Bizarro Back Issues: Happy Thanksgiving From Herbie Popnecker (1966)
Unlike Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving is a holiday that just doesn’t have a whole lot of comics built around it. You’d think it’d be a natural setting for drama — the Punisher attempting to murder a turkey even though it received a presidential pardon is a tale I’ve been wanting to tell for years — but for some reason, nobody seems to get up to a whole lot of hijinx.
Except, that is, for the inimitable Herbie Popnecker. To be fair, though, the story I’m thinking of isn’t actually based around Thanksgiving — when Herbie goes back in time to settle a debt with the Pilgrims, hook up with goodwives and battle a ghost bear, it’s just a regular Thursday.For you poor souls out there who aren’t familiar with Herbie, he’s the star of one of the greatest comic books of the ’60s (alongside Haney and Fradon’s Metamorpho) and, through his plunger-headed alter-ego The Fat Fury, was Alan Moore’s go-to answer when he was asked about his favorite super-hero. Beyond that, though… well, he’s a little hard to explain.
Originally created in 1958 by Ogden Whitney and Shane O’Shea (a pen-name for Richard E. Hughes, who also wrote as “Pierre Alonzo,” “Kurato Osaki” and “Kermit Lundgren,” among others), Herbie is an overweight kid with coke-bottle glasses who’s constantly being berated by his father, Pincus, for being a “little fat nothing.” This might sound like the setup for the saddest story ever, but it turns out that unbeknownst to his dear ol’ idiot dad, Herbie is actually the most powerful being in all of Creation, irresistible to women (particularly caricatures of mid-60s starlets like Jayne Mansfield) and so famous that even animals know him by name and will often apologize to him should they make the mistake of trying to eat him. He’s virtually indestructible, has the power to both fly and travel through time, has been shown on-panel to be more powerful than Satan himself, and usually speaks in stunted, monosyllabic sentences.
He is also fond of lollipops.
As this particular story from Herbie #17 begins, we learn something else about the Fat Fury: As it turns out, he’s a direct descendent of Myles Standish, the bloodthirsty military officer who came over on the Mayflower. And not only that, but his family is being sued by the descendants of John Alden over Standish never actually paying his fare for the trip.
Obviously, 346 years of interest ain’t no joke. The Popneckers are on the hook for millions unless Herbie can do something about it, so it’s fortunate that they have a son who can travel back in time in a flying lollipop-powered grandfather clock:
Thus, Herbie has found himself in Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims promptly set about putting up prefab log cabins, going about a simulacrum of mid-60s suburban life, and getting into the occasional skirmish with the local Native Americans. And as it has been in so many other stories of the era, this is where things get more than a little uncomfortable, as Whitney and Hughes bring out a few stereotypes for easy laughs. Admittedly, their idea of “Beatnik Indians” is a little closer to, say, the lightheartedness of F-Troop than the usual racism of the time, but still, it’s pretty unfortunate.
That’s also where Herbie’s mission picks up. See, it was ostensibly Standish’s job to “protect” the pilgrims from the people whose land they decided they wanted, and he’s been pretty lax at that. In Herbie’s cartoonish world, this mostly translates to pranks, stolen pies and the occasional round of good-natured arson, but still. People are getting tired of it.
And since Herbie’s Standish is significantly less into pre-emptive warfare than his historical counterpart…
…it’s up to Herbie to fix things.
The problem is figuring out how, which leads Herbie to take an upside-down mid-air stroll through a nearby forest. Which, as you might expect, leads him to get into a fistfight with a smartmouthed turkey.
And now you know what we’re actually commemorating every year at Thanksgiving dinner.
The fight ends when Herbie punches the Turkey so hard that all of its feathers somehow transfer over to Herbie, giving him the perfect disguise to sneak into the Natives’ camp and try to convince them to move south with promises of “lower tax rates” and “a better class of people.” They’re having none of it, though, and the Chief summons a spectral bear to deal with Herbie:
With that out of the way, they try a storm spirit (foiled when Herbie shoots lightning out of his hands because why not at this point) and then just cold shooting him with a bunch of arrows (foiled when Herbie does not give a damn). That last one does set him off, though, and he ends up dropping his signature Lollipop Bop and sending them packing.
With that done, Alden agrees to drop Standish’s fare down to $7.98, but Standish is still broke, and sends Herbie to take out a loan from his lady friend, Priscilla Mullins. Unfortunately for the colonists, and for recorded history as we know it, Priscilla ends up being rather taken with him:
For all the goofy stuff in this comic, it is actually 100% factual that beautiful women find rotund, dark-haired, sleepy eyed gentlemen incredibly attractive. You don’t have to take my word for it, there’s science to back that up.
This causes yet another problem, as Herbie’s ancestor doesn’t take kindly to his girlfriend hooking up with this obese interloper, and challenges him to a duel. This puts Herbie in a tight spot as his choices are to lose and die or win and erase himself from existence by stumping his own family tree back in 1620. After a bit of thinking, though, he comes up with the third option: Convincing Standish that Priscilla is actually in love with someone else by using a few specialized lollipops to turn the hideously deformed Alden into a suave Lothario:
And so, Herbie gets Alden paid off (in more ways than one, hot-cha!) and snatches the receipt so that he can bring it back to the present. And not only that, but since Standish paid his $7.98 with a ten-spot and never got change, that means that the Popneckers are in a position to counter-sue Alden’s descendants for their millions.
Which is exactly what they do.
Like I said, it’s not specifically a Thanksgiving story, but then, it kind of is. It’s got pilgrims, turkeys, Manifest Destiny, casual racism and undisguised loathing and disapproval from relatives. If that ain’t Thanksgiving, I don’t know what is.