Quick Notes on Two Peculiar Comic Books

Moving piles and boxes in the basement (like to think organizing rather than merely shuffling around), I came across a pair of comics from 2002 that I realized were oddly unique by now.

The first was bound to be a one-shot from the start —

The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man by Peter Bagge (Marvel Comics)

This is Bagge’s send-up of not only Spider-Man but the whole superhero business (partly by making it into a megacorporation) with a subtext of is-he-mocking-libertarianism-or-not. (Or does he just think he’s not mocking it?)

Here’s an excellent contemporary take.

This goes way beyond the tee-hee spoofs of Not Brand Echh and even beats out MAD if this lame cover joke is any indication:

Spider MAD

Worst part: the gay jokes were tired when the comic was new.

Best part: The plot twist whereby Peter Parker can destroy Spider-Man without destroying himself. About 15 years later, he has become middle-aged Steve Ditko, married to Gwen. Excellent! This comic is my choice for “Whatever Happened To Spider-Man?” story.

The other comic was significant in ways not at all evident (to me, anyway) at the time —

Mystic Funnies No. 3 by R. Crumb (Fantagraphics)

This is, to date, the final regular comic book of new material done by Robert Crumb. Very obvious now that it’s a greatest-hits curtain call.

Cover features gnomic wisdom quote, big noses driving around in squished cars and old-fashioned advertising signs. Inside cover features Stan Shnooter — the rancid showbiz-manager character Crumb introduced when drawing cartoons began to seem more like a job to him — and the theme is creative exhaustion. (“Drawing has actually become painful.”) The first 19 pages are given over to Crumb’s final (?) Little Cruddy Guy vs. Amazon Woman fantasy. It’s more enlightened than such tales from his youth, but it’s still the weakest thing in the book. Devil Girl’s adventures with Flakey Foont were the climactic twist in the tales. Next is an autobio comic called “Don’t Tempt Fate” that’s as good a small-scale story from his life as Crumb ever did. It’s about how his front teeth got knocked out when he was a kid, but about many other matters, too. The highlight for me is the following feature, a Crumb makeover of Super Duck, “The Cockeyed Wonder” (here’s the scoop on Supe). From what I’ve seen, Super Duck was more weird than funny — a snow-white human body with a duck head — and his comics were a bit before my time. Crumb keeps the ’40s-’50s squaresville outlook for the older characters and does an outstanding job paying homage to Supe’s girlfriend, the sexiest female-funny-animal duck of all, Uwanna (how did they get away with that one?). The screwing-with-squares format liberates Crumb and the sex joke at the, uh, climax zips past pornography into zany insanity. The inside back cover is a farewell to Mr. Natural. He appears as a harsher, harder guru for a harsher, harder age. The undertone is unmistakeable: we failed him, not the other way around. And according to me, the back cover, “Cradle To Grave,” is the Hallmark Card the former employee would do if the company was into grim honesty with a sardonic smile. It was a grand run of work, but I got no problem if Crumb wants to stop. Some of my all-timers, from Carl Barks to Bill Watterson, knew when it was time to quit.

mystic 3

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