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The No Nyuk Zone – The Little Stooges #3

June 9, 2011

Hey, is that a cousin of Hanna-Barbera’s Speed Buggy there?

I had no idea that there was such a monster as “The Little Stooges” until I stumbled across this book a month or so ago. I love the Three Stooges. And let me define what I mean by “Three Stooges.” I mean Larry Fine, Curly Howard, and Moe Howard. And Shemp Howard, when poor Curly had his strokes and couldn’t continue appearing in the shorts. Joe Besser and Curly Joe Derita do not exist in this dojo. The Besser shorts were bad, but the Derita stuff was painful to watch. Larry and Moe were old by then. It looked like the physical material really, really hurt at that point. And they weren’t so funny anymore.

But back in the golden olden days the Stooges were about as entertaining as anything going. I realize that they’re not everyone’s comedic cup of tea (Is there any truth to that old idea that most women hate them but most men like them?), but how could you not love it when Moe would angrily rake a saw across Curly’s head and then find, much to his surprise and chagrin, that the saw’s teeth got the worst of the exchange?:

Or when Larry would pipe in with a “Hey, stop picking on him, you bully!” and Moe would take a pair of pliers, grab Larry’s nose with them and twist it around a whole 360 degrees? Or any of the endless sound effects that accompanied the beatings?

I’m smiling just thinking about it.

Just for the hell of it, here’s one of my favorite Stooges shorts (and one of their earliest, from 1935):

It has to be noted that Moe literally BROKE HIS RIBS on that pratfall at 3:11 of the first part, but still managed to stand up and deliver the well-deserved slaps. It’s that all-in physicality that one has to admire in these guys, but it was also what made the latter-day features (in addition to the absence of Curly and Shemp) so hard to watch. I seem to recall a bit on The Simpsons making that same point.

The Little Stooges falls right  into the midst of that latter-day awfulness.

Perhaps picking up on the “we’re to old for this shit” vibe that the last Stooges live-action movies contained, the little versions were actually the children of Larry, Moe and Curly Joe (I very much wish that the last one could have been plain ol’ Curly’s offspring). Really they’re more spritely versions of the characters with a couple of modish haircuts and hipper duds (Who hasn’t asked how Moe would look in bell-bottoms?) thrown into the mix, and Lord knows what women mated with those mutts, but yeah, okay, we’ll roll with the offspring bit.

The content inside is reminiscent of the Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham comic (remember that?) from the ’80s, but without the modest cute-animal charm. It’s your typical marketed-for-kids fare, which means it’s repellant for most sentient creatures. Reading this was a chore, in the sense that roofing the house in 100 degree heat is a chore. It’s a hodgepodge of story elements, with car washes, races, hidden cash and nefarious villains all bopping around what passes for a plot.

I did pull out a couple of bookending scans for you. Here’s the first page:

And here’s the final panel:

Way to end a story, guys. I wouldn’t have been able to rest if I hadn’t seen Little Curly Joe’s bulbous ass — and it also looks like he’s letting one rip, so make that a final exclamation point on this sordid affair.

This was written by Jeff Maurer and drawn Norman Maurer, another familial duo (son and father), much like the Howard brothers in the Stooges. And there’s another, more profound connection: Norman was married to Moe’s daughter and became the manager of the group after the shorts came to an end in the late 1950s. He was also the driving force behind the various Stooges comics, later features and animated series that kept the boys in the public eye over the years. After the Stooges came to a (merciful, perhaps) end, he went on to write and work on a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including, yes, Speed Buggy.

Small world, eh?

Really, I don’t want to badmouth the efforts of the Maurers in bringing this Stooges book out. They tried something different. It failed. No harm, no foul, but it simply doesn’t work, and for characters I enjoy so much that’s a tough pill to swallow. Hence my displeasure.

If I could deliver a good, solid Moe slap to it, I would.

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