Recollecting 'The Heckler', DC's Almost-Forgotten Absurdist Hero

by J.C. Macek III

5 February 2013

Debuting this week, Next Reel columnist J. C. Maçek III casts an eye on all things comics, To Be Continued…. This week -- DC's flirtation with the absurd in 1992's The Heckler

Do you remember The Heckler?

Of course you don’t. Nobody does! The absurdist DC Comics hero’s “ongoing monthly series” lasted a mere six issues, has never been reprinted or anthologized and wasn’t even an afterthought in DC’s company-wide reboot The New 52. And that’s too bad because The Heckler was an absolute gem and deserved to be remembered and to outlast like any of the best periodicals sold under that familiar “Hey!! Kids Comics!” tin sign.

The Heckler’s main asset was insanity. Complete and total abject, surreal, absurd insanity, from the stories themselves to the page layouts to the splash pages to the very letter columns. There wasn’t a full three inches inside of a Heckler comic that wasn’t funnier than Dan Rather dressed in Rocky’s boxing trunks with a clown nose on.
Created by writers Tom and Mary Bierbaum and plotter/penciller Keith Giffen (though “probably” falsely attributed as a resurrected Golden Age character from More Fun comics), the character himself was hilarious to look upon. Unrelated to the Joker or Riddler (aside from their shared Universe), the Heckler was decked out in yellow spandex (the approximate color of a highlighter) with “Ha Ha Ha” letters adorning half of his costume. His mask sported an impossibly huge smile and was otherwise completely nondescript. His “H” symbol wasn’t relegated to his chest, but was so darned big, it actually started just under his armpits, wrapped around his waist and hung down to below his knees. Stealth was not among The Heckler’s powers.

Like the comicbook named for him, The Heckler’s main asset was insanity. Operating out of the “Beach District” neighborhood of the fictional Delta City, The Heckler faced a rogues gallery of impossibly super-powered villains, the likes of which you might expect to find in The Tick. Unlike The Tick, however, The Heckler (in spite of being in good enough shape to fill out his lycra duds) was anything but “nigh invincible”. He was of average strength but far above average wit. Heckler relied on his own sarcastic comments and irritating moves to annoy and frustrate his super-villains, to the point that they would do themselves in. In one case he literally heckled one villain to such annoyance that said villain began shooting at him, only to take out another villain by mistake. The Heckler was something like the entire cast of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 packed into tights to skewer bad guys instead of bad movies.

The Heckler debuted in mid-1992. To put that into more of a popculture perspective for you, ads in The Heckler’s short run promoted Superman’s erstwhile murderer Doomsday, the introduction of Batman’s erstwhile replacement Azrael and DC’s short lived imprint “Impact Comics” (a collaboration with [not kidding] Archie Comics). Hal Jordan was Green Lantern again and still a good guy (as opposed to “a good guy again”), Guy Gardner was not a Green Lantern (though he did have a power ring), massive crossover events featured villains Brainiac and Eclipso, and somebody even thought it was a good idea to give Elongated Man his own mini-series.

Might you assume there was little room on the newsstand for a breakout comedy character? Might I add, you ain’t kiddin’.

The Heckler was, by far, not the first absurdist hero out there. Giffen himself also created the ridiculous Ambush Bug and co-created the ultra-violent anti-hero Lobo. Over at Marvel, a seemingly immortal character named “Madcap” had some decidedly Hecklerish adventures. Meanwhile, The Tick was still an underground sensation, years from becoming a TV icon. Thus, comic fans didn’t know quite what to make of The Heckler if they gave the book a shot at all. He was an oddball in a really strange world (Delta City’s neon signs alone are worth the cover price to read), but The Heckler wasn’t quite a “spoof” comicbook. Its farcical nature was packed into every (evenly spaced) frame, but the Heckler was a part of the DC Universe. His only (official) post-cancellation appearance was in a single-issue (and quite drunken) team up with Plastic Man and, you guessed it, Ambush Bug. The Heckler didn’t spoof other characters or tropes… he, himself, was the joke of a character, and a comicbook trope gone horribly RIGHT.

More on this story when To Be Continued… continues next week. Same Bat Time, Same Bat Website.

In our next exciting episode of To Be Continued… we go beyond the grid in The Heckler and beyond the mask of the hero himself. Who is this devious Heckler of crime and why did the writers accuse the Heckler of actually being YOU (yes, you)? Who were these dastardly villains in The Heckler’s rah-rah-rogues gallery and why were they all unable to defeat the canary crime fighter? What did the editor fill the Letter column with when nobody had written in yet? Why was each page broken up into nine perfectly uniform frames no matter what?

The answers to these questions and many more may (or may not) be in our next spirited episode entitled “Behind the Mask and Behind the Scenes” or “How I Learned to stop Worrying and love the Flying Buttress”.

Don’t miss it!

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