Friday, June 4, 2010
TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS! (PART 2)
NOTE: Here's Part 2 of that blast from the past by your's truly - the conclusion to an article that was originally published in Overstreet's "Gold & Silver Age Quarterly #6," the Oct-Dec 1994 issue (To read Part 1 just click here). 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!
Igor takes center stage again in "Mad Lab" in BATS #4, wherein he travels to a village only to find all the men there are depressed because there's only one girl left in town-- "ever since Dracula's bride hunting expedition passed through"! To make matters worse, the girl is in love with the village idiot! Igor has the solution-- he'll clone the girl, so every guy will have a shot at love! Now there's hundreds of girls for the guys to choose from—only trouble is, being clones, they all fall for the village idiot! The other two "feature" stories break from the monster theme. "Julius the Robot" is concerned that he and his fellow "old" robots are being replaced by new, improved models. Luckily for Julius, his outgoing personality lands him a job as a commercial pitchman (an area which writer Gladir continually mined for ideas) and makes him a millionaire. He uses his newfound wealth to purchase a used oil well, transforming it into an "old robot's home"! "The Chariot Chump" offers up a mild parody of "Ben Hur", and there is the usual assortment of shorts including "Dr. Bloodshot's A-1 Assistant", complete with a corny punchline a la "Peabody & Sherman!"
BATS #5 continues the trend of variety in addition to the horror/comedy. For example, "Tin Pan Folly" revolves around rock-n-roll singing birds; and "Hip Man Wrinkle" features a beatnik who sleeps his way into the future-- only to find he's a "square" in tomorrow's world! Due to an ancient curse, Oswald's girlfriend is known as "The Cat Girl"-- constantly chasing after birds and singing with other cats in the alley. The gem this issue is "Monsterama," wherein a movie monster attempts to change his image in his latest picture, "The Adorable Creep,"-- so he can win out and "get the girl" for a change! Bad move-- the film gets a "thumbs down" from critics and fans! All hope is not lost, however, the flop becomes a hit after all... er... in Transylvania, that is!
By BATS #6, it became apparent that a move was being made from horror/comedy to more standard humor and satire-- although the subject matter still remained offbeat. "Rocky the Stone Man" is just what his name implies-- a man made of stone. When the bathing beauty he's sweet on falls for the lifeguard, 'ol Stoney gets an idea from Mt. Rushmore-- he'll be sculpted into a "he-man"! When he shows off his new physique to his would-be girlfriend, she admits she now prefers skinny "Frank Sinatra" types! "The Mole Man", who's always digging, strikes oil and eventually winds up in China! "Seymour the Centaur" excels at sports, but has no "horse sense" when it comes to women! Likewise, "Phil the Fly" is a human fly looking for love in all the wrong places -- maybe he should check the personals in the "fly paper" (Sorry-- reading this stuff, the awful puns just rub off on you)! While these stories were cute and amusing, they lacked the appeal of the horror parodies, and may be one of the reasons the title soon folded...
Which leads us to BATS #7-- and a near total change of direction. In fact, the two main stories, serious horror tales "Three Eyed Mad Doctor" and "The Spell" foreshadowed Archie's "Sorcery" title by a decade. Both stories featured a more "adventure"-oriented art style, particularly "The Spell" The other two feature stories are illustrated in the traditional BATS comedy style, but are basically "straight" stories. "The Remarkable Power of Mr. Hurd" is that he has extremely sensitive hearing, making him the fastest bank teller in the world. Unfortunately, his hearing becomes so acute that it drives him crazy! Demoted to night watchman, he discovers he can discern among the lock tumblers in the combination vault and plots an elaborate heist! Since crime does not pay (at least not in code-approved Silver Age titles), this tale has a twist ending worthy of "The Twilight Zone"! In the other comical-looking yet serious story, two men finds themselves stranded in a seemingly abandoned "Ghost Town". As they investigate, all the standard haunted house and ghost town cliches are trotted out. In the end, it's revealed that aliens are using the town as a supply and communications base as they plot their invasion. While the tales in BATS #7 are enjoyable on their own merits, they are not what fans came to expect of BATS. Perhaps if BATS had kept its focus on horror/comedy, the title might still be going today.
Alas, issue #7 was the last of BATS, until Archie issued a double-sized BATS #1 special in 1966, consisting entirely of reprints from the first few original issues. Stories from the original BATS were also reprinted in MADHOUSE, various Archie digests and most recently in Sabrina's Halloween Spoooktacular #1 special from 1993.
What will the future hold for these kind of stories? Surely the continued success of MAD and CRACKED MAGAZINE dictates there is an audience for this kind of wacky stuff. Maybe one day Archie will also take the black & white magazine route with this material—or perhaps will revive it in yet another new comic book format. In the meantime, you may want to give yourself the perfect Halloween treat-- buy up some copies of these classics (reading-quality copies should be fairly inexpensive)-- you'll "HOWL" with laughter!!!
NOTE: I'd like to thank Buddy Saunders of Lone Star Comics, one of the best comic book chains in the US for lending me a scan of the BATS 1966 double-sized special. In fact, Buddy is one of the leading sources for back issues of comics like BATS - be sure to check out his online store by clicking here