Not Brand Echh #12 (Story 1)

Background

As with our last Brechh review, let’s start with the cover, the frontispiece, and the first story.

Story 'Comiclot'

  Not Brand Echh #12 (Story 1)
Summary: Spider-Man Parody (Spidey-Man) on Cover and Stars
Editor: Stan Lee
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Marie Severin

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. In any event, this issue’s last story is a Frankenstein monster riff called “Frankenstein Sicksty-Nine!” If it’s the last story, why am I mentioning it now? Because the monster is also on the cover. It’s another great Marie Severin piece and it shows the monster, clad in a green and yellow “Purina checkerboard” sports coat with a flowered lei around his neck. He is bursting through a door that says “Marble Club House” on it and he is center stage, drawing all of our attention. This is made certain by having his head sticking up into the logo. So, you look at the logo, then at his head, then down to the rest of him before you look at all the “Marble” characters arrayed around him in a circle. They are reacting to him and recoiling from him. Clockwise from the top right are the Thung, the Mighty Sore, Ironed Man, Charlie America, the Silver Burper, Dr. Bloom, Scaredevil, the Sunk-Mariner, Forbush-Man, Spidey-Man, and the Inedible Bulk. Four of them are calling out, “It’s Frankenstein!” Forbush-Man, who is carrying a tray with a soda pop bottle and an ice cream sundae on it, says, “Why’s everyone running?” (By the way, Sore is eating a sundae at a table and Bulk has an empty glass with straws in it at his table. Is Forbush-Man the waiter for the Marble Club House?) Dr. Bloom, his back to the proceedings, replies, “He’s got baaad breath!” Okay, it’s a lame joke but it’s still a great cover.

The monster also dominates the “Marvel Comics Group” image in the upper left-hand corner. He is in profile with a flower tucked behind his ear. Below him are Sore, looking quite put upon, and Spidey-Man looking like Spidey-Man.

The greytone contents page on the inside front cover is a cheese motif this time. Roy Thomas in Alter Ego #95, July 2010 says it “consisted of stats from the stories – all employed as giant holes in a piece of Swiss cheese, and with takeoffs on several mouse types (Mickey, Mighty, and Ignatz Rat) gnawing away at it. It was doubtless designed by John Verpoorten.” Which is to say that Mickey Mouse, Mighty Mouse and Ignatz Mouse are there. I’m not entirely sure that they are presented as rats.

There are ten stories in this issue but only six presented on the contents page. They are spread out on the hunk of cheese in no particular order. “Comiclot!” uses page 4 panel 2 for its image, “Revengers!” uses page 2 panel 3 (with the Wisp moved over so she won’t be covered by the title), “Frankenstein Sicksty-Nine!” uses page 4 panel 2 (Franky’s right hand, which is covered by a word balloon in the story, can be seen here), “Drawing Lessons” uses the rough Mighty Sore sketch from page 4 panel 2, “Unhumans!” uses page 3 panel 3, and “Charlie America’s Family Album!” uses page 1 panel 2 from their respective stories.

The issue leads off with Comiclot, a parody of the musical “Camelot,” which first appeared on Broadway in 1960 with Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Queen Guinevere, and Robert Goulet as Sir Lancelot. The film came out in 1967 with Richard Harris as Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot. Comiclot loosely follows Camelot’s plot (if it’s unclear to you, here’s Rotten Tomatoes short synopsis: “After the arranged marriage of Arthur (Richard Harris) and Guinevere (Vanessa Redgrave), the king gathers the noble knights of the realm to his Round Table. The dashing and stalwart Lancelot (Franco Nero) joins, but soon finds himself enraptured by the lovely Guinevere. When Arthur's illegitimate son, Mordred (David Hemmings), reappears in the kingdom and outs the secret lovers, Arthur finds himself trapped by his own rules into taking action against his wife and closest friend.”) and includes takeoffs on some songs in the mode of the Mad magazine musical parodies. (Perhaps this is why the story begins with a “Department”… ”You-Saw-the-Movie-Already-Now-Dig-the-Comic-Book Dept”…a la Mad.) But before we get into it, here’s Roy again:

“This comics parody began with an odd detour…since, for reasons now unremembered, it was originally going to be drawn by an animator named Bill Peckmann, a good friend of John Verpoorten’s and a real nice guy besides….I seem to recall it was Bill who christened the parody ‘Comiclot,’ before I’d even begun to think about a title.” Roy contacted Bill for this Alter Ego article and Bill picks up the story: “When John made me an offer which I couldn’t refuse, to pencil ‘Comiclot,’ it seemed like a great idea. Plus, one of the perks was being able to see the movie version of ‘Camelot’ with you [Roy] and Groovy Gary [Friedrich]. Unfortunately, having a steady job did not leave me much time to work on the story, and the penciling wasn’t anywhere as easy as I thought it would be. So…I’ll always remember making that call to John on a Sunday night to very ungracefully bow out of completing the job. I still don’t feel right about doing that.” And here’s Roy again: “At any rate, with Bill’s abrupt departure, Marie Severin stepped admirably into the breach, but didn’t directly use any of Bill’s layouts. If she had, we’d have mentioned Bill in the credits.”

The story begins with a kid wearing a “Class of ‘39” shirt, reading comics and dreaming that he had “been the one to write this old book about King Arthur” but doing it “a little different” and calling it “Comiclot.” So, we look in on that young man’s dream where he is now a knight with a very large jeweled sword but still with “Class of ‘39” on his back. The king has his hand on the knight’s head and he tells him, “Listen to my tale of woe, little friend, that you may tell my story to the fickle, forgetful masses…the story of Sore, God of Blunder!” Yes, King Arthur in this version is the Mighty Sore. The knights (Charlie America, the Thung, Scaredevil, Ironed Man) are all turning on him. “It all began to go wrong,” says Sore, “on that one fateful evening…the night I had dreaded most of all…the night before what was to be my wedding day.”

It’s a flashback to that moment with Sore hiding behind a tree while Bulk, Ironed Man, Knock Furious, and Hokey (Loki) search for him. Sore is wearing a top hat, bow tie, dickey, and tuxedo jacket over his costume. There’s a castle on a hill in the background. Tinkerbell flies over it, sprinkling fairy dust. The hill is labeled © Walt Dizzy. Behind his tree, Sore thinks his song to the tune of I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight. “I know what the heroes are thinking, just now…as they raise such a clamor and tzimmes…all of them chortling or mumbling a vow…They stare at the palace and grimace. Whenever a breeze smites my cheek, I can almost hear one of them speak…” and Ironed Man finishes the song by calling out “I wonder what the Thing is doing tonight?” with a footnote confessing, “Sure, we know we should’a said ‘Thung’ instead…but what the hey, it’s our mag!” And I’ve got to admit, I love the rhyming of tzimmes with grimace.

Sore changes his mind about avoiding his wedding, though, when he peeks out and sees his intended. It is Sarey Jane (Mary Jane), who is go-go dancing on a cart being pulled by J. Jawbone Junkton. Auntie Mayhem is riding on a horse alongside her and she asks for “a bit more dignity.” “Dignity, shmignity,” says Sarey Jane, “this is my last chance to swing out, before I make the rice-and-shoes scene! Like, where are the simple joys of teenybopperhood?” Sore comes running out, knocking JJJ aside. SJ wears a “Miss Teenage Britain of 588 A.D.” button (and the Lizard offers her a flower bouquet) as she asks, “Where’s the action in this disaster area?” “I’ll show thee! I’ll show thee!” says Sore, doffing his top hat.

He nearly smothers her in a bear hug as he tells her that there’s “no crime unpunished…no villainy unavenged…by decree of the Comical Code” and then breaks into song, to the tune of Camelot, “It’s truth…forsooth…the Code hath had its wish! The moral climate’s perfect…every ish! A Code was made about a week before now…There can’t be too much violence in the plot! And there’s a three-inch limit to the gore now…in Comiclot! We slug our foes while blissfully emotin’…it’s so much neater than if they’re just shot! And anyway, all gun ads are verboten…in Comiclot! (In the wake of increased criticism about violence in the media, the Comics Code cracked down, including banning all war toy ads in comic books.) Comiclot…Comiclot…I guess it’s not the usual style! But in Comiclot…Comiclot…we stomp you with a smile…” SJ cuts in, saying, “Sounds like dullsville!” and Sore says, “Shush! There’s more!” Carrying SJ under his arm on his way to the castle, Sore sings, “The villain never gets away scot free now…Unless, of course, he meets his end next ish…In other words, there’s not another place that’s got more clobbering per cubic inch than here in Comiclot!” SJ struggles, yelling, “Lemme outta this loony-bin…I don’t like it!” and all the villains standing around agree. “She doesn’t like it?” asks Baron Zemo (with “Dickie” written on his tunic; a reference to the Broadway King Arthur, Richard Burton). “How does she think we feel?” asks the Lizard (with “Liz” on his tunic, not only because he’s Liz but because he’s Liz Taylor to Zemo’s Richard Burton). “Yeah…knowin’ us baddies always gotta lose!” says Doc Ock. “There oughtta be a law!” says Magneat-o. “There is! That’s why we lose!” says the Rhino.

Sore shows SJ, “this palace, this pageantry…this panel border” (his fingers push the panel border out of shape) but SJ is distracted by the arrival of a knight on a horse that is wearing a Spider-Man mask. It is Spidey-Man himself, holding a lance covered in red webbing fabric and a shield that has the spider-tracer image on it. He wears Dr. Deranged’s cape and he sings to the tune of C’est Moi. “Comiclot…Comiclot…in Forest Hills I heard you bray….Comiclot…Comiclot…and here I come to save the day.” (“Say…that be Mitey Mouse’s line!” says Sore.) “Tis I, Tis I!, I’m just what you need…although I don’t work for free…I’ll make crime ebb while spinnin’ my web…tis I, tis I…Tis me!” Spidey-Man does a somersault off his steed and ends up at the foot of Sore’s throne. “I’m Sir Spidey-Man,” he says, “and I’m here to learn your secret of ‘How to Handle a Villain!” “And, if we have to footnote this one, we’re in trouble!” because this one is to the tune of How To Handle a Woman. Sore sings, “How to handle a villain? Cause you’re you, I shall clue you in…the way to handle a villain is to thrash him…simply smash him….merely mash him…dash him…bash him!” As he sings, he beats on Hokey, Dr. Bloom, and the Red Skull (whatever the heck his Echh name is) and the sound effects reflect his lyrics. (I particularly like the “Mash! Dash! Bash!” over the Skull.) But Sir Spidey-Man isn’t listening. Sarey Jane has beckoned to him. “You’re cute,” she says when he approaches. He puts his arm around her. “Wanna see my collection of first-edition webs?” he asks. “Groovy,” she says.

Sore looks around when his song is done and notices that SJ is gone. “She got bored and split, Moldylocks,” says Hokey, “This ain’t exactly Fun City, y’know!” “Then, we’ll make it a fun city,” says Sore, “With a halcyon happening! It’s tournament time!” The villains aren’t happy. A Hydra guy says, “Sore’s tournaments are all the same! The good guys always win! I’m beginnin’ to think they’re fixed!”

So, Sore walks to the tournament with his arm around SJ. The only problem is that SJ has her arm around Spidey and Spidey has his arm around her. “So, it’s like I was sayin’, sweetie,” says Spidey, “when you look like a tarantula, folks don’t think you’re sincere.” “Poor Spidey,” says SJ.

The tournament begins; a free-for-all joust with the heroes on the left and villains on the right. Scaredevil has a candy-striped lance and a shield emblazoned with SD, Ironed Man has a mechanical lance, Charlie America has a stars and stripes lance. The Sunk-Mariner’s lance is a giant water pistol that says “water power” on the side. The Human Scorch has a tea kettle on his head and holds a spatula. Captain Marble has an arrow with a rubber tip stuck on his helmet. On the other side, the Green Gobbler prepares to throw a pumpkin bomb. Kingpin rides an elephant, wears a crown, has a shield with a dollar sign on it and a lance that has a hot dog stuck on the end. The Mandarin rides what looks like an inflatable beach toy; a red horse wearing glasses that smiles broadly like a World War II Japanese caricature... (I wonder if this was supposed to be a [racist], anti-Communist commentary, seeing as it is the Mandarin riding it.) The Hydra guy wields a big axe in the shape of an “H.”

They argue about which song they should sing. “Joust One of Those Things,” “Save the Last Lance for Me,” “Knight and Day,” “That’s Strife,” “You Mace Me Feel So Young,” “Put Your Armor Round Me, Honey,” or “Cudgel Up a Little Closer.” Spidey sneaks in and says, “Actually the song we should do now is ‘if ever I would cleave you,’ but there’s only room left for a cut version. Yok!” “Matter of fact, Spidey…there ain’t even room for that,” says Roy in a caption as all the jousters collide in a big sound effect of “Collide!” They end up in a huge pile, to the amusement of the Mighty Sore, that includes characters who weren’t even in the tournament.

Sore stops laughing, though, when Hokey points out that “Sir Spidey-Man [is] cuttin’ out with the fair Sarey Jane.” And, there they are riding off on Spidey’s horse, with the sound effect of “Flee! Flee!” Hoppy the Marvel Bunny is emerging from behind a tree, for some reason, as Spidey says, “You’ll dig it in Forest Hills, luv! Just one thing…underneath this mask, I got a crew cut!” “You think I liked that stupor-square’s tousled tresses?” replies SJ, “Face it…Tiny Tim he ain’t!”

Sore moans and groans, “Oh woe, o worryment! Verily, I have lost the true light of my overcast life! And, worst of all…I just gave her my MMMS pin!” He consoles himself with “at least I still have my kingdom of heroes and villains…” except that three beaten-up bad guys (Green Gobbler, Dr. Bloom, and Magneat-o) tell him that they are quitting. They sing, to the tune of I Loved You Once in Silence, “We loathed you once in secret, while you stomped us in the floor…Put up with the way you treat a sinner…but you ain’t a winner…not any more!” Then Charlie America steps in to add that “Us heroes ain’t too wild about you, either!” And they all leave Sore alone, bringing us back to the beginning where he is telling his story to the knight with “Class of ‘39” on his back. As Sore sings, “Comiclot…Comiclot…I knew we sound a bit like hicks…but in Comiclot…Comiclot…we really get our kicks! Where once a villain never died for certain…twas just ‘away’ or maybe out on loan…In case you quite forgot, through all this nutty plot, I’m talking ‘bout that madhouse that was known as…” “Comiclot!” the young knight finishes the song and then promises to “keep your dream alive, Sore!” Just then he realizes that his dream is over. He wakes up and it turns out that our “wonder-struck waif” is Stan Lee as a kid. He uses a kid’s telephone, two tin cans connected by a string, to contact “Kirby-baby,” telling him, “Wait’ll you hear the idea I just had! Get out your Crayolas, and start drawin’ it up for me! It’s all about Thunder Gods and teenage spiders and super-villains and…” On the other end of the line, Kirby-baby sits at his drawing table, smoking a cigar. (He has a potted plant on his window sill labeled “Irving” like the plant in Mad Magazine labeled “Arthur,” so we begin with one Mad allusion and end with another.) “Okay, okay Stanley…I’m halfway thru with it already!” he says, “But keep it down to a dull roar, willya? Ya want my folks should wake up and smell cigar smoke?”

General Comments

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I used to read those Mad movie parodies and the musicals always frustrated me. I wanted to sing the Mad lyrics but, in many cases, I didn’t know the songs. I was listening to Top 40 radio, not my parents’ music. I suspect the same thing was true with this Camelot take-off. Roy’s new lyrics are inspired (“We stomp you with a smile,” “It’s so much neater than if they’re just shot!” “In Forest Hills I heard you bray,” “We loathed you once in secret while you stomped us in the floor.”) but how many readers could sing along and appreciate them? How many readers got the jokes with the joust take-offs of “That’s Life,” “You make me feel so young,” and so on?

If the answer is “not many,” then the mistake here is choosing to do a parody of a year-old, not-particularly successful film rather than the execution of it. The concept of turning Camelot into a parody of the Marvel Universe where the “Comical Code” insists “there can’t be too much violence in the plot” and “the villain never gets away scot free” works just fine, as does the gimmick of the villains’ revolt (and the consequent hero revolt) as well as putting Spidey and SJ in the Lancelot and Guinevere roles (“Groovy”). What definitely doesn’t work, at least from a modern perspective, is the ending with the implication that Stan Lee came up with all of these characters on his own. You have to wonder what Jack Kirby thought of this at the time. Even if he never saw it, it feels like a poster child of why Jack created “Houseroy” to suck up to his Stan take-off “Funky Flashman” in Mister Miracle #6, January-February 1972, after he joined DC.

Overall Rating

Bothering to do a “Camelot” parody: 1 web.
Its execution: 5 webs.
Implying that Stan created all the characters in the Marvel Universe: minus 1 web.

Let’s call it 2 webs.

Footnote

Next: Like it or not, there’s plenty more where that came from. Come along for Not Brand Echh #12 (Story 2).