BTFT: Fred Hembeck Destroys The Modern Preconceptions of Storytelling (and the Marvel Universe!)

A column article, Bin There Found That by: Chris Wunderlich

Marvel, Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe, written and drawn by Fred Hembeck, 1989

So I’m a Jonathan Hickman fan, no doubt about it. He’s got ideas that shake the very foundation of comic books as I know them. Or something like that. I mean, the guy made Fantastic Four my favourite title for a time. He changed my preconceptions of comic book art with The Nightly News and Pax Romana. He forced me to buy every Avengers title with his name on it. And for that, I’m pissed.

You see, it was on one of my weekly trips to the local shop where I spied this Fred Hembeck gem for a single dollar. In that same trip I decided to pick up my usual pull, including Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers #29. For some reason, that book was $5.00. I’m used to paying too much for that title, sure, but I wasn’t sure why this particular issue was more than usual. Of course, being a tie-in (with Original Sin gracing its cover) I mindlessly accepted the inflated price. It didn’t seem bigger than usual, but what can you do?

As soon as I got home I dug into Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe. This book took me a looong time to read. I laughed--then I laughed again. Then I turned the page and there were more laughs! Hembeck wrote a lot words, drew a lot of pictures and completed many, many pages. Even the covers have comics on the inside! There was so much story here I literally had to read it in two sittings.

And what a story! Hembeck explores the entire Marvel U here, killing off each character in hilarious ways. A single page might detail the death of Daredevil, but there’re quite a few panels on that page. It takes a nice long time to read and provides multiple jokes, a plethora of side-splitting drawings and a nice chunk of plot. Is this revolutionary?

I figured as much, because as soon as I finished Hembeck’s little masterpiece I dived right into Hickman’s Avengers #29. I finished said book in about 5 minutes. It consisted of one long conversation between an angry Captain America and Iron Man, confronting each other about the events that had occurred in the early issues of New Avengers. They talked, fought briefly and ended everything with a bang. Again, this took me about 5 minutes to read (maybe 10--but it was a quick 10). How much did the plot move forward? You know when little kids squeeze their fingers together and go “Thiiiiiiis much?”  Yeah—that much. And it really upset me.

When I can pay $1 for a complete, thoroughly entertaining book, why bother paying $5 for barely a sliver of a story?

I apologize; I should be telling you how great Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe is. It’s great by the way, buy it. Honestly though, it’s the comic that changed my perception of modern day books. Decompression (as we love to call it) is no longer a simple annoyance, it’s the factor that may stop me from buying new issues from Marvel and (to a lesser extent) DC. Are Jonathan Hickman’s books the works of a modern comic master, or simply a cash-grab?

Fred Hembeck, when you destroyed the Marvel Universe you made me reconsider the way I buy comic books. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Marvel, 1985 #3, written by Mark Millar, drawn by Tommy Lee Edwards, 2008

What happens when comic book characters come to life? Like, into the real world. It sounds like the concept for any random episode of any children’s adventure show. Here, Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards take the idea and present everything as if we’re catching the latest flick to hit theatres in 1985. This takes the standards set in movies like E.T. and D.A.R.Y.L. and adds the Marvel touch (as well as a heaping dose of violence). At least, that’s what I got out of this single issue. I really ought to find the other 5 issues because this seems like one cool mini.

Let’s start with first impressions. The cover on this one is shiny, thick and has an air of superiority about it. This ain’t your average newsprint, this is high quality gloss. And that cover! From the big 1985 numbers to Fin Fang Foom’s head appearing in the issue box there’s a lot of striking design here. And it’s Tommy Lee Edwards, so it’s also an amazingly beautiful picture too. I love everything about this cover (except maybe the pretentious 399¢ instead of traditional $ pricing).

Open up the book and we get a great recap page. Perfect, I’m in issue 3 and I’m caught up. Just the way I like it—random collecting friendly. Swipe past the recaps, dive into the story and something immediately becomes apparent. Not only does Tommy Lee Edwards draw the heck out of this book, but John Workman letters it like no one else could. Visually, this book gets everything right. Just wait till you hit the big splash page with M.O.D.O.K. leading people into a river. Wow!

Millar’s writing isn’t bad either. I like where the story goes and the dialogue mostly rings true. It isn’t anything revolutionary but it’s solid and inoffensive—nice! I like where the story goes and, like I said, I’m now clamouring to snatch up the issues I’m missing.

I can’t speak for the entire series, but I can highly recommend picking this issue up. 

DC, DC Comics Presents Hawkman and DC Comics Presents Superman, written by Carey Bates and Kurt Busiek (Hawkman), Stan Lee and Paul Levitz (Superman), drawn by John Byrne and Walt Simonson (Hawkman), Darwyn Cooke and Keith Giffen (Superman), 2004

 

If you recall, back in 2004 DC put together a few tribute books for the recently deceased Julius Schwartz. The idea was to get a modern writer teamed up with a retro artist to tell one story, and then reverse the process for the second tale. It was neat and evidently gave us a few interesting pairings. Stan Lee and Darwyn Cooke? Sure!

The aforementioned creative team kicks off the Superman issue (pun always intended, this is a football story after all). It’s strange reading a Stan Lee story that doesn’t use exclamation marks to end every sentence, but I welcomed the change. It’s a neat little story about a professor getting revenge on Superman using one of his recent experiments—an invisible football player! It’s harmless fun that really benefits from Cooke’s always amazing, cartoony art. It’s a tad forgettable but real easy on the eyes.

Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen round out the issue with their take on the “Phantom Quarterback” concept and it plays out much differently than Lee and Cooke’s. Here we get a shorter story with more action, but it is again forgettable despite really great art. Giffen is in his Punx/Heckler/Ambush Bug mode here but reels it in, telling a very clear yet dynamic story.

All together, the Superman issue is fun, if only to see some great creative teams at work.

Things go very differently with Carey Bates and John Byrne’s opening story in the Hawkman issue. Bates decides to tell a story about Schwartz meeting aliens. It’s weird and wonderful and completely unexpected with Hawkman taking the backseat. Byrne’s work here is good but nothing too special.

Kurt Busiek and Walt Simonson provide a much more traditional Hawkman story and—looky here it’s another story made infinitely better by the lettering of John Workman! Unfortunately, that’s all I really remember—the great lettering. The story is again, forgettable, and the art is again, really great.

I’d say if you find these issues cheap, grab’em. They’re fun little stories done by some of the most talented folks in the industry. Even if the stories don’t stick, you’ll be glad you have them.

Image, Double Image #1-5, written by Joe Casey and Larry Young, drawn by Charlie Adlard, John Heebink and Aman Chaudhary, 2001

 

This one, I’m mad about. Not because these aren’t great comics, but because I was uninformed. In Double Image we get two stories each issue. In #1-4 it’s split between Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard’s Codeflesh (which I initially bought these issues for) and Larry Young and John Heebink’s The Bod. I thought “Swell, I’ve collected every issue (and it’s taken me about 4 years), I finally have the complete Codeflesh.” Not so. Apparently the story continues in Image’s Double Take. So now I have to go hunt those down.

I think being incomplete is what really ruined my Codeflesh reading experience. I was excited (as I always am for anything Joe Casey). Unfortunately, the story didn’t really seem to go anywhere. We get the tale of a bail bondsman who moonlights as a masked bounty hunter. He specializes in criminals with super powers, even though he himself doesn’t have any (as far as I know). Oh, and his girlfriend doesn’t appreciate that his work eats up so much of his time. That’s it.

I’m sure there was a point to the story eventually, but I never got to it. Each issue provides a small story that’s fun but ultimately inconsequential. I kept waiting for the larger picture to be revealed, but alas, I must collect the rest first. What I can tell you, though, is Casey’s dialogue is sharp as ever, Adlard’s art is stellar and the pacing is solid. It’s a well-crafted comic, there’s no doubt about that. Incomplete, however, it just isn’t all that satisfying.

The Bod is even less satisfying—and it’s complete! Young tires to tell us something about celebrity obsession, maybe, but the message gets lost and we’re quickly distracted by the appearances of real-life celebrities (Judge Judy, Jerry Springer, etc.). When a young, naïve girl comes to the big city to work in the movies with her big sister lawyer she gets into an accident which causes her to turn invisible. Said invisibility leads to stardom, which quickly fades. It’s over before it ever becomes all that interesting. John Heebink’s art is terrific though, giving a sort of realisitic-indie vibe—like if Keith Giffen’s wilder style was toned down with a dose of Ernie Colón.

Though The Bod ends in issue 4, we get another Larry Young story in issue 5, this time painted by Aman Chaudhary. It’s a neat little POV style story that ends all too horrifically. It’s shocking, but I’m not sure it’s earned. The painting is nice but the detail is nightmare inducing. I’m not a horror fan, but if you are you might like this one more than I did.

All in all, I recommend Double Image, but be sure to pick up Double Take as well. I can’t say if that series is all that great, but at least it wraps up Codeflesh, a story that deserves to be read to completion.

Marvel, The Order #1-3, written by Kurt Busiek and Jo Duffy, drawn by Matt Haley and Chris Batista, 2002

 

What’s this, more Defenders? Well, basically. Though the book is called The Order, you can see right there on the cover it stars the four big Defenders—Dr. Strange, Namor, Silver Surfer and the Hulk. The twist is: they’ve decided to take over the world to prevent us common folk from destroying it with our irresponsible lifestyles. As you can see, I only managed to snag issues 1-3 (of 6), but it’s clear there’s some nefarious villain behind the heroes turn. Who will save the day? Luckily, for Defenders fans, it’s Nighthawk, Hellcat, Valkyrie and other lovable B-listers to the rescue!

Kurt Busiek and Jo Duffy write together and do a bang-up job. Characters are written with flair, there’s a few laughs, the story rolls along at a great pace and the plot thickens to just the right consistency.

Matt Haley handles the art chores on issues 1 and 3 and I must say I’m impressed. I’m not familiar with his work at all, but after reading these two issues, I’d like to be. His work is very expressive with just the right cartoony touches. The inking is great too, and for me to notice that it must be something special. Chris Batista fills in for issue 2 and does a good job too, but I won’t lie, I was clamouring for Haley’s return. Whatever happened to this guy?

If you’re a Defenders fan, you’ll love The Order. Does the plot completely derail in the second half of this mini? I can’t say, but this first half is solid Defenders fun.

Malibu (Bravura), Dreadstar #1-3, written by Peter David, drawn by Ernie Colón, 1994

 

Ah, Dreadstar. Y’all know I love me some classic Jim Starlin, but this Malibu mini is written by Peter David and drawn by the ever-awesome Ernie Colón. Does it live up to Starlin’s classic space-faring tales? Heck, I think so!

Peter David is one of the great dialogue writers in comics. Say what you will about his personal rants, plotting decisions, business decisions and the like, but this guy writes great dialogue, and you can count on it. This series is no exception. Every character has a distinct voice, there’re laughs, there’s drama, there’s character development—I love it.  I called David one of the top writers of 2013 and it’s no surprise he was just as good in 1994. The story here revolves around Dreadstar’s daughter and I’m desperately searching for the remaining issues in this mini. It’s just exceptional.

I love me some Ernie Colón art too. He blew me away with his surprising work in Magnus: Robot Fighter so I had high hopes for his work here. I mean, just look at the cover to issue 3. That’s the Ernie Colón I want to see!  Unfortunately, we’re reading a Malibu comic from 1994 and we don’t always get what we want. Colón’s drawings are still top notch, with great expressions, detail and layouts, but the colouring almost destroys the book. Instead of Colón’s awesome, chalk-like colouring we get Ian Laughlin and Electric Prism’s gross, dark, overly digital colour. It’s an eye sore, but luckily this book is too good to be ruined.

If you’ve read Dreadstar and haven’t picked up this Malibu mini yet, do so. Immediately!  If you’ve never experienced Dreadstar, this is a fine place to start. On the cheap, it’s treasure worth hunting for!

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