Saturday, June 4, 2011

CBR The Heckler


In the mid-80s, Keith Giffen created a wise-cracking unusual oddball superhero that allowed him to criticize and explore the comic book medium with the 4th wall breaking loony character wearing a green spandex costume, Ambush Bug.

In the mid-90s, he then created a wise-cracking unusual oddball superhero that allowed him to criticize and explore the comic book medium with the 4th wall breaking loony character wearing a yellow spandex costume this time, The Heckler!

Comic title: The Heckler
Art by Keith Giffen & inks by Malcolm Jones III, Bob Lewis & Steve Mitchell
Story by Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum
Published by DC
From 1992

Lineup The Heckler
Format: Original mini-series run composed of The Heckler issues #1-6.

The Heckler is another Keith Giffen-created character. This time from the September '92.

As almost everyone who read comics knows, the 90s were an era of changes. An era of super muscular men with giant guns and lots of pouches. The 90s saw the comic book medium hit giant sales numbers like never before (with stories like the Death of Superman and other surfing on the success of 80s adult comics published since the success of Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns).

But after a while, things started to get ridiculous, let's admit it.
Creators continued to make random new characters after new character, every time with even more ridiculous weapons and over-the-top designs...and all of this taking itself waaaay too seriously.
(almost all of Image Comics line was based around those tropes)
Comic got sillier and sillier, with giant shoulder pads, over-stereotypical macho heroes around, disproportionate monsters, Wolverine-clones, Cable-clones, etc..

As characters and books got grew a need to a return to more simpler times on some older fans and authors...which ended in today's nostalgia fueled era.
(look how many Silver Age characters returned since then!)

This book is sort of a criticism of that era, a parody and a tribute to simpler times.

Our hero! He doesn't look like much, right?

Stuart Moseley is an average Joe. Co-owner of a little diner, "Eats", in the ghetto of Delta City, he isn't an extraordinary guy.
Kinda shy, awkward socially, Stu doesn't look like much by day...
But at night, he's also (one of) Delta City's own self-proclaimed super heroes!

As The Heckler, Stu fights injustice, combats crime in his comically designed yellow costume.
He acts completely different than when he's simply "Stuart", being totally fearless almost searching punishment for himself.
His true origin is a mystery.
His powers not clearly defined (though he seems to be invincible).
He also seems to annoy his enemies with his non-stop sarcastic comments, driving anyone he faces mad ("possibly including the mineral and vegetable kingdoms as well").

THE HECKLER!! GYAaah! 'Guy gave me a startle...

The Heckler fights a sort of parodical disorganized mob family run by Boss Glitter.

During the course of the 6 issues, which are all kinda designed around a sort of "monster of the week" formula (apart from the last 2-parter epic!), The Heckler fights a lot of the colorful criminals terrorizing the streets of Delta City.
Such as the boung hunter Bushwack'r, who tries his best to capture or kill the Heckler without any luck (in what I call the "Wile E. Coyote" issue), the terrifying El Gusano, the generic man John Doe, a completely bland person who starts affecting and making everything generic all around him, his girlfriend Buckshot with the explosives freckles, a Cosmic Clown, an alien who mistakes Earth circuses and clowns for people from his planet trying to capture him, the four Mopeds of the Apocalypse, who are on a mission to bring the world to an end...

As you can see, nothing's really serious.
The Heckler's really a funny non-serious character, trying to re-capture some of the non-sense from old comic books. Sort of like Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot.
But more than anything, he's here to mock all the seriousness the work of Frank Miller or Rob Liefeld and the likes brought to comics with his big plain giant SMILE.

In the middle of combats, it's not unusual to see the enemies complain about punches, or the height from which they are fighting...
Apart from The Heckler's unusual resistance, the rest's very much realistic in an era where every comic book character and their mother could fly for no reason.

Why so serious???

As unusual as it is for a parody, The Heckler comic is a lot character driven. A ton of characters are introduced and much time is spent on Stu's entourage.
All of the character are kinda fun and given their little time to shine, which I'm sure is saying a lot compared to most X-titles from Marvel of that same era.

The Heckler is helped by Ledge in his superheroics, Stu's buddy and own Microchip (Punisher fans will understand). There's also an usual ex-cop called Minx who seems to be a strange parody of the Punisher.
Gus McDougal a cop of the DCPD who is seen always complaining about the lack of varieties of donuts in the local shop. François, Stu's cook from his dinner "Eats". Mr. Dude, an Elvis-lookalike (or is it..?) who seems to understands much more than he lets people know.

The comic is amazingly detailled by Keith Giffen, there's tons of details to notice on the background of each panel. It's also one of those comics featuring Giffen's famous nine-panel grid (like Ambush Bug). Which makes the pace pretty dynamic even when nothing is happening!

The comic is full of jokes, references and parodies - be it to comics of the 90s in general or just to make the whole experience funnier.
Stu is constantly confronted to the same running jokes in each issue, sometimes twice or more in the same comic. The dinner's name always being miswritten, the fact is never available for (or has to suffer through) new waitresses postulating for a job, his co-owner of "Eats" and his new schemes to get rich... And there's this odd anti-Heckler cartoon campaign on TV, for kids you know, from the ultra conservative (and intriguing) P.C. Rabid.
All these even get sort of resolved by the end of the 6th issue.

After playing with tropes and concept of 90s comic, The Heckler's mini ends with a bang in a 2-part epic conclusion with a giant demon crossing over "our" dimension (a quite unique looking demon might I add).
And the book starts getting more absurd, even Ambush Bug-ified in the end with Jack Kirby references (Lex Concord, F*** Yeah!!)...

Overall, it's a very unique and very good book!
I'd suggest, if you can, trying to find all 6 issues. But even if you only find one, as strange as the experience might be, it still is a fun cynic and parodic tribute to 90s seriousness.

It makes fun of the archetype heroes and villains gained during that angst ridden time.
(we even get to see shortly other heroes of Delta City, each "patrolling" a different sector of the city)
Villains afraid of height, an invincible hero, a powerful mob controlling the city, etc.. This comic got it all!

And beneath it all, it's a series about a culture of mass consumerism. 
The death of indiduality.
But, hey, it's still a "funny book", so it doesn't get too deep into such serious concepts but just alludes them.
As ALL comics tried to do in the 90s (see Judge Dredd, Spawn, etc..)
It accomplishes a lot in such sort time.

Worth noticing.
The fan letters are a must read. The issues might not have been collected in a trade paperback, but at least it gives an excuse to check out those letter columns. Be it the fake letters from the first issues, a must read, or the Heckler Fan Club from the last ones.

All in all, a fun book about guy that just runs around in tights.

I give it:

  2 / 3 Plastic-trophies!

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