Written and drawn by The Usual Gang of Idiots
DC Comics, $4.99
DC uses the occasion of a release of yet another Superman feature film, the franchise’s sixth, to gather-up and repackage a slew of their previous Superman movie parodies into this themed special that’s cover-to-cover Superman jokes, dating as far back as 1966 and as recently as last month.
The bulk of the book belongs to artist Mort Drucker, who drew the Mad movie parodies of the first first three Superman movies (Or, as the Man of Steel’s called in the first two parodies, Superduperman and, in the third, Stuporman), plus Smellville (a television parody only a single letter away from its source material), and the illustration for two-page feature entitled “What If Superman Were Raised By Jewish Parents?” (Well, his creators were Jewish; isn’t that close enough?)
As such, it makes for more a showcase of Drucker’s incredible artwork than it does for jokes at Superman’s expense, particularly Drucker’s superb caricature abilities, a gift perfectly deployed on movie parodies, where every character looks like the actor who plays them, and panels are jam-packed with “chicken fat” details that reward the lingering eye.
For the parody of 2006 Superman Returns—”Stuporman Reruns!”, narrated by “Spider-Sham,” because Mad wanted a hipper superhero to entice readers—artist Tom Richmond handles the art duties, which are in full color.
So the only Superman movie missing here is 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, perhaps left alone out of a sense of mercy…? After all, some movies are so bad that making fun of them just seems plain mean.
Reading or re-reading all of these film parodies today can make for a strange experience; the art doesn’t age a day and is essentially timeless, but much of the humor is closely tied to the creation of the films (some of the jokes I only got because author Larry Tye discussed the making of the films in such detail in his s2012 book Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero) or the time in which they were created. I was taken aback by the number of gay jokes about wearing tights and capes contained herein, including one as recent as the Smallville parody.
There’s a joke about Arabs in the parody of the original, 1978 film that sounds completely alien out of the context of the day (Upon discovering the infant that would grow up to be Superduperman, Ma Kent says, “You can see he’s not one of us, and he’s got a strange look in his eyes! Like he’s ready to take over the WHOLE WORLD!,” to which Pa Kent replies, My God! It’s a midget ARAB!” I give up; what was that in reference to, and how is it not offensive?).
And some of the gags I had to look up to get (For example, in the parody of 1980’s Superman II, General “Klod” breaks into the White House and says, “YOU?! President?! To me, you look like an over-the-hill movie actor!!” The president responds with, “We had to make ONE part in this film historically accurate.” I had to look him up to see who played him; it was the late E.G. Marshall).
I wondered how the dated humor might read to younger readers today, but given that the bulk of the gags revolve around the plots of the movies rather than the incidental allusions to the politics or pop culture of the day (The “Stuporman Rerurns” parody confines its barbs exclusively to the plot, ignoring the creepy sub-text of Superman as a deadbeat dad and stalker trying to come between his ex-girlfriend and her fiancee, for example). And with DVDs keeping all of these movies accessible to younger audiences, I guess the plots of these movies can be just as fresh in the minds of readers whose first Superman was Dean Cain or Brandon Routh or Tom Welling as in the minds of those who saw Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder on the bit screen.
There are plenty of shorter, standalone Superman parodies that are truly timeless, revolving around his powers and habits of changing clothes in phone booths and so on, by the likes of all-time Mad greats like Sergio Aragones and Don Martin and more relative newcomiers, like Hermann Mejia (whose Superman has a bit of Kyle Baker’s to it) and Douglas Paszkiewicz.
This summer’s Superman movie gets some ribbing as well, but not the full movie parody treatment, and, from the looks of it and the timing of the issue’s early June release, these were likely produced far in advance of the release of the movie, and probably based on little more than the trailers. Aragones does the best of the two Man of Steel-specific features, “A Mad Look at Man of Steel,” featuring short, wordless sequences pulled from the movie’s trailer or background, and then there’s a three-page sequence in which dialogue bubbles are added to movie stills for humorous (or, in many cases, “humorous”) effect.
The Kevin Costner joke, of which Aragones also has a pretty great one, was pretty funny though.
As an almost-complete history of Mad‘s parody of Superman movies, it’s a decent read and perhaps something of an interesting historical document. While the humor of all the features seems directed at Mad‘s traditional audience of junior high kids, it’s sort of fascinating to compare the paper parodies of the first few Superman movies to those that have popped up on the Internet on the very heels of the latest Superman movie (here’s one of my favorites): In the age of the Internet, long-form, ink-on-paper movie parodies seem quaint, even archaic.
Not unlike, now that I think of it, magazines, Mad or otherwise.