Thanks to readers who informed us that newly revived humor mag Cracked had appeared at various midtown comic shops and subway newsstands. Apparently there was a distribution snafu that slowed the initial release, but copies should be widely available by Monday. We received a copy through the kindly offices of EIC Monty Sarhan and a hapless messenger lad, and after looking it over, our verdict: This is a strange beast. Aside from retaining janitorial mascot Sylvester P. Smythe and the traditional misspelling of "mazagine" on the cover, very little remains of the old Cracked — a Mad ripoff that had tread water in various incarnations for almost half a century. Much was made of the new direction now ripping off Maxim instead, but aside from a "look and feel" resemblance in terms of layout, the much more obvious (attempted) homage runs to Spy.
O blessed Spy, the great white whale of media eminences, launcher of a thousand careers and perennial object of misty-eyed nostalgia! There aren't enough mixed metaphors in the English language to adequately encompass how many times various worthies have tried to resurrect that rag. It's a worthy cause, and Cracked tries very, very hard in the prank and parody department. You have lushly designed fake ads, joke features (the attempt to recruit Civil War re-enactors to join the actual U.S. Army was pretty inspired, actually), and graphicles filtered through the obsessions of contributing editor Michael Ian Black (a periodic table of 1980s memes, for example).
There are a few comics that wouldn't be out of place in ye olde Cracked, and there's an eight-page spoof of ESPN Magazine that probably cost more than any six issues in the mag's past format. Prose pieces are more Spy-like, especially a characteristically funny riff on face transplants by Banterist's Brian Sack. The only real low notes are an appearance from militantly unfunny male shtick act Maddox and occasional glimpses of throwaway kid-culture references in the vein of Chuck Klosterman (callouts to both GI Joe and Thundercats cartoons?).
But despite these and other densely packed featurettes, Cracked really aims to be a sort of celebrity-trade magazine for comedy and comedians. Personality-cult features highlight Bill Murray and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone; further raiding of the Comedy Central stable yields features on Carlos Mencia, The Daily Show's Rob Corddry and Ed Helms, and Michael J. Nelson from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Actress Isla Fisher (of The Wedding Crashers) gets a Maxim-style one-pager dedicated to her legs and fey, fallen shoulder strap. And comic/actor Judah Friedlander is profiled in what looks to be a regular up-and-comer bit. Though some of the quotes are amusing, none of these articles offer much in the way of novelty or bite (beyond sound bites). It's like reading a special comedy-focused issue of Entertainment Weekly.
Other than the miniatures in the "Cracked Mall" at back of book, we counted three (3) total advertisements in the entire magazine, including the covers. So obviously they decided to focus on editorial for the launch, which is understandable. A rejuvenated hybrid mutant like the new Cracked will be tough to explain to advertisers, though not necessarily tough to sell. It just needs to find its way to enough frat-house common rooms, instead of junior-high lunchrooms like its predecessors. Regardless, Cracked should at least temporarily help pay bar tabs for a small clutch of very thirsty comedy writers.