funeral parlor!” There he finds a blonde girl with flowers in her hair, looking into the water flowing down the street gutter. She sees the monster’s face reflected in the water and we’re off on our version of the scene in the 1931 film where the monster throws the little girl in the lake. Here, the girl finds “true love reflected in sewer water.” She leaps up and hugs the monster, telling him, “You’ll be my Flower Power love!” The monster tells her, “Me dig flower…me dig power…me even dig love! It’s you me no dig!” and he dumps her in the water. “Who cares!” she says, “You’re probably a rotten establishment monster!”
Soon, the monster finds himself in a protest. The participants are chanting “Blech Power!” (A rather hamhanded scoff at “Black Power.”) This group is protesting for “Equal Frights for Monsters!” The Bride of Frankenstein and a werewolf are among the protesters and the group holds signs that say “This is Be-Kind-To-Vampires Month!” “Support Your Local Zombie!” and so on. The monster flees, thinking, “Me better cut out, now! Bad for family name to be caught with such radical nutties!” (He has “I’m a East Village Other” written on his forehead.) He runs into an alley and past Spidey-Man who is hanging upside-down. “Hey, tall, green and gruesome…you’re not so tough! How about a fight?” says Spidey. “Okay - - me get ringside tickets - - you bring popcorn!” says the monster. And that’s the end of Spidey.
The monster runs into Count Dracula who asks him to “follow me into my psychedelic night club,” the windmill-shaped Mindmill. (Gnatman and Rotten, now actual bats, approach Drac. “Rotten, are you sure this is Boob Krane?” asks Gnatman, lampooning Bob Kane. “Either him or his ghost!” says Rotten.) But Drac tricks the monster and brings him back to “Baron von Doomenstein” in the windmill instead. (A spider in the corner builds a web and thinks, “Knit one! Pearl two!”) Thinking his master is threatened, the monster grabs Doom to protect him and climbs “way to top of windmill! Nine stories high!” in a parody of the climatic windmill scene in the 1931 Frankenstein flick. Doom tells him, “I can’t shtand high heights! I get acrophobia…very bad spells!” “Cheer up, master,” says the monster, “Nobody could spell acrophobia.”
So the monster, Doom, and Drac look down from the windmill at the mob forming below. It is comprised of old comic strips characters. Roy Thomas in Alter Ego #95, July 2010 gives us the full roster: “Andy Gump, Barney Google and his horse Sparkplug, the Katzenjammer Kids and the long-suffering Captain, Jiggs and Maggie, Popeye and Wimpy, Smokey Stover, Krazy Kat and Ignatz, Nancy, Henry, and Major Hoople from Our Boarding House.” Almost all of them have something to say but the only one that works for me is Nancy saying, “Henry, say something! For gosh sakes…say something!” For those who don’t know, Henry, who starred in his own comic strip, never said a word.
Seeing the angry mob of comic characters below, the monster says, “This terrible waste! Me die now, before world has chance to hear me play great piano!” Drac says that he is a jazz guitarist while Doom says that he plays “a wonderful bass fiddle.” And so they start a band called “The Monster Cheese” with an octopus on drums and Forbush-Man on the trumpet. The comic characters disappear, replaced byan admiring crowd. “Go…go…you mad ghouls!” yell their fans as the group plays their song, “Let’s be Monster and Missis!”
Yes, that’s really the end of the story and a pretty dismal ending it is. Roy, who always tries to say something nice in his AE #95 article can’t do any better than, “Despite the ‘co-plotter’ credit I’ve given Tom Sutton here, I can’t be certain Arnold didn’t do some of his NBE efforts with a full script in advance…the older method, to which comics in recent years have (sadly, to my mind) returned. Tom’s work is a bit less whacky, a bit more controlled in this story…I don’t see the totally wild layouts he usually did when working from a synopsis. Whatever the method, the pair nicely managed to work some madness into it.”
I think that’s “some madness” as in “very little madness.” I like the “acrophobia” joke and Nancy’s “Henry, say something!” and not much else. You could say, as Roy does, that Tom Sutton is “a bit more controlled” or you could say that his artwork is missing all of the madness that makes it work in his other Echh stories. Here, he’s so restrained as to be dull. Nothing really stands out in the artwork.
As for the story…well, have you ever read the DC Comics from the 1960s that were written by middle-aged men who were so out of touch with the times that their attempts at hipness were laughable? Arnold Drake was responsible for a couple of those, such as his creation of “Super-Hip” in Adventures of Bob Hope #95, October-November 1965. Unfortunately, he exhibits the same tone-deafness in this youth-oriented comedy with his embarrassing pokes at hippies and protesters. It’s not funny when the monster throws the blonde hippie girl into the gutter and it’s not funny when pro-monster protesters lampoon the Black Power movement. The ending, with the monster, Drac, and Doom becoming a popular rock band feels like something out of an issue of “Life with Archie.” Even the poking at the original Frankenstein movie misfires, although it works better than the awful goading of youth culture. This misbegotten effort seems even more out-of-step when compared with the inspired Gary Friedrich work on “Sgt. Fury’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “My Search for True Love;” two of the best youth-inspired NBE features and they appear right here in this issue to show Arnold Drake how it’s done.
A total fizzle on all levels. The more I look it over, the less I like it. One-half web.
But, an average of about 3 webs for the entire issue and that ain’t half bad.
We did it. We got through another issue of Echh. And our reward is a return to the flagship. ASM #70 is next!