SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade: the 1950s! Today’s page is from Melvin the Monster #3, which was published by Hercules Publishing (according to the indicia), which is really Marvel, and is cover dated November 1956. I borrowed this and several other comics over the next few weeks from Howard Harris, my comics retailer, who was nice enough to let me take them home and scan them. Enjoy!
Melvin the Monster is, of course, a Dennis the Menace rip-off, and this comic lasted only six issues before going to the great recycling bin in the sky. This is different from Melvin Monster, a Dell comic that came out in the 1960s. “Monster” doesn’t lend itself to many alliterative names, you know!
Stan Lee and Joe Maneely wrote and drew this entire comic, which features several short stories and even more single-panel gags. Whether Maneely lettered this or not, the title is interesting – “Melvin” is thin and more formal, while “Monster” is fatter and more simplistic, even anarchic. Melvin, of course, is not bipolar, but the title seems to suggest it.
In the first panel, Melvin stands in the foreground, demanding that his parents take him for a drive. This is fairly interesting, because Lee and Maneely are, as we can see, deliberately subverting the notion of 1950s suburban bliss and the idea that “father knows best.” Melvin demands something, but his request isn’t too evil – it’s not like he tells his parents he wants to have all the candy in the house or he wants a magnifying glass so he can fry insects. Maneely gives him a typical, snide facial expression, but his actual words don’t seem too terrible. So how does his father respond? “Can’t you see I’m reading the paper?” God forbid the dad take any interest in spending time with his son, right? He’s flopped on the couch, shoes on, scuffing up the fabric, and shutting the kid down. Where does Melvin get his pinched expression? Right from his father, who looks dyspeptic for really no reason – he has a foxy wife, a nice house, and a good pipe. No wonder Melvin is a monster – his father is so emotionally distant, what else can he be? It’s a cry for help, really. Melvin’s mother pleads with him to spend some time with Melvin before he becomes a serial killer, although the look on her face seems to indicate that Melvin’s dad might push her too far one of these days and she’ll go fetch a sharp cleaver.
In the second panel, the dad has reluctantly left his man-cave and is out polluting the fresh air with his pipe smoke. Again, we see what a douchebag he is, as the first words we read in the panel are “The things I do for that kid!” Yeah, Dad, like drag your carcass off the sofa and take a nice drive with your family! You’ll again note his facial expression, pinched with anger and angina (probably). He doesn’t even notice that his son, desperate for attention, has picked up a rusty old nail, and it’s Foxy Mom’s turn to play bad cop, as she sternly reprimands Melvin. Note how he stares at his negligent father as he “casually” throws the nail into the street, where his father will run it over? Can we blame Melvin for his passive-aggressive resistance to his father’s tyranny? No, we cannot. Maneely, weirdly enough, draws the panel the opposite way we would expect – Melvin and his family should be moving left to right to draw our eyes to the third panel, but Maneely, exhibiting the obstinacy of his male characters, perversely draws our eye to the left even as we read right. Perhaps he wants us to linger on Foxy Mom. I mean, come on – who wouldn’t want that fine woman to play bad cop with one of us, amirite?
Of course, this leads to the third panel, in which Dad runs over the nail and pops his tire. Melvin has a look of smug satisfaction on his face that he has, perhaps, hastened the old man’s early death from stress-related illness, while Dad is angrier than ever. Maneely screws up again – the nail appears to be landing near the passenger side of the car, but Dad runs it over on the driver side. It helps the flow of the page, as the “pow” of the tire exploding leads us easily to the next page, but it’s still strange. Also strange is the fact that the tire explodes so easily, given that this comic was produced when American products were BUILT TO LAST! I’ve run over nails, and the tire doesn’t explode, and it might be several miles before you notice the tire is flat. It appears that Melvin didn’t pick up a random nail, but perhaps rigged a special nail to explode as well as penetrate the rubber tire. His war of liberation continues!
As charming as a humor comic like this is supposed to be, I think I’ve shown that Lee and Maneely had a sinister agenda provoking kids to rise up against their emotionally stunted father figures. No wonder Lee was such a good choice to reboot the Marvel universe a few years later and make the heroes a bunch of hip, young, anti-authority figures! He already showed that he could turn someone unfairly labeled a “monster” and make him into a tragic anti-hero. Oh, Stan Lee, you rascal!
Next: I can’t escape Batman, and I shouldn’t try! Take a journey with me to visit … 1950s Batman! Oh, the horror! Ease your worried mind in the comfort of the archives!
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