If you haven’t read the first two installments of “To Be Continued…” in which we chronicled the strange world of DC’s short lived superhero The Heckler, consult your physician and read them forthwith and with forethought. We were just discussing the approach that writers/ co-creators Tom & Mary Bierbaum and Keith Giffen (who also pencilled) took in their introduction of their would-be classic comedic character.
Now let’s talk about what killed him.
One tried and true method for introducing a new character to an existing universe is to have said newbie fight one of the universe’s more popular mainstays. Win or lose, established fans will be interested in the new foe turned (faux?) friend. Wolverine first appeared not in X-Men, but The Incredible Hulk and fought that title monster for a memorable intro. Azrael was introduced as a Batman enemy before becoming one of his most trusted allies (though that didn’t exactly turn out great).
The Heckler didn’t bother and obvious sparring choices like The Riddler and The Joker were left to a future date that never came. The Heckler had his own bizarre bazaar of a Rogues Gallery equal parts Doom Patrol villains, Sandman mystics and H.R. Pufnstuf characters. Somehow this managed to be a good thing.
Topping the list is Alessandro “Boss Glitter” Hummer, a foppish mime-faced gang boss who dresses like Adam Ant, sports a Ziggy Stardust coif and holds Delta City in the cruel grip of his sequined glove. Boss Glitter’s enforcers include the assassin Ratchet Jaw (whose lower face is a gun, as opposed to a ratchet). Also trolling the streets is the hired assassin Bushwack’r, the ultimate hunter… who is somehow so bad at his job the Heckler doesn’t even notice the villain before he does himself in… repeatedly.
For defeating King Mambo, former Glitter Gang lieutenant in charge of “The Beach District”, The Heckler rose to fame (out of frame). However, we do see The Heckler’s subsequent taunting of the gangster Glitter sends to pay him back. Hector “El Gusano” Alberto’s only discernible feature is his lack of discernible features. He looks something like Clayface (without the shape shifting) has super strength and can morph his way through Earth. His name is Spanish for earthworm if that tells you anything. He debuted three years before the hero “Earthworm Jim”.
Outside of Glitter’s employ, but more insane than the villains in John Rozum’s entire run on Xombi is The Cosmic Clown, a literal “Killer Clown from Outer Space” with a maraschino nose and the deadly “finger of destiny”. When the Heckler scores a five on a seven point check, he is identified as a clown, and therefore he must die at the hands of the now self-hating Cosmic Clown. If anything can be weirder than that guy, there is C’est Hay (pronounced “Say Hey!”), a living scarecrow with a penchant for musical theatre.
This (plainly) brings us to John Doe, the Generic Man. Not only is Doe himself generic (he has no face except a description), but anything he touches turns completely featureless with black block letters describing each person place or thing as “PEDESTRIAN”, “ROCK”, “CAT”, etc. When Doe takes a bath in the city’s water supply (making it an off-grey mass labeled as “WATER”), the world starts to go generic, and only the Heckler stands in the way.
Much as Stu Mosely uses his Heckler alter ego to mirror a society gone mad, so do Giffen and the Bierbaums seem to be commenting on the comicbook industry with the Heckler’s battle against the Generic. By 1991 the collector bubble (“the speculator boom”) was in full swing and corporate comicbooks often had a certain safe sameness. The Heckler was a unique periodical among near-generic stalwarts and tried to make its stand. The book’s creators seemed to declare their thesis statement in the second issue featuring a literally Generic character attacking their own comic Heckler. If that isn’t enough of a hint, The Heckler-hating (and baiting) conservative TV show host P.C. Rabid (who may or may not also be the mayor) is as also faceless and wears a human-looking rubber mask as he tries to convince children that The Heckler is an evil to be avoided.
In absence of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, Delta City’s biggest threat came in the form of “The Four Mopeds of the Apocalypse”. Plague Boy, Famine Lass, Kid Pestilence and… Skippy perform unholy rituals to raise “The Flying Buttress”. Not an architectural marvel, the Flying Buttress was actually what she sounded like, a giant female ass, even scarier than the Judge from Pink Floyd: The Wall.
Yes, folks, while James Bond squares off with villains called Jaws, Oddjob, Dr. Shathley Q and Mr. Big, the Heckler faces Death apprentices named Skippy, android harlequins, show tune straw men and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s worst nightmare. None of these threats, nor even the long fall from out of The Flying Buttress managed to defeat the Heckler.
So what did?
In the final frame of The Heckler‘s uniform nine-panel pages, the creators announced that only “crummy sales figures” could “kill the Heckler”. The unceremonious announcement went on, “And sadly, that’s just what’s happened. This is it, no more Heckler.” followed by the Heckler’s own surrendering final line of “That would do it, all right…” Aside from a scant few appearances since (of questionable canonicity), that final frame was the final word. The Generics had claimed one last victim… may he Heckle in Peace.
So much for The Heckler (unless we all start a “save the Heckler” write-in campaign). NEXT WEEK when To Be Continued… is…to be continued…I’ve got two enticing words for you…Bat…Man! (Yes, I realize “Batman” is one word, but it sounds so dramatic that way. Work with me here, people!) Browse on in for more To Be Continued… next week. Don’t miss it.
// Notes from the Road
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