COVER STORIES for 05/21/2006
COVER STORIES INSTALLMENT #54
Welcome to this 54th edition of "Cover Stories," in which I look at a number of comics covers with a common theme!
And this week, after all too long an absence... I'm pleased to not only present the return of...
...but this week, it's a WORLD PREMIERE COMICS THEY NEVER MADE! Yes, the two issues I'm about to present have never been seen before in this reality anywhere!
As you may recall from the last time, when you see that additional heading, we're delving into comics that don't exist in our world, so don't look for them in your copy of Overstreet, don't even think about searching for 'em on eBay! They don't exist!
But I'll talk about them as if they do! So strap yourselves in as I set the Kurtzberg Alternative Reality Device, and let's take a look a pair of comics that were never published on our earth!
Way back in the Golden Age of Television or so, with the popularity and success of Groucho Marx on "You Bet Your Life," someone at Dell got the brilliant idea to latch onto that success by licensing not only Groucho, but his brothers Harpo and Chico as well! The results were two issues of a comic that did its best to replicate the wackiness of the classic Marx Brothers movies!
In the first issue of Dell's Marx Brothers comic book, the writer (unfortunately anonymous, although rumor has it that a former writer for Groucho and Chico's radio show had the job) attempted to follow a formula similar to the Marx Brothers' movies. The first page of the story was done up kind of like the title card of a movie, in this case, "An Afternoon at the Music Hall," with pictures of the boys plus Margaret Dumont (obviously, they had the rights to her, as well), identifying their "roles": Groucho's character was Wilbur G. Pinchpenny, Chico was Guido Sardoni, and Harpo was Benny Lupin, while Margaret Dumont was Penelope (Penny) Wadsworth. Note the pun with Groucho's last name and Dumont's first name. The basic plot, as the cover indicates, is that a music hall in New York City has fallen on hard times, and the Groucho's called in to help straighten out their finances, with Chico and Harpo hanging around in various changing positions as determined by the plot, which has them trying out new talent for a brand-new show, finding said new show, and dealing with Jerome Masters, the heavy of the story, who holds a lien on the building, and wants to tear it down to build a department store, which he'll do if Dumont can't get a show going soon and raise some much-needed cash. Masters pulls several dirty tricks to try to foil the boys' efforts.
However, the plot is of little importance to the enjoyment of this story... it's the lines that make it sparkle! To keep things simple, I'll identify the speaker by their better-known names.
At one point, Groucho is trying to distract Masters while Chico and Harpo sneak in singers to audition, and he does this by keeping up a steady stream of patter, to wit:
Groucho: "A bow-legged girl married a knock-kneed boy, and when they stood side-by-side, they spelled OX... she had every other tooth missing, and so did he, and when they kissed, they zippered."
Groucho: "I once ate dinner at a Chinese-German restaurant. An hour later, I was hungry for power."
Groucho: "I'm still suffering from shock from the last war. I was almost drafted! But I'm no coward. I'd fight for my country! But they called me at a ridiculous time - in the middle of a war."
Later, Groucho makes no effort to disguise how he feels about Masters, and zings him with the following insults:
Groucho: "Why don't you act like a human being - or don't you do impersonations?"
Groucho: "You're outstanding in your field, and that's where you should be - out standing in your field."
Groucho: "Would you mind reaching into your heart and getting me a piece of ice?"
Groucho: "Who don't you take a powder - preferably arsenic."
Groucho: "If there's nothing to be said, I'm sure you'll say it."
At one point, Chico and Harpo find themselves in the orchestra pit, and they sit down at a piano and a harp. Groucho looks straight out at the reader and says:
Groucho: "Fortunately for you folks, you're just reading this in a comic book, not watching it in a theater... so you don't have to sit there and listen to this, you can just turn the page!"
Still later in the story, Groucho and Chico (Chico's acting as Groucho's secretary at this point) are in the music hall's office, going through financial records.
Groucho: "Answer the phone."
Chico: "But boss, it no ring!"
Groucho: "Well, do you have to wait for the last minute?"
After this, Groucho decides to try to arrange for additional funding, and calls who he believes to be a wealthy man who invests in stage shows, but when Chico places the call, he gets Masters by mistake.
Masters: "I'm sorry, but you have the wrong number."
Groucho: "Well, if the call wasn't for you, why did you answer it?"
And finally, what would a Marx Brothers escapade be without a flirtation? Groucho likes the looks of a girl auditioning to be the leading lady, and asks her out on a date.
Girl Singer: "I can't go out with you tonight... I'm married."
Groucho: "Okay, then, how about tomorrow night?"
Needless to say, by the end of the book, the music hall is saved, the loan is completely paid off, and Masters gets his comeuppance when the IRS contacts him for an audit, thanks to a tip from Chico!
The second issue of the Marx Brothers comic (and the last one, so far as I can tell) isn't made up of a book-length adventure, but is instead, shorter tales... some of them one-pagers. No effort is made to give them different names this time around.
The first short story has Groucho has a psychiatrist, with Harpo as his patient and Chico as Harpo's "translator." The story opens in the waiting room, as Chico talks to the receptionist.
Chico: "His old psychiatrist said that he was-a in love with his-a raincoat. That's-a ridiculous. He doesn't love-a his raincoat! He likes-a his raincoat, but he no love-a his raincoat. He love-a his galoshes."
Soon, Chico and Harpo enter Groucho's office, where Groucho tries to determine what ails Harpo. Chico first mentions Harpo eats grapes all the time.
Groucho: "Well, just because he eats grapes all the time, that's not necessarily a problem. Many people eat grapes."
Chico: "From the wallpaper?"
Groucho: "Indeed. Well, I believe I know what's troubling him. Why does he hate his sister?"
Chico: "He no have a sister."
Groucho: "If you expect me to help him, you've got to cooperate."
Harpo honks his horn, and mimes sleeping and playing baseball.
Chico: "Oh, dat's a-right, he always dreams about-a baseball."
Groucho: "Doesn't he ever dream of anything but baseball?"
Chico: "No, just-a baseball, alla time."
Groucho: "Doesn't he ever dream about eating, or going fishing, or girls?"
Chico: "No, boss... he might miss-a his turn at bat!"
Groucho: "Maybe he should take an interest in some other sport, say football."
Chico: "That's-a no good, boss... he's so self-conscious, when we went-a to a football game and the players went into a huddle, he thought they were talking about him."
This is followed by a short story starring Groucho, who's trying to get a hotel room. Here's the best lines from that story.
Desk Clerk: "I know you're tired, sir, but there are absolutely no rooms left."
Groucho: "You must have at least one room you're holding back. What if the President wanted to stay here tonight?"
Desk Clerk: "That's an extreme case - but for the President, we'd manage to find a room."
Groucho: "Well, I happen to know he isn't coming, so I'll take his room."
Desk Clerk: "Fine."
Groucho: "And I'd like to leave a call for twelve noon."
Desk Clerk: "Sorry, sir, we don't make twelve o'clock calls."
Groucho: "Okay, then, give me two six o'clock calls."
Later, Groucho leaves his room to go to an important meeting.
Groucho: "Doorman, call me a cab!"
Admiral: "Sir, I am not a doorman, I am an admiral in the U.S. Navy."
Groucho: "Fine, then call me a boat."
Next is a one-page tale with Chico, who's waiting for a bus, when he puts his hand into the pocket of the man next to him.
Man: "Hey, what are you doing with your hand in my pocket?"
Chico: "I'm a-looking for a match."
Man: "Why didn't you ask me for one?"
Chico: "I no speak-a to strangers."
Then there's a five-page tale, all in pantomime, starring Harpo, in which the "mute" Marx Brother visits the zoo, and hilarity ensues as he interacts with the animals there.
Next all three brothers appear in a short tale called "Good Scouts," with Groucho as a Scoutmaster, and Harpo and Chico as scouts.
Groucho: "Well, Chico, did you do your good deed today?"
Chico: "I sure did... Harpo and I helped an old lady cross-a the street."
Groucho: "It took both of you?"
Chico: "Yeah, boss... she no want-a go."
Following that was a two-page text piece that provided brief synopses of the Marx Brothers movies, and then there's another story with all the Marxes.
It begins with Chico as the cook of a luxury liner. Margaret Dumont greets him after the end of the voyage:
Dumont: "The beef stew you served on this voyage was delicious. May I have the recipe to give to my cook?"
Chico: "At's-a no problem. First, you start out with-a 300 onions..."
Chico apparently changes jobs after this to become a deep-sea diver. Groucho comes across him and Harpo at the docks, with all his equipment.
Groucho: "You certainly have a lot of fancy diving equipment. How long do you plan to stay underwater?"
Chico: "I'll stay a week - maybe ten days if-a the weather is-a nice."
Groucho hires Chico to help him recover a box that sunk with his yacht earlier in the week, a box full of money.
Chico: "Well, boss, money is-a the most important-a thing inna world!"
Groucho: "The most important thing in the world is not money. It's love. I'm lucky. It just so happens, I love money."
After Chico fails to find the box, Groucho is not too upset, and throws out a lot of pithy comments about "easy come, easy go," and that sort of stuff. Chico comments that Groucho certainly likes to talk, even if nobody else is listening.
Groucho: "The other day, I was talking to myself... I said, 'Self...' Talking to myself has its advantages. I deal with a better class of person. And I have no arguments. If there's a controversial subject, I don't bring it up."
And that's the highlights of the second issue!
I can't decide which of the two issues I prefer... certainly the first issue felt more like a Marx Brothers movie, but the second one took a little better advantage of the comic format.
Well, hold on to your glasses and cigars, friends, as I reverse the Kurtzberg Alternate Reality Device, and return us to our own reality!
Join me next time for another installment of "Cover Stories," as we go further into the second year of this column, and in the meantime, you can check out my blog at http://waffyjon.blogspot.com for other musings and ramblings by me, or email me with comments about this column at !