They’re Maniaks, Maniaks at Your Door!

I would like to follow my title by saying “and you’re laughing like you’ve never laughed before!” but having read the Maniaks’ three Showcase tryout issues, I wasn’t. I doubt anyone was.

A while back, Kurt Busiek — who used Silver Shannon of the Maniaks as a supporting character in his Power Company series — mentioned he had an idea for a project reviving these rock-and-rollers. When I asked, he said he was not, in fact, a fan of the characters; undeterred I bought the three tryout issues on eBay. After all, I loved E. Nelson Bridwell’s work on Inferior Five so maybe this would be as much fun.

Um, no. But I’ve seen the ads for the Maniaks’ Showcase run in my old comics, wondered if I’d have liked them … I no longer have to wonder.

Judging by the cover, I’d always figured the Maniaks, like the Monkees on TV, would be a struggling band trying to break into the big leagues and stumbling into trouble along the way. While the Monkees were an influence — just look at the opening panel — Bridwell and Mike Sekowsky’s “A Crooks’ Tour of Palisades Amusement Park” shows the Maniaks are already big stars. If anything, too big for their own good, as they’re fed up with the hordes of screaming fans constantly chasing after them Another thing I didn’t expect is that they stop just this side of being a superhero team:

  • Gilbert “Jangle” Jeffries (in the yellow-dotted shirt) can imitate anyone’s voice or duplicate sound effects, up to and including the sound of a squad of cop cars pulling up at a crucial moment. The second issue establishes his voice mimicry is so amazing people actually see him as the person he’s mimicking.
  • Philip “Flip” Folger (blond guitarist) is an acrobat who moves with Hank McCoy’s ability and then some.
  • Drummer Byron “Pack Rat” Williams compulsively picks up odds and ends — aluminum foil, discarded fishhooks — and can macgyver weapons and gadgets out of them.
  • Silver Shannon is the exception: no special abilities, she’s simply obsessed with managing the group’s money and constantly saying “no” to the guy’s ideas on how to spend it. Hence her nickname, “the Mod Miser.” Below you see her optimistically calculating the revenues if the issue is a hit.

The plot concerns the band witnessing a hit by Runyonesque gangster “Eggs” Benedict and his mob, which includes “Veal” Scallopine,” “Lobster” Newburg, “Beef” Strogonoff — well, you get the idea. The mobsters try to rub the Maniaks out; the Maniaks use their special abilities to stay one jump ahead. The gang catches Flip, however, then catches the other three between panels. “Eggs” declares that even though he’s a fan, business dictates the Maniaks go swimming in concrete boots. Jangle fortunately fakes the arrival of the cops, giving Pack Rat a chance to improvise a lock-pick. Once the Maniaks are free, they take the crooks down.

I’m a great fan of the Inferior Five but this is not even remotely in the same ballpark (I think they’d need a telescope to even see the ballpark). It’s silly, and occasionally amusing, but never more than that. Still if the Bridwell/Sekowsky team had stuck with this kind of humorous adventure the next couple of yarns might have been at least at that level. Alas, that’s not what they did.

The second issue, “Poor Richard’s Maniak,” has Silver strike up a romance with Richard Pipdyke IV, son of the richest man in the world. The guys warn her against marrying for money, but she’s all for it — well, until they get to that part in the ceremony about “for richer, for poorer” — poorer? No way she’s putting up with that! The story is just a frame for a string of stock jokes about insanely rich people; when Pipdyke discovers his car is parked facing the opposite direction from the one he wants to go, he just buys a new car. Turn the old one around? That would be gauche!

After a break while Showcase introduced Binky we got the third Maniaks story, “What Swings, Fiddle Strings?” This one has a guest appearance by Woody Allen, then primarily known for a couple of movies (What’s New, Pussycat? and What’s Up Tiger Lily) and the Broadway play Don’t Drink the Water. Now he’s written a Civil War musical — George M. Coldham, who appeared briefly in Inferior Five, has written the lyrics — and he wants the Maniaks to star alongside British model Twiggly, Rock Hutsut, Marjorie Maim and other stars (Bridwell also works a Groucho parody in there). Most of the issue is taken up by the musical, which relies heavily on song parodies of “Thou Swell,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “Little Girl Blue” and other old tunes.

Bridwell seems to be going back to his roots writing parody gags for Mad with this one, but it doesn’t work here (Coldham’s similar parodic stint in Inferior Five was more successful). The first two issues I’d probably have found fairly funny if I’d read them as a kid, but this one? Unlike the “Last Train to Clarksville” take-off, I wouldn’t have recognized any of these tunes, which makes the parody pointless (some parodies work even if you don’t know the original, but not this one).

I’ll be interested to see what Busiek does with them if DC ever greenlights his idea. But I can’t say the Maniaks’ failure to break out of Showcase causes me any lack of sleep.

#SFWApro. All art by Sekowsky.

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