|To me, this panel is as iconic as Superman smashing a car on a rock.|
Your Humble Editor must confess to a genuine fondness for funny animal superheroes. Surely it was in no small part a matter of timing – I was a wee’yin when Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham and Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew were both being published, and I seem to recall Hoppy the Marvel Bunny being shuffled out of comic book retirement in a pair of DC Comics Presents featuring the Shazam family around the same time. I guess it was the zeitgeist, there was something about the early animals that just seemed to scream “Manimals in spandex with puns.”
One of the earliest super-powered funny animals was briefly showcased in the aforementioned ZooCrew comic and dates back to DC’s prehistory, when Jack Liebowitz could be seen hunting mammoth with his spear made of the sharpened bones of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (hey, they signed a contract).
I don’t often employ the “…on acid” suffix, but I will suggest that the origin story of the Terrific Whatsit (a.k.a. McSnurtle the Turtle) reads a little bit like Frank Capra on acid.
|There's some Grant Morrison-level shit happening right here.|
On the surface of the far-distant planet Vulcan, seemingly omnipotent animal-headed embodiments of good (that would be Prince Highness, Governor and Director of all Good on Earth) and evil (Prince Lowness, “Boss an’big shot of all de evil on oith!”) are engaged in that old philosophical chestnut: Does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Yes, heady stuff for a comic called Funny Stuff (issue no.1, in fact, from June 1944), but the mission to find a genuinely honest individual in the animal-populated town of Zooville is underway. Passing over even the most straightforward and trustworthy candidates, the Vulcanites settle on Merton McSnurtle, general store owner and literally the laziest creature on Earth. “It takes him until next Christmas to get up the energy to scratch last Summer’s mosquito bites” describes one caption, as a for instance.
Brought to Vulcan’s surface, the apathetic and slow-moving Merton McSnurtle is granted terrific powers by his celestial benefactors (who I assume are the funny animal versions of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman characters), although they have their own agendas. Prince Lowness plans to throw all sorts of tempting impediments in McSnurtle’s path in order to lure him to wickedness, while Prince Highness decides, in the name of goodness and honor and equality, to fuckin’ cheat.
Sent back to Earth, McSnurtle’s shell is rigged with an “Automatic Conscience” (which originally springs like a jack-in-the-box from the front of his shell, but later is rendered as a pint-sized and ghostly mini-Whatsit). In times of trouble, when McSnurtle would otherwise prefer to ignore it and rest, the Automatic Conscience fires him into action as The Terrific Whatzit! Seriously, that is majorly cheating.
|"Now I'll be able to rape and murder as I please!"|
While we never catch up with the Vulcanites to find out how their bet was settled, The Terrific Whatsit spends most of his twenty-five appearances doing remarkable good, although he makes fewer appearances as the series rolls on. His Conscience, in the meantime, starts becoming a bit of a troublemaker himself, getting bored with keeping McSnurtle on the up-and-up and trying to find new careers to occupy his time.
Given that the last time we see the pair, McSnurtle is busily trying to drown his conscience in a bucket, we might assume that Prince Lowness won the long game …