Like many preteen comic-book-reading boys, I occasionally had hopeful fantasies about my parents dying. This wasn't because I'm a closeted sociopath; it was more an unhealthy Batman-inspired homage. I just desperately wanted to avenge their deaths and use that sorrow to fuel my never-ending war on crime.
Like many preteen comic-book-reading boys, I was tremendously overweight. This meant that I wasn't secretly an adopted Kryptonian; Superman was always fit, no matter what he ate. No, I'd have to take a more human tack to my life as a crime fighter. That war on crime, according to the comic books, would require an immense and unspeakable tragedy to kick it off. So late at night I'd nearly drive myself to tears over pretend origin stories, imagining botched burglaries and brutal terrorist attacks at the Maine Mall taking my parents from me at a tragically early age.
Until I happened across some reprints of the Herbie comic books of the mid-'60s. Herbie Popnecker was a spherical young boy with an embarrassing bowl haircut and heavy-lidded eyes peering out from behind his giant plastic glasses. Herbie's dad, like mine, was always disappointed in his son's lack of athletic ambition: "Oh, it isn't that I don't love the boy... but he doesn't do anything or have any imagination! Good gosh, that I should be the father of a little fat nothing!"
And, like me, Herbie had a heroic side his parents couldn't see. Frankenstein's monster feared him. Movie stars wanted to be him, and mermaids and other beautiful women thought he was dreamy, in part for his marvelous flamenco-dancing skills. Leaders like John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill sought him out for counsel and assistance. George Washington was a fan. With his wit and skills, Herbie made fools out of enemies of America like Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro, and even Satan. He traveled through time in a grandfather clock and battled evil cowboys and giant mutated ants. And if a bulldog bit Herbie on the ass, he'd bite that bulldog's ass right back.
The secret to Herbie's power was magical lollipops. He'd lick a certain flavor to fly—actually, Herbie was so fat he couldn't really fly and would instead just walk on air like a gently listing balloon in a white shirt and jeans—and another flavor would zap his foes with lightning bolts. But they all worked as blunt instruments. His catch phrase—"You want I should bop you with this here lollipop?"—would always preface the kind of punch that sent his foes flying ass-over-teakettle through the universe. He'd even occasionally go so far as to dress up as a superhero named The Fat Fury.
As an adult, I can't necessarily identify with Herbie the way I used to, but his adventures, recently collected by Dark Horse Comics in the first of what will hopefully be many handsome hardbound volumes, are delightful in a very viscerally pleasing way. For such a surreal strip, Ogden Whitney's realistic line art (very reminiscent of Curt Swan's Superman art of the same era) grounds the story in its own kind of logic and reassures the reader—someone who, statistically, probably resembles Herbie—that they, too, are secretly capable of tremendous acts of greatness and heroism, just as they've always suspected.