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Inferior Five 1
"Five Characters in Search of a Plot!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND March-April 196)
Pencils by Mike Sekowsky Inks by Mike Esposito Script by E. Nelson Bridwell Lettered by Joe Letterese

Our story opens as the magnificently muscular hero Wonderfella elegantly foils a bank robbery. But Wonderfella is not the hero of our story. He's just a comic book character being drawn by artist Myron Victor, whom we know is secretly Merryman, the jester-garbed leader of the Inferior Five! Myron is being visited by his grandfather Reed Victor, who is startled to hear a telephone ringing in Myron's filing cabinet. Of course, it's the Lukewarm Line, which Myron keeps filed under P (for Phone). But when Myron answers the phone, instead of the expected voice of Chief Geronimo, he is summoned by C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D. (the Competent Organization Utilizing Scientific Investigation for National Fiend, Ruffian, and Evildoer Defense).

Myron switches to his Merryman costume, dreading the trip across town on the subway that is his main mode of transportation. But Grandpa Reed reminds him that he himself was a masked crimefighter forty years ago. Today, Merryman will travel in style, alongside the Yellowjacket and his sidekick Plato, in the Gold Bug, the fastest thing on wheels in 1925.

The other members of the I-5 also receive the call from C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D:

Model Athena Tremor (the Dumb Bunny) is posing in a towel for a sleazy artist, when the phone in her purse rings. While running to answer it, she slams her elbow into the creep's chin, knocking him silly.

Photographer William King is photographing a pair of amorous bikini models for Payboy Magazine ("It costs 75 cents... Boy! Do you pay!") when the phone in his dummy camera rings. For once, he's happy to go into action as the White Feather... because he's even more terrified of those women than he is of fighting criminals.

Meanwhile, Merryman and his companions are delayed when the Gold Bug stalls while going down a steep hill.

Diner owner Herman (the Blimp) Cramer's glamorous girlfriend Mabel walks out on him when she finds him in the refrigerator, apparently snacking between meals... but he can't admit that he was only answering the phone he hides in there.

Last but not least, beachcomber Leander Brent has been asked by a magazine editor to write an article about the superhero Mr. Might, not knowing that Leander is secretly Mr. Might's son, Awkwardman! Leander recalls how Mr. Might was born Barb-Ell on the planet Neon. No one believed his father, Dumb-Ell, when he predicted that their world would soon explode. So Dumb-Ell placed his infant son in a tiny rocket and sent him to Earth to save his life. However, Dumb-Ell really WAS a crackpot, and Neon never DID explode... but the sound of the phone ringing underneath a nearby boulder wakens Leander from his reverie. He changes to Awkwardman, and meets three of his four teammates on the subway.

Eventually, Merryman and company arrive at the newsstand they were directed to. But the newsstand owner tells them they're at the wrong place. The stand across the street is the front for C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D. Lots of people get 'em mixed up. A quick look-both-ways and a drop down a trap door (C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D. doesn't have the budget for an elevator) and they have arrived.

Our heroes finally united, they are introduced to Mr. Ivanhoe, the leader of C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D., and his two top agents: Caesar Single and Kwitcha Belliakin. Mr. Ivanhoe has called upon the I-5 for assistance against a new breed of superpowered enemy agents: the evil organization called H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E. (Heinous, Unscrupulous Rats and Rogues Initiating Criminal Anarchy and Nefarious Evil). Their membership consists of the superstrong but rather lazy Powerhouse; the Missing Fink, whose brain was transferred into an android body in a futile attempt to cure his hay fever; the absent-minded telekinetic Mr. Mental; the superfast but cowardly Yellow Streak; Blackbird, a flying agent prone to airsickness; and the non-super agents, inventor "Tabby" Katz, demolition expert "Nitro" Gleason, and escape artist "Crabgrass" Wilde.

(Throughout this explanation, Caesar Single remains quietly in the background, at first fastening a silencer to his pistol, gradually progressing into redesigning the building's plumbing system into a nightmarish maze of pipes the likes of which have never been seen outside of a Windows screen saver.)

Mr. Ivanhoe's briefing is suddenly interrupted by a loud sneeze. When Merryman observes that everyone said "gesundheit," he concludes that there must be an invisible spy in their midst... the hay-fever-ridden Missing Fink! The heroes follow the sound of the sneezes into the street, as the Fink leaps into a sleek sports car where Mr. Mental waits behind the wheel. They almost catch up with him when he's delayed while explaining to Mr. Mental who he is and which side they're on. The I-5 and Yellowjacket leap into the Gold Bug, and Plato activates the grapples. Now, despite oilslicks, smokescreens, and blinding lights, the villains can't lose the heroes, because they're towing them!

At H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E. headquarters, Tabby sends Blackbird to the roof to act as lookout, and suggests to Powerhouse that it's time for his belt. So he takes a belt... of super-strength potion, which he carries in a hip flask. Too lazy to walk to the door, he smashes through the wall to meet their guests.

Arriving at the scene, the White Feather dashes into a phone booth to change identities, hoping to slip away unnoticed. But he finds the booth already occupied by a cringing Yellow Streak. Just then, Powerhouse crashes through the wall and captures the archer. Tabby orders him to remove the White Feather's mask...but the archer doesn't wear a mask. So she tries putting a pair of glasses on him, and concludes that, whoever he is, he's no Clark Kent. They try other accessories... a pointy-eared cowl, a derby and tiny moustache, a powdered wig and ruffled shirt... but nothing looks familiar.

Powerhouse then brings in two more prisoners: Merryman and Yellowjacket. They try removing Merryman's glasses, but instead of learning his secret identity, they learn he's blind as a bat without them. So all three prisoners are turned over to Nitro to be placed in a deathtrap. I'll let Nitro (aka "Butterfingers") describe it to you in his own words:

"The acid in that vat might get you when the candle burns through the rope -- unless this dynamite goes off first! If you get loose, you can't leave the island. You'd break those electric-eye beams, sending a million volts of electricity through the water. And if you get past the beams somehow, you'll be eaten by scores of hungry piranhas!" (He could just shoot them, but the Super-Villains Union frowns on things like that.)

Despite these elaborate preparations, though, Merryman makes his grandfather proud by escaping the trap in only four panels. He moves the candle away from the rope supporting the acid vat, and uses it to burn through his bonds. Then he tosses the dynamite through the electric-eye beams into the moat, simultaneously extinguishing the fuse, electrocuting the piranhas, and shorting out the beams, so they can all swim to safety.

They arrive outside to find their compatriots in battle with the H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E. forces. The Blimp puts Blackbird out of his misery with a sock in the nose. Merryman tackles Powerhouse, shattering his hip flask. Crabgrass ducks Awkwardman's right cross, but the Missing Fink doesn't. Yellow Streak proves even more terrified of White Feather than vice versa. And Tabby blows up an inflatable infant in an attempt to deceive the Dumb Bunny. "You wouldn't hit a woman with a baby, would you?" "No..." replied Bunny, grabbing a bystander by the ankles, "...I'd hit her with a grown man!"

The police arrive to tow away the evildoers' car, and the Gold Bug with it, since Plato can't get the grapples loose. Merryman reveals how he deduced that Tabby was the gang's secret leader, by observing that she gave all the orders. The Missing Fink is grateful that Awkwardman's punch seems to have cured his hay fever... he can't smell a thing anymore. And Crabgrass boasts that no cell can hold him for long... a claim that proves true as Bunny tries to place a familar looking figure walking down the street with a ring of keys in the very next panel.

In our epilogue, William King receives a call from a Mr. Hopner, telling him who he wants for the centerfold in the next issue of Payboy. We skip ahead as two angry models are looking at a centerfold of the Dumb Bunny (in full costume... this IS a 1967 Code-approved DC comic, after all). As they stalk King with large, mean-looking clubs, the Blimp brings food to him in his treetop hiding place. The White Feather begs his rotund friend to see if he can get C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D. to send him on an assignment someplace safe... like the Congo or Viet Nam.

----

This was the I-5's first appearance in their own magazine, after three well-received Showcase tryouts. For those who haven't figured it out yet, C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D. was a spoof of "Man From U.N.C.L.E." agents Mr. Waverly ("Waverly" and "Ivanhoe" both being novels by Sir Walter Scott), Napoleon Solo, and Ilya Kuriakin. H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E. was a takeoff on the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (Dynamo, Noman, Menthor, Lightning, Raven, "Kitten" Kane, "Dynamite" Adkins, and "Weed" Wylie). Yellowjacket, Plato, and the Gold Bug were the Green Hornet, Kato, and the Black Beauty.

The Inferior Five were the children of a retired 1940s super-team called the Freedom Brigade, trying to carry on in their illustrious parents' footsteps. Merryman (who used to be a 97 pound weakling, before he lost weight) was the son of the Patriot and Lady Liberty, and came from a long line of masked heroes. Awkwardman was the son of Mr. Might and the Mermaid; he inherited his father's strength and his mother's awkwardness on land, and he needed to submerge in water once a day to keep his strength up. The Dumb Bunny was the daughter of Princess Power of the Amazons (and in the relatively recent Phil Foglio "Angel and the Ape" miniseries, was revealed to be Angel O'Day's half-sister). The Blimp was the son of Captain Swift, and inherited his father's flying power, but not his speed, giving him the ability to hover. Finally, the White Feather, son of the Bowman, was an expert archer, but was afraid of just about everything... his father most of all.

The story's title, "Five Characters in Search of a Plot," was a pun inspired by the Luigi Pirandello play, "Six Characters in Search of an Author." E. Nelson Bridwell was very big on literary references.

I found Mike Sekowsky's style much better suited to humor than to straight adventure. I liked his Justice League, though I preferred Dick Dillin's version. And in the late sixties, Sekowsky's style seemed to suffer when he was spread too thin, working on the Metal Men, Green Lantern, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Manhunter 2070, and other series. But he was perfect for the I-5, and the series lost something when the too-slick Win Mortimer took over a few issues later.

Does anyone who has this issue recognize the fourth face on page 18? I probably should be embarassed to admit that I don't know who it's supposed to be. My wife thinks it looks like Bill Clinton... but, in 1967?

"It costs 75 cents... Boy! Do you pay!" **Sigh** Back then, if you said that one day comic books would cost $2.50 and up, and be even thinner, who'd have believed you?

-- Bob
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