THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #83 August 1964
Bob Oksner original artist
|1964 has gone down as the year Batman received a much-needed makeover, which was given the official designation of being the Gotham Guardian's "New Look", a move that ultimately proved to be a pivotal moment in comics history. What's far less well known is that ol' Bats wasn't the ONLY long-running DC Comics character to get a freshening face lift--this very comic hereabouts, THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #83, could also convincingly be said to have launched what amounted to being the "New Look" Jerry Lewis!! (And to think of all the perspicuous professors of panelology that've let THAT meaty little morsel escape their nit-picking notice!?! But not here, buddy, not here...)|
|Beginning in 1952, the frenetic funnyman
shared a book with his crooning cohort for
the first forty issues of THE ADVENTURES
OF DEAN MARTIN & JERRY LEWIS, but when
that comic pairing irrevocably shattered
five short years later, this WORLD'S FINEST
showbiz duo came to an abrupt end, and Jerry
inherited the comic book all to his own.
Generic tales of mischievous mayhem presided
in the years that lay ahead, and were in
fact still going strong when I began buying
the title semi-faithfully in 1961.
The series was always fun enough, understand, and it WAS a DC Comic--which counted for something with me back then--plus there's that odd life-long fascination I've had with the comedian, so why not buy it? Still, if I was short on dimes, nickels, and pennies, swell Bob Oksner art or not, ol" Jer unceremoniously found himself bumped to the end of the line, getting left behind on the rack in favor of the more compelling antics of a Superman, a Thor, or perhaps even a Fly! (Okay, okay--so I was clearly blinded by super-hero worship. There WERE some good Fly stories, y'know? Well, at least one, I think. Probably in an issue I don't have, but...) However, after blissfully ignoring the previous couple of issues, THIS cover caught my attention and absolutely wouldn't let it go!! So what else could I possibly do but dig deep and shell out the 12 cents that might've otherwise gone towards a copy of ARCHIE'S MAD HOUSE and see for myself what was going on inside this surprisingly intriguing comic...
I was at the height of my Universal Monsters Appreciation Phase, y'see, so it really didn't matter to me that the book, while still being masterfully drawn by Oksner, was now in the hands of editor Murray Boltinoff, who took over the title at the sudden departure of Lawrence Nadle ( who either passed away at the time, or soon after--sorry if I'm a bit fuzzy on my facts here...), it was Jerry's three cover co-stars that motivated my purchase . But once I actually began reading Arnold Drake's "Scared Silly!" script, I was suddenly aware of the scope of the editorial upheaval--the writing was actually clever, in tune with the times, and most amazingly, FUNNY!?! While not a satiric classic of Swiftian dimensions--or even the more modest DeBartoloian model--Drake's yarn nicely captures a moment in time when the nation's youth--boys, anyway--were staying up late to catch that one lone Frankenstein flick they'd somehow missed, were saving up their quarters to buy an Aurora model kit of (among others) Count Dracula, or were rushing out to grab the latest issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, more often than not featuring a cover portrait of a tortured Larry Talbot--better known to us shriekfest acolytes as the hairiest presence to grace our TV screens in those pre-Ed Asner days, the Wolfman!! Drake even dropped the name of that classic--and then still very much vibrant--cult magazine into his script, a then-highly-unusual move that impressed me tremendously. I know for a fact that it did since I apparently felt the clearly questionable need to underline the very words of the magazine's title in the very balloon in which it appeared! Not one to casually desecrate my four-color treasures by that time in my collecting career, I nonetheless had some misbegotten need to remind myself of the excessively large charge I first received when encountering this unique bit of name-dropping upon each and every subsequent re-reading. Like yesterday, as it turned out. Yeah, being Monster-mad was--you should pardon the expression--a Universal condition back in 1964, and DC craftily exploited that fact to induce me (...and who knows how many other Fright Fans?) into again plunking down pennies for an issue of JERRY LEWIS.
The story? Plot wise, nothing spectacular (or should I say, "spooktacular"?) (..sorry. I'll try to maintain control...), just a serviceable little scenario that finds Jerry renting an ostensibly Haunted House, only to soon find it populated with analogs of Frankenstein's Monster, Count Dracula, and the Wolfman, all adopting names and looks just south of their standard silver screen appearances, presumably in order to keep the Universal Studio's lawyers at bay. Turns out they're all famous horror movie actors who'd fallen out of fashion for nigh onto decades, but with current interest in their gruesome genre resurging, there's hope in resparking interest in their sadly stalled careers--and the trio eventually enlist funnyman Lewis's assistance in their efforts to scare a studio bigwig into believing in their renewed viability. And thus, hilarity ensues! Okay, this skeleton of a plot (...a cemetery plot?...) (apologies) mainly serves as an excuse for a bunch of silly puns the likes of which shamelessly led off this paragraph and even disrupted this very sentence, but remember folks, back in '64, these jokes were WAY fresher than they are now!! Honest! Look, I laughed and laughed, and then I laughed some more. The dozen or so earlier LEWIS issues in my collection had barely made any more of an impression on me than a random copy of PEP might've, but this particular winner of a comic, well, THIS one undeniably belonged in the pantheon!! Why, it was even as good as--and in some rare cases, better than--some of my much beloved Marvel Comics, if you can believe that?!?...
So I guess the only way to top his Creature Feature send-up would be with a Sooper Dooper satire. Sure enough, Boltinoff and Drake served one up post-haste in the very next issue! Jerry took of the guise of, as the cover blurb explicitly declared, "A Kookie Costumed Hero--The Fearless Tarantula", and if there was anything I liked MORE than Monsters, it was, well, I think you all know by NOW just what it was! If anything, this was an even more amusing genre jab, again years before it was fashionable. Jerry Lewis, it seemed, sure didn't need Dean Martin--not when he had Arnold Drake!!
But then, after that initial resounding burst of comical creativity, things slowly settled down. Oh sure, Jerry's antics were still a notch or five above where they'd been pre-New Look, but like the situation similarly shared with the Darknight Detective, the thrill of a startling change inevitably diminished, and Jerry's antics soon settled again into a pleasant but unremarkable rut. Still, I treasure my copies of THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS numbers 83 and 84 far and above many of the so-called serious comics published that wonderful year of 1964--and believe me, that's really saying something!
To paraphrase ex-partner Dino's immortal number one hit of that self-same summer, "Everybody loves an issue (or two) of THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS sometime, and these were MINE!!..."
Hey, I'll drink to that!!
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