Featuring Vampires, Rats, And Other Delights Of Urban Living!
In 1974, Marvel Comics released the first issue of a humor and parody comic entitle Arrgh!, which had a slightly more focused intent than many of the other titles out there. Rather than poke fun at pop culture in general, Arrgh! was, strangely, poking fun only at the horror genre—which was surely a monster kid’s dream come true. It certainly was for me when I stumbled upon a few of these issues on my father’s collection more than a decade after they were first published.
Arrgh! only lasted five issues, and each issue contained only three stories, so we’re looking at only fifteen tales total. Some of them were mile-a-minute gag-fests, where the jokes came so fast and furious that what little plot there was was difficult to distinguish—such as “Whack’s Museum” (Bill Everett) from issue #1, which took place at a wax museum where the dummies were alive and visitors were apt to become the next exhibit; and “Frank N. Stein” (Bill Everett) from issue #2, in which the monster is befriended by a little girl who thinks he’s “purty”, but not before she makes him promise to abstain from throwing her in the river. These stories try the hardest to entertain, and they suffer because of it. They’re like hack comedians desperate for a laugh, throwing out every punchline that they can think of in hopes that something hits the mark. Even when something does, it’s still overshadowed by the dozens of others that don’t.
Middle-of-the-road stories like “Beauty and the Bigfoot” (Don Glut, Mike Sekowsky) from issue #3, which features a Sasquatch the size of King Kong, fare slightly better, as they retain a goofy attitude without devolving into a rapid-fire assault. Likewise the occasional parody like “The Night Gawker” (Russ Jones, Jerry Grandenetti) from issue #4 and “The Some-Thing” (Mike Esposito) from issue #5, mocking KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER and THE THING respectively, offer up intelligent (but kid-friendly) satire in the Mad Magazine vein.
Arrgh! is at its best, though, when offering up something fresh and unusual, toying with the genre conventions but not taking on any existing icon or story. “Bugged” (Russ Jones, Alfredo Alcala) in issue #2 is scarcely comedic at all, following an unemployed New York man whose tiny apartment is overrun with roaches and possibly driving him slowly to the madhouse. It’s not until the finale, when he opens the door to reveal the exterminator that he has called in, that any notion of absurdity enters into this tale of urban horror.
“Rat” (Tom Sutton, P.A. Flynn) from issue #1 was similarly fantastic, though its absurdity is evident from the set-up. A low-level criminal has ratted out his boss and finds himself on the run from both the mob and the police. A freak accident has him transforming into a man-sized rodent (a full decade before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and he uses his new rat-powers to seek revenge and embark on a crime spree. There are the occasional throwaway background gags to be found here which are so prevalent throughout the series, but the main story plays it relatively straight. It doesn’t feel as if it belongs in a mainstream humor mag. In fact, it feels as if it belongs in one of the underground comix that my dad used to keep hidden from me.
“Rat” must have been well received, as a follow-up story, “Rat Reborn”(Tom Sutton, P.A. Flynn), was published in issue #3—the only story in this series’ brief run to to warrant a sequel. Unfortunately, “Rat Reborn” was hokier and jokier, not nearly as entertaining as the original, and lost much of its underground luster.
The final story in the final issue, “Der Spider Und Der Fly” (Mike Esposito), was certainly an odd one. Told in verse with a thick (and inexplicable) German accent, it’s a comedic take on the old poem “The Spider and the Fly”. The weirdest story of all, though, is certainly “Bang” (Howard Post) from issue #4. Not only does the title have nothing to do with the story (a fact that is pointed out to the reader in the very first panel), but it ends suddenly with a note from “Edgar Allan Post” telling us that he’s retiring mid-story and that we should write our own ending. It’s playfully postmodern—not something that I’m against—but it feels out of place in the context of the story itself and the series that it appears in.
Overall, Arrgh! was a decidedly uneven series that didn’t know what it wanted to be or who it wanted to appeal to. Juvenile humor that would fly only at middle school playgrounds is interspersed with salacious artwork of women clad in peekaboo skirts or nudes strategically draped in bed sheets. It has a frenetic and schizophrenic personality, and I believe that’s what lead to its downfall. Any anthology series can select an arbitrary focus of subject, but it’s the successful ones that select a focus of tone.