Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Herbie the All Powerful!

Forbidden Worlds was a horror & sci-fi book published by the American Comics Group. Issue #73 (December 1958) had a pretty epic cover, didn't it? But that cover story isn't what we'll be looking at today. Instead, we'll be looking at the very first appearance of Herbie Popnecker.

Herbie was a fat, quiet kid with a severe lollipop addiction. Nobody likes him; his dad is perpetually disappointed with him; and he obviously just needs to get off his lazy butt, go outside and play!

At his dad's insistence, he does just that, though he walks past a kid's sandlot baseball game without showing any interest and wanders into the local zoo.

And all of a sudden, we learn that Herbie has powers. Powerful powers. Inexplicably, he is able to have a conversation with a tiger. And when the tiger gets out of his cage to eat a hated zoo-worker, Herbie unhesitantly forces the man-eater back into its cage. He doesn't even work up a sweat or get excited. It's like he does this sort of thing every day.

In fact, he apparently does do this sort of thing every day. A short time later, he turns invisible and walks up into the air to locate and arrange for the rescue of a man whose plane crashed at sea.

He finishes up his quiet afternoon walk by saving the world from an alien invasion. Then it's back to home, where he explained to his dad that he just walked around for awhile. It was, after all, just a quiet Saturday afternoon.

All the Herbie stories are like this, with Herbie stepping in to save someone (or save the entire world) with his casual use of a wide variety of superpowers. Later stories have him time travelling (he has a drawer-full of "time lollipops" in his room), showing himself to be invulnerable, able to travel into space; using magic and so on. There's never an explanation for his powers, nor should their be. The humor works best when no one knows how Herbie can do the things he does. For the most part, no one even knows that he can do them.

The art, both in Herbie's Forbidden World appearances and later in his own book, was by Odgen Whitney. I'm going to quote the late Don Markstein from Herbie's entry on Toonopedia:

"The artist was Ogden Whitney. His illustration was understated almost to the point of blandness, but often showed flashes of subtle, sometimes sly humor. He proved perfectly suited to Herbie (who, by the way, is said to have been based on Whitney's own appearance as a boy), depicting the "Little Fat Nothing" (as Herbie's father, Pincus Popnecker, often called him) as a profoundly dull slug, yet able to make the character work in action scenes."

These stories have a unique charm and Herbie is one of the most unusual and most persistently entertaining comic book characters ever creating. Herbie's tales always followed a precise formula, but within that formula was plenty of room for humor, wonder and imagination.

You can read his premiere story online HERE.

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