RETRO REVIEW: The Monkees #8 (January 1968)

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Or – “It Must Be Said That I’ve Never Personally Heard Anyone Say They Monkey Around…”

This has been a pretty disheartening week for Monkees fans, due to the untimely loss of Davy Jones.  But at least we have the minor upside of the sudden change of heart amongst the general internet community regarding their work.  The so-called Prefab Four prefigured popular culture by nearly half a century, be it in television, music or the fabulous stream of consciousness tour de force that is their movie, ‘Head’, and I take a tiny bit of hipster pride in watching the tides of opinion turning in The Monkees favor.  Of course, back in the boys’ heyday, their fame and fortune extended into the realm of comics as well…

THE MONKEES #8
Scripter: Uncredited
Penciler: Jose Delbo
Inker: Jose Delbo
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Uncredited
Publisher: Dell Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $45.00

Previously, in The Monkees:  In the wake of the Beatles success, producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were tasked with creating their own Fab Four, and ran open auditions to cast their own rock idols.  (Rumors that Charles Manson was present for the initial auditions are unconfirmed, but persist to this day.)  The final foursome was talented Texan Mike Nesmith, a singer and songwriter; folkie Peter Tork, who always said that his similar looking friend Stephen Stills referred him because Peter had better teeth; former child actor Micky Dolenz, who became the drummer because, by all accounts, somebody had to; and requisite British invader Davy Jones, “the cute one.”  Though initially meant to only play a band, the group was tasked with singing the television show’s hits, and eventually grew into something strongly resembling the band they pretended to be.  Meanwhile, Dell Comics, who set the bar for Dynamite and IDW comics by licensing damn near everything that wasn’t glued down, felt their profit senses tingling…

So, I have no idea how this works.  The (relatively) realistically rendered Monkees probably shouldn’t be interacting with such cartoony creatures, in theory.  Still, and all, it’s a particularly bizarre and appropriate outre way to kick things off.  Peter explains how he was on his way home from sarate lessons (like karate, only with marshmallows) when a strange sailor approached him with a bargain.  Stranger Danger still being a few years in the future, Pete obliged…

The wordplay in this issue is actually pretty clever, although the plot meanders about in the classic Monkees tradition.  Dell Comics didn’t list creators back in the day, so I have no idea who wrote this particular issue, but things get even more surreal when Mike’s uncle (who is apparently in the Secret Service) sends a telegram telling them to go to a particular telephone pole across the street from the dry cleaners.

Sooo, long story short, the boys agree to return the Beezle to its home in Australia, a task they achieve by dressing up as Beezles themselves and boarding a cruise ship.  (“How cute, a talking hedge!” Heh…)  For a page or two, Peter becomes concerned that the world is upside-down, which leads to a slapstick gag or two, and a madcap run around the ship.  The Beezle escapes, and eventually there’s a tidal wave…

Peter’s repeating gag about the upside-down world kinda cracks me up, and I’m actually impressed at Jose Delbo’s likenesses, translating the Monkees into comic book faces without losing their actual features in the translation.  The story ends with, of all things, a Brick Joke, which is particularly awesome.  The stories in this issue are pretty successful in capturing the lightning pacing of the Monkees trippy TV series, as when we start immediately into the second story with Mike collecting boxtops from ‘Puffed Soybeans’ cereal to send away for a prize…  Of course, he forgot to tell Davy, Micky and Peter, who are still eating boxes and boxes of the stuff.

Mike’s tinkering leads to the successful creation of the device (but not before a ‘Dem Bones’ joke, half a dozen correct historical references, and some pretty clever electricity gags) after which the Monkees try to record a demo album.  Of course, they’re not aware that Mike’s device broadcasts their practice session to satellites worldwide…

The rhyme scheme of that song doesn’t quite parse, sadly, but it doesn’t destroy the punchline of the story:  Peter’s lament that, no matter how good a band they are, nobody knows it, while people around the world try to figure out the origin of their sound.  The third story in the issue takes the interesting task of applying the fourth-wall breaking of the television show and applies it to the comic form, once again thanks to the antics of Peter Tork…

The art throughout this segment is wild, with Peter making outfits out of the striped fabric and all four Monkees disappearing against the striped background.  Once out in the world, though, the Monkees are mistaken for a group of escaped convicts.  They accidentally hold up a candy store, a car dealership and a bank before the truth comes out, in ridiculously slapstick fashion.

Peter even takes a moment to complain to the reader that Davy mocks his lines while making even worse jokes, successfully translating into bigfoot comics form the TV show’s meta stance on the subject.  Monkees back issues still command a pretty penny in today’s market (the only issue Gatekeeper Hobbies currently has in stock is a #2, with a 50 dollar price point that keeps it out of my hands.)  That pricing, combined with scarcity of Dell books in today’s market is also what kept me from reviewing a more Davy-centric issue in honor of the late Mister Jones.  Still and all, The Monkees #8 is a clever enough comedy book, the kind they don’t make anymore (but still sixties-edgy), earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.  Is it too late to get the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame people to change their tune?

Rating: ★★★★☆