Wednesday, July 27, 2016


The Awakening of Wendy W.

Pop culture and comic books have a long history -- licensing a distinctive celebrity or group for a series of comic book misadventures (whether thematically appropriate or not) is practically as old a standard in comics as the superhero and the funny animal.

Musical groups have some history with this brand of comics, so it's not much of a surprise -- as much as it is a touch of cognitive dissonance -- that Harvey Comics would license the likenesses of the New Kids on the Block in the early Nineties.
They have come for your uncool niece.
The five members of NKOTB -- that's Randy, Tom-Tom, Butcher Pete, Five Mile Andy and the living engine of destruction known only as Hurricane, according to me not knowing who was in the New Kids on the Block -- starred in a half-dozen individual licensed books in which they may as well have been the Monkees, the Jackson 5 or GWAR for all the effort put forward in capturing the personalities and (am I using this word correctly) attitude of the bouncy, bad-boy boy band. It was all "puns" and "walking into obvious danger" written for a pack of ciphers on the edge of generic adventure stories. I mean, I didn't expect this to be Heart of Darkness or anything, I'm just saying -- it's disposable.

In addition to their assorted self-titled books at Harvey (including one sponsored by/featuring Hi-C kids' drink, of all things), the New Kids (Wee Troy, Kevin "Driller" Drilburg, Satch Davis, "Otter" Bulwark and their wisecracking pet mastodon "Tiny") managed to pair up with a couple of Harvey's more popular kiddie-wink characters, Richie Rich and Wendy. (They could've teamed up with Casper, too, but first ... they'd have to die-e-e-e-e!)

Both books ran three issues in 1991 and shared the essential format -- the New Kids (Wallace, Preemo, Alice the Thug, and the Wassenbecker Triplets Minus One) shared a single adventure in the front of the book with their co-star, and the remaining stories were a brazen bait-and-switch featuring general stories of the Harvey crew. Goddamnit Harvey, what are you trying to pull here? We paid for the New Kids (Stoneface, Jump-Up Jimmy, the Extinguisher, Fireball Lane and Justin Timberlake), not Wendy the Good Little Witch's idiot forest friends here or nothing.

The Richie Rich issues are boilerplate kids' adventure stuff in the Richie Rich vein; the New Kids (1, 2, 3, 4 and the third surviving 5) get lost in the Rich mansion, stumble across crooks trying to rob the Rich fortune, generally gad about with Rich inventions, all with a blase sense of bonhomme that wouldn't be misplaced in a lobotomy patient.
Tone it down, you psycho, this is a kids comic.
The Wendy titles, however, are a whole different affair.

Wendy fans will have to enlighten me as to whether the character "Grinder" -- a magical shape-changing cat who appears in this series and has all the hallmarks of a Poochie-type "the kids'll love this guy!" character added just to give the hero someone to talk to and all the worst jokes a font from which to pour -- preceded its appearances in this comic. He definitely felt spontaneously made up as part of a cartoon pitch.

Whatever the case, Grinder, Wendy and her three gruesome aunts are thrust out of their light comic-adventures and into a high-action CBS drama from the late 1960s. It turns out that the lightly-evil aunts -- who, as longtime readers of Wendy might recall, they are adults now and should not be reading Wendy the Good Little Witch comics and also the aunts themselves are always pestering Wendy to be more evil herself -- are terrified of Atrocia, "the cruelest and most vicious witch that ever lived." The fiend had been imprisoned for 6,500 years but escaped, causing no end of danger for the Wendy clan, as Atrocia and Wendy's Aunt Zelma had once battled for the affections of the same man. A sore loser, Atrocia swears bloody vengeance on Zelma and her clan. This is from Game of Thrones, right? I've never seen it.

The threat of Atrocia sends Wendy and her aunts running in terror -- which is good, because Atrocia reaches out and destroys their home in a fiery burst of savage lightning. Jesus Christ. This got all "last half of Harry Potter" all of a sudden.

Which one is the guy who beat an old dude half-blind?

Running for their lives, Wendy and her aunts flee for the suburbs, adopting human disguises (Wendy removes her hood, revealing her hair and infuriating at least one of her aunts who's got some real Ol' Holy Book issues when it comes to young ladies uncovering their heads. Well, President Trump will deal with her kind). 

Along with a new look, Wendy picks up a gal pal (Mo, wielder of such kid-appropriate slang as "are you jivin' me?" and "wotta riot") and a small cast of characters at her new grammar school, all of which puts Atrocia on the backburner ... for a while. As the New Kids (Lassie, Patches, Pockets, Socks and Rover) enjoy a ghost train ride at a local fun fair, Atrocia chooses the opportunity to attack. This leads to a straight up sorcery battle above the heads of America's teen heartthrobs, presuming that by that I mean the New Kids (Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus) and not, like, if MTV's the New Monkees were hanging around somewhere.

Wendy barely survives her encounter with her aunt's nemesis -- and I'm not kidding, here, she barely makes it out alive. The stakes got real high in Harvey Comics alla sudden -- but manages to banish Atrocia "billions of light years away," saving herself and everyone involved. Not that she and her aunts pack up and return to the Enchanted Forest, as you might expect! No, not when more adventures await her and the New Kids (Actually several old kids, made into new kids by computer trickery)...

Except they didn't. The series wrapped up after the third issue, leaving this tantalizing teaser as a promise of trans adventures as of yet explored ...

Joe, I may not fully understand, but I want you to know that you have my love and my support.


James W. Fry 3.0 said...


Kevin said...

Great article; the various New Kids lineups practically had me passing out at work trying to not burst out laughing. Guffaws, dammit! I was guffawing, and that hurts!

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