SPOOF #1 – Darn Shadows, Marooneded, Clod Squad

Marvel Comics Group
October 1970

So what is SPOOF? Imagine NOT BRAND ECHH without superheroes.

Now imagine a market for such a thing.

After BRECHH finally called it quits, Marvel must've felt they needed to broaden the appeal. So they gave the world SPOOF. The world yawned.

First story is "Darn Shadows!" (This would be usual with SPOOF – the lead article would be a takeoff on a horror movie or TV show.) Story by Roy Thomas, Art by Marie Severin. Marie had emerged as the mainstay of BRECHH and SPOOF would be a showcase for her; she usually did two of the three stories.

Marie is an excellent cartoonist and does a great job with the various caricatures. The problem comes with her secondary characters, round-eyed and doughy; they don't look like they come from the same planet as the famous likenesses.

(Another MS hallmark is her love of old-time comic strips, especially POGO. Here she puts Albert's head on the cane of Barnabas Collins – I mean, "Barnacle Crawlins")

The story "Darn Shadows!" gets off to a slow start (much like this review!) as Daybed and Mamie observe Cousin Barnacle hauling a coffin into his room.

"Flake off, you scene-stealing little creeps! This is Cousin Vampiretta! She's come to visit us for the weekend!"

"But it's only Monday, Cousin Barnacle!"

"So she likes to get an early start!"

Once inside=20his chambers, however, Barnacle opens the coffin to reveal, NOT Cousin Vampi, but books full of monster – uh, MASTER plots, ripe for the swiping. "Those two cretins think it's easy to be the highest rated vampire since Theda Bara!" (Okay, a Theda Bara joke is hard enough to sell in 1970; I imagine today it's beyond the pale. But then this is Roy "Captain Obscurity" Thomas we've got here.)

"Something strange is is going on around Crawlin'wood, Mamie!"

"You mean because of Cousin Barnacle and Cousin Vampiretta?"

"No! I mean because we've been on the air for three minutes -– and nobody's muffed a line yet!"

Now we get to the story's real plot. Barnacle, offstage, is accosted by Spencer the Sponsor: "There's a new horror show on channel 37 that's clobbering us! We've gotta get scarier!"

So Barnacle puts in a call to Central Casting. (I don't have a problem with the character of Spencer, despite that single-sponsor shows were long gone even by 1970. By rights Spencer's position would come from a phalanx of suits who would pressure the network, who in turn would lean on the producers. The Spencer-Barnacle dynamic is just shorthand.)

Next page brings us Cousin Quinine Crawlins, the werewolf. He has a particularly strenuous (and unconvincing) transformation scene. ("Dunno why they can't get me a stand-in for this part!") (I should point out that the on-TV panels have rounded corners, like a TV screen donchaknow.)

Despite Quinine and Barnacle's20donnybrook, DS just lost the station in Toronto. Which means more guest stars. This time it's Cousin Elizaburp (who calls herself the star – I dunno who she's supposed to be, I never followed the original show.)

A mummy unearths himself and starts chasing them around the graveyard.

Then a Bela Lugosi lookalike materializes and chases them around the graveyard.

Then Spencer the Sponsor shows up and chases everyone. "Tomorrow's your last chance, you deadbeat!"

Next day, Thursday, Barnacle really pulls out the stops. We get a big banquet scene with the Fly, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, King Kong... I especially like Herman Munster dancing attendance on the Bride of Frankenstein and about to get clobbered by Frankie and Lily.

This mad monster party isn't sufficient, however. Per Spencer: "You just got the lowest Nielsen rating since the Galloping Gourmet got heartburn!"

The shell-shocked cast is still in studio on Friday. Mamie takes it on herself to "do something we should have done right at the start: I'm gonna find out what was on Channel 37 that scared people even more than 'Darn Shadows!'" She turns on a handy monitor and all the assembled ghouls and goblins are horrified to see –

– Walter Cronkite.  (Ba-dump-bump.)

Next is "Marooneded!" which may be the only instance of SPOOF beating MAD to the same target. Yeah, I'm sure William Gaines lost sleep over this.

You've perhaps heard that a good script can save poor art, but great art can't save a poor script. Well, this is a case where a mediocre script can't save atrocious art. Stu Schwartzberg writes and draws. His figures are stiff, flat and scratchy, and even worse, they're just not funny. I'm just going to skip over this Appalling Project, if you don't mind.

Third story. We're back with Marie for "Clod Squad!" This one's written by Len Wein. (And spare a thought for the Weins in their recent troubles. Visit website to find out how you can help rebuild Len's library of his work.) (I wonder if he really wants a new copy of SPOOF #1?)

The Clod Squad – Beat, Finc and Foolie – meet in Captain Sneer's office. Hubert Freen, a local student, was being blackmailed by a blackguard named Blackhead. When Hubert refused to pay up, Blackhead had him infected with Terminal Acne. (I wonder if Hubert's Donald Duck mask was Marie's touch?)

Since Hubert was supposed to contact one of Blackhead's gang at the Greasy Grotto discotheque, the Clods put on some Woodstock castoffs to go undercover.

Unfortunately, the Greasy Grotto looks more like the audience for the Lawrence Welk show. One of the waltzers is none other than Mister Firing Line, himself: "So then I said to Gore – I said, 'Gore?' – I said..."

Since they're there, already, Foolie tries to make contact: "Like peace, brother! Can I rap with ya for a few–" But her overture falls on deaf ears and the discourse takes a distressingly physical turn. "Give me those love beads or I'll kill ya!" "Hey, Hazel– QUICK! we caught us some of those dirty, fascist commie Pinkie Hippos!"

As Len puts it, "A few black eyes and a bruise or two later–" the casualties make it back to Capt. Sneer: "It seems I gave you the wrong address!" "Really? We NEVER would have guessed!"

In the next panel the Colds have got their preppy on. (Note to Finc – a derby doesn't really go with a 'fro.)

Sneer: "The name of the place is really the GROOVY Grotto! Get down there and mingle! And try not to get killed; we have eleven more shows to film this season!"

Foolie: "That's what I like – confidence!"

Finc: "'Mingle'? You sure you don't mean Mangle?"

As might be expected, the Groovy Grotto is a riot of Comics Code-approved psychedelia. "Gee," says the up-panel hippie, "That's the 5th fly that's dropped dead today! I wonder if it's my deodorant?"

As might be expected, Finc's attempt to make contact – "Pardon me, sir! I wonder if I might endeavor to discuss–" is no more successful than their last attempt. "My lord, Harvey – MISSIONARIES!"

This time the three are convalescing in full body casts when Sneer shows up. "Look, I'm gonna make it easy on you! One of Blackhead's men is supposed to make a pick-up at the old Oak Street Warehouse tonight! I want you three to arrest him for questioning!" Beat, Finc and Foolie20are ready to go by the next panel; I guess Len was quite familiar with Healing Factors.

Foolie: "I don't like it, Finc! It's so dark – so sinister!"

Finc: "Shut up, willya, Foolie? Do you want to ruin the only good MOOD scene in this whole stupid story so far?"

Beat: "Besides – WHO ever heard of a warehouse that WASN'T dark and sinister?"

The Clods enter the darkened warehouse only to find it full of thugs: "SURPRISE!"

"Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you...."

"Shut up, stupid! That was LAST week!"

Len: "Instantly, the Clod Squad galvanizes into dynamic action–"

Finc: "I believe I shall endeavor to expedite matters through the systematic use of fisticuffs!"

Foolie: "What the heck does that mean?"


And stomp they do – at least until Beat makes the strategic error of turning out the lights. (I thought the warehouse was darkened already.)

When the lights go on again, Beat and Finc are bound together, and all three are staring down the barrels of the gang's guns. Just then Blackhead makes his appearance. He lifts his black hood to reveal –


"Who else? I've been trying to get rid of you teen-age finks for months!" (So much for eleven more shows, huh?)

Sneer's motive is to take over the show for himself. (This is not uncommon in spoof stories, for a boon companion=20to turn traitor. But it's not the main target in this story, as we're about to see.)

Suddenly the doors to the warehouse fly open and twenty or thirty grade-schoolers swarm over the thugs, overwhelming them with paddle balls and bean shooters.

Sneer's squad surrenders. "Who are these lousy kids, anyway?"

Finc: "Watch what you say about our grandchildren!"

Beat: "Yeah! After all, you didn't think any REAL teenagers would act the way we do, didja?" (And there it is: taking on the Clod Squad's salient characteristic – their youth – and turning it around. All part of the spoof book songbook.)

Foolie: "Big-Time Hollywood, HERE I COME!" (Peggy Lipton never did set the celluloid on fire, IIRC.)

A couple of pages of Cracked-level jokes about organized crime and we're out.

How would I sum this up? Well, Len and especially Roy are enamored of the Harvey Kurtzman run on MAD. Marie Severin can draw anything she puts her mind to, despite occasionally jarring notes. But they labor under the restrictions of the Comics Code, which means the stories have less bite than a Carol Burnette sketch.   Not to mention a problem in picking suitable targets, one which only got worse with ensuing years; What's hot? What are kids going to recognize? (I hate to think what's going to happen with MAD now that it's gone quarterly – will they be able to catch a movie the year it's released?)

I've still got another issue of SPOOF to dissect. You have been warned.