Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Marvel Universe According To Hembeck!

I don't know exactly when I first became aware of the presence of Fred Hembeck, but almost was certainly this particular item from Iron Man #112. 

The reason I say that is I was a steady reader and collector of Iron Man during this time period and this was according to Fred himself his very first published piece. Of course it was far from this last. I'm taking a two-part look (really a three-part if you count the recent Spider-Ham post) look at the work of Fred Hembeck and I'm focusing first on book The Marvel Universe According to Hembeck which purports to contain much of his work done for the company, although he'd done so much I'm sure there's work out there yet to reprint. The tome is divided into seven chapters. 

The first chapter deals with the first signifcant piece in the collection -- the stunning Fantastic Four Roast which was published as part of the twentieth anniversary celebration of the Fab 4's first appearance and was written and designed by Hembeck, but which features the work of nearly every artist then working for Marvel over his layouts. John Buscema, John Byrne, Michael Golden, Sal Buscema, Mike Vosburg, Al Milgrom, Mike Zeck, Kerry Gammill, Bob Hall, Frank Miller, Don Perlin, Marshal Rogers, Denys Cowan, Alan Weiss, Keith Pollard, and like others I've forgotten take part in this rousing satire of both the roast format and the Marvel Universe. The jokes are lame but the art is exquisite. 

Next up is a chapter focusing on Spider-Man and it begins with a little contribution by Hembeck to the delightful "Assistant Editor's Month" event which saw a myriad of wacky alterations to ongoing titles when under the guise of the Assistant Editors taking command changes were wrought with abandon and downright glee. In this instance we get a fracas betwixt Spidey and The Fly as drawn by Hembeck, hardly cleaving to the house style at the time. 

This section also includes a large number of pages, two-page spreads for the most part from sundry issues of Marvel Age, the MU news and hype comic to which Hembeck regularly contributed. Of these my favorite is likely his tribute to Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 which he regards as the best of the Marvel Annuals ever and that's an opinion I share. 

Chapter three focuses on  the Spider-Ham material I spoke about previously in a post dedicated to that wacky funny animal spin on the friendly neighborhood icon. 

The fourth chapter presents one of Hembeck's most high-profile projects -- the infamous Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe. It's a wacky project which saw print in 1989 but was created several years before in 1985 or thereabouts as is evidenced by the state of come of the heroes featured (such as Rhodey still in the Iron Man armor). It's inked by Vince Collect, a talent I like in certain places, but here he misused. Much better is the combo of Hembeck and Joe Staton who produce the art for the framing sequence. Hembeck's Crackers the Clown of Death is a delightful if sobering creation. 

The fifth chapter might be my favorite as it deals with Hembeck's inspired spoofs on a nigh forgotten Marvel character -- Brother Voodoo. Many of these Marvel Age gags were collected in previously in Fred Hembeck Sells The Marvel Universe. He's been brought back I here, but for the longest time Brother Voodoo was a remnant of Marvel's splash with horror in the early 70's. I liked him thanks to Gene Colan's fantastic artwork and apparently so did Hembeck because he delights in sending up the good Brother by giving him a sibling named "Sister Voodoo" and her kid "Voodoo Chile". (Chomp on that Jimi!)

Hembeck even drew a "serious" Brother Voodoo story for one of Marvel's "Super-Hero Specials" which focused on getting file work out to the masses. It's a rare instance in which Hembeck drew a comic in a more realistic style. 

Chapter six focuses on another of Hembeck's inspired creations named Petey, a pint-sized rendition of Peter Parker done in a style evoking the best of Li'l Archie, Little Lulu, Dennis the Menace and many others. In these charming little escapades Petey and his classmates Flash and Liz run across the likes of college age Victor Von Doom (twice0 and Reed Richards as well as Susan Storm and her little mischievous brother Johnny (twice). There is also a run in with a young Jericho Drumm, who along with is brother Daniel have not yet joined to become Brother Voodoo. He even ends up stalling the rise of Baron Strucker's Hydra for a bit. These are quite entertaining. 

The seventh and final chapter is a hodge-podge of stuff that didn't fit elsewhere and presents a number of funny bits such as some alternative covers Hembeck produced for the company. 

Believe it or not, there's still a greater heaping helping of Hembeck headed your way.  Brace  yourselves. 

Rip Off


  1. I first became aware of Fred's work in those 1 to 3 panel gags he did for DCs Daily Planet pages around 1978. I think I bought most of my DC comics at that time just for those pages. Wasn't aware he drew in a realistic style, from that page it looks nice.

    1. I would love to see a collection of his work for DC. Those old Planet pages were a nifty item at the time.

  2. I may've mentioned before that I found the FF Roast extremely tedious and forced. I think his humour works best in far shorter formats. Still have my original copy though, and wouldn't part with it, but I've only read it twice and I doubt I'll do so again.

    1. Reading the Roast again I agree the humor was weak, but the artwork was a time capsule of the period when a lot of great talents were in top form.