I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
As I’ve noted before in this space, I began my comic book reading in pursuit of laughs, evidently taking the “comic” part very literally. Even after I transitioned entirely to superhero fare, I was still a sucker for comedy. I just wanted it to revolve around my favored fare, making me the perfect mark for Fred Hembeck. The artist had a true believer’s love for superhero comics and a strip cartoonist’s instinct for genially hoary gags (and a visual style that featured distinctive knobby, swirly knees. He created nostlagia-fueled pages for the fan publication that would eventually become the vital weekly The Comics Buyers Guide and did a three panel strip that ran in the news page that appeared in DC Comics’ titles. Then in 1982, he had his first release (I believe) under the Marvel Comics banner when the publisher recruited him to create something special to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of their flagship characters, the Fantastic Four.
The quartet that gained their powers after being bombarded by cosmic rays just so happened to be my favorite characters, so I was an especially perfect target for Hembeck’s publication. hell, I even find it fairly irresistible now, and not just because I love old comics in which superheroes sit around doing mundane things in full costume.
Everyone’s just enjoying cups of coffee, even Dragon Man. It’s also nice that most of the size-changing heroes got to sit at a table together. I’m sure they had a lot to talk about, like the best ways to use shoelace manipulation to fight crime.
As might be expected, the story proceeds as a general roast, with other heroes (and a few villains) taking to the dais to lob jibes at the Fantastic Four, offering ample opportunity for lame jokes that at least get a veneer of novelty because they’re being delivered by super-powered titans.
It also provides the rare chance to see the Hulk all dressed up nice.
Hembeck wrote the story and provided the layouts, but a myriad of Marvel artists of the time were recruited to actually provide the finished pencils. Besides probably making this a little more palatable to most of the folks browsing the comic shop, it also gave Hembeck the chance to poke a little fun at the stylistic tics of some of them, notably the moodiness of Frank Miller, then the writer-artist on Daredevil, who had just seen the most notable issue of his run come out one month earlier.
There’s also a plot thread about some mysterious figure trying to sabotage the proceedings, but that often seems like more of a distraction, even if the revelation that the culprit is the mind-controlled beloved mailman who has the Fantastic Four’s headquarters, the Baxter Building, on his route. It’s far more fun to watch Hembeck play fast and loose with the Marvel universe, especially those characters usually mired in heavy seriousness.
Maybe it’s not a great comic, but it’s surely a fun one. Perplexing as it may be when staring down the major claptrap churned out by Marvel these days, there was a time when fun was a duly respected goal.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin