If there's one thing I truly love, it's strange shit, and this volume is a cornucopia of balls-out, nonsensical four-color madness. Golden Age cartoonist Fletcher Hanks is a name long relegated to the murky mists of comics history obscurity, but now his completely insane works have been unearthed and laid out for your jaw-dropping edification. The guy's stuff brings to mind a creative gene-splicing of Basil Wolverton and Ed Wood, so stop and think about that one for a minute.
According to his son, Fletcher Hanks Jr., the senior Hanks was an abusive alcoholic, an aspect that I suspect may have had great influence on his comic book creations, because no sane mind could have come up with his stuff if and have it be taken as non-parody. Hanks' career lasted for about three years (1939-1941), and during that time he unleashed some of the most lysergic creations ever to grace a page, chief among which was Stardust the Super Wizard, a huge, impossibly buff alien hero who looks like an overgrown gay dude in a fabulous blue leotard.
In his initial appearance, the Earth picks up a transmission from space alerting the world to the impending arrival of Stardust, prompting a bad guy to say to his fellows, "Listen to this, you mugs! Stardust is coming to the Earth! He's the super crime wiz who is busting spy mobs on a lot of planets! Boy, will he have our necks!!" And he ain't kidding; Stardust is loaded with bitchin' superpowers, or as the text describes him, "His scientific use of rays has made him master of space and planetary forces — the gas of a certain star has made him immune to heat or cold — Stardust carries artificial lungs that enable him to breathe safely under any condition — he uses new spectral rays that can make him invisible , or as bright as the sun — he wears a flexible star-metal skin controlled through rays from a dsitant sun and rendering him indestructible by chemicals, or by electrical or violent force." And as if that wasn't enough, the fucking guy can fly at super-luminal speeds, control people's minds, manipulate gravity at his slightest whim, wield a magnetic ray and a "boomerang" ray, cause the skeletons of criminals' victims to appear and torment their murderers (again thanks to a special ray), can transform men into icicles that melt away, can return the entire population of the world to their exact original locations when crooks stop the Earth's rotation and cause everyone to hang suspended into outer space — I swear to God I'm not making any of this up — and in one memorable instance turns oddly-named fifth columnist "Yew Bee" into a rat with a human head.
All of that stuff happens in the first two eight-page stories, fer fucksake! And while we're on the subject of heads, Stardust causes villain Destructo's noggin to grow to enormous size and absorb his body,
then he hauls the head into deep space and lobs it into the "space pocket of living death" where "the hugest giant in the universe" dwells, a headless colossus appropriately named the Headless Headhunter.
The giant catches Destructo's pleading head, puts it on his massive shoulders and absorbs it into his torso.
These displays of over-the-top power reminded me a lot of Monty Python's Mr. Neutron, as played by the late Graham Chapman, only not intended to be funny.
Monty Python's Mr. Neutron: the most dangerous man in the universe and direct descendant of Stardust.
The completely one-sided adventures of Stardust occupy much of the book, along with Big Red McLane, a lumberjack who spends five pages violently beating the living shit of enemy loggers before the story comes to a jarringly abrupt halt, and an adventure of Buzz Crandall of the Space Patrol that may be the single worst space opera in the history of the medium. But the rest of the book is filled out with several chapters from the exploits of Fantomah, hands-down the weirdest jungle heroine of all time. With no explanation of how she got there or where her powers come from, Fantomah protects the jungle from assorted evildoing madmen with an array of powers perhaps even more bizarre than Stardust's, including her balls-out-looney ability to transform from a cute blonde in a black slip into a plus-size blonde with blue skin and a skull for a face, basically resembling Skeletor in drag.
There's no suspense to any of these stories since Hanks loads the heroes with abilities that make them pretty much gods, but the fun lies in seeing just how outrageous the stories get, each panel being more crazily absurd than the one preceding it. No lie, as I read this book I had a shit-eating grin on my face and actually laughed out loud several times, enjoying it so much that I read it a second time and am about to give it a third go-round when I take the subway home this evening. If you or anyone you know enjoys unbridled lunacy, I can't possibly recommend this book enough and strongly urge you to buy it. Considering the sheer entertainment value found in this book, it's not even like spending money. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!!!