We covered one of the previous SHOWCASE issues featuring the Inferior Five not that long ago–and in fact, here’s a link to that piece for anybody who missed it.
But the gist is that the Inferior Five were the brainchild of writer E. Nelson Bridwell, originally conceived as a satire of the Fantastic Four but broadened out during the development process into a more all-purpose band of comedic super heroes. Which didn’t mean that Bridwell or his editors had shifted their gunsights from the competition at Marvel–far from it! Rather, after having skewered the Avengers and the Hulk in their previous SHOWCASE try-out issue, after an issue off while the Spectre made his final try-out appearance, the team returned in SHOWCASE #65 to send up the X-Men.
The Inferior Five were certainly influenced by the popular spy satire of the day, GET SMART, and even used one of that show’s signature Maxwell Smart bits in its rundown of the team’s roll call in this issue. Art duties had passed into the hands of Mike Sekowsky, the regular penciler of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, who was incredibly fast and whose super hero figures often looked a little bit off. For the Inferior Five, this made him ideal. His pencils were embellished by Mike Esposito on this story, not necessarily the most sympathetic match but a solid enough team. And the point wasn’t to wow with illustrations so much as it was to provide visual support for the jokes.
It’s a pretty clever parody on the part of Bridwell, who was clearly familiar with the X-Men and reading the Marvel books (no doubt secretly, so as to not invite the ire of his notoriously abusive boss, Mort Weisinger.) The story opens with Dean Egghead of the Academy for Super Heroes facing a walk-out of his staff, none of whom can cope with the antics of his juvenile charges. Egghead attempts to engage the services of a team of super heroes in order to help train his students, but he’s turned down by the Justice League, the Metal Men, the Doom Patrol, Metamorpho and even Super-Hip from the BOB HOPE series. With no other option, Egghead turns to the Inferior Five.
Responding to the urgent summons, the Inferior Five are informed by the Dean that his students are all Evolutionary Throwbacks–so rather than being mutants, the next stage in human evolution, they’re instead reflective of strains of possible humanity from the past. One by one, we and the team are introduced to the student body. This includes the hirsute Harry McElhiney also known as the Ape, Irish Autumns, whose gaze as Basilisk changes objects into stone, the wealthy, winged Melvin Murgatroyd XIV, aka Icarus, Billy Gander, called Winter Wonderlad, and Penelope Pink, Levitation Lass. They’re all aspiring Throwback super heroes but simultaneously a band of ill-behaved juvenile delinquents. That’s why Egghead has called the Inferior Five in, to ride herd on this unruly bunch and teach them their trade.
But this proves easier said than done, as the “Egg’s Men” as they’ll come to be called delight in torturing their new would-be teachers. So they spend a number of pages knocking the likes of Awkwardman, the Blimp and Dumb Bunny around, running roughshod over the whole bunch of them. The fighting comes to an end when Dean Egghead and Merryman enter with a letter from the group’s fan club. Having not done anything public yet, the kids are a little bit surprised that they have a fan club, but they promise to be on their best behavior as their fans are planning a drop-in.
Unfortunately for Dean Egghead’s students but fortunate for an ongoing story narrative, the Fan Club is question is actually the Fraternity of Atavistic No-goodniks, a parallel to the X-Men’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. As their name implies, the membership in this group is also comprised of throwbacks. Their Magneto-like leader Doctor Dinosaur possesses two brains, one of which is in his tail. He plans to wipe out the rival Atavist organization as phase one of their conquest of the world. For the record, the other members of F.A.N. include Frog-Man (a clear parallel to the Toad), Angel Fish (an aquatic equivalent to the Scarlet Witch), Pterano Don Juan (the flying Quicksilver of the group) and Mr. Amoeba (a monstrous parallel to Mastermind.)
As it turns out, the Fraternity shows up at the Dean’s Academy on a day when the Inferior Five have taken the Egg’s Men into Megalopolis on a field trip. The Ape worries that they’ll run into his old nemesis, the Clancy Street Gang, who used to call the cops on him when he’d shake them down for money. Providing chaperone coverage to the unruly throwback kids in the big city proves to be a daunting challenge, one which the Inferior Five is only marginally up to meeting. By the time the entire crew makes it back to Westchester, they’re dog tired–which is exactly the moment that the Fraternity picks to strike!
The remainder of the story is pretty much a crazy fight punctuated with gags. Needing a dip in some water to renew his strength (since he’s the son of Mr. Might and the Mermaid), Awkwardman runs into Angel Fish lounging in the school’s pool. It’s love at first sight for the pair. Elsewhere, the rest of the gang gets busy contending with Mr. Amoeba’s ability to split himself into multiple versions of himself, icing up Pterano Don Juan’s wings so he can’t use his zippy flying speed, petrifying Frog-Man and knocking out both of Dr. Dinosaur’s twin brains at once so as to render him unconscious. Only Angel Fish is left, and Dumb Bunny clonks her good despite Awkwardman’s protestations.
As they haven’t actually done any crimes larger than just starting a fight, teh Inferior Five have to let the Fraternity go. What’s more, they’ve come to the realization that they simply aren’t up to teh task of training these Atavist young super heroes. So they call fot the help of their parents, the Freedom Brigade, a hodge-podge of weird DC pastiches of their own characters. As the story closes out, the Egg’s Men realize that the party is over, and Awkwardman laments the fact that he may never get to see Angel Fish again–especially because this is the last of the Inferior Five’s SHOWCASE try-out issues. It turned out that they sold well enough to launch the I5 in their own series a number of months later. But Angel Fish never did reappear.
(For anybody wondering about that JERRY LEWIS crossover with Batman and Robin advertised on the final page above, we did an entire piece on that book which can be located at the link below.)
X-MEN had only put out 26 issues by the time this issue of SHOWCASE hit the racks. So the cover above would have been on sale alongside it in certain outlets.
7 thoughts on “The First X-Men Parody”
“Winter Wonderlad” is such a great name.
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It’s a shame DC never put out a TPB collecting the I5. Then I could read this and the other one or two I’m missing from the original run.
I’m surprised F.A.N. weren’t a closer parody to the Brotherhood, the way the Masked Swastika’s team riffed on Cap’s Kookie Quartet (or Bridwell’s Kookie Quartet riffed on the FF).
So you don’t think the “Amoeba” was a parody of the Blob?
He certainly could have been, though I’d figure that Bridwell would know that the Blob wasn’t a member of the Brotherhood. But Pteranodon Don Juan plays as sort of a combination of Quicksilver and Mastermind, so possibly you’re right.
It’s possible that Mr. Amoeba is a riff on Quicksilver, since Nelson would know that Quicksilver, aka mercury, is a liquid metal that splits up into blobs on impact, which is just what Mr. Amoeba does. He’s also reddish, like the (fake) mercury in a thermometer.
This would leave Angel Fish as the Scarlet Witch, and there’s not much connection there except that she’s a good-looking gal. But maybe that was enough for Nelson — coming up with that many “atavisms” was a lot of work, making them all be specific parodies too may have been more than he could do by deadline.
Y’all are right, I wouldn’t put any of those past Bridwell.
Although now that I think about it, an “atavistic” Wanda parody could have been a sexy cavegirl named Darwin, who causes disasters with her “survival of the fittest” power.
Next time I see Nelson I’ll have to suggest it…