Comic books have come a long way since the 1960s, but publishers have since sadly phased out one of my favorite aesthetic flourishes: that histrionic nobody who was perpetually screaming his lungs out on the front page.
Like all art, comic books are victims of the cruel vicissitudes of fashion. And like such contrivances as hologram covers, thought bubbles, gorillas, and shameless toy tie-ins, the Screaming Nobody On the Cover (who I'll henceforth refer to as the "SNOC") has disappeared too, his prolixity forever consigned to the longbox.
I won't be an apologist for the SNOC. In a way, he's less realistic than the fantastic monsters and aliens he confronts. Thanks to his chattiness in the face of horror, the reader cannot take his panic seriously.
Would you pause in the middle of an alien invasion and/or kaiju rampage to deliver a 30-second monologue informing no one in particular that an alien invasion is occurring? Goodness, no. That's some Troll 2 shit. The only thing anyone would hear is a wet sonic boom signifying that the populace's bowels have spontaneously evacuated in unison.
Let's take this scene from the cover of Journey Into Mystery #55. The SNOC has just discovered a giant ominous paw descending from a cloud. Does he scream? No. Has the fragile tapestry that is his worldview been torn asunder into so many ideological dishrags? Perhaps. We honestly cannot tell what's going in the SNOC's mind. His speech indicates that his senses are intact, so why on Earth would he stand there, pawn to the whimsies of some elephantine mitt?
Just as Flavor Flav supported Chuck D, the SNOC was the monster's hype man. His inane bleating was an aperitif, a promise of greater carnage. Let's now look at this cover. Without the SNOC, this is just a generic pair of monstrous glowering eyes. But thanks to the warbling of the SNOC, we know that these eyes belong the Trull the Inhuman. The SNOC confers the monster legitimacy, he is the Members Only jacket of comic book behemoths.
And just as a Members Only jacket loses its power if everyone's sporting one, the SNOC loses his ability to titillate when he's ballyhooing every bad guy. When Bombu and Krang and Grutto are all equally dreadful, who's the real monster?
Here are some of the best SNOC covers from back in the day. The SNOC may have been a lazy, disposable narrative device, but he never pretended to be anything but. It was his job to go hoarse stating the obvious, get stepped on, and die...and he always did that well.