Mar 27, 2013

Pop Medicine: References that Make Me Laugh

Pop Medicine is a "visiting" column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

Things Like Other Things (That Made Me Laugh)
Pop Medicine

I’m a sucker for puns. Verbal puns, visual or conceptual, even the really atrocious ones can make me smile. The elegant puns, though, are obviously the best, especially if they sneak up on you and it’s ages before it finally clicks.

It’s the mix of surprise and sudden familiarity, I think, that appeals to me, but in any case, a stealthy allusion is a surefire pleaser. Except, to be fair, when it’s not even hammily bad it’s just a substitution game (Death giving someone a brush, so they can have a brush with Death; you know the score).

And, no, not because I feel smart for finally getting them if it takes time – and I don’t hate the talent for putting one over on me. This obsession some comics readers have with feeling victimized by something going over their head is sad, and I’d rather have egg on my face than contribute to that mess.

1. from Rock of Ages
The opening fight of this JLA is the Justice League against several three-dimensional replications in light and a purplish alien named Jemm. About four issues into this series, I realize, they’d been fighting Jemm and the holograms. This is funnier if you remember an Eighties cartoon about a band, Jem and the Holograms, and their better, more stylish, but completely evil and idiotic enemies, The Misfits. (Not those Misfits.)

Top left: Jemm, Son of Saturn
Top right: Evil JLA Holograms
Bottom: Jem and the Holograms

2. from Excalibur (and elsewhere)
Warren Ellis is great, and frequently funny (and heartwarming) straight in the stuff that the average internet critic will call heartless and cruel. Pete Wisdom had been created for a completely different comic. A bastard with electricity powers, based roughly on Jack Regan of The Sweeney, he was slightly modified for Excalibur, and his superpower shifted to blades of heat that shot out of his hands, called “hot knives.” Hot knives, or spots, are dabs of marijuana between knives hot enough to generate smoke.

3. from Archie Comics
Betty Cooper, aka Archie Andrews’ sometime girlfriend who’s actually good at stuff that isn’t buying things, has a mother. Like all the Archie characters, her parents’ names have changed here and there, but for at least the last decade or two, her mom’s name has been Alice.

Left: Alice Cooper, Betty's mom
Right: Alice Cooper, legendary rock star

4. from “Chasing Clay”
There are many Clayfaces in the Bat-comics. It’s just one of those things that happens in the DCU, apparently, like gamma radiation bestowing superpowers in the Marvel Universe. Two of these Clayfaces had a baby and what could they name it except… Cassius?

5. from “The Crunch Conundrum”
Larry Hama’s quite good at these, and one of my favorites to this day remains a little dive motel called The Auger Inn, from Wolverine. Wolvie doesn’t get it, himself, until someone decides to ram a jet he’s on into the ground at high speed. That is, they decide to auger in.

6. from Final Crisis
Grant Morrison likes to do these. I mean, he gave us the Jemm example above, and in Batman and Son, he gave us an art piece in a gallery show that’s clearly Piss Godzilla (in the vein of Andres Serrano’s quite beautiful, Piss Christ). And in Final Crisis he put a piggish mask on Wonder Woman with big tusks and all. Making her, visually, a Wonder Warthog. Just not Gilbert Shelton’s evil-controlled, misguided superhero, Wonder Warthog.

Left: Wonder Woman in Final CrisisRight: Wonder Warthog

7. from Impulse
And, sometimes, no matter how old a gag is, no matter how often it’s been used, in its pure form it can still reel me in. In Impulse, the title character used to often think in pictures, usually with misunderstandings. One of these was Impulse envisioning a Seal in a little white hat and uniform jacket. Navy SEAL.

Special props to GI Joe, Asterix the Gaul, and Ranma ½ for doing this every comic, constantly, and consistently well. Credit to both their original writers and to the English translators of Ranma and Asterix, for maintaining the level of punning, if not always the original puns.

(Duy here. Pearls Before Swine does these often, and they're my favorite types of strips for that series. Go check 'em out.)

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