So, where were we? Oh yes: the other obsession of the Impossible Man. Fantastic Four #175 (which features Galactus eating the Poppupian home planet...it's a long story) ends with the above startling "next issue" blurb. "Most unexpected guest stars of all"? Why, whoever could that be? Doctor Doom? The Black Panther? Robert Goulet? Hmmm, maybe there's a hint of those guest stars on the cover of #176 (right), a cover by the late great Jack Kirby, who co-created Impy back in the classic Fantastic Four #11. Click on the cover image or click here for a close look, 'kay?
Whoa, watch out, boys! Your roughhousing is gonna damage all those vintage seventies Marvel Comics! And in the Marvel Comics Conference Room, yet! Early appearances by Stan, Jack, and the Marvel Bullpen within the pages of various comics cemented the conceit that even within the Marvel Universe, Marvel publishes comic books based on the adventures of the world's greatest superheroes, except here, it ain't fiction. This has led to a number of fun sequences through Marvel's history: Stan and Jack trying to crash Reed and Sue's wedding, John Byrne being kidnapped into outer space to testify on behalf of Reed, and even a 2000 publishing event in which we got to read the comics as they were published inside the Marvel Universe (here's one of 'em).
So when the Impossible Man hits Manhattan and goes off in search of adventure and fun, it's only a matter of time until he runs across the offices of Marvel:
All panels are from Fantastic Four #176 (November 1976), written by Roy Thomas, penciled by George Perez, inked by Joe Sinnott, colored by Michele Wolfman, lettered by Joe Rosen
"Stan? What is a Stan?" wonders Impy in his role of Peeping Poppupian, but we know what and who Stan is, and as for the rest of that Fantastic Four he's peering in on? Well, there's (from left to right below), George Perez, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and, reclining on the sofa and smokin' a big charoot, the King himself, Jack Kirby:
(Click picture to King-size)
It's the same old story: with the Fantastic Four out of Manhattan on their cosmic adventures, the boys in the Bullpen are at a loose end on what adventure to write up next in the FF's comic book. I can understand their dilemma: if Amy Winehouse decided to take an extended holiday, the entire British press would shut down, and J. Jonah Jameson often prints an entirely blank newspaper when Spider-Man is visiting relatives out in the Midwest. Jack, of course, suggests they can just make the whole story up, but writing a story from scratch? Stan "The Man" ain't havin' none of that:
Just like a large majority of fanboys, the Impossible Man now believes he knows enough about the comic book industry to run it: he wants Stan and the rest to make a comic about him:
Jack, bein' the man of distinction and taste he is, offers to put the Impossible Man in one of his then-current Marvel titles, but Impy, knowing he'll get on the wrong side of auteur Stanley Kubrick, refuses and begins to rampage through the Marvel offices, transforming himself into various Marvel weapons:
Fleeing, Kirby runs smack-dab into Marvel's production manager John Verpoorten, who's just as much a Jack Kirby fanboy as all right-thinking people should be:
It's not long before the FF arrives to track down Impy, encountering Archie Goodwin ...no, not Nero Wolfe's sidekick (tho' what a team up that woulda made, huh?) but the artist, writer and editor who was one of the guiding lights of comics history and especially of Marvel. This isn't Archie's only "character" appearance in comics, of course: he appeared for years in cartooned editorials in Marvel's line of Epic comics, and "Mr. Nice" in the Batman Adventures comic book was based on Archie (along with Mike Carlin as Mastermind and Denny O'Neil as the Perfessor).
I'm not certain who's guest-starring in this following panel (Marvel's Art Director and some guy in a leopardskin shirt and tri-corn hat), but they get caught up in the meta-fun, too:
As usual, it takes the quantum mind of Doctor Reed Richards to suss out the perfect solution to the problem: build an anti-Impy robot that costs a billion dollars of the taxpayers' money a second to run! Oh, wait, that's too unbelievable, isn't it? No, what he does is much more effective and to the point: the call goes out to get Stan Lee!
Everybody gathers on stage for the Reed's big musical number plan, which includes a quick cameo by Gerry Conway and the wonderful, wonderful sight of Johnny Storm lighting up Jack Kirby's cigar:
Click image to Bullpen-size
Showing the same commitment to his principles that characterized his timeless reality show Who Wants to Be a Superhero and his appearance in Mallrats, Stan, the immovable object, won't back down...that is, until he's faced with the unstoppable force...Ben Grimm!
All's well that ends well...or is it, when Stan, like Pharaoh, hardens his heart the instant the FF are gone:
Wah-wah-wah! That's our Stan Lee!
So, everybody's happy, at least until it's time to set up the following issue, where Reed Richards comes face to face with the most startling and frightening classified ad of them all! I'm imagining it started something like this: "Invisible White Female seeks..."
By the way, doncha love that last panel of Reed? Such anger, such angst, such a great opportunity to Photoshop in a cheap joke:
Why don't you try it yourself, oh fearless ones?:
And so, once again, the world is safe, thanks to the Fantastic Four, the Marvel Bullpen, and a wee bit of meta-commentary in a four-color comic book. If you wanna read the story behind the creation of this wacky, far-out issue, well, clickety-click here for Rascally Roy Thomas's editorial page essay. And of course, the Impossible Man learned his lesson and never bothered the Marvel Bullpen again.
(Be back Monday, true bull-lievers, for more Impossibullpen fun!)
"Is it conceivable that we world citizens of the twentieth century are not the only living beings of our kind in the cosmos?" "wrote" Erich von Daniken in his 1970s bestselling "book" Chariots of the Gods, a treatise on ancient astronauts visiting Earth who are so far advanced beyond our puny evolution that that erect massive edifices that exist to this day and yet leave no other concrete evidence of their visitation. Now that's advanced! The 1970s gave rise to a whole kittenkaboodle of wacky ancient astronaut theories and sagas (see also: Battlestar Galactica), a mythos of highly-advanced, smarter-than-us aliens visiting Earth to give us cool presents and then zipping away (see also: this summer's Indiana Jones and the Adventure of the Greasy Kid Sidekick with The Dandruff-Flecked Comb) into the cosmos, no doubt feeling really darn smug with themselves for being so far above us on the evolutionary ladder. Yet another misconception we can lay firmly at the feet of the 1970s, which gave us such crackpot additions to this suspect "science" as Rod Serling's In Search of the Ancient Astronauts, Robert Temple's The Sirius Mystery, and John Denver's Annie's Song.
Leave it then, to the fine and clear-visioned folks at The Marvel Bullpen to remind us that aliens aren't elitist snobs with IQs in the four digits or technological wizards intent on handing over maps of the stars via the medium of cornfields. No, aliens, even in the 1970s, are jus' plain folks, just like us, and they like the same things we do: Big Macs, amusement parks, the music of Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. What else do they like that we do? Why, let's find out through the magic of 1970s comic books, shall we?:
For those of you not familiar with one of the more...shall we say, unusual members of the Fantastic Four's supporting cast, that's not Zippy the Pinhead after being exposed to gamma rays, but the one, the only Impossible Man, shape-changing alien from the planet Poppup (no doubt ruled over by King Sa-Booda). He...er...pops up occasionally to annoy the FF, but it wasn't until his extended guest-starring status in the book in 1977 that "Impy" discovers...and becomes addicted to...one of the finest entertainments the Earth has to offer: television:
Looks like ABC's Tuesday night line-up is popular in the Richards household with small green aliens, and no surprise: Happy Days was one of the blockbuster television hits of the 1970s, riveting millions of Fonzie-loving Americans to their tube each week for the wacky antics of a family living in the happy carefree Milkwaukee of the 1950s, a time and town apparently unaffected by McCarthyism, the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, the Korean War or the Suez Crisis. But hey, they had hamburger stands and sock hops and friendly motorcycle greasers with magic powers over jukeboxes.
Like the rest of America held thrall; 1970s Marvel Comics wasn't immune to the mass appeal of Richie and his pals (see, f'r example, today's Armagideon Time post). Their love for all things Fonzarelli even becomes an advertising slogan:
To zoom in on the pertinent bit:
Which is not to say that the Impossible Man only watched cheery sitcoms about the 1950s, or that he watched TV all on his lonesome, oh no no no. Sitting around the boob tube is clearly a social activity in the Baxter Building, and although I'm not certain whether they're watching the second season on ABC or the third season on NBC, here's Impy and his pals the Human Torch, Tigra, the Thing and Thundra enjoying the adventures of Jaime Sommers, in quite possibly the only instance of Marvel featuring a character who appeared in comics published by Charlton:
A couple issues later, the TV party has dwindled down to Impy and Thundra, who've switched the station to what must be WOR's Million Dollar Movie...
In fact, the Impossible Man becomes quite the fan of that particular actor:
That's not to say, of course, that the Impossible Man has become a TV addicted couch potato. For one thing, he frequently levitates off the couch while watching television. And when, in this pre-cable era, the end of our broadcasting day signals the close of Impy's entertainment, why, he takes it in stride and behaves like any logical and cultured advanced alien being would:
In these modern days, you or I would just slip in a DVD or surf digital cable channels. Impy takes a different approach to keep his entertainment goin':
Oh, that won't end well.
Luckily, our pal Ben Grimm is around to introduce an entirely new entertainment to the Impossible Man...movies!:
And that's how the Impossible Man discovered the finest that New York had to offer in 1970s movie-viewing entertainment:
But even though (as Hollywood likes to remind us) "movies are your best entertainment value," you can't keep a Poppupian away from his favorite medium:
So, in short: highly-advanced, mega-intelligent, super-poeered alien The Impossible Man likes TV.
But...there's an entertainment medium he loves even more than TV. Can you guess what it is? Huh, huh, can you? Aw, don't worry if you can't...I'll have the four-color answer right here tomorrow...same Imp Time, same Time Station!