The Usual Gang Of Idiots may be leaving us, but we’ll always have back issues… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of MAD #1 awaits!
Writer: Harvey Kurtzman
Penciler: Jack Davis/Wally Wood/Harvey Kurtzman/Bill Elder/John Severin
Inker: Jack Davis/Wally Wood/Harvey Kurtzman/Bill Elder/John Severin
Colorist: Marie Severin
Editor: Harvey Kurtzman/Bill Gaines
Publisher: EC Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $8000.00
Previously in MAD: As someone who remembers the heyday of MAD Magazine in the 70s, a time when millions of copies of MAD were sold every month, I was pretty bummed to hear that the book would be going all-reprint. What’s worse, it comes at a time when there seem to be more people, events and tweets to parody than ever. And it’s not like they’re completely cancelling it… yet. They’re just going to be reprinting their old, classic material, so why not play along? As someone who has seen the cover of this issue literally thousands of times, there’s one unanswered question that burns in my heart and mind: WHO THE HECK IS MELVIN???
Turns out that’s a very complicated question. In our first outing, the kind of black humor horror/comedy story that seems like it would fit in one of EC’s other books, maybe narrated by the Crypt-Keeper or The Old Witch. After running out of fuel near the notorious Bogg House (home of serial murderers God and Magog Bogg, natch), a young couple finds nothing but the Caretaker, Melvin, who pooh-poohs their warnings of ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. Instead, he reveals the true source of the strange noises and bumps as a pair of misbehavin’ kids!
Man, it’s a good thing there’s not such thing as ghosts, otherwise that final panel sequence would have my skin crawling, even in a humorous story like this. This story reminds me why MAD mainstay Jack Davis was an American treasure and should be more celebrated than he is, especially since he stayed with ‘MAD’ for decades after this first issue. Jack’s not the only comic genius on display in these pages, as our second story features Wally Wood… and ANOTHER Melvin!
Our protagonist, Alfred, has a desperate goal, one that holds the survival of his futuristic civilization: Who will fix the machine that fixes the machine now that they’re all just barely ambulatory blobs of flesh, held captive by every human convenience possible? The answer is… actually darker than the decapitation joke that ended the first tale. And that’s saying something impressive. In our third story, a true crime memoire, we meet a third Melvin, a petty criminal who, along with his pal Bumble, prepares for the perfect crime! With almost clockwork precision, he steals the money, repaces it with a giant stink-bomb, blows away his partner so as to keep all the loot for himself and escapes to the island, only to find…
…that Bumble fumbled once more. Then, we shake things up with a Western tale and one of the most fascinating pages of comics I’ve ever read, courtesy of John Severin.
I’ve seen the noisy barroom scene dozens of times, but Severin’s use of comic sounds effects to simulate that overlapping cacophony is nothing sort of masterful. Oh, and we get yet another Melvin here, a recently dead cowboy whose pal Textron Quickdraw has come to town to avenge him, vowing to hunt down and kill the varmint what shot Melvin… and when he makes up his mind to do sumthin’, he don’t change it easily, wah-HAH! The trail leaves several men dead, until a desperado called The Pig-Faced Kid spills the beans.
Turns out it was Tex himself that shot Melvin! Or at least a clever ruse by The Pig-Faced Kid, not that it makes a difference in the end. This issue is a different beast than the MAD Magazine I remember from my youth or even the one that relaunched in 2015, but it’s still a really gorgeous issue to look at and a perfect example of classic EC nonsense at it’s best. MAD #1 is well-worth the price of admission (even if it’s eight grand, should you have that kind of money to drop on comic books) and is just plain amazing, with the answer to the Melvin conundrum appropriate non-linear and goofy, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. I’m going to miss the idea of an issue of MAD every month (though I haven’t actually seen a newsstand in years) but at least we’ll always have Melvin.
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Alfred's not here, and the parody is less specific than it would become, but four incredible art jobs and some clever writing make this one a gem.