| THIS ISSUE:
by John Wells
Burp the Twerp:
"At the night football game between 'Nutztoo U.' and 'Given Tech' all is just peachy until -- SEVEN SHOTS RING OUT!" The coach gasped, "every man on our line has been kilt!"
"Nine billion miles away," the tragedy was spotted by a strange man with telescopic vision. Literally. Two telescopes temporarily extended from his sockets. His round torso was red with black polka-dots and a yellow and black bullseye on his back. The bald man also had a long, bulbous nose, droopy eyes and a thick white mustache that hid his chin. His ears were hidden by earmuffs.
"It's a vulture!" gasped one kid.
"It's a blimp!!" shouted another.
"It's BURP THE TWERP!!"
Using his powers of super-inhalation, Burp sucked the bullets right out of the dead football players, observing that "the moss on the north side of the slugs tells me where they were fired from."
The culprit was one Ralph Johns, a cartoonists who choked, "I did it! ... I had to! Y'see, I draw for POLICE COMICS and I can never get my work in on time. ... I wanted to see how it felt to make a dead-line!!"
"Burp the Twerp, the Super Son-of-a-Gun" needless to say, was one of the strangest strips to come out of the Golden Age of comics, a series of one-page episodes that took aim at the proliferation and popularity of super-heroes. Even the opening dialogue from the "Superman" radio show was parodied in the course of POLICE COMICS # 2's first episode. And what of "Ralph John" ? That was a pen name of Jack Cole, whose Plastic Man strip was running elsewhere in POLICE. But Plas, at this point at least, was positively sedate compared to the Twerp.
Subsequent issues would add a superior sense of smell, super-ventriloquism (PC # 3), super-breath (PC # 7) and explicitly describe Burp as "the world's strongest man" (PC # 7). He spit "reform juice" on the Black Widow (actually a giant spider) and left her spinning "bundles for Britain" (PC # 17). In PC # 6, he drank Lake Erie (ships and all, resulting in "a slight case of indigestion") and expelled the water through his pores to help drought-stricken farmers. On another occasion, he became super-feverish to protect crops from a frost but burnt them to ashes instead (PC # 26). In PC # 8, Burp revealed that he kept his heart in a drawer that he pulled from his chest ... and could remove it at will. Elsewhere on his chest, a concealed crime compass directed Burp towards crimes in progress (# 11) and a spring-loaded boxing glove kept away unwanted attackers (PC # 22). Alternately, his entire round body could become a globe that highlighted trouble spots (PC # 13). Heck, he even displayed super-honesty: "I once returned a man's wallet to him ... and it wasn't even his!" (PC #24)
In PC # 10, Burp took on Terry the Terrible, literally dismembering him, as the art showed Terry's head, hand and foot strewn around the landscape. As the Twerp shuddered that "it's too gruesome for words," Terry's head called him a quitter for leaving. "I told ya I'd win!" Issue # 11 continued in that vein when Burp caught an ax murderer with a wheelbarrow full of body parts. It turned out that the killer had just visited a butcher shop and bought fresh meat to preserve his reputation.
In mid-1942, Burp tried to join the Army only to find, as Clark Kent did before him, that super-powers aren't always an asset (PC # 12). "I can shrink to two feet high," he boasts. "grow to fifty feet tall, pull myself into nothing and expand to the size of an elephant." The recruiter rejected him "because you're too short ... too tall ... too thin and too fat!!" In 1943, Burp was rejected from the Scouts for similar reasons when his hidden defenses convinced them that he's "TOO prepared!!" (PC # 25)
In PC # 18, a man responding to reader demographics suggested that Burp should be "handsome, like the other supermen." Consequently, Burp allowed himself to be melted down and poured into the mold of a he-man. Unfortunately, he was poured in upside down so the broad chest he was expecting turned out to be a broad waistline. Aside from the new figure, Burp dyed his mustache black, switched to a red and black striped costumed and lost his earmuffs. "Well, folks," said the Twerp of his new look, "You asked for it -- and it looks like you're gonna be stuck with it from now on."
In an inventory strip featuring Burp's old look (PC # 20), crooks used bullets, explosives and acid to no avail before discovering the Super Son-of-a Gun's only weakness: he was ticklish!
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill showed up in PC # 21's episode in which Burp heard sinister plans of bombing and warfare only to realize he was listening in on an Allied conference. Literally shrinking in their presence, Burp stammered, "Er ... a ... pardon, F.D., but Eleanor wants to know if you'll be home for supper."
PC # 23 opened with Burp being questioned by a reporter who was "interviewing all the super men in comics." The Twerp declares, "I'm the whole bunch of super men rolled into one! How many guys can lose their head literally ? And who else in the world has a built-in chest of drawers ?"
"Hmmmm ... how do you compare with Plastic Man ?"
"That phony ? Why I could lick him with my little finger ... the big bum!"
At that point, Plas himself entered the room ("Somebody mention my name ?") and Burp fainted dead away.
"You're super, all right," laughs the reporter. "A super liar!"
Beyond a healthy run in POLICE COMICS (# 2-15, 17-55) from 1941 to 1946, "Burp the Twerp, the Super So-an'-So" also made appearances in 1947's BLACKHAWK # 13 and 16, 1948's NATIONAL COMICS # 65 and 1949's BLACKHAWK # 24 and 25.
Burp returned decades later on the last page of Plastic Man's origin in 1988's SECRET ORIGINS # 30. After Woozy insults him, Plas gasps, "He's got all the powers of every single super-hero all rolled into one. If you ever get HIM mad at us, he'll come back and take over, and then we're ALL out of business!"
John "Mikishawm" Wells, the pride of Batavia, Iowa, is a lifelong comics fan, working his way forward from Disneys in 1969 to newspaper strips in 1973 to SHAZAM! and the rest of the DC Universe in 1974. During the 1980s, he began compiling a lists of DC character appearances, a massive database that he's tapped into when writing articles for publications such as the DC Index series, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comic Effect, Comic Book Marketplace, It’s A Fanzine, The O‘Neil Observer and, of course, Fanzing. He is Kurt Busiek's unofficial reference guide, as the keen-eyed may have noticed in Power Company #2.
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This piece is © 2003 by John Wells
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