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Do we still have terror alert levels? Wouldn’t this ramp things up? – Dennis the Menace in Washington, D.C.

May 30, 2012

Every Memorial Day, Rolling Thunder screeches into D.C. If you don’t know, that’s a big motorcycle rally meant to honor fallen veterans and raise awareness of POW/MIA issues. There’s a big ride around the Mall, with a never-ending river of bikers with rides of varying severity, crazy facial hair, old ladies riding bitch and leathery skin. It’s the noisiest parade/Sons of Anarchy cosplay fanfest you could possibly imagine, and it’s cool for a while in the days leading up to the rally, as you start to hear the roar of the engines being opened. There’s a rhythm of life to it, like the birds returning to Capistrano (if the birds, instead of chirping, belched exhaust at high decibel levels). Then, after about the 500th ear-piercing acceleration, it starts to wear thin. Like relatives that you love but stay too long on Christmas, you just want them gone. God bless them honoring veterans, but I want my ability to hear back.

This year, they made me think of this Dennis the Menace book. Because he’s a thousand times worse on the annoyance scale. I swear, if I ever see this kid in my town, I will not be held responsible for my actions.

This comic, one of a number of Dennis Mitchell travelogues published during the Silver Age, has Mr. Wilson’s nemesis accompanying his parents on a “vacation” and wreaking his unique brand of havoc upon the Capital of the Free World and its surrounding environs. LEAVING TERROR IN HIS WAKE. There’s a lot of the standard Menace humor, and it wears thin in a giant-sized, square-bound book like this one, even with the unique setting. Wears thin FAST. Better for kids, I’m sure, though I have my doubts of whether youngsters of today would take to Dennis’ shenanigans. Maybe they’re timeless. I’ll say this though: A great job was done illustrating many of D.C.’s landmarks. There isn’t an overload of education value in a tome like this (once again, maybe it would be better for youngsters especially those not able to make a trek to Washington, though I’m not fully sold on that either), but seeing familiar or should-be-familiar places lovingly illustrated is some manner of treat. I thought I’d share a few scans to give you a feel for the proceedings. Let it be your virtual vacation.

One of the first things that the Mitchells do when they arrive in town is ascend to the top of the Washington Monument, so that they can get that great panoramic view of the city. I liked this full-page look to the east, towards the Capitol, mainly for the curvy outlines of the then-D.C. stadium at the top (now RFK Stadium, as Robert Kennedy had yet to meet his tragic Sirhan Sirhan-authored end by this book’s 1963 publication date) — you can also see the D.C. Armory right next to it:

I couldn’t find any solid information on who scripted or did the art on this book (could be creator Hank Ketcham for all I know, though I doubt it), but I’d like to compliment the anonymous artist(s) for what they did in panels like this one, as Dennis takes a second to splash away in the fountains outside the Library of Congress. The detail in the masonry and sculptures is marvellous:

So many hats in this comic, relics that were on the way out when it was published. It’s like watching Mad Men.

There’s, of course, a visit to the White House, with a chance run-in with a Kennedy clan member (Caroline). This drawing of the East Room captures the gilded splendor of that space (I like the chandeliers), and our little brat can’t resist reminding his housewife mother that she is, indeed, a housewife:

One of the more spectacular things to see in D.C. is the Capitol Rotunda. I recommend making it a priority, even if the Capitol tours are pedantically dreadful. You really feel like you’re somewhere special when you’re under that dome. The center of it all, if you will. Which, of course, Dennis misses COMPLETELY:

There are sojourns out to Mount Vernon, Williamsburg and other rustic neighboring locales (and some Dennis dream sequences), as well as visits to the Smithsonian museums and government agencies. Some of the tours go to places that might not make most tourist itineraries, like the Pentagon (where Dennis is mistaken for a midget spy) and the F.B.I. It’s at the latter that Dennis has a close encounter with the power-mad, maybe cross-dressing, and utterly terrifying J. Edgar Hoover:


On the inside of the back cover there’s this map of the various spots that Dennis visited in the District. You know, if you’re keeping score at home:

Apart from the memorials that have been erected since this book’s publication (Korean, Vietnam, FDR, the new MLK), I couldn’t help but notice that the stops in Arlington National Cemetery — Iwo Jima and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — omitted one that’s now a requisite. As I said, this book was published in 1963. The Summer of 1963 to be precise. JFK’s assassination was mere months away, and soon there would be an Eternal Flame amongst the sea of white markers. And in a matter of years, President Kennedy’s brother, who’d have that curvy-rimmed stadium named after him, was buried there as well.

A depressing way to end this post, but what are you going to do.

Dennis, don’t you dare set foot in my town again.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Thelonious_Nick permalink
    May 31, 2012 1:58 pm

    Curse you Jared! Now I have to add this to my list of comics with patriotic buildings on the cover I must acquire. Yes, it’s a sickness. On the bright side, this comic appears to put a lot more effort into verisimilitude than, say, Iron Man #42.

  2. June 6, 2012 8:26 pm

    I reviewed that comic sometime last year. Surprised you missed mentioning the wince-worthy scene where Dennis comes up with a great cash crop for the colonists: Tobacco!

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