Jeff Alan Polier bring us a Very Special episode of MY FIRST ISSUE… of Underdog!

12 Oct

Hey folks, Mike here – sorry I’ve been AWOL lately; Real Life is kicking my ass all over the place lately… Fortunately, I’ve got homies like JEFF who can give you something cool to read… Where else are you gonna read about somebody’s first brush with UNDERDOG? Ch-Check it out – and feel free to respond in the comments! What was YOUR first kids’ comic?

 

Underdog 22 cover (Whitman)

My First Issue of Underdog

Underdog #22

December, 1978

by Jeff Alan Polier

            Like my first Batman & Superman stories, my first Underdog comic came from Grandma Onda’s collection of comics for her grandkids. The Whitman comic was based on the Underdog cartoon series that, upon reflection, I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Underdog’s secret identity is Shoeshine Boy, which seems to be both his name and occupation. The world he lives in is mostly populated by humans but talking, sentient dogs seem to be common enough that nobody is shocked by the presence of Underdog or his sweetheart, Sweet Polly.
            There are no credits given for any of the stories or art in this issue. Even the Grand Comics Database doesn’t have any information on the people who worked to make this an enjoyable comicbook. The cover (uncredited, too, of course) has Underdog hovering over a volcano. Is he there to stop the eruption and save a village? Nah. He holds a frying pan over the open flame and is cooking a pair of eggs. He must be awfully hungry as he holds a fork at the ready and is licking his chops. (Being a dog, I guess there are worse things he could be licking!)
            The first story is titled “Antlers Away.” Underdog’s arch-enemy, Simon Bar Sinister, has developed a new weapon. He demonstrates it for his underling, Cad, by firing it at a bird. The bird instantly grows antlers. It flies away but not very well, its flight thrown off by the new appendages on its head. It flies through Big City Park where Underdog and Polly are on a bird-watching date. Polly is fascinated by the be-antlered bird but Underdog takes off to answer a cry for help. He flies to a robbery scene. Simon and Cad are robbing a jewelry store. Underdog allows Simon to shoot him with the ray gun; Simon’s guns have a history of not affecting the Canine Crusader. It isn’t until Underdog tries to pursue the fleeing villains that he discovers his antlers. They stop him from exiting the shop until he turns sideways to fit through the doorway.
            Knowing that they are safe from Underdog, Simon plans his next robbery. “Easy, you fool!” he tells Cad. “The millionaire, Warren Savin, owns the largest private collection of jewels in the world!” That night, the pair break into Savin’s mansion and loot the safe. Cad is worried, though, because one of the hunter’s trophies on the wall looks just like Underdog with antlers. It is! Underdog bursts the rest of the way through the wall and knocks out both of the cretins. He uses the ray gun in reverse mode to eliminate his antlers. “It’s great to be Underdog again! For awhile there I look like Undermoose!”
            Next up is “New Job For Old.” Underdog rescues an Eskimo village from a marauding giant snow monster. Returning to Big City, he switches to his secret identity as Shoeshine Boy. He sees a poster for a concert featuring Grateful Ned and Jefferson Blimp (two jokes that I didn’t even know were jokes for many years). He wants to take Polly to the concert but lacks the funds to do so. Lowly shoeshine boys don’t make that kind of money. He sees that a grocery store is hiring and soon finds himself to be a checkout clerk. No sooner has he started, though, then the store is being robbed at gunpoint. He sneaks off to the storeroom and switches to Underdog. Underdog is able to make quick work of these simple felons. The manager thanks Underdog but wonders where his new employee has disappeared to. Underdog returns to the store room and his secret identity but his boss fires him straight away. In the end, Shoeshine Boy returns to being a shoeshine boy but does have a way to make extra money. In addition to shining shoes, he now sells shoelaces, too.
            Simon Bar Sinister is out of jail and has a new ray gun in “Fraidy Dog.” Underdog flies Sweet Polly to an Old West Week event in the Western U.S. While Polly goes off to find period clothing to change into, Underdog purchases a cowboy hat, gun belt, and cap gun. No sooner does he leave the store than he is accosted by Simon. Simon challenges him to a duel. Underdog beats him on the draw and fires his cap gun several times. Simon draws his ray gun and shoots Underdog once. The ray knocks our hero off of his feet and he instantly feels a change come over him. The change becomes (ahem) frighteningly apparent when Simon comes up behind him and quietly says “Boo!” Underdogs freaks out and runs to Polly for protection. While talking to her, a kitten comes up and scares him so badly that he runs from the town. With their enemy gone, Simon and Cad prepare to rob the bank.
            Cowering in the wilderness, Underdog suddenly finds himself surrounded by Indians. These aren’t savages, though, and one of them quickly recognizes that Underdog has been placed under a rotten spell. “C’mon, guys—let’s do our old Indian taking-a-spell-off dance!” one of them suggests. Though terrified, Underdog allows them to perform the ritual. When the dance is finished, Underdog flies back to the town. Simon and Cad are robbing the bank. They are surprised that Underdog had the courage to return. Supposing that the effects had worn off, Simon shoots Underdog again. It fails, though, as the ritual he went through has made him immune to cowardice. He knocks out the villains—again.
            The final story of the issue, “The Bottom of the Bottle,” is either a homage or a parody of Superman. I’m not sure which was intended but it is enjoyable either way. Underdog starts by stopping a bank robbery being perpetrated by the evil Gadget-Master. He makes quick work of the creep and hauls him off to Big City Prison. Back shining shoes, an alarm goes off. “Uh-oh! My shoeshine kit alarm system is buzzing!” he tells us. “There’s something wrong way up north in my Secret Shack of Solitude!” Inside this Arctic getaway, an emergency light is flashing next to the Bottled City of Cal-Can. Underdog uses the Shrinko ray so he can enter the city.
            We see a flashback to how Cal-Can came to be in Underdog’s possession. While flying through outer space, he heard a cry of distress coming from a planet. The yell for help came from a tribe of miniature dogs who were being menaced by a normal sized cat. The cat takes one punch to knock out. For their own safety, the small dogs agree to be placed in a bottle by Underdog and return to Earth to live in his Secret Shack.
            The story returns to the present time and Underdog is now small enough to enter Cal-Can. He flies in and meets with the citizens to find out what is the matter. They insist that it is an urgent situation and escort him into…a surprise birthday party! He’d forgotten his own birthday but his loyal friends remembered and wanted to celebrate with him.

These stories wouldn’t have won any awards, but there were certainly enjoyable and any leaps in logic can be excused by remembering the age of the target audience. Even now, I find that I still take great pleasure from reading these simple tales of adventure.

Jeff must have been heartbroken to learn that Underdog was cancelled with the next issue… Somebody out there: We need more Underdog ASAP! Make it happen, people!

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