Wednesday, June 2, 2010

TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS! (PART 1)

Bats coming soon ad

NOTE: Here's a blast from the past by your's truly - the following article was originally published in Overstreet's "Gold & Silver Age Quarterly #6," the Oct-Dec 1994 issue. I hereby re-present it warts and all, grammatical and factual errors intact. Hopefully these lapses won't prevent you from enjoying this trip down monsterly lane!

When fans speak of the Silver Age of comics, they often pontificate on the importance of DC and Marvel and how they resurrected super-hero comics. The Silver Age, however, was a lot more than that. To be sure, other publishers joined the ranks of the mighty two, resurrecting and/or revamping their own classic heroes as well as creating new ones. However, the Silver Age was also the last great age where variety still reigned. Although various non-super-hero genres held on through the '70s (some just barely) until being either obliterated or just now revived in the late '80s and '90s, the sixties were the last great bastion of offbeat titles. One of the most prolific and (by many) underrated publishers of the Silver Age was Archie Comic Publications. In fact, some of the earliest of the '60s super-hero comics were published by Archie, namely Adventures of the Fly and The Double Life of Private Strong — both of which feature art and stories by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. In addition to super-heroes, Archie's Silver Age output included romance, Martians, mischievous toddlers, a super-hero version of classic pulp hero The Shadow, non-super-hero action/adventure titles and even an adaptation of the Soupy Sales TV show(!)-- in addition to the perennial teenage humor of Archie and his pals.

In 1962, Archie ventured forth to offer something different to its readers: an offbeat humor title spun off from the earlier Archie's Madhouse (which debuted Sept., 1959); which itself was inspired by the classic MAD Magazine. Archie's Madhouse was a hodgepodge of MAD-like material, most of it concentrating on teenagers, the generation gap and... monsters. Why monsters? Who knows — maybe it was just that monsters were a big draw at movie matinees. One thing's for sure, the debut of Sabrina the Teenage Witch in issue #22 proved extremely popular. Apparently, these two factors must have weighed heavy when the publishers decided to spin off TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS! This new title concentrated primarily on goofy monster material, leaving MADHOUSE to do the spoofs of other genres. Here are some of the highlights of the BATS series:

Bats #1 cover

The first issue of BATS gets right into the swing of things with a witty cover by legendary cartoonist Orlando Busino. It depicts a real estate salesman standing in front of a decrepit house next to a graveyard, as a ghoul gal points to a hovering bat and exclaims, "My husband says we'll take it"! Busino is joined on the interiors of this and most subsequent issues by writer George Gladir, as stated on the table of contents page. This page also introduces "host" Igor and his pet bat Frederick. The lead-off tale, "Hugo the Werewolf," an enjoyable vignette wherein a werewolf who wishes to visit the beach has his unsightly hair removed by electrolysis. Only problem is, just like a fuzzy dog who gets soaking wet, he's really only skin and bone under all that hair-- the bathing beauties call him a runt and the bullies beat him up! His only resort: have his fairy "ghoul-mother" turn him back into a werewolf! "Tut Tut the Mummy" features archaeologists who lure a less-than-scary mummy to their museum using a female mummy as bait. The issue also includes such horrifically hysterical single page gags as "Travel to Transylvania" and "Ogre" deodorant.

Bats #2 cover

BATS #2 features "Count Congo," the tale of a giant ape in captivity whose cage took up "all of Rhode Island and half of Connecticut"! Don't feel sorry for this monkey, though-- he enjoys the soft life! After all, he gets to eat tons of bananas! Unfortunately, animal rights activists say he shouldn't be chained, and lobby to have him deported to a more "natural" habitat. Luckily, a storm sets him free and he returns to his life of imprisoned tranquility! Perhaps the greatest story in the entire series also appeared in this issue, "Monster Crisis". This classic has American monsters going on strike because Transylvanian monsters are stealing their jobs! As always, there are also plenty of one-to-three page goofy monster "shorts" such as the very MAD-like "Monster News" (featuring ghastly headlines) and "Monster Hit Parade"-- which features monster interpretations of sheet music covers: a witch on a broom for "Come Fly With Me," a wound-up mummy dancing to "Wrap Up Your Troubles In Dreams" and King Kong obliging a young lady in "I've Got a Crush On You."

Bats #3 cover

Igor graduates from mere host to star status in BATS #3, as "The Life of Igor" unfolds the story of how he "decided to seek (his) career in the monster field." His first job as a mad doctor's apprentice ends on a hilarious note when he accidentally drops the "genius type" brains and replaces them with "Madison Ave. type" brains, resulting in a commercial-spouting "Krankenstein" monster! Next, he gets a job transporting 'ol Dracula and his coffin to "South Transylvania for the winter". Unfortunately, Igor ignores the fact that "South Transylvania was not observing daylight saving time," and wakes Drack up before sundown, with typical vampire-destroying results! "Open House For Monsters" finds Igor acting as a Dr. Joyce Brothers style advice man. For example, when a vampire patient complains that he can't stomach his girlfriend's steak dinners, Igor claims it's because the vamp's subconscious is reminded of stakes-- the kind that kill vampires, that is! Other highlights include a "Horror Western" short and a Transylvanian "Chop" House menu!

...TO BE CONTINUED: BE SURE TO RETURN ON FRIDAY FOR PART 2 OF THIS ARTICLE!

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