Beyond the Background: Funnyman

Today Beyond the Background looks at a superhero character created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.

superman-s-shield

No, not the one with the blue tights and the big red ‘S’, the one with the polka-dotted clown pants and the big comedy mallet. Today’s Beyond the Background is all about Siegel and Shuster’s other superhero creation…Funnyman.

funnyman1

Look! Up in your grill! Is it a squirting flower? Is it a custard cream pie? Is it a springboard boxing glove? NO! It’s FUNNYMAN!!

Who’s Funnyman? It’s story time:

In 1948, Superman related merchandise was making a fortune for its’ publisher, but Superman’s creators felt under-compensated. Also, there was a lawsuit against their employer, so Siegel and Shuster had to look elsewhere for a paycheck. They approached Magazine Enterprises publisher Vincent Sullivan, who had published their first Superman story, and thus led to the origin of Funnyman.

funnyman2

Funnyman was the alter-ego of TV comedian Larry Davis, with a penchant for ‘acting out’ in public and using comedy props, practical jokes and cornball gags in place of cosmic superpowers. Davis’ manager, agent and sometimes love interest Julie Farrell had arranged for Davis, in the costume he’d later adopt as Funnyman: big floppy comedian’s jacket, big red bow tie, polka-dot pants and big floppy shoes, plus a putty nose instead of a mask or cowl…

tweety

“I tawt a taw a putty nose!”

…for a publicity stunt in which Davis would foil a staged crime. Some crossed wires and mixed signals would lead to Davis facing down and thwarting a real criminal, and Davis took a liking to feats of daring-do, thus giving rise to the “Daffy Daredevil”, to Julie’s dismay (she’d rather he stick to stuff that earned a check). Funnyman used comedy as his power weapon, eventually padding out his arsenal with a ton o’ gags, ranging from the efficient to the downright ridiculous, he bolted through the streets on his trusty gadget-laden Trixcycle, he had a flying Jet Jalopy and eventually gained his own HQ called “Funny Manor”, with each room filled with wacky crook-catching traps.

joker

Funnyman was basically like The Joker, only on the good guy’s side and in no way scary.

funnyman3

Funnyman didn’t catch on like Siegel and Shuster’s more famous creation, folding after only 6 comic book issues and a brief newspaper strip stint, but he was the first recorded Jewish American superhero, so there’s that.

So for all the whining I read on YouTube about Harley Quinn’s presence on DC Super Hero Girls:

harley-quinn-upside-down

“Why is Harley Quinn there?” “Harley’s not a hero!” “She can’t be a hero!” “Why is she a hero?” “Harley Quinn’s a bad guy!” Harley Quinn shouldn’t be a superhero at Superhero High!”

I say, shaddap! She can be a hero, and Funnyman is proof of that, Harley’s just reiterating the same shtick that Funnyman employed 69 years ago.

harley-quinn-mallet

I like Harley Quinn as a heroic prankster who’s not the Joker’s doormat. Deal with it, nerds.

Since Funnyman was created for a competing publication, he’s technically not a DC character, so it seems unlikely that he’ll turn up in the DC Universe one day. (The character did make a sort-of appearance in issue #5 of a Super Friends comic in which a TV “funny man” named Larry Davis–who resembled Funnyman’s true identity–hosted a charity fundraiser staffed by the Trinity of Wonder Woman, Batman and of course, Superman; and the plans to revive Funnyman were considered quite seriously at one stage during the 1990’s when comedian Richard Belzer…

52nd Monte Carlo TV Festival - Portrait Sessions

Yeah, that Richard Belzer.

…was in the planning to portray the Daffy Daredevil for a proposed Funnyman motion picture that never materialized.) I think that’s a shame, cause I actually think Funnyman was kind of cool.

whaaaat

Yes, I think a comedy clown superhero is a cool concept. If you’re not going to have super powers, then you need to have something just as good to compensate. Some of the popular examples are super-genius intelligence (complete with an awesome array of high-tech gadgets), mad martial arts skills or a quiver of trick arrows. It could be because I have a natural attraction to all things zany, cartoonish and comedic, but I think the power of wacky and laughter could make for fun superhero fodder. Nowadays, all of the characters who employ comedy, silliness, jokes and pranks as their arsenal are villains, like The Trickster…

trickster-axel-walker-flash-dc-comics

“I’ll beat the shtick out of you, Flash!”

…Or Darkwing Duck villain Quackerjack of the Fearsome Five.

quackerjack

“Excuse me, I’m out of my mind at the moment.”

Why can’t we have a hero with the power of Zany?

-And yes, I’m counting zany as a super power. Speaking of Quackerjack, in the Darkwing Duck episode “Jail Bird”, Negaduck uses the mystical Eye of Quackzoquatl to steal the powers of his fellow teammates so “somebody will finally have these powers who’s got the brains to use ’em!” Once stripped of their powers (and diminished to pocket size), Quackerjack is taking it worse than the others; he’s utterly broken.

Quackerjack: You ruined me!!!!

Negaduck: What are you cryin’ about?! You didn’t have any powers to begin with!

Quackerjack: You…stole..my WACKINESS!!!

Negaduck: I did not! (Then immediately afterwards bursts into insane guffawing.)

harley-quinn-upside-down

“So, yeah, Funny is a super power now! Deal with it, ya noids!”

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