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I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! Paperback – June 20, 2007
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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
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Some people compare Fletcher Hanks to Ed Wood, which is a very applicable comparison, but if you had a contest of who was the least capable yet most entertaining I honestly think Mr. Hanks would win.
Some people compare Fletcher Hanks to Ed Wood, which is a very apt comparison, but Ed seems like a certified professional compared to Fletcher Hanks.
So you might wonder what in the world of comic book creations compares to Fletcher Hanks? Two things come to mind. First would be The Flaming Carrot. Second would be Tales Designed to Thrizzle. But what these guys do intentionally, Fletcher Hanks does by a sheer lack of writing talent or artistic ability.
Oh, and one thing that I have to mention is how of all of Stardust's abilities come in the form of "rays." There's the "anti-gravity" ray, "boomerang" ray, "secret" ray, "magnetic" ray, "suspending" ray, "fusing" ray, "disintegrating" ray, everything is a ray with this guy. I started reading stories just to see what type of ray he would use next.
Also included for your reading pleasure are stories featuring Big Red McLane the King of the Northwoods and Buzz Crandell of Space Patrol. The art contained in these two stories are among my favorites in the collection. Don't ask why, I honestly can't explain it. Perhaps it's the weird looking villain in the Buzz Crandell story, (as well as that story's complete anti-climax) or the really memorable fight scene in the Big Red story which probably has the most laughably drawn fight scene I have ever seen in a comic. (But I'm not saying that in a bad way.) It's like Hanks didn't even try with that one.
Which leads me to the art itself. Despite it's over-the-top violent content, there's an overall innocence to it the same way there is to a drawing that a small child may have drawn. The art is definitely eye catching, perhaps even more so thanks to the very loud and sometimes garish coloring job. (This is the first time I've ever seen the floors and halls of a subway painted green, red and yellow.) One little detail that I noticed was that his characters never seem to wear more than two to three facial expression per story. Whether this was some sort of joke or done out of laziness we will probably never know, but I somehow found it comforting to know the facial expression the hero would be wearing the next time that New York would be bombed by a fleet of bomber planes. (Every villain in this seems to have a legion of bomber planes.)
While Hanks' writing style isn't the comic book equivalent of say Moby Dick or Crime and Punishment, his simple and strange illustrations are decent enough, and I would consider them right on par with likes of Crumb and Seth in an outsider art kind of way.
Overall this is a splendid book, and one that any serious comic book collector wouldn't be without.