Recollecting ‘The Heckler’ 2: Behind the Scenes, Behind the Mask

Previously on To Be Continued…, we explored the skullduggery, hijinks, monkeyshines and skylarking shenanigans of DC’s unstoppable surreal showman, The Heckler. Well. unstoppable until his “ongoing monthly” series was cancelled at issue #6. DC had longer lasting “Limited Mini-Series”.

This lack of success could be related to The Heckler’s accessibility. The Heckler inhabited a corner of the DC Universe where a specific brand of surreal insanity reigned. Neon signs point the way toward criminal hideouts when they’re not advertising places like “YOUR Lady of Perpetual Suffering Hospital”, “Ig-Pay Atin-Lay Otel-hay”, “REPENT or I’ll kill you!”, “Unca Andy’s Putty Palace”, “Home of the world’s largest CYST” or even reading “Just another *#@ Sign”. Yes, it took a special kind of mind to click with The Heckler.

So who was this title Heckler? The first issue speculates on this for us, calling him everything from “The Duke of Disdain” to the “Founder of the European Coal and Steel Union and First Chancellor of the German Republic.” On the same page, the writers make the observation “We’ve never seen YOU and The Heckler together at the same time, have we?”

Spoiler warning: eleven whole pages later, the book confirms that “hard fisted coffee shop owner” Stu Mosely is The Heckler. Most every other page tends to prove that he is everything The Heckler is not. Stu is constantly vexed by the wacko world of corrupt, crime ridden Delta City. Soon, like any hero in any origin story Stu actually says “Too much’s gone wrong with this town. And, well… Somebody’s got to do something about it.”

In spite of the fact that he is the guy who straps on the highlighter-yellow spandex to fight crime, Stu may be the most sane person in the entire book. Heckler is Stu’s interpretation of and commentary on Delta City. Stu is friendly but frustrated by his real world troubles against a cartoonish backdrop. The Heckler is the ultimate answer to the craziness of Delta City, as if Stu decided to meet it on its own terms. He applies a constantly smiling mask and a “Ha ha ha” motif on his costume, becoming something of an “anti-Joker”, a Clown Prince of Crime-Fighting.

If Delta City is bombastically bizarre, The Heckler is louder and crazier, using his Bugs Bunny-esque taunts and quips to bait and trap the bad guys in their own annoyance. In short, he more than lives up to his name. Unsmiling Stu, on the other hand adds to his worldly woes, trying to wash his costume in the laundromat without exposing his identity. The Heckler is Stu’s healthy(?) release, the byproduct of a man driven insane by insanity to the point that he has to both beat ’em AND join ’em to stay sane.

This preposterousness isn’t relegated to the characters. Mirroring Stu’s controlled psychosis break, the complete anarchy of The Heckler is contained in each page’s completely uniform nine panels (no more, no less, no bleeds, no combined panels), all in Keith Giffen’s wild Jack Kirby meets (and fights) Walt Simonson style art. Writers Mary and Tom Bierbaum, (along with plotter/ penciller Giffen) go off the deep end every time they address the reader directly. Issue #4’s splash page starts with a normal introduction and quickly devolves into a hilarious admonishment of the readers who expect too much of them. This includes, somehow, an aside about getting used to the new Mrs. Kravitz on Bewitched (cancelled twenty years before The Heckler’s publication) because the original is now “a decaying corpse”. This is par for their course.

Not even the letters column was immune. Before any relevant fan mail came in, editor Bob Kahan posted “Letters from people who have not read Heckler”, followed by real letters that had nothing to do with The Heckler (one was addressed to Mariah Carey). Issue 3 contained only two letters from “famous” comics fans, one of whom outlined everything that he hated about The Heckler and its writers. Next, Kahan angrily commanded the fans to “Move out of your parents basement!!!” and “GET A LIFE!!!” because they “have far too much time on [their] hands!!!” Only the fifth issue contained real mail from fans who had read the first issue. The sixth and final column featured too-little, too-late fan-created Heckler Fan Club cards. This immediately followed on the page after the announcement of the book’s cancellation.

The next blistering installment of To Be Continued…, in which we discuss the villains the Heckler survived and the one thing that finally took him down, is just one week away. That is unless you’re reading this from the future, in which case… I wonder if I’m dead.

Don’t miss “The Rogues Gallery and the Fall of the Heckler” or “Are you there, God? It’s me, The Heckler!”