Have I got something GREAT for you today!!
Who's the most offbeat hero ever created? Who's the most powerful adventurer that you've never heard of? Who makes the ladies swoon and sends the bad guys to their ignominious doom? Why, it's none other than...
(My copy of Herbie #1, printed by ACG in April of 1964)
...And you're thinking, "What's a Herbie Popnecker?"
Herbie Popnecker is the universe's greatest, weirdest, and coolest hero. Below, you see my copy of his very first appearance in the now-defunct American Comics Group's (ACG) fun title, Forbidden Worlds, in issue #73 printed in December of 1958. Herbie Popnecker was created by Richard E. Hughes (using the pseudonym, Shane O'Shea), and comics genius, Ogden Whitney, an amazing creator, equally as cool, tragic, and forgotten and his creation, Herbie.
Herbie Popnecker is a FAR cry from your average hero. He is short, bespectacled, fat, and dead-faced, and unlike many superheroes of the early Silver Age, Herbie was quite young. From what I can tell, he derived his superpowers from his deliciously dangerous lollipops, which gave him magnificent powers and abilities, such as superhuman strength and speed, flight-walking (Herbie is the ORIGINAL sky-walker), hypnosis, the ability to communicate in all languages (even with animals), time-travel, invisibility, and invulnerability. In this, his first adventure in Forbidden Worlds #73, Herbie catches a lot of grief from his dad for his lack of motivation and abnormality, not knowing that the son he looks down upon so much is a super-powered being who just saved the planet from an alien invasion, and found an important U.S. Senator who was thought dead but merely lost at sea.
Herbie's coolness and relevance resonate down through the decades, especially with the marginalized, disenfranchised, and the social outcasts. Ahead of its time, Herbie's stories in Forbidden Worlds tackle difficult themes like masculinity, productivity, bullying, and self-image in a time when these issues were rarely up for any discussion. Herbie's father, Pincus, thinks of him as a "fat little nothing." Herbie is bullied and teased by his peers, and most people ignore him, denigrate him, or ignore his presence altogether. He's got all the makings of a grand super-villain, but never once does Herbie complain, or strike back at those whose minds are just too small to comprehend him. He just keeps walking through the world unnoticed, and unloved (except for by his sweet mother), all the while stopping disaster after disaster, saving lives, the planet and the universe. He is both tragic and triumphant - a character with all the trappings of an anti-hero, who, to me, is probably one of the purest forms of a superhero ever published in comics. Herbie gains nothing at all from his powers. Nothing. He is entirely and completely altruistic. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense: what would a godlike creature, confident in its abilities and powers, actually need from humans? What would it benefit by ruling or saving them? So, then, it would have to have only its own internal source of motivation which we know only in our binary terms of good and evil. Lucky for the Herbie-verse, Herbie is truly good for absolutely no reason at all but his own...Which absolutely makes him one of my most beloved comic book characters. People can learn a lot from Herbie: words cannot hurt you unless you give them the power to do so - the power that only resides deep within the universe of your very own soul. We are all Herbie.
Can you dig it, man?
On to the fun facts!!
FUN FACT 1 - Herbie Popnecker's powers come from his deliciously dangerous lollipops, given to him by the enigmatic Unknown. He could often defeat his enemies by smacking them with one of his strangely strong sweets. He often leveled this hilarious, yet very serious threat at villains: "...gonna bop you with this here lollipop...".
FUN FACT 2: The most powerful of Herbie's lollipops (and the most difficult to find) was the cinnamon-flavored kind.
FUN FACT 3: Herbie's co-creator, Ogden Whitney, was a tragic character in his own right. He was an alcoholic that after passing his Golden Age and Silver Age heydays, worked less and less, depending on his wife as the primary bread-winner of the household. He tried to break into advertising when his comics career dried up, but sadly he ended up dying alone in a nursing home suffering from a mental breakdown after the death of his beloved wife. However, in 2007, he was finally inducted into The Will Eisner Award Hall Of Fame.
FUN FACT: Would you believe it? Herbie Popnecker is Alan Moore's, favorite superhero! In an interview with TwoMorrows Publishing, the legendary comics writer once stated that Herbie was, "one of his all-time passions."
FUN FACT 5: Herbie received the Alley Award for "Best Humorous Comic Book" award in 1964 and 1965.
FUN FACT 6: Herbie got his own comic in 1964 (see my copy of Herbie #1 above), and as was the custom of the Silver Age (even with Archie, Reggie, and Jughead), Herbie got into the cape-and-tights game in issue #8, becoming the Fat Fury!!
Herbie #8 (I don't own one of these...Yet).
I agree with Alan Moore: Herbie is awesome. The world could benefit from a bit of Herbie, nowadays. Thanks for reading! Feel free to let me know how you feel about Herbie in the comments. And as a gift from me to you (actually from comicbookplus.com to all of us), you can read Herbie's earliest adventure here! Comicbookplus.com is so AMAZING!! And, if you're so inclined, check out this wild, cool video by Robert Martens:
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading!