Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bugs Bunny #136

Bugs Bunny #136, July 1971, Western Publishing Company

Blogger’s note: Entry for Sunday, March 23, 2008.

What better way to conclude my Easter-oriented rabbit-centric comic book series than with an issue starring the world’s most famous rascally rabbit, Bugs Bunny? Every geek has a soft spot for Bugs Bunny. After all, we discovered our inherent disrespect for authority and developed our wily sense of humor toward mundane social norms and sexuality at Bugs’ knee. Every time Bugs stuck his finger in Elmer Fudd’s shotgun barrel, he was effectively “sticking it to the man,” and every time he wore a dress to distract his enemy, he made blue humor appropriate and hilarious for a younger audience. Think about it -- Bugs cross-dressed for comedy before Robin Williams or the Kids in the Hall practically made it the norm of the ‘90s. Needless to say, Bugs Bunny broke ground even when he wasn’t digging tunnels to Albuquerque.

Unfortunately, Bugs’ comic book incarnation isn’t as dynamic as his animated incarnation, at least based on my impression of Gold Key’s Bugs Bunny #136. This issue contains an original lead story and two reprinted back-up tales, all of which boast cartoony art reminiscent of their respective eras, but each of which also lack the unavoidable energy of their silver screen counterparts. The first tale is a perfect slice of life from the ‘70s, as Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, and Cicero the pig (I don’t remember him, either) form a rock band and attempt to impress a visiting promoter. The promoter almost dismisses them, but when Bugs drops a flower pot on his foot, his yelps of pain become the group’s hot, definitive sound. Unfortunately, Bugs cannot recreate the sound without someone stomping his foot, until he innovatively sees a hypnotist that trains that rascally rabbit to howl at the sight of carrots. Although the band scores a gig, Elmer laments the loss of his carrot garden . . . and ironically proves that fame does not buy happiness!

I have one significant issue with this introductory story: Porky doesn’t stutter. The writer missed a great opportunity to satirize the music of the day by making Porky alter lyrics to accommodate with lingual handicap. Elmer’s impediment is there, hilariously implemented when he tried to defend his musical endeavor, “We’re going to be the gweatest gwoup since The Insufferwubles!” This oversight is more distracting than one would think; it’s the equivalent of denying Superman flight or Mr. T his Mohawk. Without Porky’s stutter, his famous catchphrase is moot, yet I dare say it would be more appropriate for his career than ever: “Th-Th-Th-That’s all, folks!”

However, the yelling-in-pain-as-meaningful-pop-music-of-the-‘70s undertone of this whole yarn is rife commentary enough, reminiscent of the Hollywood-oriented spoofs of the Looney Tunes’ past. I’m sure there’s an American Idol joke in here somewhere, too, but I’ll avoid it. Not that I wouldn’t mind seeing someone stomp on some of those contestants’ feet . . .

I guess I didn’t really avoid it, then. Ain’t I a stinker?

The two back-up tales are a bit more timeless and reflect the classic Warner Brothers’ conflicts from those old animated shorts. In “The Un-Circus Clown,” Bugs exploits Elmer Fudd’s love of the circus and tries to sign the hunter up as a clown so his carrot garden could go unprotected while he was on the road. Of course, the story takes an unexpected, slapsticky turn when a crooked wrestling ring mistakes Elmer for the real thing and hires him to cheer up their champ “Gloomy” Gooch. Before you know it, Bugs, Elmer, and Sylvester are accused of stealing the boxing manager’s diamond tiepin and are on the run from both Gooch’s gang and the circus clan. The inevitable pie fight solves everything, as the tiepin is recovered, the circus’ name is cleared, and Gooch finally finds the whole thing hilarious. I’m glad somebody did.

In the other reprinted back-up, Sylvester is stranded on a desert island, and Tweety Bird happens to wash ashore just in time to satiate the cat’s appetite. Tweety convinces Sylvester that he’s too skinny to make for even a good mouthful and that a coconut would help fatten him up. At the top of the coconut tree, Sylvester encounters a territorial monkey, and between the two critters, the poor, hungry cat accepts his defeat. Now we know what Lost really needs: an angry, coconut throwing monkey.

Yes, despite the lackluster tomfoolery of this issue, the worst of Bugs Bunny is still better than many other comic book cartoon adaptations, so I’m grateful to conclude these rabid rabbit-themed reviews with a legend. The best part about Bugs and his fellow Looney Tunes is their timeless ability to combine wit and pratfallish humor with social subtexts and basic human emotions -- and in his peak performances, you don’t even remember that Bugs really is a bunny. That these classic cartoon icons are anthropomorphic is secondary to the fact that they’re established as incredible performers and comedians, right up there with human icons like the Three Stooges or Lucille Ball. The irony is that many old televisions needed “rabbit ears” to broadcast these gems.

Connect that to Easter however you like.

No comments: