You ever get to a point where you’re all, like, “Bah! Comics! Who needs them?” Also, have you ever written something that starts off with a rhetorical question? Because you’re not supposed to do that. It’s solppy writig. It really is.
Lovingly compiled and edited by cartoonist Paul Karasik and beautifully designed by Jacob Covey (LOVE the design on recent Fantagraphics books!), I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS is a staggering showcase for the child-like brilliance of Fletcher Hanks, who like fellow oddball visionary Jack Cole, walked away from funnybooks way too soon. Also, it cured me of my comic book doldrums, which is nice.
The majority of the stories in this collection star Fletcher Hanks’s most “famous” creations, Stardust the Super Wizard and Fantomah: “Mystery Woman of the Jungle.” Personally, I wish there were more stories of Big Red McLane, King of the North Woods (A fighting lumberjack story that’s so hyper-masculine, it makes Frank Miller look like Candace Bushnell), but that’s a testament to Hanks’ genius: You kind of wish there was more of everything. These comics represent everything that made us fall in love with superheroes in the first place, back when we didn’t know superhero comics were blissfully uncool and before we made them just flat-out uncool. Gone are the unintentional tough guy homoeroticism, the overwrought plot-lines, the slavish devotion to continuity. All we have here are lurid stories of old school Joan Bennett-style beauties turning into talking skulls and fighting giant elephant-devouring spiders.
The character design on Fantomah is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. The image of a beautiful woman whose face transforms into a skull when she’s called upon to punish those who would harm the jungle-born is one of the most gorgeously grotesque images I’ve seen in a comic. People who turn give hot chicks skull-faces are geniuses (Just trust me on this one). But as these stories all have very violent endings where the wicked are administered harsh, imaginative punishments (a la the Spectre), grotesquerie is something Hanks would have to know intimately (Read the afterword drawn by Karasik and it seems Hanks probably had a lot of ugly shit swirling in his guts).
Many have taken to calling him “the Ed Wood of comics” and like Ed Wood’s work, there’s a real joy-inducing charm to the lack of polish; but I’d liken him more to the singer Daniel Johnston, whose work is innocently child-like, slightly creepy, and obviously imbued with a unique kind of talent. While there is a certain lack of “sophistication” to these comics, it’s this same lack of sophistication that makes the work of Golden Agers like Fletcher Hanks superior to the high-gloss groaners of today. Hanks is living proof that there are times when “proficiency” is highly over-rated. Thomas Kinkade and Kenny G are “proficient,” but they suck.
“Except for their great flaming fingers, these chemical creatures are invisible. They are transparent and colorless, reflecting no light and casting no shadow.”
Replace colorless with “colourless” and it’s like Grant Morrison wrote that shit. OK, not really, but Stardust fights a giant Hokusai-esque tidal wave; that’s so incredibly surreal you can’t help smile. Men who have crime-fighting labs within their own private stars, interplanetary Secret Service agents foiling plots to crash Earth into Venus, gangsters who want to destroy gravity and send the people Earth flying into the heavens—If you can’t get next to this, then you can’t get next to comics.