Tuesday, August 28, 2018

COMIC BOOK REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! HENRY ALDRICH #21 (Dell Comics, June 1954)

Among my recently acquired batch of fifty-cent comics was a cut-cover copy of the second-to-last issue of the HENRY ALDRICH series. THE ALDRICH FAMILY was a massive hit on radio (running from 1939-1953) and then in movies and in television, and the inevitable comic book adaptation came from Dell in 1950 and ran for four years and 22 issues.

I’ve heard about the radio show and the films, though I’ve never heard a show or watched a film, but fortunately, you do not need any background or backstory whatsoever to enjoy this comic book. The franchise is built around the character of quirky and bumbling but loveable Henry Aldrich, who is in his late teens, his parents and extended family and neighbors, and his best friend and neighbor Homer.

The best way for me to describe this comic book is to ask you to imagine a character who is like a cross between Archie and an older Dennis The Menace placed in a more slapstick-oriented version of the OZZIE AND HARRIET or LEAVE IT TO BEAVER family. In fact, I’ve never thought of this connection before, not being really familiar with the Aldriches, but Ozzie Nelson definitely was influenced by THE ALDRICH FAMILY in his creation of the OZZIE AND HARRIET universe.

It’s hard to do sit-com style comedy well in the comic book format ----the real thing relies so much upon timing, set-ups for jokes, tight back-and-forth editing, established personas of the regular characters which have to be understandable to first-time watchers while not repeating what the regular viewers already know, etc., and it can’t be TOO wordy though it relies on jokes--it’s EXTREMELY hard to do well and in a way that’s timeless and holds up 50 years after the fact....just look at the many un-funny shows of the 50’s-60’s era, some of which are still aired on nostalgia channels today), but HENRY ALDRICH #22 hits a home run in that department--it’s as entertaining and funny in the quirky-family-humor vein as an Edgar Kennedy comedy short or a Columbia BLONDIE movie, but etched on the comic-book page. The first story (the stories are not titled) deals with a family picnic to which various free-loading extended family members and neighbors (and their pets) invite themselves---the humor here has more of the sarcastic “bite” of an Edgar Kennedy short than the gentler feel of OZZIE AND HARRIET. The second (which could have been a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER or DENNIS THE MENACE episode) has Henry’s father having to get a client to sign an important contract he’s been reluctant to sign--Dad goes to the person’s office to find him, while the man comes to the Aldrich office and meets up with Henry, who is filling in for someone who is taking the day off, and whose quirkiness totally wins the man over and gets him to sign the contract. Next, Henry loans a two-dollar bill to his friend Homer, who offers to change it for him, but it blows out of Homer’s hand and in between two buildings with just an inch-or-so clearance and he has to fish it out somehow without admitting that that’s what he’s doing--the problem is that Henry needs that money in a few hours for an important date he’s got lined up for that evening. The final story features Henry’s pal HOMER in his own story. Homer overhears his girlfriend ordering a bunch of food items and party supplies for someone named “Bobby,” and of course he’s jealous and bumbles his way through figuring out what it is going on.

As stated earlier, this comic does a great job of doing 50’s family-sitcom style comedy--it’s as successful as a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER episode or Archie Comics at their finest. The Henry Aldrich comic books are public domain and available for all to read for free at comicbookplus.com , so you can experience this actual issue yourself and see what you think. I’m going to suggest to Gwandanaland Comics that they consider putting together a Henry Aldrich collection...maybe they’ll just sell the one copy to me (or two, if I buy Chris a copy for his birthday!), but I hope some of YOU will pick up a copy too. After all, doesn’t EVERYONE want a comic book as satisfying as an Edgar Kennedy comedy short or a DENNIS THE MENACE TV episode?

1 comment:

J. D. King said...

Very odd to see Dell doing a teen comic!

Regardless, those were the days when America was still America, an identifiable and wholesome culture, not, alas, the post-America mess of the last 40 or 50 years.

The vermin have done their work.