From Publishers Weekly
One of the strangest cartoonists of American comics' Golden Age, Hanks had a short career—the 15 stories collected here were all published between 1939 and 1941—but the deranged, nightmarish vigor of his work has made it something of a cult item. Hanks created pulpy characters like Stardust the Super Wizard, the scientific marvel whose vast knowledge of all planets has made him the most remarkable person ever known and the jungle heroine Fantomah, whose face becomes a snarling skull when she uses her magic powers. The artist's manic obsessions turn up again and again: global-scale atrocities, miraculous rays and, most of all, poetically apt punishments. In a typical story, Master-Mind De Structo tries to suffocate America's heads of state with an oxygen-destroying ray, so Stardust turns him into a giant head, then hurls him into a space pocket of living death occupied by a headless headhunter. Hanks's artwork is crude and technically limited (each of his characters has exactly one, wildly caricatured, facial expression), but nearly every page has some image that sings out with deep, primal power. In an afterword, editor Paul Karasik explains how he tracked down Hanks's son and learned a bit more about the artist's sad life and death. (July)
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Hanks, who plied his trade in the late 1930s and early 1940s, has been called the Ed Wood of comic books, but his narratives are far more bizarre than Wood's film scenarios, and his naive artwork resembles that of outsider artists like Henry Darger. His creations include jungle queen Fantomah, who morphs into an all-powerful, skull-faced avenger; he-man lumberjack Big Red McLane; and his chef d'oeuvre, Stardust, "master of space and interplanetary forces," a tiny-headed, barrel-chested, eight-foot superhero with limitless powers. Hanks definitely had a vision, albeit a loopy one. In every story here, justice is meted out in cruelly imaginative ways to "spies and grade-A racketeers," "a gigantic fifth column," and other miscreants. Stardust transforms them into icicles that melt away, or giant rats he then drowns. Hanks' crude but powerful draftsmanship makes such grisly executions laughably nightmarish. In a comics-format afterword as sensitive and nuanced as Hanks' work is harsh and blunt, compiler Karasik tracks down the fate of the elusive Hanks, who vanished from the scene after producing a handful of hauntingly demented works. Flagg, Gordon