by KC Carlson
In honor of the recent A-Babies vs. X-Babies one-shot and in anticipation of this week’s release of Joe Kubert Presents #1, which features the long-awaited return of Angel and the Ape to the pages of DC Comics, I thought this might be a great time to take a look back at some superhero-ish comic books that were actually meant to be funny.
(As opposed to the many, many unintentionally funny superhero comics.)
While I thought most of the early Marvel Universe titles were pretty funny by themselves — the first couple of years of Fantastic Four, for example, are firmly in the “What the… ?!” mode, what with aliens disguised as cows, the team going broke, and the gang moving to Hollywood to be in a bogus movie financed by a lovesick Namor — nothing at the time was more outrageous than Marvel’s parody book Not Brand Echh. While it was a title tailor-made to showcase the outstanding humor work of brother and sister artists John and Marie Severin, Marvel’s “Big Guns” frequently contributed as well, especially Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, and Bill Everett.
In an era when competitors were referred to as “Brand X” instead of by name, Brand Echh was Stan’s “pet name” for rival DC Comics. The Not Brand Echh title was confusing at first (even the indicia of the early issues read simply Brand Echh), but it became clear that even though the comic printed cutting parodies of all of Marvel’s superheroic rivals, they saved the biggest and sharpest knives for themselves. Regular characters included Spidey-Man, Ironed Man, Dr. Deranged, The Mighty Sore, The Inedible Bulk, Charlie America, Knock Furious, Weed Wichards, Shrew Storm, Doctor Bloom, Magneat-O, and — unique to the title — the pot-headed Forbush Man!
The super-hero parodies must have been hard to sustain, as when the book went to double-size with issue #9 (the series ran for a lucky 13 issues), the scope of the title opened up to movie and TV parodies as well. My favorite thing of the series appeared in #12: a re-creation of the Beatles’ famous Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover — as Sgt. Fury’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, including cameos by Captain America and Bucky, Bugs Bunny, “disguised” versions of the Beetle Bailey and Peanuts casts, and “Blackhog” (a parody version of DC’s Blackhawk). The Beatles themselves cameo in #8, which may be one of the main reasons why this series has not been “Marvel Masterworked”. Lawyers are much more litigious these days than back then.
Although seeming silly now, Not Brand Echh was much fun back in the day. Not Brand Echh inspired the also beloved What The–?! and Wha…Huh? series. I’m much amused that some of the wingnuts who do the fabulous Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe have assigned the Not Brand Echh characters to Earth-665, probably because Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen used some of them in the equally twisted series Nextwave.
OVER AT BRAND ECCH…
Regular DC comics were still pretty funny by the time DC decided to do some deliberately funny comic books. (This leaves Brother Power, The Geek off the hook.) It was about this time that The Adventures of Jerry Lewis and The Adventures of Bob Hope were starting to parody superheroes themselves. (Super-Hip, anyone?) Some reasons why you might want to collect these comics:
1. Largely written by Arnold Drake, they’re usually really funny.
2. They feature amazing artwork by Bob Oksner, Mort Drucker (on Bob Hope), and, believe it or not, Neal Adams — because no one else at DC would hire him to draw superheroes!
3. Batman, Superman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman all guest star in one issue each of Jerry Lewis.
4. Because of licensing considerations, these comics will probably never be reprinted!
The Inferior Five was my favorite comic book during the very short time that it was published. In its original run, it ran only 13 issues. (They were Showcase #62, 63, and 65, and ten issues of its own series. Issues #11 and 12 were published later and were reprints. I still bought ‘em.) The Inferior Five (or I5 for short) were broad parodies of DC’s own heroes, and “second generation” heroes to boot (with parents who somewhat parody DC’s Justice Society). Awkwardman was super-strong like Superman and could breathe underwater like Aquaman, but he was very clumsy and tripped a lot (maybe because he wore swim fins all the time). Also like the original Aquaman, he had to be submerged in water frequently. White Feather was an archer like Green Arrow, but deathly afraid of everything, especially girls. Which made it tough for Dumb Bunny (a dimwitted, dumb-blonde Wonder Woman parody), who seemingly has a crush on him in the early issues. (There have been discussions in some fan circles that White Feather may be an early gay DC character, but this has never been officially established.) They worked together in their secret identities — he was a photographer, and she was a fashion model.
The Blimp is a double twisted parody of the The Flash, except without super-speed. He can fly, but because he is exceedingly overweight, he basically can only hover. He’s usually seen being towed into “action” on a string by another member — like a balloon. Merryman is the team leader, mostly because he’s the smartest one (but only by default, as the others are pretty dumb). He has no superpowers (which I guess makes him Batman), but he has a big inferiority complex which makes him dress like a jester. He is a very reluctant superhero, loosely based on the early act of comedian Woody Allen, and shares a lot of the “Woody” character’s famous neuroses.
This was a lot more funny to me when I was 10 and didn’t know much about ethnic and sexual stereotypes and making fun of people’s physical limitations. What made the series really enduring is that they all knew that they had shortcomings as heroes, but they worked hard (as a team) to overcome them and help each other to beat their foes, frequently accidentally. Most of their foes were broad parodies of other companies’ superhero teams, including the Avengers, X-Men, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, U.N.C.L.E. (really!), and Thor and Asgard (which gave scholarly writer E. Nelson Bridwell a chance to show off his knowledge of real mythology). The Kookie Four (FF), Cobweb Kid (do I have to tell ya?), Sub-Moron (snicker), and other “Marvel” characters also appeared. Joe Orlando was the first artist and co-creator, and subsequent issues were drawn by Mike Sekowsky and Win Mortimer. Issue #6 features the team visiting the DC Comics offices and offers up a series of fun song parodies. Then-letterhack Mark Evanier has a poem printed in that issue’s letter column.
In a subsequent Angel and the Ape miniseries, it was revealed that Dumb Bunny is actually the half-sister of detective Angel O’Day from that series. The two characters already seemed to be physically related, especially when drawn by artist Bob Oksner. Which makes me think that Stanley and His Monster’s baby-sitter Marcia is probably their kid sister, although this has never been brought up before (as far as I know).
By the way, if you only know Stanley and His Monster from their appearance in Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow, you’re missing something kinda great. Weird… but great. Track down the series in The Fox and the Crow #95-108, Stanley and His Monster #109-112, and the Phil Foglio four-issue miniseries revival from 1993.
Over the years, the Inferior Five have been kind of DC’s version of Where’s Waldo, with various members popping up in (occasionally in the background) the most unexpected places. From appearances in Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Morrison’s Final Crisis, to Captain Carrot: Oz/Wonderland War, Keith Giffen’s Ambush Bug, and their most recent team appearance in the final issue of DC’s revival of The Brave and the Bold (teaming with the Legion of Substitute Heroes, natch.), the I5 lives on. Although, I kinda hope they never get New 52-ized.
The other big humor comic from DC’s Silver Age is Angel and the Ape. (Plop! is a bit later…) It debuted in Showcase #77 and immediately was spun out into its own series for seven issues, although the final issue is titled Meet Angel for some reason.
The series’ creators are shrouded in the mist of time; talents as diverse as E. Nelson Bridwell, Al Jaffee, Carmine Infantino, Joe Orlando, Howard Post, Robert Kanigher, and Sergio Aragones have been credited with coming up with the series. The artwork is obviously by Bob Oksner (with Tex Blaisedell inks), and these days it seems that the Showcase author credit has fallen to Bridwell and Jaffe, with Aragones providing the cover gag, and Infantino and Orlando participating in concept meetings. For the series, creator credit seems to go to Bridwell, Post, and Oksner, but I don’t know if that’s DC “official”. Inking in subsequent issues was frequently by Wally Wood, making for a dream-team of good-girl artists.
By day, the glamorous Angel O’Day and the ape-like (because he is one) Sam Simeon are private detectives under the O’Day and Simeon Detective Agency shingle. Sam is the more interesting of the two, quite naturally, but Angel (as drawn by Oksner and Wood) probably unwittingly helped a young fanboy (or dozens) through puberty. She’s no dumb blonde, however. She speaks over a dozen different languages and is a master in karate, kung fu, and fencing, as well as an expert marksperson and weapons handler.
Sam is the funny one. When he’s not a gumshoe, he’s slaving away at a drawing board, drawing comic books for Brainpix Publications, Inc. and its egotistical and maniacal editor Stan Bragg — a crazed parody of Stan Lee — who wears a star-emblazoned jump suit to edit in. (I looked for one of these when I started editing, with no luck. I suspect the real Stan bought them all up.) Sam’s also a gorilla, but no one seems to notice that much, at least initially.
Sam can talk, or not, depending on which series you’re reading. (There have been three different ones and several one-shot stories and guest appearances over the years.) He also may or may not have originally come from DC’s Gorilla City, which means Grodd knows — and hates — him. He also has gorilla strength, but he doesn’t have to use it much, as Angel can take care of herself, usually.
The first regular issue seems to have been inspired by the schlocky Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine film from about that time (1968). (It’s a Beach Party spin-off starring Frankie Avalon and Vincent Price, with a cameo by Annette Funicello and a theme song by the Supremes. Really!) The comic writing is credited to John Albano at the Grand Comics Database, but they’re not really sure either, since it’s accompanied by a question mark.
Angel and the Ape also played a substantial role in Showcase #100, which I detail here.
Subsequent miniseries have been by Phil Foglio (1991) and, for Vertigo, by Howard Chaykin, David Tischman, and Phillip Bond (2001). In the former, Sam now draws comics for DZ Comics, and in the latter, there’s a character named Detective Komicz. I am very curious how the characters have been updated for today’s comics world. Can Sam operate a scanner with those hands?
Angel and the Ape by Brian Buniak will appear in each issue of Joe Kubert Presents, beginning with #1, on sale later this week.
KC CARLSON: Also used to have a baby-sitter named Marcia. Never had a gremlin, a leprechaun, or Napoleon’s ghost though. At least as far as I knew. My parents didn’t tell me everything…
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.