Friday, September 7, 2018

Retro Review: Welcome Back, Kotter #1 (1978) Review and **SPOILERS**



To That Same Old Place That You Laughed About

Written By: Elliot S! Maggin 
Pencilled By: Jack Sparling 
Inked By: Bob Oksner 
Cover By: Sparling and Oksner 
Edited By: Joe Orlando 
Executive Editor: Jeanette Kahn 
Cover Price: 30 cents 
Cover Date: November 1976 
Publisher: DC Comics

**NON SPOILERS AND SCORE AT THE BOTTOM**

Welcome Back, Kotter was a sitcom on ABC that ran from 1975 to 1979, about a teacher (played by Gabe Kaplan) who returns to his old neighborhood to teach at the high school he once attended. It was wildly popular in its day, for a year while John Travolta was still regularly appearing. Once his star took off, he wasn’t around as frequently, and viewer interest plummeted. Chris and I talked all about it in Cosmic Treadmill ep. 90! But if you don’t want to listen to our stupid voices, check out my review of DC Comics’ Welcome Back, Kotter #1, appearing here!


Explain It!

Hold the phones! I’ve heard of Welcome Back, Kotter the television show, but Welcome Back, Kotter the comic book? That’s right! In the mid 1970s, DC Comics had what they called the “DC Explosion,” and increased their output to include a bunch of genre titles and anthologies that no one remembers. One of their lines was called “DC-TV,” and it specialized in their television tie-ins Shazam! and (The Secrets of) Isis, which were television shows running at the time. And, for some reason, they also did a comic book adaptation of Welcome Back, Kotter. Maybe because Jack Sparling could draw Gabe Kaplan really well? 
"'Eyy! I'm eatin' breakfast over heah!"
There’s a lot of construction happening in teacher Gabe Kotter’s Brooklyn neighborhood, so much that the commotion causes pieces of his apartment to fall in his cereal! 
"I don't order Lead Paint Chip Flakes!"
Things get so bad, Gabe gets the building superintendent. He clambers up on the kitchen table to examine the damage…and isn’t a lot of help. 
"Or maybe that bottle of Absinthe I drank at 3 AM is kicking in."
No time to think about that, though! Gabe is late for work. He rushes out the door and down the stairs, colliding with the mailman because he is literally Dagwood Bumstead. 
"Hey, taking that is a federal offense!"
Gabe grabs a piece of mail on the way out, and opening it on the bus, discovers that he’s been granted permission to transfer schools! He’s so glad, he kisses the woman sitting next to him, which she doesn’t appreciate. 
"Sir! The bus' designated kissing cheek is to the right!"
Though he’s beaten off the bus, Gabe is thrilled with the news, so much so that he actually clicks his heels. 
"I love getting beaten by that woman every morning!"
He’s so happy, Gabe reads aloud the part about reporting for a physical, and then catches Vinny Barbarino (applause) and Rosalie “Hotsie” Totsie making out in the cloak room. Kotter tosses them out, but Vinny is concerned, and tells the rest of the Sweathogs that Mr. Kotter might be real sick-like, y’know. 
"Uhh....this isn't my copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion! I found it in the break room, I swear!"
So the Sweathogs decides to give Mr. Kotter a break, and behave reeeaaally normally.
"JOHN TRAVOLTA TURNED US ALL ONTO SCIENTOLOGY!"
Class begins, and the students are uncharacteristically responsive. Wait, does this mean that they are learning very well, and they only pretend to be stupid to break Kotter’s balls? What assholes! Gabe himself doesn’t understand what’s happening. Horshack informs Kotter that Epstein is out for the day due to criminal activity, which means he will have to rip off radios for summer school. 
"All of these years teaching...I never expected it to have any effect!"
In strolls curmudgeonly Principal Mr. Woodface–I mean Mr. Woodman. He’s heard the news about Gabe’s transfer and, because he hates Kotter, couldn’t be more elated. Initially, the ‘Hogs think it’s proof positive that Kotter is dying, but he ultimately comes clean to the class—and blames the decision on his wife! 
Excuse me, kid, are you in this class?
They give him the cold shoulder for it. 
C'mon, somebody fire a handgun! Anything!
Later, Vinny, Horshack, and “Boom Boom” are discussing ways they can keep Kotter in Brooklyn, when they decide to go ask an expert on the man: his wife, Julie! They head over and, like a bunch of creeps leer at her from the fire escape through the window. 
"...probably give it to him!"
Seeing how she struggles to use an electric broom when sweeping up plaster chips, they bring her a brand new vacuum cleaner! I’d think a plain old classic broom would do the trick, but am I to look a stolen gift horse in the mouth! 
"You just need to wipe a little blood off the handle."
Vinny heads to the fridge to see what’s to eat, and finds the refrigerator practically bare. The boys agree to go food shopping for Mrs. Kotter, so she gives them ten bucks and a list of items 
"I need a gallon of milk, a pound of roast beef and...well, due to inflation I'll need to borrow three bucks."
They return with bags and bags of groceries—and nine dollars change! Julie can’t take all of these stolen goods, at least not in the last panel on this page because after this, no one ever mentions those groceries again. 
"In an unrelated story, the grocery store down the block went out of business."
The Sweathogs tell Julie their plight, which she doesn’t take seriously because she doesn’t know he was actually transferred officially yet. Mrs. Kotter tells them to hand her the phone book so she can look up a certain Mr. B. Wayne Pevey… 
"'Bruce' is his first name...he keeps very odd hours..."
The next morning, as Mr. Kotter strolls into school to begin the day… 
It's certainly not because he stopped to get a haircut.
Gabe knows that voice! And it makes him very sweaty and nervous. It must belong to his father-in-law. 
Your next stop: The Twilight Zone.
Just joshin’! It actually belongs to Mr. Kotter’s high school Social Studies teacher, Mr. Pevey! And here we learn that Gabe is a founding member of the Sweathogs…so what, it’s like a venerated high school fraternity stretching back for generations? What the initiation? Mispronouncing the most words in a five-minute period? 
"Are you aware that there are a bunch of students' heads stuck in your transom?"
Over some cafeteria lunch, Mr. Pevey and Gabe catch up over some old times. This is something that never occurred to me, that if you want to have lunch with a teacher, you might have to use the school cafeteria. Or, rather, if you want to eat a school cafeteria, get to know a teacher. I know I would love to get access to those half pint-sized chocolate milk cartons again. 
Wait, didn't Gabe just get to school? How are they eating lunch already?
The two are recalling Mr. Pevey’s retirement ceremony, which was a disaster of some kind. Gabe has to ‘fess up here: he pulled a little prank on the man. 
Retirement at this school comes with some suspicious perks.
He’s the one that gave the attending cheerleaders a banner to unfurl that read “Good Riddance, Pevey!” Why there were cheerleaders at Mr. Pevey’s retirement party, I’m not sure. But Pevey probably has a good idea. 
"That banner painting...[CHOKE] it's...it's beautiful!"
For all the shenanigans Kotter pulled, Pevey never disciplined him—something Gabe appreciates, and takes to heart. Probably because he would be arrested for multiple felonies, otherwise. 
"Now I let my students get away with all kinds of heinous crimes."
Having shared a boiled hot dog with Mr. Kotter, Mr. Pevey says his goodbyes, and Kotter begins class. Epstein is now in attendance, after having been absent for days. 
"...have you been tested for any hereditary diseases?"
And he’s pulled the sweetest prank, the old “cause permanent damage to school property” ruse! 
For want of a shade, the afternoon classes were hotter than hell.
The class is pissed off at Epstein, who didn’t get the memo that they’re not supposed to bust Kotter’s chops so much. They’re about to pound the living hell out of the guy, but then Gabe stops the violence with but a word. 
"Don't make me laugh/ All I hear is motherfuckers rappin' succotash."
In front of the class, Gabe takes his letter from the Board of Education, rips it into a bunch of extremely small shniddles, and throws them in the air. The class erupts in applause because they all love to give the school janitor a hard time. 
"Why...why doesn't Mr. Kotter speak? M-maybe he's a g-g-g-GHOST!"
Later, at home, Julie and Gabe are glad to see each other and share a crappy living standard together. But what’s this? Some commotion in their hall closet? 
"Sounds like that rat and that cockroach having sex again?"
Why it’s Vinny Barbarino, having underaged sex with a classmate in his teacher’s home! We’ll all have a good laugh about this when Gabe gets back from prison for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
"Hey Mistah Kottah, think you could help pay f'r an abortion or sumpthin'?"

Here’s a story that very easily could have been an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter, and it wouldn’t have been a very memorable one. One would think that the transition to comic books would be the result of a glut of story ideas that could not be constrained to a season of television, but this thing is totally phoned in. The premise is alright, but the fact that it takes place over two days begs some questions. Why wouldn’t Gabe have told his wife, Julie about his transfer in the evening, we can’t say. Maybe he was planning on leaving her at the same time? Insofar as the visuals, these are fairly good, if pulpy, renditions of these actors, and the sequentials are about as good as you might expect from MAD magazine. If you really have a hankering for some Welcome Back, Kotter action, then you should probably check out the television show. Or check out this review by my pal Chris, who did this very same issue a while ago!
John Travolta, before his corrective face-stretching surgery.

Bits and Pieces:

Maybe this story reads better while having a rubber hose lodged within your nose, but with nostrils free it was pretty dull. The artwork does the job its supposed to, but the story is snoozers. I suppose if your television set is on the fritz, this comic could be the next best thing.

5.5/10

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