Right now we’re in the middle of the 43rd season of Saturday Night Live and the NBC insittution shows no signs of slowing down. There are so many classic SNL performers and personalities to think about 43 years in, but it’s easy to reflect on the original cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, and of course, John Belushi.
Belushi was one of the first standout performers on the show and it only heightens the tragedy of his own self-destruction. He died in 1982 at the age of 33, but he left behind a short-yet-memorable comedy career, including such classic films as Blues Brothers and Animal House.
Being that I am a tremendous dork, I started thinking about a certain quick cameo John Belushi once made in the pages of Sandman and then I started to realize that he made multiple appearances in comic books over the years in one way or another. His comic book incarnations stretched across decades and various companies, only appearing in one of them prior to his death. It’s not like it’s a crazy thing to have a famous person show up in comics, alive or dead, but I’ve found Belushi’s roles to be rather fascinating.
Belushi’s first and most well-known appearance is Marvel Team-Up #74 by Chris Claremont and Bob Hall, published in 1978. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson have tickets to Saturday Night Live on a night when Stan Lee is hosting with Rick Jones as the musical guest. There are problems backstage as John Belushi was sent a ring by what seemed to be a fan (turns out it was a clerical error) and he can’t get it off no matter what anyone tries. Too bad for him, the supervillain mutant Silver Samurai is aware that somebody has this ring and intends to slay all of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players to get it.
Peter sneaks off to go be Spider-Man and teams up with the rest of the cast to help beat up Silver Samurai’s goons, all without the audience realizing it’s not part of the show. Laraine Newman dresses up as Ms. Marvel, Garrett Morris dresses up as Thor, and Dan Akroyd dresses in a foreign military uniform with a curly mustache just because. The whole point of all of this is to have Belushi fight Silver Samurai while dressed as Samurai Futaba, his recurring character. I’m certain that Chris Claremont came up with that concept first and then wrote the entire story around it. Belushi gets his ass handed to him and Silver Samurai ends up getting the ring and escaping, making it kind of anticlimactic. Regardless, it’s a pretty fun issue and it’s nice to see a young Bill Murray clock someone upside the head with a fake Mjolnir.
It would have to be fake. If any Murray brother is worthy, it’s definitely Brian Doyle.
In 1987, Mark Gruenwald introduced a couple of FBI agents in the pages of Captain America #329 named Jake Farber and Elwood McNulty. They only make a handful of appearances in the next few issues – coincidentally the really important issues of Cap’s comic when Steve Rogers is replaced by John Walker – and don’t do anything of extreme importance. In fact, they don’t seem to have much to do with the Blues Brothers outside of their first names, the fact that they wear black suits and hats, and how one’s tall and skinny while the other’s rather portly. Artist Paul Neary merely makes them look like regular FBI guys and they don’t even wear the sunglasses for some reason.
But then Agents Jake and Elwood would return in a short story in X-Factor Annual #4, by Gruenwald and Jim Fern. The X-Men event story Inferno just happened and the agents have been sent to New York City to investigate the claims of demons possessing anything and everything. Here, the two are more blatantly supposed to be the Blues Brothers. The hair and sunglasses have been added to their designs and Gruenwald gives them dialogue more in keeping with their SNL counterparts.
After going through New York and having discussions with the police, the media, scientists, and even Cyclops, the two FBI agents agree that the whole thing was a hoax brought upon by a hallucination ray. It helped that the demons were unable to appear on film and Cyclops needed a cover story to get the government off his back. After the newspapers go with the hallucination claim, a surviving demon from the Inferno story picks up the latest edition and laughs, “This I gotta read!”
Those weren’t the only Blues Brothers knockoffs to show up in Marvel. First appearing in Doctor Who Magazine #147 in 1989, John Carnell and Andy Lanning gave us the Sleeze Brothers. This was part of Marvel’s Epic imprint. In their debut appearance, El’ Ape and Deadbeat are shown as two dudes living in a corrupt and comedic future, where they end up joining with the Doctor to help chase down a time-traveling monk who damaged their car. In the course of this adventure, the two end up causing all sorts of havoc throughout history, including becoming the ones behind the Titanic sinking.
The Sleeze Brothers immediately got a spinoff series about them as down-on-their-luck detectives that lasted for six issues plus a graphic novel finale called Some Like it Fresh. While that gives them a bit more staying power than anyone else on this list of appearances, they really didn’t have all that much to do with the Blues Brothers outside of a few minor things. There’s the name, how they look vaguely like the originals, and Deadbeat’s to-the-point dialogue tics (you would think El’ Ape would be Elwood, there you go), but otherwise they’re very much their own thing. Though they did have a big flying car chase in the sixth issue, so I guess that kind of counts.
Next up are probably the weirdest examples of John Belushi showing up in comics, mainly in how they relate. Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, there was a comic series called The Badger. While not the most well-known superhero, he’s gone on to be published by the likes of Dark Horse, Image, and IDW in the past few decades. A vigilante with a bad case of multiple-personality disorder and a habit of speaking whatever’s on his mind while referring to everyone as “Larry,” the Badger’s comic would bounce between comedy and drama. The strange thing about the comic in the context of John Belushi is how he appears twice in the series in two different forms with two different tones…and they’re only two issues apart.
The first appearance is Badger #65, which came out in 1990, written by Mike Baron with art by a man known only as Spyder. The cover sets the stage by having the Badger go one-on-one with Bruce Lee. It’s a goofy story where the Badger ends up becoming friends with a shockingly-alive Elvis Presley, who recruits him to help him fight the Colonel. As we later discover, it isn’t Colonel Parker but Colonel Sanders. Then Bruce Lee gets involved and the next thing you know, they’re storming the Colonel’s mansion, where his personal bodyguard is Samurai Futaba. Despite being unarmed, Bruce Lee defeats the samurai and knocks him out.
The ending, I have to say, gave me a good laugh. Cornered, the Colonel admits that he’s actually German and not even a real colonel. “Bruce Lee” comes clean and says that he’s not the real deal either, but an enthusiast who has spent years studying Bruce Lee’s style. To Badger’s horror, Elvis puts on a pair of glasses and admits to being just an ambulance driver. Badger checks the samurai’s wallet and sees that he isn’t the actual guy either. Sighing in defeat, Badger admits that he isn’t actually the Badger, but a never-before-mentioned man named Lanier Lutefisk. Many miles away, the real Badger’s wife wakes him up to tell him that his car and one of his costumes is missing. Immediately, he screams, “GODDAMN LANIER LUTEFISK!”
In Badger #67 by Mike Baron and Steven Butler, our crazed hero is hired as a bodyguard/trainer/babysitter for a John Belushi stand-in. Farley Blutarski is known for being on the late-night comedy series My Show of Shows (where he starred in a sketch called “Ninja Insurance Salesman”) and the frat movie Pork U. Obviously, the “Blutarski” part of his name is taken from Belushi’s role of John Blutarsky in Animal House, but the “Farley” part is rather surprising. Chris Farley, who was very new to SNL in 1991, eventually died at 33 from an excess of drugs and alcohol. Either this is one hell of a coincidence or Mike Baron could see the writing on the wall faster than anyone else.
Blutarski, as you might guess, has a huge drug problem and the movie studio decides to get the Badger to keep an eye on him and keep drugs out of his hands. Hiring a “babysitter” is something that’s been done for both Belushi and Farley, so it does have some footing in reality. Despite Badger’s best efforts, Blutarski can’t seem to go anywhere without people sneaking him coke or having it hidden somewhere. On two separate occasions, Badger is able to get Blutarski clean and on the cusp of good health for a couple days at a time – including after a sweating and crying Blutarski begged him for help – but his addiction and the pressure of others keep getting the best of him.
Much like trainer Bill Wallace in real life, Badger discovers Blutarski’s dead body after a night of partying, hours after he overdosed from a speedball. Resigned in knowing that Blutarski’s demons were too strong and he’d only have been able to be truly clean if locked up, Badger returns to his home and cheers himself up by watching old episodes of My Show of Shows.
A couple of years later, we’d get a more optimistic take on Belushi’s lifestyle. Sandman #54 by Neil Gaiman and Michael Allred is about forgotten DC Comics character Prez. Prez was a brilliant teenager elected president in the ’70s and will be getting a modern redesign and new series in a few months. This story takes a darker look at the concept, but there is one great moment of hope.
In a quick cameo, we see that Prez’s energy and ambition inspired John Belushi to quit drugs and go clean before it was too late. Years later, we’d see him as an old man. Maybe not the best-looking dude, but he was alive and victorious. Comic books are great sometimes.
That brings us to the last leg of the tour. 2011’s Ghostbusters #1 by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening dives into something unsaid about the first movie. Ray Stantz screwed up and thought about the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man when he was explicitly told not to think of anything. His mind summoned that giant hellbeast, which went on a rampage and nearly destroyed New York. More than any ghosts, this should haunt him after the fact. As shown in an opening dream sequence, Ray is wracked with guilt over his failure and even sees his own face on the Marshmallow Man as it walks through the city.
Then the ghost of Jake Blues appears to him. He’s never mentioned by name, but it’s obviously him and it’s perfect. Who better to accompany a classic Dan Aykroyd character than Jake Blues? He comforts and guides him, explaining that by thinking about Stay-Puft, he did a good thing. Compared to what Gozer’s form could have been, Ray came up with the most worthless and limiting body that to this point in the comic’s canon (which counts the movie, the video game, and a one-shot called Infestation) has been defeated three times over.
Further vindication for Ray comes when he’s captured by another follower of Gozer named Idulnas. It turns out there’s something very special about Ray and he’s really the only one who can create Gozer’s form. Despite what the other three Ghostbusters claimed, they were all thinking of things when they were trying not to (a mathematical equation, a drill instructor, and Miss February), but Ray was the important one, so it chose what was going on in his head. Idulnas attempts to make Ray think of something more vicious and damaging, but once again, Jake appears to him in a dream to make sure he keeps his mind on marshmallows. Ray succeeds, recreates Stay-Puft and the giant monster is rather easily taken care of.
Also, the way Jake keeps calling Ray “brother” is a nice touch.
It’s fitting that Belushi would make so many random appearances in comics over the years. Comics are a home for legends and that’s what John Belushi was. Sure, he wasn’t perfect by any shot, but he was a really funny personality tragically taken before his time and deserves to be celebrated.
I leave you with this early Saturday Night Live sketch that takes “Belushi as a comic book character” to the other direction. This isn’t the funniest sketch out there, but Belushi’s Hulk livens it up.