The Powers-That-Be at DC Comics in the 1960s could see that something was going on over at Stan Lee’s new upstart Marvel imprint, but they were ill-equipped to figure out just what. This is largely due to the fact that the editorial and creative staff remained largely unchanged since the halcyon days of the 1940s. As the 1960s went on, DC was increasingly out of touch with its audience and with what was going on in the field. But they still had powerhouse characters and were the top firm in the industry.
But–possibly spurred on by Lee’s frequent comments about Brand Echh–some of DC’s staff wasn’t above taking their own potshots at the competition in the pages of their books. The Inferior Five began life as such a feature–creator E. Nelson Bridwell pitched it initially as the Inferior Four, a take-off on the Fantastic Four, but somebody thought that might be too close for comfort. But for much of its run, INFERIOR FIVE parodied and lampooned the characters being put out by the competition, in particular the Marvel books. But issue #6 was different.
In issue #6, Bridwell wrote a scathing parody of the DC staff itself. It’s actually a wonder that this thing ever saw print, as again, its intended audience–those who would understand all of the references–were pretty much excursively the DC editors themselves. It’s possible that Nelson was inspired by the short “how we make the comics” stories that Lee had been running in the Marvel Annuals. Or perhaps that’s how he convinced editor Jack Miller that this was a good idea.
Because make no bones about it, the parody in this issue is mean. It’s funny, there does seem to be a streak of meanness that ran through the corporate culture at DC during these years–the sort responsible for the posthumous Bill Finger mystery story that never quite saw the light of day. While the strips that Lee was running were purposely self-effacing, one got the sense that the people involved genuinely liked one another. Not so here. This issue makes the DC offices out to be a bit of a snake pit–something that Bridwell would have known something about.
There really isn’t any plot to this story, and the Inferior Five themselves interject from time to time, waiting for the tale to begin. The whole thing is really just a collection of cheap shots at the assorted DC editors–and Bridwell includes himself among them, and doesn’t really pull his punches even there.
Artist Mike Sekowsky certainly seems to be enjoying taking the piss out of his bosses in this story, for all that it also looks like he drew it in about two hours. If a background showed up in this issue, it would have been arrested. Sekowsky was among the fastest artists in the stable, and in a few months he’d join staff as well once Carmine Infantino came in as Editorial Director and began to reshuffle the staff.
It’s also worth pointing out that this story was produced right around the time that many of DC’s longest-serving creators were campaigning for health insurance, reprint money and some manner of pension–and would shortly find themselves all effectively blacklisted by the firm.
Carmine at this point was functioning as DC’s cover designer, so he gets pulled into this story as well, as does Mike Sekowsky. As I understand things, there’s more truth to this exchange than perhaps people were meant to imagine. Sekowsky also goes out of his way to hide his own face throughout the story.
One gets the sense that this issue may have been put together under the gun, and that would help explain its very existence.
There’s also a bunch of pigeon English scattered throughout this book. That kind of casual racism and stereotyping would continue to show up for some time.
It is kind of funny that the issue ends with this half-page ad showing the DC staff hard at work on new upcoming features. After the preceding 23 pages, that would hardly be considered a good thing!