Bah, Hembeck!

Paging through the old stuff, I found a book I had almost completely forgotten: The Fantastic Four Roast, written, laid out, and to a degree drawn by, Fred Hembeck. Every now and then, it’s a genuine shock to me that I don’t recall Fred Hembeck as a matter if course. He was very big in fandom in the late 70s, early 80s, and even among the Big Two, as seen here. He’s still around, even if Jim Shooter is no longer in charge and allowing him to destroy the Marvel Universe, willy-nilly (and that link is quite a read, in and of itself).

Hembeck’s cartoons about comics and their characters were something I looked forward to in those halcyon days, and the fact that DC and Marvel were publishing them were no small source of pride to comic fandom. So it’s always a bit of a shock when I find some Hembeck rattling around my collection and go, “Oh yeah! Him!”

Especially since The Fantastic Four Roast happens to include one of my favorite versions of Doctor Doom.  This may seem odd coming from a guy who prefers the 1994 low-budget Fantastic Four movie over its 21st century big budget siblings simply because it got Vic right; why would I then like a joke Dr. Doom? Because Hembeck’s heart is in the right place, and… he gets it right. (I suppose the fact that I could hoot “One of us! One of us!” at Hembeck and he wouldn’t be offended or call the cops is also a factor)

The set-up is simple: upon their 20th anniversary, the FF have come to what they assumed was a tribute dinner, but is actually a celebrity roast, hosted by Hembeck. (“Dean Martin was unavailable… and too expensive.”) The jokes roll from there, but somebody is (of course) trying to kill the FF, planting deadly devices in their dinner courses (most of these are disposed of by having the Thing eat them. “Good work, Ben!”). This of course, leads to the Thing accusing Dr. Doom of being the culprit, causing Doom to take the podium:

Dr. Doom yelling after the Fantastic Four, “I hope you lose!” is one of my very favorite images.

In case you might have trouble sleeping tonight, wondering who the Shadowy Figure might be, it’s the FF’s mailman, Willy Lumpkin (played by Stan Lee in the much-reviled 2005 movie), but he’s under the control of the Brain Skull, a reference so obscure it thwarts Google. Which brings me to the conclusion of this nerdish dissertation: Fred Hembeck is the Grant Morrison of humor comics, and he should be let loose in this toy box again, as soon as humanly possible.