Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

It took me several decades to get this joke

Metamorpho #7 is a typical Element Man adventure. Simon Stagg, polymath, attends a conference of the world’s top vulcanologists, only to have someone kidnap them all. By default, the top guy in the field is now Otto von Stuttgart, who stayed home from the conference because of illness. Hmm, sinister German name, convenient absence from the kidnapping, do you suppose …?

It turns out that yes, Von Stuttgart is the issue’s villain, planning to touch off a series of volcanic catastrophes which nobody else will be able to stop. The purpose appears to be pure ego as he’s not asking for money, he just wants the satisfaction of becoming the man who saved the world. Of course, his plans go wrong and Metamorpho takes him down, but Bob Haney and Sal Trapani (who did the cover) still deliver an enjoyable yarn.

What I didn’t remember from reading this story as a kid was a scene in which Rex, exploring the volcano where Stagg and the others disappeared, comes across an inscription: CAVE CARSON WAS HERE 1963. I would have written it off back then as standard graffiti, like “Kilroy was here,” because I was a little too young to have seen Cave Carson on the stands. Now I get the entirely gratuitous in-joke; while Frances Herron originated Carson, Bob Haney took him over with Brave and the Bold #40 (Joe Kubert did the cover).

Not the biggest revelation I’ve had rereading the Silver Age but I did get a kick out of it.



    1. Otto’s in competition for the #6 spot with the French crime boss of the previous issue, Achille Le Heel.
      Reading The Batcave Companion last week, I was interested to learn Neal Adams loved Bob Haney’s B&B work (“Denny takes a simple idea and develops it into a comic book, Bob’s stories are like three Denny O’Neil comics compressed into one issue.”).

      1. Greg Burgas

        But, I mean, come on – Achille le Heel not only describes someone who is a jerk (the heel part), but it’s not a bad pun, either. Otto von Stuttgart is like me being called “Greg Phoenix” – it’s just silly.

        1. Jeff Nettleton

          Oh, come on; it was a time honored tradition for comics. Eisner built the Spirit on them! Dick Tracy was doing it before Will. Jack Cole was doing it (Eel O’Brian). I mean, one of the leads of Guys and Dolls is Nathan Detroit! People had names like Tex Ritter. I went through college on a Navy ROTC scholarship and one of my classmates was named Shipman. For 4 years he was Midshipman Shipman! Joseph Heller had Major Major. Pro wrestler Ricky Steamboat was born Richard Blood, but couldn’t use his real name because it was a heel name and a nice, good looking guy like him was the perfect babyface.

          Besides, my last name is a town in Lincolnshire, in the UK. The name “Von” translates as “from;” so, it isn’t that far-fetched!

          1. Greg Burgas

            Oh, I know – I don’t mind the ridiculous names, just that for me, “Otto von Stuttgart” sounds particularly dumb. I think the “von” pushes it over the edge, and the fact that Stuttgart is a good-sized city, so it’s as dumb as Nathan Detroit (and yes, I think that’s kind of dumb, too). I dunno – to me, it just sounds dumber than a lot of campy comic book names.

  1. Le Messor

    This reminds me of reading a comment in a Marvel Bullpen Bulletins or suchlike from the 70s, and one of the comic creators said his claim-to-fame was ‘I’ve been seen in public with Vincent Furnier!’
    I didn’t know who that was at the time, and basically thought, ‘what is that, some 70s thing?’ and mostly forgot about it.
    Then I re-read it years later, as a massive fan of Vincent Furnier, and remembered my first dismissal with a sort of pseudo-embarrassment.

  2. Yes, it was Sand Sarif — a joke on the San Serif typeface I assume.
    Nathan Detroit exists in the Damon Runyonverse so eccentric names are normal (Sky Masterson, “Brandy-Bottle” Bates, etc.)
    “Von” gets stuck on European villains a lot even though you’re only a Von if you’re aristocratic (Doom presumably does it to feed his own ego).

    1. Commander Benson

      Mr. Eisner gave the villainesses and femme fatales of his Spirit strip the most evocative names. Besides Sand Saref, there were:

      Dulcet Tone
      Silk Satin
      Nylon Rose
      Pantha Stalk
      Lorelai Rox
      Silken Floss

      He out-Goulded the sirens in “Dick Tracy”.

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