Just to start I have to say that I’m a huge fan of the school of comedy where one takes an old crappy movie, TV series or comic and just mocks how bad, insane or unintentionally hilarious it is. I love Seanbaby.com, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and their comedy brethren. However, while I am a sucker for that kind of humour, I usually find the art of dialogue replacement (a la Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lily?) rather unfunny. I find that the stuff is usually funniest with commentary alongside the pure source material since then the audience can appreciate just how bad, insane and unintentionally hilarious it is to begin with. The dialogue replacement stuff is usually a bit sloppy (or very sloppy when amateurs do it at home and post it on YouTube) or it doesn’t flow smoothly. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be great. Does What Were They Thinking?!: Monster Mash-Up succeed where others have failed? Kinda.
What Were They Thinking is a series of one-shots focusing on generic or oddball public domain comics with all of the narration and dialogue replaced or meddled with by some talented comic creators. This particular issue focuses on monsters and romance. Oh, and there’s a story about the use of a hat. Monster Mash-Up is a mixed bag that ranges from forgettable and tired to brilliantly funny. The first part, “Barry’s Secret Shame” is remixed (I.E. new dialogue) by Joe Casey and while he’s usually a good writer and is working with art by Steve Ditko (after a fashion), he doesn’t quite hit the mark in this tale of forbidden underwater romance. Unfortunately, the script is mostly a one note joke: a man who is aroused by fish has his fantasy come alive. Luckily the expressions on the main character’s face sell the idea that this character does have a secret shame, but I was just expecting a bit more from the creator of GOdLand.
The second comic, “Hairy Grrls” (remixed by Kevin Church and Keith Giffen) is easily the best in the book, thanks to a narrator who is equal parts cynical and insane. The comic starts off well, but it really gets going with the introduction of Lumber Industry Safety Man—and it only gets more bizarre from there. A Sasquatch in a drill, a sudden bear appearance and other oddities make this one a gem. Next is an oddity called “Hats Off”, remixed by Johanna Stokes, one of the writers for the TV series Eureka. This one focuses on some fellows in the jungle who have an argument over hat ownership and copying one another’s cool fashions. Also, a monster shows up. Though certainly funny, this one is a bit of a let down after the last comic, but the last page with Sam’s death speech definitely made this a hilarious read. “Astro Alien Dog” is a fun one-pager that’s essentially a cheesy jungle adventure comic with words like “space” and “astro” pasted in—literally—to give it a faux-sci-fi feel.
Then comes “Dirk Rocket & Rick Beardly in Manlust: an Outer Space Adventure Beyond Your Wildest Imagination,” remixed by Kevin Church, in which a space adventurer must deal with his secret and shameful lust for his virile, bearded partner. “Manlust” has sort of the problem “Barry’s Secret Shame” had, which is that it seems to think that the “gay heroes” joke (much like “the fish lust” joke) is all that’s needed to carry the comic. It’s only three pages but it starts to feel stale surprisingly fast. The final comic, “Flipper_Boy_47”, once again by Kevin Church, also feels like generic internet humour. Not bad, but not really good either; with this as with some of the other weaker stories, the writer seems to be treading water by using a stale old bit. But luckily it has the good sense to be one page. I really can’t imagine stretching a merman’s blog post much longer than that.
Now, in my opinion, this one shot is a mixed bag, the curse of many anthologies. The majority of these writers are talented (I can’t say all simply because I’m not familiar with Kevin Church’s work). However, one thing that I’d like to note is that people really have different tastes and opinions for comedies. That’s not to say comedy is critic proof, but certain kinds of comedies (particularly those that aren’t also concerned with plot and character development) are harder to review simply because the often surreal humour is all there is to review and what works for some people won’t necessarily work for others.
Nonetheless, I like the book and would like to see it continue as a series. Yes, there are a few missteps, but I feel that the creators will only get a better feel for how to approach the material over time. They’ll eventually figure out how to get consistent laughs (here’s one trick: get Keith Giffen to write more stuff) and it could become a sleeper hit if it ever goes monthly.