Who says a comic book has to be good? With "Not Brand Echh", Marvel once again led the way with their ground-breaking self-parody comic. The book ran for thirteen issues, and featured such varied characters as The Beatles, The Monkees, and Alfred E. Neuman. Marvel recycled the concept twenty years later with "What The#@?!", but at the time, this was uncharted territory.
Issue #6 is a special "Big, Batty Love and Hisses Issue!" It contains three wacky stories of Love, Marvel Style. "The Human Scorch Has To - Meet The Family!", "Best Side Story!", and "With This Ring I Thee Web!".
That's a story title we will see later, on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #131, but that's a tale for another day. For now, Stan Lee edits, Gary Friedrich writes, and Marie Severin artistifies a story like few others.
That is how our esteemed editor introduced his review back in 2002. I am going to leave it all as written, except that I am obsessive-compulsive enough to add some tiny details. Anything I add will be written in Gold . (Not that I’m egotistical or anything.) But first there are two other stories and a cover to cover.
And, by the way, you may have noticed that Not Brand Echh has gone from monthly to bi-monthly. Not a good sign for the health of the series. But not as bad as when #10 appears as an all-reprint issue.
|Writer:||Gary Friedrich (Best Side Story), Stan Lee (Unhumans story)|
|Pencils:||Tom Sutton (Best Side Story)|
|Inker:||Tom Sutton (Both stories)|
|Layout:||Jack Kirby (Unhumans story)|
The cover is Marie Severin unleashed. Spidey-Man is taking a picture of the bride and groom. He is hanging upside down, his feet wedged into the “C” of the “Not Brand Echh” logo. The bride is Gristle (Crystal) of the Unhumans, the groom is the Human Scorch who is on fire but wearing a tuxedo jacket, bow tie, and dickey, none of which is on fire. Gristle’s dog Loosejaw holds her bridal train in his mouth. To the right, Dr. Deranged is casting a spell composed of little red hearts that form a big heart above in which is written, “Big, Batty Love and Hisses Issue!” A rabbit clings to the inside of Doc’s cape. In the background are Gorgan (who is not in the story and doesn’t appear to have an “Echh” name), the Green Globule, Kar-Whack, Doc Ock (another who may not have an “Echh” name), Dr. Bloom who is holding a flower and wearing a button reading “Love Hate,” the Gizzard, Medoozy who is holding an “Aunt May’s Rice” box (as opposed to Uncle Ben’s Rice…get it?) in her hair, Blech Bolt, and Frighten (Triton).
The upper left “Marvel Comics Group” box has the heads of our three male leads with hearts surrounding them. Each has been shot by Cupid’s rubber-tipped arrows. Spidey-Man has one stuck to his nose (or where he nose is under the mask), Dr. Deranged has one going in one ear and out the other, and the Human Scorch has one sticking out of his mouth.
The “This is a Contents Page?” page is equally mad. It is a sandwich with the story titles and panels mixed in with lettuce, tomato, onion, an Ace of Hearts, a celery stalk, a whole fish, a stinking wedge of cheese, a boot with a hole in the sole, some eyes peering out of the darkness, the upper plate of false teeth, and a grenade between two pieces of bread. The Human Scorch story is advertised with page 2 panel 5, “Best Side Story” with page 5 panel 1, and Spidey-Man with page 2 panel 2 (with lots of hearts added) of their respective stories. Which brings us to the first story…
What Happens After a Fantastical Wedding, When…The Human Scorch Has To…Meet the Family!, which is written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. I love that Lee and Kirby took the time to create crazy little parodies like this. Their credits are on a heart that is held in Loosejaw’s very large mouth.
The wedding is just ending. The minister, dressed as a fireman, wearing an asbestos hood and carrying an ax and a “Friendly Forbush” fire extinguisher, announces “I now pronounce you man and fire-hazard.” (Shouldn’t it be “fire-hazard and wife?” Isn’t the Scorch the fire hazard?) The Thung has gotten tired of waiting for the ceremony to end and is eating the rice. The Inevitable Girl is sniffling into a handkerchief. “Oh, Weedie, isn’t marriage wonderful?” she says. “For who?” says Mr. Fantastical, holding a passel of bills. The Scorch is shy about giving his bride a kiss so the Thung shoves Scorchy’s head at Gristle (twisting his neck around and around in the process). “Kiss ‘er, kiddo,” he says, “I always wanted to see if Kirby can draw a good smooch.”
The kiss gives the Scorch a premature flame on. He burns down the preacher’s house but he’s in too much of a hurry to “fly [Gristle] over the threshold” at their new home in Simmering Heights. Blech Bolt awaits them. “It’s my Unhuman cousin,” says Gristle, “He’s the one who doesn’t talk!” Instead, Blech Bolt has empty word balloons. Blech and Scorch collide head-on. Scorch and Gristle land in a birdbath but Blech lands head-first on the pavement. His word balloon is empty but jagged. “Cousin Blech…I’ll have to ask you to watch your language,” says Gristle.
Blech Bolt is not happy. His word balloon now has an exclamation point in it, following all the empty space. “Oh, isn’t he clever?” says Gristle, “He caused the electrons in the air to form the cutest little mallet.” That mallet clobbers the Scorch on the head with a THOK! Scorchy now has a bump on his head that is the size of his head. He is ready to take on Blech but Blech flexes his bicep and Scorch backs down. “Say, what’s that thing covering his muscle?” asks Scorch. “More muscle!” says Gristle.” The muscle is actually a balloon as we can tell by the “ssst!” that is escaping from a hole with “Inflate Here” written below it. The trident on Bolt’s forehead is now a fork with a chunk of food on it.
So, Scorchy, his bump reduced enough so it is now only a bald spot on the top of his head, carries Gristle over the threshold. There is a pet door at the bottom of the door labeled, “Entrance Henry Pym.” Scorchy steps on the front door mat, which looks like a red mane of hair. Actually, it is a red mane of hair. Scorch trips on it and falls into the kitchen where a pot ends up on his head, giving him that Forbush-Man look. Cake batter falls from it, covering his head. “It’s my sister…Medoozy! She was baking a cake in the kitchen!” says Gristle. Medoozy is doing all sorts of things with her hair; stirring a bowl, lifting a coffee pot and so on. She starts crying, since she had wanted to surprise the newlyweds. “Wahh!! I should have finished it sooner,” she says, “But I’ve only got one head of hair!”
Blinded by the batter, the Human Scorch flails around for a towel. He finds Loosejaw’s tongue and washes his face. “How about that !!” he says, “A towel that growls!” Gristle tells him he isn’t using a towel and, with his face clean, Scorchy sees it as well. “Loosejaw!...He’s so dangerous, even his teeth have teeth! And besides…he has fleas!” And he does too. They are swarming around in in all three panels.
Scorch “take[s] a powder” to “take a bath.” He now has a diaper on and his uniform “4” is now a 2 + 2 = 4 as he runs over a Welcome Mat that is actually Mr. Fantastical. A man who is nearly bandaged from head to toe, walking with a crutch enters the doorway and shakes hands with him. “I’m your new cousin-in-law, Kar-Whack!” he says. Kar-Whack accidentally uses his “pinky-flip grip” to send Scorch crashing through an outhouse door. He creates a hole that is in the shape of his outline, like an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, and lands in a bathtub that is full of water. (Mr. Fantastical is now the wallpaper in the room.) Trying to find the soap, Scorchy pulls Frighten up out of the wall. “Say, there’s something fishy goin’ on here!” he says. Frighten punches Scorch out of the tub. Scorch heads for a closet, drying himself off with a towel that reads, “Stolen from the Superhero Hilton.” The Thung is in the room, disguised as a lamp. “That sinks it!” says Scorch, “I’m not sharing my honeymoon with any uninvited Unhumans! I’ve gotta get rid of them! And I know just how to do it…soon as I get my super-secret combination short-wave radio and toe-nail clippers!”
Digging his radio out of a pile of junk (and with the “4” on his uniform now changed to “4:30”), the Scorch sends out a call to his old enemy Sandy-Man, insulting him with comments like “Your uncle eats radishes! Your face would frighten Dracula! If you were twice as smart, you’d be a moron!” The Scarlett Wench and Cyclomp are sunning on the beach, listening to their radio. (“That’s what I call a ballad,” the Scarlett Wench says, hearing Scorchy’s insults.) But the beach turns out to be Sandy-Man. When he pops his head up right next to the radio, Scarlett and Cyclomp beat a retreat. Sandy also leaves to go after the Scorch. He takes the whole beach with him, leaving a City Dump behind, forcing the other sunbathers to run away. (There is a kid building a sand castle, still stuck to Sandy’s hip.)
Back at Scorchy and Gristle’s house, the family sits down for dinner. Loosejaw is chowing down on the tablecloth and all the plates and food along with it. “Isn’t it wonderful, Scorchy?” says Gristle, “Our very first dinner at home!” “I got news for you lady,” says Scorchy, “It’s also gonna be our last!” Medoozy brings out a wedding cake and Kar-Whack tries to cut it with a karate chop, but he appears to break his arm in multiple places in the attempt. “Oi vay!” he screams, “Medoozy!! Get me another furshlugginer bandage!! I don’t care how much anything hurts…It’s the pain I can’t stand!”
Sandy-Man bursts in. Seeing Kar-Whack, he asks, “Have an accident?” “No thanks, I already had one,” replies Kar-Whack. “Ho ho! That’s rich! When I’m done laughing, I’m gonna lean on ya!” says Sandy. Blech Bolt, whose “trident” is now a spoon, has multiple empty word balloons. Kar-Whack says to him, “Don’t you ever shut up??” But the Unhumans are united in taking on Sandy-Man, just as Scorchy hoped. “Let’s get that rotten person!” says Frighten.
Sandy-Man wins the battle and the Unhumans flee. “Hear that, Gristle?” says Scorch, “Now we can be alone at last!” But Gristle has run off with her cousins. (Scorchy’s uniform “4” is now an upside-down 3 7/8.) Sandy-Man puts his arm around Scorchy. “Awww, don’t feel bad, kid!” he says, “You can come and stay with my family!” and Sandy takes Scorchy to his home where Dr. Bloom, the Green Globule, Walt Disney’s Big Bad Wolf, Attuma, the Mole Man, and the Impossible Man (if these last three ever got “Echh” names, I can’t find them). “For this I got rid of my in-laws!” (His “4” flies right off his uniform.) Scorchy yells, then he flies off shore from Manhattan creating a big flaming heart that reads “Come Back!! All is Forgiven! …Scorchy” inside of it. It looks like the water and all of Manhattan is on fire too. “Admit, it sweetie,” says Stan, “Don’tcha just love a happy ending?!!”
I don’t know about happy endings but I do sort of love this story. I love Blech Bolt’s empty word balloons, the Scorch confusing Loosejaw’s tongue for a towel, Kar-Whack’s injured body, Sandy-Man turning a city dump into a beach, and the self-referential, “I always wanted to see if Kirby could draw a good smooch!” It helps to know the Inhumans and that the Human Torch was once seriously involved with Crystal but it isn’t essential. I love that Stan took time to write loony stories like this but I especially love that Jack took time from all of his other work to draw loony stories like this.
It may be on the “Not Brand Echh” curve but I give this story five webs.
Best Side Story, written by Gary Friedrich (based on an idea by Roy Thomas) and drawn by Tom Sutton, is a parody of the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim musical “West Side Story,” itself inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In this case, the Marvel (Marble) heroes and DC (Echh) heroes assume the roles taken by the Jets and the Sharks in the musical.
“West Side Story,” you’ll recall is about Tony and Maria who fall in love even though they are supposed to be enemies…with tragic consequences. Now, we’ll see “what happens when a boy (Dr. Deranged) and a girl (Wotta Woman) from opposite sides of comicdom go ape over each other!”
The two gangs are going at each other. Green Lampburn is fighting Charlie America. The Dash is taking on the Bulk. Dr. Deranged is firing a spell at a bee (I’m not sure why…because it’s a spelling bee?) “By the seven rings of Zsa Zsa Gabor,” he says, “This fighting has to stop!” After the rumble, Dr. Deranged talks to his amulet. “By the fumes of the faltine,” says Deranged, “Why must our two gangs, always be fighting? One’a these days somebody’s gonna get hurt…like maybe me!” The amulet, which has a cartoon face on it, replies, “Don’t tell me your troubles, kiddo! I gotta get to the dance at the gym.” When Dr. Deranged resists the amulet continues “That’s tough! ‘Cause this little amulet’s goin’ boppin’ and stompin’ – with the rest of the Marble gang! And, since you’d be no better than one of the Echhs without me – you got no choice but to come along!”
At the Clancy Street Gym, the Marbles and Echhs are singing to the tune of America (the song in this clip begins at about 2:22). The lyrics here, as in the rest of the story, are hit and miss but the Lee and Kirby lines make this song more hit than miss. (Is that Millie the Model in the upper right on page 2 panel 3 and hanging on Knock Furious on page 3 panel 1?)
I like to be in a Marble mag!
Never a drag in a Marble mag!
Plot never sag in a Marble mag!
Nothing but brag in a marble mag!
I think I’ll go back to Brand Echh
You could do better on Star Trek!
Everyone there will applaud me
Everything there reading Stan Lee!
They’ll have a great artist draw me
If he takes lessons from Kirby!
He’ll draw me in such a great pose
Not if he draws you with his toes!
I like to be in a Marble mag!
Action for me in a Marble mag!
Forbush to see in a Marble mag
Nothing for free in a Marble mag!
Dr. Deranged arrives at the dance and starts singing Something’s Coming. (The actual lyrics! “Could it be? Guess it could! Something’s coming…”) But the song is cut short because Wotta Woman flies into the gym, in her invisible plane (made out of a giant catsup bottle), and crashes right into Deranged’s back. Wotta Woman is in the wrong musical. She sings lyrics based on I Enjoy Being a Girl from “Flower Drum Song.” “Oh well,” she says, “When you’re Wotta Woman, nobody’s gonna hold a little mistake against you!”
Green Lampburn proclaims Wotta Woman to be his girlfriend but she says, “Your being leader of the Echhs doesn’t turn me on a bit! As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking that I’d rather switch to Marble than fight! So do me a favor and get lost – before I put a real hurt on you – complete with Sammy Rosen sound effect!” (Too bad L.P. Gregory lettered this story.) Dr. Deranged gets out from under the invisible plane and tells Wotta Woman “I’m a Marble Man and you really grab me, baby!” Doc’s amulet expresses his affection for her, too. Green Lampburn decides to attack them with his “fifteen power rings” (among them “Lord of Rings,” “lethal gas,” “Super Whammy,” “birthstone,” “ring-a-ding,” and others too difficult to read) but they backfire and send him to the East Himalayas. “I’m gonna switch to a Mickey Mouse watch,” he proclaims. As Charlie America, Ironed Man, the Sunk-Mariner and a character I can’t identify sing “We belong, we belong, we belong, we belong to the Merry Marble Marching Society!” Dr. Deranged and Wotta Woman flirt. Wotta Woman tells Doc that her name is “Dye-anna” and he floats back to Gremlich Village surrounded by hearts. He sings, to the tune of Maria.
Dye-anna, I’ve just met a chick named Dye-anna,
And suddenly my fame will never be the same to me!
Dye-anna, she doesn’t look like a banana,
And suddenly I see, how great a super-she can be!
Dye-anna, say it loud and there’s villains crying
Say it soft and by then they’ll be dying,
Dye-anna, come over to Marble, Dye-anna!
Doc flies into a tree, bringing us to the end of Act 1. (Intermission is a dotted line between panels.) Act 2 opens with Dr. Deranged and Wotta Woman flying together in the invisible plane, together in very tight quarters. They sing to the tune of Tonight.
Wotta Woman: A fight, a fight,
There will be such a fight,
With your side kicking mine in the shins!
A fight, a fight,
Oh won’t it be a sight
When the Echhs beat the Marbles for grins?
Dr. Deranged: But you and I will stand above it,
We’ll watch them fight and love it,
Because we’re out of sight!
They’ll be uptight,
But we will be alright!
We’re in love – tonight!
Now, in the park, Dr. Deranged gets on one knee and “By the seven rings of Ringo Starr,” asks Wotta Woman to marry him. “Well – why not?” she says. (In the background the Scarlett Wench sits on a sailor’s lap but is confused with another Scarlet. “But I tell you, my name’s not O’Hara,” she says.) Using his power (“By the flakes of the saltine!”) to conjure a ring, Doc gets it wrong and conjures a boxing ring with a fight going on inside it. “Oh well,” he says, “we can get one later – out of a bubble gum machine!”
Honkman eavesdrops on all of this and returns to the Echhs to report that the “enemy is cuttin’ in on Wotta Woman.” Dr. Deranged tells his friends of his engagement and Charlie America says, “But we can’t have her runnin’ around on our turf much less appearing in our mags!” Hiding around a corner, Green Lampburn trips Dr. Deranged as he walks by and the rumble begins. Charlie America says, “I might’a been on ice for twenty years – but I can still lick a bunch’a Echhs!” as Dr. Deranged and Wotta Woman sing to the tune of Somewhere (though I like the Tom Waits version better.)
There’s a mag for us,
Somewhere a mag for us.
Coexistence without a care
Waits for us…Somewhere!
There’s a book for us.
Where they won’t look for us.
Sore and Gnatman we’ll leave behind,
Dash and Spidey are not our kind.
We’ll find a new kind of villain,
One who to fight us ain’t willin’
(Down in the lower righthand corner, Forbush-Man looks on and thinks “?”)
The song ended, Green Lampburn zaps Dr. Deranged who hits the ground with a Ka-Klunk! “Oops! Sorry, but that’s the way the ring zaps,” says Lampburn but then he removes his mask and reveals himself. “I’m not really Green Lampburn, I’m actually Leonardo Burnedstein! And I’ve got an injunction to stop this butchery of my work!” “Flake off, mac!” says Wotta Woman, “This is the show’s big dramatic finale!” But then Charlie America removes his mask. “And, in my true identity as wild an’ Willy Shakespeare, I’m putting the kibosh on this mess!” “Well, this show is still my property but I’ll just bow out and let ol’ Will take care of it, for rather obvious reasons!” says Leonardo Burnedstein. “Indeed, like you’re a pea-pickin’ plot stealer!” says Will, “But at least you stole my play with some taste! It’s these costumed clowns who are truly going to feel the wrath of the copyright courts!”
Doc has had enough. “Echhs and Marbles…unite! The common foe must be clobbered!” he says as he attacks Shakespeare. Wotta Woman is appalled at his violence. “How could I have ever loved a mystical madman like him,” she says, “I’m goin’ back to a real hero – namely Rotten, the Boy Blunder!”
And the curtain falls (it has an “Approved By the Comics Code Authority” stamp on it), right on Dr. Deranged’s head. “For this I gave up Medicare?” he says.
That last line exemplifies the missed opportunities in this story. What does “For this I gave up Medicare” mean? Is Doc over 65? Or did he give up accepting Medicare when he became a magician? I think what this line was meant to be is, “For this I gave up medicine. Actually, the whole conclusion is one missed opportunity. The reveal of “Leonardo Burnedstein” and “Willy Shakespeare” is fun but why should Doc suddenly decide to get violent and why should Wotta Woman suddenly fall out of love with him? Because the story had to be wrapped up in two panels, most likely. And why is Dr. Deranged chosen as the Romeo/Tony figure here, anyway? Seems an odd choice.
I like the lyrics and the “Burnedstein”/Shakespeare reveal but not much else. Tom Sutton’s artwork is terrific but doesn’t quite match the inspired lunacy of Kirby and Severin. I give this story two webs.
In Alter Ego #95, Roy Thomas says of this story, “I came up with the notion of using the “Romeo and Juliet” theme of “West Side Story” to parody Marvel-vs.-DC with the star-crossed romance of Wotta Woman and some “Marble” hero (I forget if Dr. Deranged was my choice or not) replacing that of Maria and Tony. But then I got even busier than usual, so I settled for “Based on an idea by Roy Thomas” credit and turned my skeletal notion over to Gary, who took it and ran like hell with it…Interestingly, this was actually the second time Gary had written an all-out parody of Marvel-vs.-DC heroes. The first had been in Charlton’s humor comic Go-Go #6, where a bunch of “Marvelous heroes” had battled the “Bestest League of America.”
Oh no! Go Go! There’s a tiny Spider-Man parody cameo in that issue. We’d better to get to that…but after ASM #58.
Now let’s get to the Editor’s review of the Spidey-Man story, at Not Brand Echh #6 (Story 3). But first, the web total for the entire issue.
Factor in the 4 webs that our Editor gave to the Spidey story, plus adding a bit for the cool Marie Severin cover and it all averages out to a total of 4 webs for the book.