Herbie, from Forbidden Worlds #114 (Sept. 1963).
Art by Ogden Whitney
|Publisher||American Comics Group|
|First appearance||Forbidden Worlds #73 (Dec. 1958)|
|Created by||Richard E. Hughes and Ogden Whitney|
|Alter ego||Herbie Popnecker|
|Notable aliases||Fat Fury|
Ability to talk to animals
Herbie Popnecker is a fictional character, who first appeared in Forbidden Worlds #73 in December 1958, published by American Comics Group. He was created by Richard E. Hughes (using the pseudonym "Shane O'Shea") and Ogden Whitney.
Herbie is an antithetical hero — short, fat, and young — but ironically one of the most powerful and best-known beings in history. Deriving some of his powers from genetics and some from magical lollipops from "the Unknown," Herbie can talk to animals (who know him by name), fly (by walking on air), become invisible, and (once he got his own title) travel through time. Herbie is emotionless, terse, irresistible to women, consulted by world leaders, and more powerful than the Devil.
Herbie made several appearances in Forbidden Worlds, in issues #73, #94, #110, #114, and #116 — the final two issues with Herbie featured on the cover. Herbie also made a cameo appearance — albeit very much out of character — in Unknown Worlds #20, published in 1961.
Herbie received his own title in April 1964. The series ran for twenty-three issues until February 1967, shortly before the demise of American Comics Group.
Fictional character biography
Herbie's parents are unaware of his great powers and fame, and his father repeatedly refers to him as a "little fat nothing". Herbie's dad, Pincus Popnecker, is a financial failure with one poorly-conceived scheme after another, but Herbie bails him out every time (and his dad takes the credit for being a business genius).
Herbie is practically always shown with a lollipop, and lollipops are the main subjects of several stories. Herbie can "bop" adversaries with his lollipops, immediately defeating them. Herbie threatens others by asking them rhetorically, in his inimitable style of speaking, "You want I should bop you with this here lollipop?"
In Herbie #8 (March 1965), Herbie feels a need to become a costumed superhero, but after failing superhero school, he creates the Fat Fury by donning full-body red underwear with a drop seat, a blue cape, a blue plastic mask, and a plunger on his head. He is bare-footed. Herbie's father wishes that his little fat nothing of a son could be like the Fat Fury.
As the Fat Fury, Herbie does not have any powers beyond the many he had before donning the costume. Although Herbie travels back in time, the Fat Fury never does.
The Fat Fury was featured in even-numbered Herbie comics from #8 to #22.
- Hypnotic eyes that can defeat opponents by staring
- Famous throughout history and able to depend on the help of others
- By talking to animals, able to gather information and use animals' abilities
- Powerful lollipops (particularly hard-to-get cinnamon) provide superhuman strength and other special abilities
- Punching, often very rapidly
- Time travel (using a special lollipop and a grandfather clock)
- Indestructibility — Herbie is often unaware he is even being attacked (at times muttering "Something...?")
- Fly, but doing so by walking upright. In addition to being able to walk on air, he can walk underwater. Herbie can also fly underground and often breaks through walls
- Invisibility — early on, Herbie could become invisible, but stopped using that power by the third Herbie issue
- Magic — visiting the Unknown, a mysterious spirit world
There are many recurring gags in Herbie comics:
- Herbie speaks very little. He is terse, leaving out many words.
- Herbie is unemotional, in spite of everything around him, understating everything he says. Herbie's captions are free of exclamation points, except when his lollipops are threatened.
- Women swoon over Herbie, loving his round physique. Sometimes women who first loved Herbie eventually run off with an animal (e.g., alien bug king, gorilla, camel).
- Herbie encounters many look-alikes, most of whom he thinks are ugly.
- Although ridiculously fat, Herbie does not eat much, especially in later issues, although he sometimes sleeps while he eats. He is always sleeping, much to the dismay of his father.
- Herbie sometimes bites his adversaries, and sometimes they bite him.
- Herbie wears many disguises, most of which are absurd.
- Herbie often appears, to his embarrassment, in boxer shorts.
- Herbie sometimes happens to have just the right item for the job: marshmallows in King Arthur's time, worms to drop in Mao's mouth, a bicycle pump in his pocket, or a blowtorch in the frozen north. ("Never mind where I got it from, either.")
In a review of the Dark Horse Comics collections Herbie: Volume One and Herbie: Volume Two, The New York Times described Hughes' Herbie Popnecker as,
...a corpulent kid with half-lidded eyes, thick glasses and a hideous bowl cut. His father calls him a “little fat nothing,” not realizing that Herbie is actually a colossus striding across the cultural landscape of his era. With the aid of his super-empowering lollipops, Herbie punches out Sonny Liston, confronts Fidel Castro and gets sent on a secret mission by U Thant. Hughes took a while to perfect his stories’ tone of deadpan absurdity, but Whitney’s slightly stiff, matter-of-fact artwork improves the gags by understating them.
Collections and revivals
In the 1990s, there were some attempts to revive Herbie. A-Plus Comics (which had purchased the American Comics Group reprint rights) published six black-and-white issues of reprints in 1991. Dark Horse Comics published two issues of a planned twelve in 1992, the first with a new story by John Byrne. Flaming Carrot Comics #31 (1994) featured an appearance by Herbie (words and pictures by Bob Burden). America's Comic Group (a publisher affiliated with A+ Comics) published a new story written by Roger Broughton with artwork by Dan Day.
In 2008, Dark Horse Comics announced that they would reprint the original Herbie stories in a series of hardcover archive volumes. The first Herbie Archives came out in August 2008 (ISBN 978-1-59307-987-1) and collects Herbie stories from Forbidden Worlds #73, 94, 110, 114, 116, Unknown Worlds #20, and Herbie #1 - 5. The second came out in December 2008 (ISBN 978-1-59582-216-1), and collects issues #6-14. The third and final volume came out in April 2009 (ISBN 978-1-59582-302-1), and collects issues #15-23.
- Herbie and The Fat Fury at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived (Herbie and The Fat Fury) from the originals on December 14, 2012, and April 16, 2012, respectively.
- Hughes, Bob "The Popnecker Papers: A Herbie History," Amazing Heroes #173, November 1989.
- Wolk, Douglas (December 5, 2008). "Holiday Books: Comics". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 15, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/books/review/Wolk-t.html. Retrieved December 15, 2012.