No, it’s not Laura Hudson in a bikini–and it’s thankfully not Chris Sims in a speedo–it’s a look back at the most bizarre pages from Marvel’s Mid-90s Swimsuit Specials!
We’ve talked about these strange little artifacts before on Ajax, and I still have difficulty believing that they exist. Especially as one is predicated on the pun “Take a Wakanda Wild Side,” which in a just universe would get someone smacked.
Of course, Marvel’s not the only company that put out swimsuit specials–or even swimsuit specials with Sports Illustrated-esque themes, as the WildStorm Genosha one I had as a teenager could attest–but I stuck to them because they just strike me as more fun than the others, probably because of the disconnect between bikini shots their usual melodramatic adventures. But there are plenty of others, most notably the Amazing Heroes swimsuit specials, which were pretty much just collections of fan-art that happened to be done by pros.
They range from the awesome (RoboCop in a Tank Top and Bruce Timm’s Nick Fury) to the outright horrible (laugh-a-minute porn parodies of Calvin & Hobbes that you couldn’t friggin’ pay me to put on my servers), but there’s one I just had to share:
Herbie Popnecker: The Hope of a World Gone Mad.
On this day, it’s important that we all remember the true meaning of Halloween, as embodied by that stalwart of the season, Herbie Popnecker:
All images from Dark Horse’s indepsensible Herbie Archives.
Long-time ISB readers may have noticed that despite my intense, unwavering devotion to Herbie, I’ve never really bothered to review a full issue the way I have with a lot of my other favorites, like the Legion or Jimmy Olsen. This is because Herbie Popnecker is damn near incomprehensible.
Richard Hughes and Ogden Whitney’s stories don’t so much follow a linear narrative as the mad patterns of a fever dream and as a result, they make even Bob Haney’s craziest–which would be the one where Metamorpho defeats a two foot-tall galactic conqueror by using a guitar that shoots laser beams–seem completely logical by comparison.
Tonight, however, I’m going to make the attempt with what might just be the least-crazy Herbie story of all: Herbie #20’s “Pass a Piece of Pizza, Please,” handily reprinted in the new Herbie Archives v.3. And for those of you keeping score at home, yes:
…this is the one where Dracula throws Herbie into an oven.
The whole thing gets started, as pretty much every Herbie story does, with Herbie sleeping while his dad–who is completely unaware of Herbie’s lollipop-fueled exploits into psychedelia–hassles him about being a little fat nothing. This is quickly forgotten, though, as the scene shifts to The Unknown, a vaguely spooky realm that starred in ACG’s also vaguely spooky anthology of the same name. I’ve actually never read an issue of The Unknown, but if it’s anything like the horror anthologies of the Silver Age that I have read, I’ve got to imagine that its constant appearances in Herbie were Hughes’ way of taking the piss out of a book that took itself way too seriously.
Anyway, this time around, the allegedly supernatural powers that be have decided to send a goodwill ambassador to Earth, and thus: Dracula.
Initially reticent, Drac’s lured into the job by promises of blood banks, the Bloody Mary and “full-blooded” American Girls, but finds all his attempts at getting his suck on to be ill-fated at best. But in a shocking twist, while he fails to capture a morbidly obese man who makes a surprising dodge, Dracula does manage to sink his teeth into a delicious New York-style pie.
And so, Dracula’s reign of terror begins, as he lays siege to every pizza shop in America, hoarding pizza (and, one assumes, wings and crazy bread) and generally ruining everyone’s Monday Night Raw experience for the forseeable future. Obviously, this aggression cannot stand, and once Herbie learns about the crisis via a lollipop that broadcasts television signals directly into his brain (yes, really), he’s off to battle Dracula in his guise as the Fat Fury…
…with somewhat lackluster results.
That’s right: Dracula manages to Hansel-and-Gretel the Fat Fury, and makes his getaway, but not before leaving a critical clue in what is without question my favorite panel in the entire story:
I just love that Dracula not only writes himself a note, but addresses it formally and signs it at the bottom. Truly, the art of writing letters is undead.
Once the clue has been deciphered–Dracula and his crew of flunkies are hanging out at a wax museum–the chase continues in a sequence of events that involves Herbie dressing up like a horse and getting launched from a trebuchet to Dracula’s cloud castle.
Once he’s there, it’s time for Round Two, which in this case means that we get to see one of Dracula’s rarely seen mystical abilities–which is also shared by his flunkies, a witch and… I don’t know, a hunchback maybe? Some green dude–Lightning From His Hands!
Of course, this (much like the comet that Drac summons from space a few panels later) means virtuallly nothing to Herbie, who not only catches the lightning bolts, but straight up stabs Dracula in the ass with them, because that is just how Herbie Popnecker rolls.
And so, the day is once again saved, and while Dracula surrenders and begs to be sent back to the Unknown, Herbie instead forces him to make up for his crimes:
Because Herbie Popnecker. That’s why.
Every now and then, despite my best efforts to prevent it, there’s a week when I don’t buy a single comic where someone gets kicked in the face, and this is one of those weeks. So it looks like I’m gonna have to pull out the one thing I love more than a good old-fashioned facekick:
Words cannot express just how much I love Herbie.
But enough about the comics of 40 years ago! It’s Thursday night, and that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Prickly Taxing Comics Reviews! Here’s what I got this week…
…and here’s what I thought about ’em!
Amazing Spider-Man #591: This issue continues the story about the Fantastic Four realizing they used to know Spider-Man’s identity before he made a deal with the Devil, and if I wasn’t thrilled with that plot in the last issue, it’s taken up to a new level in this one. Even putting aside the fact that the whole once-I-reveal-my-identities-you’ll-get-all-your-memories-back thing was exactly what happened when the Flash made a deal with a metaphysical power to get his secret identity back six years ago, the whole thing just complicates matters to a needless extreme. If the people he reveals his identity to get all of their memories back, do they remember that he used to be married? Heck, if Peter Parker’s the one explaining this, does he remember that he used to be married? And that he made a deal with the devil? And even if you sort all that out, there’s the fact that this is a retcon of a retcon that is only like a year old. I understand that it might make more sense for the FF to know Spider-Man’s identity, but if that’s the case, then that might’ve been something useful for the creators to figure out before they wrote the words “Nobody knows who Spider-Man is. Nobody.”
Also, if I was Daredevil, brother, I’d be pissed. And not just because a fat guy keeps killing all my girlfriends.
The thing of it is, though, even with all the frustrations involved, this is still a pretty good comic. Slott’s dialogue is great when it’s not devoted to continuity nonsense, Barry Kitson does a fine job, and that last page twist is actually really nice, as it not only ups the stakes, but revitalizes a plotline that was growing stale by giving Dexter Bennett a new target. It’s good stuff, and even though it’s wrapped around the above list of complaints, it all averages out to something I did end up enjoying.
And if anybody knows where you can buy the original art for that last page? Kevin Church would like a word with you.
GI Joe: Cobra #2: Here’s something I never thought I’d type: This GI Joe comic is doing a really engaging, serious espionage story!
Yes, as the record will no doubt show, I tend to prefer my GI Joe stories to revolve around Weather Domination and/or Cold Slither, but for two solid issues, Mike Costa and Christos Gage’s more realistic story of Chuckles going undercover has been great fun, delivering tense spy-noir scenes with just the right touch of bat-shit Cobra craziness to keep things interesting. It’s extremely enjoyable, and while it’s less of a GI Joe book than a spy story set in the GI Joe universe (as there’s just one guy with a goofy codename instead of a dozen and no identical telepathic twins), it’s quickly becoming the best of the three, even outdoing Larry Hama’s return to form on Origins. If you like GI Joe–or heck, even if you like stuff like Sleeper, give it a shot.
Incognito #3: You know, with a team like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, reviewing comics can get a little repetitive. They are always good. They’ve always been good, starting with Sleeper and moving on to Criminal, and barring a sudden and drastic change in Incognito, they’re going to be good for the forseeable future, with well-done hard-boiled crime stories that, in the case of Sleeper and Incognito, effortlessly blend the trappings of film noir and pulp with super-heroics. There’s just no getting around it.
What you might forget about with all that, though, is how darn funny they can be while they’re at it. This issue delivers the usual superlative work from Brubaker and Phillips, but what really stuck out for me was the running gag about the landlord’s car, the way that it builds like a little piece of slapstick that just deepens the circumstances around it. It’s a masterful little touch, and it makes me love this book even more than I already did. Great stuff.
Mysterius the Unfathomable #4: In this issue, Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler ask the question “What if Dr. Seuss was really H.P. Lovecraft?”
That’s it. That’s all the review you’re getting, because if you didn’t read that sentence and then immediately go buy this comic, then son, there’s nothin’ else I can do for you. Get it, it’s fantastic.
Secret Invasion: Aftermath: Beta Ray Bill: The Green of Eden: You guys have no idea how hard I was freaking out about three quarters into this book.
Yes, in spite of the long-established rule about comics that have three colons in the title, this thing is awesome, as Phonogram writer Kieron Gillen tells a story of everyone’s favorite space-horse being worshipped as a god. And as good as it is, that’s not even the good part! I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, as the surprise is a good half of the fun with this one, so if you haven’t read it, feel free to just skip down to the next review while I address the enlightened.
Okay, still here? How awesome was that? As someone who only read the tie-ins, I’ll admit that the best part of Secret Invasion were the crazy Super-Skrull amalgamations of different characters that showed up to fight Captain Britain or whatever, but man, Brother S’kaan was not only a surprise that I didn’t see coming, but one that seemed specifically designed to get me excited. And it totally worked.
All right, vague spoilers over. The important thing to take away from this is that Gillen has done a great story in this one that’s got me really looking forward to the next. In fact, the only thing I wasn’t totally crazy about in this one was the art, which I didn’t even realize was Dan Brereton until after I’d read the whole thing. Admittedly, that might be because Brereton only did the pencils, as opposed to his usual fully painted work, and it might be because there were three inkers working on it, but there were a few places where it seemed really rushed. And even then, it’s not bad, just not quite to my tastes. But overall? Great, great fun.
Herbie Archives v.3: For those of you who are unaware, the Herbie archives have been nominated for an Eisner Awared for Best Archival Project, which I’m pretty sure will lead to a ceremony that will look exactly like this:
There’s just not enough razzmetazz in comics anymore.
Anyway, as should be pretty obvious, I’m devoutly Pro-Herbie, and while I’d love to say something to convince you, Hughes and Whitney’s stories are so crazy as to be review-proof. Just look at the picture that leads off tonight’s post: That, in one panel, is Herbie. If you don’t agree that it’s awesome, then we may never be friends.
Wondermark v.2: Clever Tricks to Stave Off Death: And speaking of things that are awesome, we have the second hardcover collection of David Malki!’s Wondermark, which is just fantastic. I’ve mentioned before that Dark Horse is doing an amazing job with their webcomic collections–specifically Achewood and the first Wondermark book, although their Perry Bible Fellowship book ain’t half bad either–and the Wondermark hardcovers are textbook examples of how these things should work, with an absolutely beautiful design and a ton of bonus material, right down to the inclusion of the alt text for each comic.
Of course, the comics themselves are hilarious too, but you can find that out yourself just by checking out the website, which is why the presentation is such a big deal: Malki! and Dark Horse know full well that there has to be an incentive involved to pay for something you could easily get for free–unless you’re like me and you fully intend to follow it online but just end up buying the collections anyway–and they’ve done their best to offer just that, which is something that should be applauded and rewarded. Excellent stuff, and well deserving of a place on your bookshelf.
And that’s the week. As always, feel free to leave any questions on something I read this week in the comments section below, and if you haven’t already, check out the senses-shattering second chapter of The Chronicles of Solomon Stone over at the action age, by me, Matthew Allen Smith, and Benjamin Birdie!
The third and final chapter hits next Wednesday, and you wouldn’t want to be left out, would you?
Hang on a second, let me double-check here… Herbie? Fighting a bear? With Abraham Lincoln? I think it’s official: Herbie #11 is the greatest comic book of all time.
The Valentine’s Doomsday Clock ticks ever closer to midnight, and while we here at the ISB always do our best to help our readers in matters of the heart, we understand that True Love can be a difficult thing to acquire. After all, even if you follow the examples set by Batman–ninja stealth and chloroform–and employ the most sizzling techniques that romance comics had to offer in the late fifties, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find that special someone by Saturday.
But there’s hope! And that’s why tonight, we turn to the greatest lover that the comics page has ever known…
Of course, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re not going to be using magic lollipops to travel back in time to mack on a capri-pantsed Maid Marian, but the basic lessons still apply:
Step One: Don’t be afraid to play Hard To Get
Step Two: If your potential mate’s significant other appears–upside down, from a tree–and starts yelling at you, it’s probably a good idea to do as he says.
Step Three: Stay limber.
For more comprehensive tips and tricks for time travel, gorilla wrangling, and ahhhhhhromance, consult Dark Horse’s indispensable Herbie Archives v.2.