|The Flying Frog, The Disembodied Baby's Head,
and Other Fond Collegiate Reminiscences
|Any of you old-time comics fans--and I know
you're out there--remember when the Incredible
Hulk took on the Flying Frog? No? Well, there's
a pretty good reason for that, and if you're
all settled in, I'll tell you a little tale
about ol' Greenskin's phantom menace, all
mixed in with reminiscences from my college
It all started innocently enough back in 1965. Marvel had finally gotten around to running letter columns in all their titles, not just the feature-length glamor books. Thus, you could find your comments printed just as likely in an edition of FANTASTIC FOUR as you could in, say, TALES TO ASTONISH. The only drawback in those two-features-for-twelve-cent-books was the limited space for readers to sound off on--a single page, as opposed to double that amount in their full-length sister titles. That spawned a further problem--the Mighty Marvel Checklist, repeated in each and every feedback forum and taking up about one-third of the space of a single page, well, that was just hopelessly redundant to the loyal Marvelite, which, naturally, we all were! So, when a fan wrote in calling for it's abolition in a missive printed in TALES TO ASTONISH #70 (August 1965--and coincidentally, the issue noted for featuring the debut of the shiny new Sub-Mariner series), I was all in favor of this long overdue solution to the lettercol space problem. However, the manner in which this modest proposal was crouched was what lodged itself in my trivia-saturated noggin for years and years to come...
According to our amiable activist, there was no need to plop that annoying yellow box right down there amidst the pile of pithy postal notes, because, "What do I care if the Hulk is fighting the Flying Frog if I've got TALES TO ASTONISH here with all your other mags?" "EXACTLY!", I thought. And THEN I thought, "..uh, Flying Frog? Which issue was HE in?..." Stan's answer didn't help my confusion any, as we fans were already well aware of Mr. Lee's faulty memory ( He did, after all, once mistakenly label the Incredible One's alter ego "Bob" instead of "Bruce", an error he only rectified by redubbing the Jade Giant "Robert Bruce Banner"!?! Nice save, Stan...) So who really knew what he meant when he came back with "..there are a lots of readers who DO care if the Hulk is fighting the Flying Frog! In fact, even WE care! We seem to have missed that ish--can you tell us what number it was? It sounds like a doozy!"
Okay, okay--in retrospect, it's fairly obvious that it was a gag in both the letter and in Stan's reply, but back then, I just couldn't be certain. After all, I'd missed some issues of that early, initial HULK solo series. I'd picked up numbers 4 and 5, but at the time of the Flying Frog quip, the rest were still pretty much of a mystery to me. One thing I DID know was that the not-so-jolly Green Giant faced off against the terrible Toad Men in an issue that escaped me (number 2, as it turned out), and really folks, is a Flying Frog all THAT much of a stretch after being made painfully aware of the existence of some terrible Toad Men? I mean, really? Maybe I had missed something else--my collection was mostly, but not totally complete at that time, so who knew for sure? I didn't. After awhile, it no longer mattered if the Hulk had ever actually duked it out with the Flying Frog or not, because with that bit of astoundingly insignificant bit of Marvel minutia rattling around in my head for what seemed like ages, brother, he might just as well have...
Flash forward seven years. I'm entering my second semester at State University of New York at Farmingdale's two year Advertising Art and Design program, or as I liked to call it, "the Len Wein course". Y'see, the noted--and, at the time, still fairly new--comics pro had taken the very SAME set of classes as I was then enrolled in, but a few years earlier! This to me was a sign--Len put in time at SUNY Farmingdale and then wound up in the comics biz! Why shouldn't the same thing happen to me? It made sense. Of course, if I paused for a moment only to consider that a slate of studies focusing exclusively on art somehow managed to produce an award-winning comics WRITER, well, maybe I wouldn't have been so confident of my pet theory. But, hey, I was young, not all that bright, and in pursuit of a dream. So stand aside, people--there was no stopping me!
Commuting back and forth 30 miles each way to attend classes left me little choice but to hang around campus during those periods when I didn't have classes scheduled. Eventually, given all that time, you make friends, and I'd soon fallen in with this new group as class personnel was shuffled between semester one and semester two. There were a couple of girls included in this clique of collegians, and three or four guys, as best I remember things. They were all great, but I particularly hit it off with a fellow named Charlie. Seems as if we had pretty much the same tastes in music--then, as always, an important aspect of my life--and he also shared with me an enthusiasm for all the many nuances of popular culture, the likes of which I'd only ever witnessed in print, never in person. And did I mention he was one of the funniest people I'd ever been lucky enough to meet? Sarcastic but not mean-spirited, absurd but not slapsticky--Charlie was one hilarious character! A nicer guy you couldn't meet. I was glad to call him my friend.(Cue violins...)
One morning, during a typically extended break between lessons, we all of us piled into someone or other's hatchback and headed off for the local fast food dining palace. The banter was flying fast and furious in the back seat, the overall conversation focusing on a series of queries regarding various trivial topics, an ad hoc round of Trivial Pursuit years before that game was officially concocted. After several movie, music and television questions were thrown out in search of answers from the assembled participants--mainly Charlie and myself--I tossed out one that COULD'VE been interpreted as a TV query, but actually..
"Charlie, can you name Bruce Wayne's butler?"
Before my new buddy of several weeks could answer, Liz, who'd, unlike myself, spent the initial semester with him, cheerfully piped in, " Oh, that's easy for Charlie! He's got piles and piles of comic books!"
Momentarily taken aback by this newsflash, I looked at him incredulously and asked with a dumbfounded look playing across my face, "Really? You collect comics?"
Having no doubt struggled through his high school years trying to downplay this thoroughly unpopular and uncool devotion to comic books amongst nonbelievers (i. e.--most everybody else), much as I did, I could see Charlie begin to involuntarily squirm and shrink down in his seat, having misinterpreted my surprised excitement for scorn. He managed to mumble a tentative "Yeah?.." to my somewhat frantic prodding, and then the ever helpful Liz added, "Oh, yeah! We went to Charlie's once--you should see 'em all!!"
By now I realized this was turning into an uncomfortable situation for him, but for some reason--perhaps a sadistic streak that I'm usually more successful at sublimating? (albeit, not THAT day)--my voice rising in pitch, my manner bordering on accusatory, I once more repeated, "Comic books? You REALLY read comic books??"
And just when I made him feel about as small as Hank Pym visiting a sick ant--and I'm not proud of this, but it's the way I remember it going down--I swooped in with the punchline to my little joke, "ME TOO! I got thousands of 'em in my parents basement!"
Well, after that the comics chatter poured out full throttle. Turns out Charlie wasn't TOO surprised at my revelation. Y'see, in one of our classes, it was standard operating procedure to bring our marker-drawn homework layouts in, tack 'em up on the bulletin board, and have the class as a whole critique 'em. One of mine in particular caught Charlie's eye. Encouraged to find, shall we say, inspiration for our advertising assignments in other areas of life, my eagle-eyed buddy spotted a piece of mine that looked suspiciously similar to Jim Steranko's striking splash page for S.H.I.E.L.D.#1!?! Yes, even then I was churning out classic comic re-dos--I just didn't have a name for 'em yet!?! In retrospect, I don't know why he didn't bust me right then and there, but like I said, he was the nice guy, and I'M the one who just confessed to being (minimally) sadistic, after all...
You could probably guess we've been great friends ever since, and you'd be right. We've never actually lived anywhere very near one another, but we've still managed to maintain contact for the most part down through the subsequent decades. As first generation Marvelites and Beatlemaniacs, aging though we may be, we've sure had some fun-filled times together! Let me save some of the more amusing incidents for a rainy day, okay? Except for just the one--one of the oddest, and one that actually made it's way into a Marvel comic, MARVEL TALES#250 (June 1991) to be precise.
That's ostensibly what we're here to introduce, gang. Y'see, when enlisted to produce some sort of page saluting the long-running reprint title by editor Jim Salicrup, I quickly decided to eschew the obligatory "Hey, nice run you got goin' there!" angle and instead retell a peculiar little incident that occurred one of the handful of times Charlie visited my Yaphank homestead while we were blissfully trolling through my vast comics collection. You can read it after you finish this enthralling anecdote, okay? It's one of those crazy little pieces of mine where I managed to squash three, maybe four pages of material into a single page, not an easy--nor sane--task. And don't for a second doubt ANYTHING you read over there--Odin help me, but it's all true, all of it...
You're probably wondering about the Flying Frog right about now, or at least those few of you who can recall that far back are. Fine. Here's comes the punchline. During our initial comics oriented conversation, I asked Charlie if he'd ever had any letters printed (I'd had maybe a half-dozen sneak their way into print up to that point, I, ahem, boasted...) "One", he said, and told me precisely which issue it was in so I could go check it out when I got home that night. Friends, you've gotta be mighty dim NOT to see where this tale is heading...
Yup! Charlie was none other than the author of that infamous Flying Fish letter!! Imagine my astonishment as I leafed through TALES TO ASTONISH#70 looking for the words of my new-found comic readin' bud, and THAT'S what greeted me!?! The one letter in all the letter pages in all the comic books in all the years I'd been hoarding them away, the one letter that had stayed inexorably lodged in my cerebral cortex, and THAT'S the one that turns up!?! It almost defies belief, even to this day! The next morning back at school I probably scared the poor guy--again!--when I attempted to explain to him the irrational significance the Flying Frog had held for me over the last half-dozen years! Now, it suddenly dawned upon me, was my chance. After spilling my story to Charlie, I had the rare opportunity to clear up all my misconceptions, and once he realized just what I was getting at, he quietly sat me down, put his hand on my shoulder, smiled, and softly said...
"No, Fred, there is no Flying Frog..."
Okay, so I made that last part up. Why not? This whole little saga revolves around a fictional character that didn't even exist, fictionally speaking. A little license, please. But I'll tell you what IS real, and that's my fellow FOOMster, Charles! Yeah, we fell outta contact these past few years--hey, it happens--but thanks to the miracle of the Internet (bless you, Al Gore!), who do you think should turn up in my emailbox a only few days back?
It wasn't the Flying Frog, I'll tell you that much! (Nice to have you back, Chaz! And this time, let's stay in touch, shall we? The glory days of Simon Garth the Zombie that we shared lo, those many years ago may now be long gone, but there's still life in us yet! Just not in our old pal, Simon Garth the Zombie, natch!...)
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