After giving the Man-Thing a proper going over a coupla weeks back, I thought it would be just peachy of me if I were to offer the same sorta in-depth perusal to the Thing's spiritual fore bearer, none other than the Heap. A character who has remained an under-the-comic book counter legend ever since his fateful appearance way back inna early-forties, the Heap was not only a character far ahead of his time (predating the mutated monsters of the early sixties by a good two decades), but one who set the pace for a whole load of anti-hero comic book characters that made their way into your grubby suburban slob palms ever since Stan Lee got a brainstorm of an idea that made him a bundle fifty years ago.
And true, it might have been our loss that because of the advent of the grubby 'n smelly comic characters of the seventies that we have the gloppy miasma known as the comic book world of today (or so I would surmise after reading a whole load of articles regarding the tanking of the entire industry to movie and product profits), but at least when the Heap was roaming the earth we knew who the good guys and the bad guys were...or (after reading through a good eleven or so years of Heap adventures) did we?
Of all of the weirdoid, whacked out heroes of the Golden Age of Rubbish, the Heap just hadda've been the weirdest. Beginning life as the dashing World War I German ace Baron Von Emmelmann, the Heap coagulated over an indefinite period of time after the highly-decorated Baron was shot down over a Polish swamp (no jokes please!) and his will to live kept him alive as the vegetation and other rotting matter clung to whatever was left of him resulting in the first of the comic book muck monsters. At first looking like a shaggy yeti then as more of a collection of moss and branches with a human form and a short elephant-like snout, the Heap wandered through the pages of AIR FIGHTER then AIR BOY comics, originally as a bad if brainless kraut monster subsiding on the blood of animals and men for sustenance then as a good-bad guy who must have had the kids rootin' for 'im even though he wasn't exactly a redeemed soul 'r anything, and finally as a strange presence of good who appeared almost deus ex machina while wandering across the world (and at the most amazing distances his swampy feet could take him).
And along the way boy did he not only tangle with some of the weirdest elements to hit the pages of the pre-Comics Code world but had some of the strangest coincidental happenings surround his own origin story even worse'n when Superman's own saga got switched around and mutated as the years progressed! The slight changes and tinkerings done with the Heap origin throughout the series run really stretch the bounds of credibility, but then again sometimes I have to keep reminding myself "this is a comic book" even if I want it to be about as close to my own sphere of comic realism as NANCY.
Even the first few years of HEAP-dom show the character as a good-bad guy who unwittingly helps Sky Wolf and his men thwart the Nazis before dying in the line of doody, but that's before his corpse is shipped over to the USA after the war by a Zoologist who revives the Heap (who more than once is referred to as being a "Hulk"!) so he can kill the henpecked man's shrewish wife (and boy does she look shrewish!). Pretty soon Our Hero is out and about, usually associating with a proto-Rick Jones/Snapper Carr-ish kid calle Rickie Woods if only because the thing's infatuated with the kid's German insignia model plane which dredges up faint memories of his past life, but even at this stage he's still considered a badski to the point where even Woods wishes someone would off the shaggy nuisance once and for all!
Of course that is before the legendary Mars and Ceres use the Heap in their bet to see if the creature is one of violence or love, at which point the entire story line seems to change from that of a headlining bad guy who is good even if his bad traits seem to overpower him to a muddled creature with some semblance of valor left. And from there the Heap travels the world stopping throughout Europe (many times to the swamp from whence he sprang) showing up to somehow right some wrong typical of the post-superhero era and pre-Code days when, although comics seemed to by searching for some sorta viable hook, they produced some of the best work to come outta the funny book world and that even includes today!
It is kinda funny seeing a character who embodied Teutonic evil und sadism transform into a shaggy clump of love and dog-like understanding like this, but the stories are good even if the series turned into what looked like a standard crime/horror comic with the Heap making an appearance somewhere in the mix. Not only that, but the artwork is just about as good as the post-World War II era cartoonists could muster up (which was pretty snat compared to some of the drek that was coming out at the time). And if you like all of those seventies swamp-laden comic books from MAN THING to SWAMP THING not to mention THE HULK during his sixties/early-seventies prime, this is just more of the same, only in its original form sans the cloying moralizing and soap opera moosh that has plagued the comic book idiom for a longer time than any of us could imagine.
Roy Thomas's intros are concise and entertaining, detailing the development of not only of the Heap but the entire muck monster genre (he even mentions the infamous MAD spoof "Outer Sanctum" which featured its own Heap monster) as well as digs deep into the background of the series and the various artists who handled the series throughout the years. The art repro's really good too. obviously taken from the original issues yet still crisp and clear without looking doctored up. Frankly I can't find a thing wrong with the entire shebang which kept me occupied for weeks on end and made pre-beddy bye time a lot more enjoyable'n usual.
And like I always say, maybe a successful effort like this'll spur on the likes of DC and Marvel to dig up some of their old favorites and get them repro'd for all of us fans who've been waiting to read the entire MIDNIGHT or JOHNNY QUICK runs for years on end. I doubt any of 'em'll get the hint-hint, but somehow I get the feeling they'd make more moolah bilking their seventy-year-old successes for all they are worth (and to me that's plenty!) than they would creating new characters that only seem to mirror the worst aspects of contemporary living with all of its foibles and cliched liberal platitudes. And you know its true!