In this time of Dead No More, I thought I’d take you back to a simpler era. An era where not only people died, but Jim Shooter actually hired someone to kill everyone in the Marvel Universe from Antman to Zzzax! Brace yourself, true believers! – Fred Hembeck is coming!
Who is this Hembeck guy you ask? Well, you didn’t read comics in the ‘80s, if you’re asking that question. He gained the attention of the comics world by writing letters to the letters pages. Not only did he write them in a manner than showed he understood the intricacies of this medium, but he did it comic book style. Here’s one he sent to Jim Shooter:
He’s known for his cartoony round eyes and swirly joints. His unique approach to letter writing to Jim Shooter and to other comics (like Iron Man) gained the attention of people who pay for that sort of thing and the fan boy became part of the comics industry. One of his biggest early achievements was the Fantastic Four Roast.
How did he get the task of destroying the very entity he loved and admired?
Well, it was because of an individual named Doug Moench who, to say the least, didn’t care too much for Jim Shooter. In fact, he said that Shooter was, “… easily the most tyrannical, evil guy on planet Earth.” He then went on to all the fanzines and told them that Shooter had a “Big Bang Theory” for Marvel. He was going to get rid of all the characters and replace them. Destroy Asgard and let someone new pick up the hammer of Thor. Put a new person in the Iron Man Armor. Kill Spider-Man and let a new kid take over. Revamp the Fantastic Four line up. You know, that sort of thing that would NEVER fly with a comic audience.
O.K., well all of those things did happen, but not all under Shooter and according to pretty much every other source I found, was not planned to be done by Shooter. Moench would get very upset when fanzine authors would ask Shooter questions about it and he would deny it and all of the other editors would also deny it. The man seemed to be quite obsessed with hating Shooter. He left Marvel to go to DC because he couldn’t stand the guy. He even went around telling people that it was Shooter basically killed artist Gene Day because he put him in a roach infested hotel after calling him into do a rush job on some inks. When Day complained, he said, well you can stay in the Marvel office, so he did and the heat cut off for the night, which made him sick and later he died of complications (after Shooter fired him, of course). While Shooter himself says, “I’m possibly not the warmest, fuzziest, most diplomatic guy on the planet…,” he and everybody else tells a different story about how that went down, including Gene’s own brother, David Day, who pretty much says that all Moench said is an untruth.
So, not one to allow a good opportunity to go to waste, Shooter calls up Hembeck and says, hey, why don’t we destroy the Marvel universe? It will be a big gag and finally we’ll be able to put this thing to rest. Hembeck was delighted.
Hembeck had a great name for it already – Jim Shooter Destroys the Marvel Universe! Featuring Jim Shooter (character Shooter, that is). Jim went with it at first, but later said that the title would have to change. The powers that be didn’t seem to find the humor in it. So a new name was developed – Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe!
But alas, it seems this project was cursed. Right after Hembeck got started, his mother died of heart failure. The idea of having fun with the death of every Marvel character suddenly seemed a bit tacky. He asked for some time to put this on the back burner and Marvel agreed.
In the meantime, they gave him the job of penciling Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #86, the one for Assistant Editor’s Month.
Eventually he jumped back on the project and as soon as he mailed in the next set of pages, a friend of his died. The next time, his father-in-law was rushed to the hospital and almost died. Hembeck sensed a pattern here.
By the time he finished the project, Shooter was busy on other stuff, so Shooter handed it over to Larry Hama, who wanted nothing to do with the project. Hembeck asked for Terry Austin to ink it and Hama said that would be fine – only he never got it to Austin. Hama gave Hembeck all sorts of excuses from Austin is dragging his feet to it fell behind a filing cabinet. When it came down to it, Austin didn’t have time to ink it and instead of finding someone else, Hama just wished it would go away.
But Hembeck doesn’t go away that easily. He called Shooter who must have come down on Hama hard, because all of a sudden, Hama was ready to get this thing published. It still needed an inker, so Hama got Vinny Colletta. Hembeck and Colletta do not get along. The first time they met Colletta was art director at the Distinguished Competition and he told Hembeck that Hembeck would NEVER make it in the comic business. Here is Hembeck’s own words on the matter: “And so the book was inked. Over the weekend, from the looks of it. Given copies of the completed pages to proofread, I cringed to see eyeballs missing and other obvious elements overlooked. Really, folks, I don’t want to come off as some sort of spoiled whiner (“Too late!!”), but there really was only one artist in the entire comics field whose work I couldn’t stand, and there he was, all over my pencils!?!”
Then there was another problem. You see, the story has a frame story that holds together the deaths of all the heroes. Here is the original frame story:
The middle of the comic is as it was eventually printed. He ends the frame story this way:
Bear in mind that this frame is on top of a full page ad-free comic.
The problem here is the joke about DC being the cause of it all and Shooter being an inside plant on their part. When Hembeck wrote it, DC and Marvel were buddy-buddies and were even going to do a JLA/Avengers story together. However, by this point, that was no longer the case and Shooter said no to the pages Hembeck had drawn. There was an interview where Hembeck said the comic wasn’t going to be published because he refused to change his story.
However, on his page, he says the real reason he didn’t create a new frame story had nothing to do with artistic integrity, instead it was only because he couldn’t think of a new one. So he went back to the drawing board (literally) and produced a new, shorter frame years later:
The middle of the comic did not change. Here’s the alternate ending:
As Hembeck puts it: “I drew up the new stuff, Vinny inked it on his lunch hour, and we were all set to go.”
But they weren’t set to go. Shooter got fired from Marvel, so the whole Jim Shooter vs. Tiny Tim Shooter story didn’t work. So it was, again, back to the drawing board.
So that was it. The project was doomed. Or so it seemed. DeFalco was the new guy in charge, and he wanted it printed. They cut the pages out and gave Hembeck only 7 pages to frame it up. Colletta was dead at this point, so there is a new inker in town. If you ever wanted to see if you could spot the difference in what an inker does, this is the book to test it on. The frame story is inked by Joe Staton and the inside story by Colletta.
The new frame story consists of a down and out Fred Hembeck who is now living on the streets because he wrote a story about killing the Marvel heroes that nobody wanted to publish. Nobody wants to hire him because of his murderous reputation. He now uses the old original pages to keep warm on cold nights. Unfortunately, he gets harassed by the Punisher and voila, we get the story as the Punisher reads to himself (but moving his lips the whole time). In the end, it was really Stan Lee disguised as the Punisher and he redeems Hembeck and all is well with the world.
As for the comic itself, the cover has a nifty Spider-Man image with the UPC box:
Crazy enough, the UPC box being right where Spider-Man’s head is a complete coincidence. I thought for sure it was planned that way since my copy has the Spider-Man head version.
So what about all those crazy deaths?
I included the Antman death because I think it is the funniest one on the book. However, he kills the whole universe, but who cares about ninja sentinels killing X-Men or the rock out of nowhere that takes out Dr. Doom and the Fantastic Four or the massive full page of puns surrounding Daredevil’s death? We want to see what happens to the Spider-Man characters!
Like the Black Cat (sorry Ashley):
And the Kingpin:
Spider-Man’s death is a little less inspired. He swings into an alley where every animal themed villain of his (plus Toad) are waiting to beat the living crap out of him. Then a wall falls on them. The story then takes place in heaven where Spidey starts freaking out:
In the end, there i only one individual that can put this whole problem into the right perspective:
Now, if only we can get the entire Marvel writing and editorial staff to go back and read these wise words.
Oddly enough, Marvel.com does not acknowledge that this comic even exists.
Rumor has it that this is the plot for Avengers 5. O.K., if you help spread it , then it would be a rumor. They’ve got to start somewhere!
*REQUEST* – Steve Ditko put out a series of four page essays. Number 9 was about why he quit. I sent off for it, but they no longer print it. If you have a copy of it, let me know in the comment section, please.
“Fred Hembeck’s Comics Interview #22 Original Cover Art (Fictioneer, 1985).” Heritage Auction. n.p., May 2013. Web. 16 Aug. 2016. <https://comics.ha.com/itm/original-comic-art/covers/fred-hembeck-comics-interview-22-cover-original-art-fictioneer-1985-/a/7076-93502.s>.
Hembeck, Fred. “Destroying a Universe: The Untold Story.” Hembeck’s Comic Strips. n.p., 28 Dec. 2002. Web. 15 Aug. 2016. <http://www.hembeck.com/Destruction.htm>.
Leong, Tim. “Moon Knight: Doug Moench vs. Charlie Huston.” Comic Foundry. WordPress, 1 Apr. 2006. Web. 16 Aug. 2016. <http://comicfoundry.com/?p=1461>.
Shooter, Jim. “A Comment and an Answer About Gene Day’s Death.” Jim Sooter. WordPress, 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 16 Aug. 2016. <http://jimshooter.com/2011/08/comment-and-answer-about-gene-days.html/?showComment=1314652487146#c4243224519664826772>.
All scans are from my copy.