(Fantagraphics) GUEST REVIEW by ROBERT DAYTON
Everybody’s talking Fletcher Hanks, the formerly unknown golden-age creator of oddball comics. The first collection of the late Hanks’ work, “I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets”, made a great many top comics lists when it was released in 2007. This particular volume, “You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation”, collects apparently everything else that he did. I naturally expected this book to be less satisfying, unless one is indebted to completism. I was wrong. Being proven wrong can be a tremendous feeling. We certainly get more variations on his main theme: hero steps in to deliver some peculiar sense of vengeance to a mad villain after he has already killed a great many people. There is also a repetition of postures, poses, and expressions. Many characters are variations: both Space Smith and Whirlwind Carter could be the same character, Tabu is the wizard of the jungle while Fantomah is the mystery woman of the jungle. Hanks even signed his work with a variety of interchangeable pseudonyms: Hank Christy, Barclay Flagg, Charles Netcher. But I think this repetition makes for fascinating reading and it may be where the numerous comparisons to Henry Darger actually ring true, as it is kin to traced and collaged pieces incorporated into a unique framework. In the comparison game, Gould and Wolverton also pop-up, partly due to their cartoony infusions in the adventure genre.
I quite prefer this second volume because it contains the adventures of Big Red McLane, King of The Northwoods. This lumberjack appears from nowhere to commit acts of valour in the corrupt world of logging! Fistfights get rewarded with flapjacks and career advancement. Also included is Hanks’ only Medieval-styled adventure, Tiger Hart of Crossbone Castle, which is more of a jarring anti-climax with some nicely rendered horses. My fave Fantomah adventure is here; a kind, white boy turns evil after eating mysterious drug berries, he grows up to use his giant constrictor to topple buildings, as a result Fantomah’s floating and disembodied pretty-lady/scowling skull-head steps in. In the later Stardust adventures, reprinted here, he recruits an army of young boys clad in skintight outfits just like his own. And the black cover fits quite nicely on the bookshelf next to the white cover of the previous volume.