Writers: Keith Giffen, Chris Ward, Andrew Cosby, and John Rogers
Artists: Basil Wolverton and several unknowns.
Publisher: Boom! Studios
This comic takes old stories from the 1940s and 50s and replaces the dialogue with silliness. A superhero fights aliens who are dumping giant diaphragms on Earth. A man takes a journey into his own subconscious and finds disturbing sexual fantasies. Employees of White Castle find a traitor in their midst. There’s a confusing story about time-traveling Star Wars fans. And a hypnotist tries to defeat the charm of a bow tie-wearing playa.
I’m reminded of Truer than True Romance, a collection of old romance comics published by DC that also substituted goofy dialogue for the original scripts. That was funny, because romance comics’ art is so serious almost anything but the original dialogue would sound hilarious. The new dialogue also parodied the sexist attitudes and social customs of the old comics. So it worked as both straight-up comedy and genre satire.
What Were They Thinking doesn’t quite succeed as either. The superhero story, “Drew Fist,” (originally drawn very well by Basil Wolverton), offers several opportunities for Keith Giffen and Mike Leib to make fun of the original comic’s silliness. The hero’s man-skirt, the sudden appearance of a giant robot, and the aliens announcing their invasion with thousands of paper fliers tell you this comic was pretty goofy to begin with. That makes “Drew Fist” the best story in the book. It’s also the only one written by Giffen.
The other stories don’t succeed nearly as well. The new dialogue doesn’t fit the art even in a comedic sense. “Fan Boy” would have us believe that the square-jawed, pipe-smoking thin guy is supposed to be George Lucas. “White…is Right?” takes a story about an Egyptian tomb and turns it into a war between White Castle and McDonald's. When you have to suspend that much disbelief to buy into the premise, the joke is dead before it’s even told.
“Voyage to Nowhere” does a good job transforming the lead character’s dream vacation into Freudian psycho-sexual imagery. And “Bowties that Bind” takes what looked like a brief hypnosis-induced time travel story into one about a player-hating swami. Unfortunately, neither of these is very funny. They just aren’t as silly or crazy or outright nutty as they could have been. I don’t think the writers went far enough with the concept of making odd, old comics deliberately funny.
I think the premise of the comic could have worked better if the creators used stories that looked weird or nonsensical on their own, or had gone all-out and created truly bizarre dialogue that made all the characters look like raving maniacs. Reading the original stories might have helped, unless they were funnier by accident than this was on purpose.
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