Thursday, May 7, 2009

Book Review: HERBIE ARCHIVES Volume 3, Introduction by Dan Nadel (Dark Horse Books, 2009)

Dark Horse wraps up the brief, yet memorable, career of Richard Hughes' and Ogden Whitney's obese, bizarre brainchild with this volume, which reprints stories from ACG's HERBIE #15-#23 (February 1966-February 1967). This period was the heyday of high-camp superheroics, exemplified by the Batman TV series. In the use of such outre villains as The Question Mark (a mechanically inclined fellow dressed in medieval garb who appears to suffer from a severe curvature of the spine) and Noodle Man (shaped like... well, you guess), we can see Hughes attempting to ride the wave as best he can. The problem is that, as I noted in my review of the two previous HERBIE volumes, the stories in which Herbie donned long underwear and took on the guise of the crime-fighting "Fat Fury" were actually the least interesting and most "conventional" of the HERBIE stories. Herbie's strange powers don't need superheroic window dressing, and, since everyone from historical figures to barnyard animals seems to know Herbie on sight anyway, what good will a mere toilet plunger and mask do to hide Herbie's I.D.? About the only really outrageous "Fat Fury" escapade is the mock spy story "Don't Mess Around with the Fat Fury!", in which Herbie matches what wits he has with a two-headed, extremely stereotyped Red Chinese agent named Foo Manchoo. Part of the "outrage" (at least for some people) may lie in the fact that Herbie ends up helping the troops in Vietnam.

The non-"FF" stories herein maintain the same level of lunacy that was seen in the comic's first 14 issues, though one can sense Hughes resting on his oars a bit in the increasing use of time-travel stories. (Oddly, even as Hughes pumps this pedal more and more, he throttles back somewhat on the use of contemporary pop-culture and political celebs that made the early issues of HERBIE so completely off-the-wall.) I'm not willing to hazard a guess on how long HERBIE would have lasted had ACG not gone out of business in early '67, but it's likely that its unique brand of craziness would have seemed a bit less funny as the 60s turned ever more sour and ugly. In that respect, if no other, HERBIE was probably fortunate to depart the scene when it did.

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