Thursday, May 4, 2017


There are a few comics which manage to touch the sweet spot of the dual interests of professional wrestling and superheroes. By which I mean there are actually loads of them, but I still have a favorite: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen vol 1 No.111, in which Jimmy (as Elastic Lad) battles the lovable boil on the bottom of the Superman Family mythos, The Ugly Superman.

The story originally ran all the way back in 1961, in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen vol 1 No.54, but received an expanded reprint in 1968. Despite trudging through the entire catalog of Superman-related material, I actually don't recall this happening all too often -- a reprinted story gaining an additional bundle of material in the middle in order to satisfy the page count requirements (to my credit, however, I'm only up to 1964 at this point).

But four additional pages were added to the story. And why? To introduce a whole bunch of dumb new wrestlers for Jimmy to fight!

Don't ... don't catch the teeth, Jimmy. Don't catch anyone's teeth, if you can help it.
The original penciller, Curt Swan, was brought back on to illustrate the additional pages, with George Klein inheriting inking duties from John Forte (Likewise, the original material was scripted by E.Nelson Bridwell, following Robert Bernstein's lead). The transition is notable, but it doesn't harm the story. How could it, it's a string of idiot meatheads in Halloween costumes getting beat up by a freckled rubber band. This isn't rocket science.

We're all on the same page about how racist this is,
right? Okay, right, good.
The original story only involved some pretty sedate wrestlers -- a flab mountain named Blubber Ben and a guy named Mac the Martian who appeared to be wearing what ants would wear if they were in the Klan, and so on. The follow-up went a little wilder, with actual gimmicks (like a guy keeping dry ice in his mouth!) matching their personalities.

This hits me where I live. Not that I want to make it sound like I'm old enough to have paid a dime to watch a large Swede pummel all comers at a carnival set up in an open corn field or anything, but I did grow up at a time when the territory system hadn't yet been completely demolished by the McMahon family. There were still independent promotions all up and down the East Coast when I was a kid, and the matches were still televised -- until wan ratings in the face of more broadly colorful wrestlers ended in the broadcasts' demise.

But I grew up watching these old-timers trying to reclaim some celebrity with absurd gimmicks, or risible ham-and-eggers doing Wild Man of Borneo routines. Some of them even managed to make it to the then-WWF, sometimes even with their dignity intact.

Also, I lived in the town where Lou Albano had his Summer home. That's apropos of nothing, I just thought it was neat.
Plus, he's gonna die.

The premise of the story is that Jimmy is assigned to cover a local wrestling match, and does so with open disdain. No one has yet explained to Jimmy that wrestling is staged (not fake!), leading the callow youth to straight-up not shut the fuck up about all the obvious tricks in the ring. Along those lines, Jimmy is absolutely portrayed in the story as one of those guys who'd stand up in the middle of a magic show and yell "Wait a minute, that lady's fine! Let me see that saw!"

Jimmy decides to teach these wrasslers a lesson -- because he's somehow under the impression that he's the only guy who knows that it's pure entertainment, the dope -- by getting into his Elastic Lad togs, guzzling a forty of elastic serum, and then beating up a bunch of guys who're just trying to earn a paycheck. Thanks, Superman's Pal!

Yeah, that's why no one catches him, Jimmy.
Old Superman comics are usually predicated on no small degree of coincidence and unlikely happenstance. In the conclusion to this one, they break whatever scale it is that keeps track of such things.

Ugly Superman's manager has stolen Jimmy's elastic serum and fed it to his client. Now the Uglastic Superman, he basically spends a few pages handing Jimmy his ass -- LITERALLY! I mean, they're elastic, they could literally be handed their own asses -- as Jimmy's dose of the serum wears off.

How Jimmy saves himself relies on the unlikeliest combination of events known to man. Aware that Superman is across town doing a blindfolded human cannonball routine for a charity event, Jimmy uses the last of his elasticity to huck the partially full bottle up and out of the open air stadium (probably he should have just drunk it, but hey, I didn't have 12 pages to fill, what do I know). The Ugly Superman s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s up to grab the bottle, but manages to get knocked unconscious by a passing Superman.

He's leaving early to avoid traffic.
Both that ending and Jimmy fighting wrestlers with his elastic serum both seem like much worse versions of the tricks and gimmicks which had him so riled up earlier in the story. Jimmy must have an hypocrisy serum on top of everything else.

But that's not important. What matters is ... the wrestlers!

Standing two buffets high and weighing in at "a Buick," Blubber Ben is the stable's big flabby enforcer. I'm sure, like all heavyset wrestlers, his power moves include lumbering, looking tired, and probably farting every time he slams into the mat. Ben takes on a trio of wrestlers, including the aforementioned Mac the Martian and his ant-supremacist gimmick, a seemingly-mandatory "Indian warrior" type wrestler named Totem Tom, and a guy with cat whiskers and a tiger-print tunic who goes by the name of Tiger Tom and whose finishing move is "leaving the arena at his own pace." Look at all these Toms. Must be real confusing in the locker room.

Jimmy goes on to mortify The Abominable Snowman, a guy in a fur wrap who breathes dry ice fumes out of his mouth. This is a terrifying gimmick, "the man who's reacting poorly to what everyone else considers a reasonably warm temperature." He might just have valley fever. I had that once. Makes you feel cold, on and off. Anyway. Moving on ...

Jimmy then faces The Gladiator, a man in an executioner's mask and one of those banded leather skirts they wear in gladiator movies, only they take on the appearance of novelty boxer shorts thanks to the printing quality of the story.

The "Okay folks" part of his dialogue kind of pokes a hole in his persona...

The giant-sized Mr.Goliath ("Please, my father is Mister Goliath. Call me Cornel.") steps up in his sandaled feet, referring to himself at one point as "The Fighting Philistine." This will be the name of the high school football team I someday sponsor. He and a pretty boring acrobat named Tumbler Ted (what is it with the first names here?) make an appearance before the two best wrestlers come on.

First up ... THE BEE.

What does the Bee taste like? Send your ideas to the address at the end of the article.


Yeah, it's only September.

 Super-powered wrestlers have made it as supporting characters -- sometimes even main characters -- in assorted comics, so I'm sure some room can be found for The Bee and Rudy the Reindeer. In fact, let's hand one of the Batman books over to 'em, they can drive Detective for a while.

1..2..3.. WE'RE OUT!


Mike Frank said...

Sorry, but there is a typo in the beginning. Issue 54 was published in 1961, not 1954.

Calamity Jon said...

Fixed, thanks for pointing it out!

neofishboy said...

"Hi, Mr. ... um, Man?"
"Superman's fine."
"Right. Anyway, we're with the Society for Unfortunate Children and we were wondering if you'd be willing to appear at a charity event we're planning."
"Sure, no problem. Regular deal? Bend steel girders, lift a bus, put out a fire with my Super breath? Maybe a speed thing?"
"No, we'd like to blindfold you and shoot you out of a cannon."
" ... "

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