[19 May 2014]
Cosmo the Merry Martian was a short-lived comic published by Archie Comics in the late 1950’s. Created by artist Bob White, the six-issue series followed the bowling-pin-shaped Martian and his friends on a series of adventures throughout the solar system. It was colorful and funny, in a juvenile sort of way, and right at home in the era of flying saucer flaps and the space race. Cosmo has made a few appearances in Archie Comics in intervening years, sometimes as just a background Easter egg for the savvy reader. In the latest issue of Archie (#655), he is front and center, especially on the magnificent variant cover by Fernando Ruiz and Rosario “Tito” Peña, which pretends to be Cosmo’s 655th issue featuring Archie and friends as guest stars.
The story, by Tom DeFalco, another Archie Comics star from the past who has recently returned to the fold, is a lot more than a tribute to the goofy Martian. It is a spoof of contemporary comic book space operas, with a special homage to Marvel’s cosmic superhero team and upcoming summer movie The Guardians of the Galaxy. When Cosmo crash lands his flying saucer in Riverdale, Archie and Jughead convince him to let them tag along as he travels to the Diner at the Center of the Universe to team up with the Good Guys of the Galaxy and battle Ha’Cha the Hottie and her unstoppable army of cosmic cuties. Ha’Cha is particularly dangerous because she is in possession of the Miracle Mitten, “a mystical gauntlet that converts every thought into reality.”
The Good Guys of the Galaxy are characters from Archie Comics’ long publishing history. Cosmo, Archie and Jughead are teamed with Cat Girl, Super Duck, Captain Sprocket and Captain Pumpernik—“the first vampire bat to travel into outer space”. The team, despite arguing among themselves, manages to work together in the end to confront their common foe. Along the way, DeFalco and Ruiz toss in references to, among other things, Thanos, the Hulk, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
I can’t tell you how much I want to like this comic.
I was thrilled when I read that Cosmo would be featured, then even more excited at the marvelous variant cover. My anticipation grew when I opened it up and saw that the story was a parody of Guardians of the Galaxy.
I really want to like it. But I don’t.
I understand that Archie Comics don’t always lend themselves to complex storytelling, though there have been some exceptions in the recent past. In this book, however, everything is left undeveloped. The jokes and references are all pretty obvious. Perhaps most importantly, there is no attempt, with one exception, to give any of the Good Guys a personality. They are just colorful stand-ins for generic funny book heroes. Perhaps the fault is with the source material. After all, none of these characters were ever that interesting to begin with.
Even Cosmo, in his original incarnation, was usually the straight man for the zany cast of Martian, Lunar, and Jovian characters that tagged along with him. Nevertheless, I had hoped for a little more from DeFalco, who has scripted plenty of great tales in his day. I wasn’t expecting something dark and adult, but I was expecting something a bit more thoughtful, something with a little depth, something that might have been appreciated by readers of all ages, not just the under-ten set this story seems aimed at. (Perhaps my standard for comic book parodies is too high. Can anything ever top the brilliant Bongo Comics Radioactive Man series from the early 1990’s?)
The one member of the team that is given a personality illustrates well the other major problem with this story and the feature that finally made me give-up on liking it. Unlike Super Duck, Captain Sprocket, Captain Pumpernik, and even poor, underutilized Cosmo, Cat Girl is given a bit of a personality.
The problem is that the only feature that makes her stand out is her infatuation with Archie. Like almost every other female character in Archie Comics, Cat Girl is reduced to nothing more than a romantic interest for the main character. When you add to that the fact that the villain of the piece, Ha’Cha the Hottie with her band of Cosmic Cuties, is also reduced to salivating over the freckle-faced teenager, the whole thing becomes little more than an old-fashioned sexist Archie story. (And, by the way, the fact that Ha’Cha has fire-related powers does little to compensate for her offensive name.)
I suppose that one reading of the story mitigates this a bit. Namely, Archie does play the part traditionally reserved for the female. He is the irresistible sex object kidnapped by the enemy and rescued by the hero, who in this case are both female. But that little twist does little to dampen the feeling that I’ve been transported back in time to the 1950’s when a female character’s only concern was to land the eligible bachelor.
Don’t get me wrong. There are things to like here. I really enjoy seeing these old characters brought back to life. I find some of the parody on target and a couple of the jokes really work. I could probably even overlook the lack of depth in the story and the underdevelopment of the characters. With each re-reading of this issue, however, I am more disappointed with the recitation of the tired old gender tropes that Archie Comics has for so long perpetuated. I was hoping for better. I was hoping that I would read a story in which Cosmo the Merry Martian, wacky extraterrestrial from the space age, would be transported into the twenty-first century. Instead, in this story, we’re all asked to join him in the past