Are you getting a little tired of Brand Echh? So were the 1960s readers. Or at least I assume they were since the series only makes it to #13. That means, with this issue, we’re more than halfway through. If that makes you feel any better.
It’s another Origin issue (the last being Not Brand Echh #3, October 1967 or as Stan puts in in the cover blurb “Wouldja believe…? A nutty new Origin issue!!” But this time, there are only two stories and they deal with two flagship titles from the two major comic companies; “The Origin of the Fantastical Four!!” and “The Origin of Stupor-Man!” (Note how the FF gets two exclamation points on the cover while Stupor-Man only gets one.) Let’s take a look.
We begin with a great Marie Severin cover. (Or a cover by the great Marie Severin.) In the background, in the upper right is the crashed rocket of the FF. It already has a “4” on it, even though the group doesn’t become the FF until after the crash. The four members are peering down at Stupor-Man who is sitting on a rock. He looks up at them with a sour expression. The caption panels that present the story titles are on signs that are held by our characters. Mr. Fantastical holds the sign that reads “The Origin of the Fantastical Four!!” while Stupor-Man holds the sign reading “The Origin of Stupor-Man!” The Thung appears to have been a leprechaun before mutating. He wears a green outfit that is badly torn along with a bowler hat that has a four-leaf clover in it. Off to the right, Jimmy Olsen sits on the ground looking stupid while Lois Lane (complete with the LL monogram on her blouse) is stretched out reading an “Amazing Spidey-Man” comic book. (Spidey’s mug is on the cover and therefore on the Brand Echh cover but this isn’t the only Spidey-Man appearance here.) Stupor-Man’s “S” insignia is a dollar sign (the first of many changes throughout the story). Below Stupor-Man, looking up at him, are all of his super (or “Stupor”) friends. Stupor-Dog, Stupor-Cat (looking like the Cheshire Cat), Stupor-Snake, Stupor-Chicken, Stupor-Skunk, Stupor-Beetle, Stupor-Turtle, Stupor-Pig, Stupor-Bird and, most inspired of all, in a jar filled with water sitting between Stupor-Man’s feet, Stupor-Tadpole!
Up in the upper left hand corner “Marvel Comics Group” box, the Scorch blows smoke rings, Mr. Fantastical sticks his tongue out and the Thung grimaces at Kluck Kettle who stares back at them from inside a telephone booth. His Stuporman cape is stuck in the door.
In his article “Echh” Marks the Spot! in Alter Ego #95, July 2010, Roy Thomas says of the cover, “Probably on her own, Marie tossed in not just Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen but a whole passel of super-animals…most likely because, by then, she and I had completed our ‘Stuporman’ story with its similar theme.” So, we’ll get to that.
Roy also comments, “I don’t recall precise sales figures, but I do very clearly recall one salient fact about NBE #7. Namely it was the very first edition of NBE whose sales figures really took a dip – quite a bit down from those of the six preceding ones. Since at that time Marvel was still handled by DC’s distribution arm, Independent News, it should surprise no one that there was considerable suspicion at Marvel that there might’ve been some sort of sabotage over at IND because we’d lampooned DC’s icon…I’m not saying there was sabotage – only that everybody I ever talked to at Marvel…thought there was.” As for me, I think it’s as I said at the top. Brand Echh was wearing out its welcome.
The splash page is composed of eggs hatching. Dinosaur-like creatures are emerging from three of them, a bird is emerging from another, and then there’s the Fantastical Four coming out with a “Pop!” and Stuporman coming out with a “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” which, as I’m sure we all know, is the sound effect (and mascots) for Rice Krispies.
This page touts the issue as “Overwhelming Origin Ish! (For People Who Hate Origin Issues!)” as Stan tries to cover all the bases.
Our first story is “Callously created” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, just the duo you’d like to have lampooning their own Fantastic Four #1, November 1961 But, there is also a credit that reads, “Aided and Abetted by Merry Marie Severin.” Roy says, “The meaning of her credit above isn’t hard to discern: surely, Marie was asked by Stan to do some redrawing, adding more caricatures of celebrities of the day…It looks like she also drew a few full panels here and there. Though I may have been aware at the time of what her drawings replaced, I’ve no memory of such at this late stage.”
The Origin of the Fantastical Four closely follows the first 13 pages of FF #1 but does it in 12 pages. In fact, page 1 of this story is modeled on page 1 of the original FF story.
That story begins with an arrow pointing at our four lead characters, each in a spotlight circle with their names above them. In the panel below, a huge cloud of smoke comes from the top of a building. Within the smoke is the name “The Fantastic Four.” People on the ground look up and point. In the next panel, three cops wonder about the words that have formed in the sky and in the final panel, Reed Richards stands at a window holding a smoking flare gun. In our story, the arrow points at the four characters who are presented at the top in the same order as the original story. Here they are named Weed Witchards, Mr. Fantastical; Bim Grimm, the Thung; Shrew Storm, the Inevitable Girl; and Sonny Storm, the Human Scorch. In the panel below, the sky is filled with smoke. Within the smoke is the name “The Fantastical Four,” but no one is looking and pointing as they are in the original. Instead they are choking from the smoke. Up in a window, Adolph Hitler leans out and yells, “Run for the hills! They’re usin’ poison gas!” which strikes me as a thoroughly tasteless joke. The Hulk is holding his nose, there’s a guy with a gas mask on, and a woman says, “It’s that nutty smoke signal…comin’ from the Shmaxter Building. “I always said we shoulda voted for urban renewal!” says a guy who looks just like Adam Clayton Powell. So who was Adam Clayton Powell? He was a US congressman representing Harlem. You can read about him here and you can read about urban renewal here. In the panel below, we have two crooks and a cop instead of three cops. There are birds falling from the sky. The cop has a badge that reads “007” and he looks like Sean Connery. (The original James Bond in the movies for anyone who doesn’t know.) And the final panel has Weed Witchards leaning out of his window. He has a screwdriver in one hand and a clunky patched-together machine is pumping out smoke. “Shaddup down there!” he yells, “Waddaya expect a guy to use? Singin’ telegrams?”
Quickly, here is what happens in the rest of the original story. Hearing about the smoke signal from her “society friend” with whom she’s having tea, Sue Storm turns invisible, scattering people on the street, then taking a cab that the driver thinks is empty as he looks for a fare. The Thing hears about the signal while in a men’s clothing store, where he sheds his hat and coat and ventures out into the street. The door is too narrow for him and he smashes out (how did he get in?) only to scare everyone outside. He escapes through the sewers as the police try to locate him. Johnny Storm is working on a hot rod with a friend when the words “The Fantastic Four” coalesce into a number “4.” He flames on, ruining the car he was working on. The National Guard is called out to deal with the flying flaming figure. The Human Torch inadvertently destroys the planes but a hunter missile is sent after him. Mr. Fantastic stretches up and grabs the missile, dropping it into the sea, then he rescues Johnny whose flame has gone out.
Then comes the origin with which I’m sure we’re all familiar. The Four steal a spaceship even though Ben has warned them about cosmic rays. The rays affect them as they head into orbit. The ship lands on automatic pilot. Sue turns invisible. Ben and Reed argue with Ben becoming the Thing and Reed defending himself with his stretching powers. Johnny flames on and flies. At the end, Reed makes them all put their hands together on a rock and promise to use their powers to help mankind.
Okay, now the Brand Echh version. Instead of visiting her society friend, Shrew is at the supermarket. The checkout clerk is so enamored with her that he adds her bill “a dozen times.” “That’s okay, doll! We can’t be too careful!” he says. He is also Ronald Reagan who, at this time, was the Governor of California. A line has built up behind Shrew. Aunt May and Dr. Doom are in the line. Clearly, Shrew has bought a bottle of Mr. Clean cleaner because Mr. Clean himself is poking his head up from out of her grocery bag. Another store employee, who looks like Richard Nixon (though Ronnie calls him “Nick”) says, “C’mon, Ronnie, take her dough before she vanishes like last time!” Ronnie doesn’t listen. Holding up a box of vanishing cream, he says, “Say! Do I know a nice Conservative boy for a girl like you!” But then Shrew sees the message, which now reads, “Shrew Storm, Come a’runnin’! – Your Guru!” “How wonderful!” she thinks, “It’s after hours! I’ll get time-and-a-half for overtime!” She grabs her groceries, turns invisible, and runs outside, scattering a pizza cart that is manned by Frank Sinatra. (“Halp! A pizza-snatcher!” he says.) She also stymies a man running from the police. The man is carrying a bag labeled “potato chips.” Who is this guy? It’s Bert Lahr, famous for his role as the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. Lahr was the spokesman for Lay’s Potato Chips in the 60s and his ads usually consisted of him stealing the bag of Lay’s from somebody else (also played by him) because “no one can eat just one.” Here is an example of one of these ads and, yes, these sorts of treatments of Native Americans in media were considered just fine in 1966.
In this version, Shrew has come in her own car but parked it in front of a hydrant. A cop, who looks like Dick Tracy, is about to give her a ticket but she drives over him. (Her license plate is “4444.”) Like the comic strip Dick Tracy, the cop has a two-way wrist radio. “Bonnie, this is Clyde…Bonnie?” comes over it. Yes, the Faye Dunaway/Warren Beatty film of “Bonnie and Clyde” had come out not long before but I don’t really see why this is supposed to be funny…unless it’s just that a couple of crooks have horned in on the police wrist radio.
Meanwhile, the Thung is in a costume shop, not a clothing store. The proprietor is Uncle Creepy from Warren’s Creepy Magazine. There are Elvis Presley and Creature From the Black Lagoon masks on the wall behind him. The Thung, all bundled up, tells Creepy that “I want sumpin’ to make me even handsomer! If it’s possible!” First he tries on a Captain America mask but says, “Only a nut would walk around like this!” Then he tries on a Bobby Kennedy mask. “And it comes with a free toothbrush and comb,” says Creepy referring to Bobby’s shock of hair and toothy grin. “I’m beginnin’ ta feel like makin’ a speech,” says the Thung. Then, Uncle Creepy gives the Thung a Thing mask. “A perfect fit, sir,” says Creepy. The Thung sees the smoke message. It now reads, “Thung, come home! Hurry…I’m running out of smoke. – Stretch.” Not wanting to scare anybody outside, the Thung burrows through the floor, then picks up the building and walks away with it. “I’ll use this whole blamed buildin’ as a mask!!” he says. The police pursue the building. One of the cops is Francis Muldoon, the Fred Gwynne character from Car 54, Where Are You? Here is an entire episode. Don’t worry. You don’t have to watch the whole thing.
Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady at the time, is also in the panel. She is reading a book called “Birds I Have Known” and she says to her unseen husband (President Lyndon Baines Johnson), “How about that, Tex? The building from down the block is taking a walk!” LBJ replies, “I got my own troubles!” (And he sure does! It won’t be long before he declares that he will not seek re-election.)
Elsewhere, Sonny Storm is working on his car. It is “the next logical step after a hot rod.” A car shaped like a hot dog. His license plate says, “License Plate” and instead of one helper as he has in FF #1, he has three. The only trouble is they are the Three Stooges. Sonny fuels the Hot Dog with vitamin pills. It revs up and busts right through the wall. Sonny flames on to follow it but the flames burn him and he flames off. “A fella could get blisters that way!” “Some Human Scorch you are!” says Curly Joe. “If you ask us, you’re more of a lukewarm cinder,” says Moe. Sonny sucks it up and flames on again, following his car, which is flying through the air. (Outside, the “Walk/Crawl” sign at the intersection has switched to “Crawl” and all the pedestrians are crawling.) As the Scorch and the Hot Dog fly past a billboard that reads “Pain Hurts,” Lady Bird comes to the window again. “Oh, Prez-Bird,” she says, “Now there’s a flaming boy chasing a flying hot dog through the sky.” “That’s nice,” says LBJ, “as long as they don’t fight.”
An order goes out to “Call out the Air Force” to deal with the Scorch. The operator is Jerry Lewis in his Nutty Professor persona. He is trying to figure out what all the little buttons at his station are for. The planes go out. One of them is Snoopy in his Sopwith Camel. Stan belabors the joke by having one pilot ask, “Who’s the oddball in the bi-plane, pal?” and another answer, “I dunno…but he keeps cursin’ someone named Red Baron!” The planes fire an Inter-Neighborhood Ballistic Missile at the Scorch. Also an arrow, some bullets, a bomb with a lit fuse, a boot, and Thor’s hammer. One plane is piloted by the Red Skull with Hitler (again) in the seat behind. They use their secret weapon…water! (It comes out of a fire hydrant attached to the plane.) “Cheapskate. I’m dyin’ for a Coke!” says Sonny. His flame extinguished, the Scorch falls but Mr. Fantastical catches him in a net. “You were expecting maybe H. Rap Brown?” he asks. (H. Rap Brown was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was prominent in the Black Panthers.)
And now we settle into the origin and things get a lot less interesting. No more celebrity appearances. Only a few more signs. Up to this point, there have been signs posted in different panels such as “Money can’t buy poverty” and “Today’s Special will be Tomorrow’s Garbage” in the grocery store, “Fight Violence,” “Post No Bills,” and “Bill No Posts” on or around the building that the Thung lifts, the aforementioned “Pain Hurts” on a billboard by which Sonny and his Hot Dog fly, and more. Now, signs say, “Planet Power,” “To Moon,” and “Turn Left for Venus” as the FF’s rocket heads into space. Weed has only put three seats in the rocket so that Shrew has to sit on his lap. “Watta con job you gave us,” Bim says about this, “I thought we wuz ridin’ this overgrown broomstick ta beat the Commies to the moon!” Instead they fly into “a deadly hail of cosmic fuzz.” The ship crashes and Bim emerges from it as the Thung. “Such a lawsuit I’ll slap on ya,” he says. Weed stretches over and laughs at Bim. “No one would take you seriously. Just look at you!” he says. “You ain’t exactly ‘Mr. Average Man of the Year’ yourself!” replies Bim, “We’re a cinch ta get on Ed Sullivan’s show!” The Scorch, aflame, emerges from the rocket and wants to join in. “Aww what can you do?” asks the Thung. “Nothing! I’ll be your agent!” says the Scorch. “This is great! We’ll be rich…famous! We’ll be invited to every freak-out,” says Weed. “Yeah! ‘N mebbe we’ll even git in comic books!” says the Thung. Then Sonny notices that Shrew is nowhere to be seen and the whole thing really goes off the rails.
Let’s sum this up quickly. Weed and Thung wonder what grotesque appearance Shrew now has. She kicks them and they realize she is “unvisible.” She cries that she doesn’t want to be “unvisible” then turns visible and cries because everyone can see that her makeup is smudged. Weed encounters a vulture named Melvin in an utterly useless scene. He then declares they should become super-heroes. “If we play our cards right, we may even end up on TV!” The four put their hands together on a tree stump but Scorch forgets to flame off and burns the rest of them. They chase after him in the final panel. “It’s slobberin’ time!” says the Thung. “If I can just make it to Yancy Street!” says the Scorch. Oh, and we get a couple more posted signs along the way. One says, “Hate Hatred,” another says, “Weakness Power!” and the one in the final panel says, “This Too Shall Pass!”
The first seven pages of this story are lots of fun, if totally ridiculous. The copied layout of FF #1 page 1 for this story’s page 1 is inspired. The celebrity cameos are worth the price of admission. I enjoy the Thung trying on the Thing mask, the Walk/Crawl street sign, the Scorch chasing his flying Hot Dog, and all the objects (like the boot) thrown at him to try to stop him. Yes, the double appearance of Hitler is a little weird (the double appearance of Lady Bird too, for that matter) but it’s all a hoot. Then it hits the actual origin and mostly grinds to a halt. Too bad.
The first seven pages outweigh the last five pages just enough to give it three webs.
Now, let’s take a look at “The Origin of Stuporman” in Not Brand Echh #7 (Story 2).