Roy Thomas Presents The Heap Volume One

PS Artbooks

$47.99, color, 240 pgs.

Writers and Artists: Various

Collecting "The Heap" stories Dec 42-May 48

This is a fascinating book.

Not for the art or stories, which never rise above pedestrian. But the history is remarkable. Roy Thomas makes this clear in an enormous essay which traces the swamp monster meme from Ted Sturgeon's "It!," to The Heap, to Solomon Grundy, to 1950s Marvel monster books, to Swamp Thing and Man-Thing -- and even The Hulk! For some reason, the swamp monster concept has scratched some kind of an itch, being nearly constant in comics since the '40s -- although I'm unaware of it having any kind of memorable precedent in literature, mythology or folklore, like most classic monsters.

Anyway, The Heap arose in the Sky Wolf series in Air Fighters Comics, wherein a World War I ace named Baron von Emmelman had plunged aflame into a swamp in 1918, and somehow fire and swamp and dying human all merged into what amounted to a walking bush or tree by World War II. One of the side bits I learned from this is something I never picked up on in the Sky Wolf stories at Eclipse, which is that Sky Wolf was a Blackhawk rip-off -- the stories took place in or near Poland, and his crew (one of which is named, and I am not making this up, "Cocky" Roach) are all from different countries, a la Stanislaus, Hendrickson, et al.

Leaving that side, I don't have to point out to modern readers that The Heap's origin has been used with minor variations for Solomon Grundy, Man-Thing and Swamp Thing -- and in the latter case, has been codified as the origin for all Swamp Things in a line going back to whenever Swamp Things began. Also, if you've ever wondered -- as I have -- why Marvel opted for a dopey-looking carrot-like nose on Man-Thing, you need look no farther than this book, as that nose is virtually the only identifiable feature on The Heap, who otherwise looks sort-of like a haystack.

In the beginning, The Heap is more or less a menace (and a blood-sucker), mindlessly doing damage to both Axis and Allies alike, although Sky Wolf seems to take a shine to him. The (uncredited) writers seemed to struggle to find some sort of motivation for The Heap (as later writers would in Man-Thing comics), and too often fell back on elements relating to von Emmelman to set The Heap in motion. So, for example, The Heap will hear someone speaking German, or see a German airplane (which wouldn't look at all like his own), and lurch in pursuit, doing damage all the while. This story trick happens waaay too much -- even von Emmelman's wife shows up!  -- and gets particularly ridiculous when The Heap gets shipped to America for the launch of its own strip (in Airboy Comics) in 1946 and begins following a boy named Rickie Wood around because Rickie has a model German airplane.

And this is where it really gets interesting, because Rickie Wood is a dead ringer for Rick Jones! In fact, by the end of the Rickie Wood stories, the teen is wearing the Rick Jones "uniform" of blue jeans, yellow shirt and red jacket! The relationship between Rickie and The Heap is different than Rick and The Hulk, in that Rickie regards The Heap as a menace and is always trying to figure out some way to get it captured or destroyed. But circumstances do keep throwing the two together, and the stories very definitely have the same sort of vibe as the 1962 Incredible Hulk run and the Hulk stories in Tales to Astonish. I know that nothing in comics is created in a vacuum, but I had no idea that Rick Jones had a precedent -- much less one who was nearly identical. One wonders how much The Heap was in the back of Stan Lee's mind when he co-created The Hulk (and The Thing in Fantastic Four) although Thomas says "neither of those characters was a  rip-off of The Heap ... even though Stan, who co-created both, has publicly professed to having admired the Hillman character."

Then, weirdly, there's a complete shift in format, where it turns out The Heap is the result of a contest between two Greek gods, and they are the driving forces for the next several stories. Which is then quickly forgotten, as a new status quo is established, where The Heap just kinda shows up in different countries all over the world. That's where this volume -- one of a projected three -- ends, with The Heap in an unnamed country where the police are wearing what look like French uniforms. (So it could be France, but it could also be one of France's African colonies or former colonies, like Morocco or Mali.)

I should mention that the stories, as you'd expect, are mostly uncredited. The art, too, seems to be guesswork, except those done by big names like Dan Barry and Carmine Infantino -- who are so subsumed into the house style as to be almost unrecognizable.

But despite the mediocrity, the surprise additions to my comics knowledge made this volume worth every penny. Maybe you have to have an interest in comics history to enjoy Roy Thomas Presents The Heap, but I'd like to think most comics fans would get something out of it. And I'm certainly looking forward to the next two volumes for whatever surprises they may hold.

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Wow, Cap, you got to this one quick! Me, too. (I love it when we’re in synch.) The only Man-Thing I read in the ’70s was the Giant-Size series (and the Power Records book and record set), and I didn’t read the Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing until DC reprinted it in the ‘80s, but one of the earliest comics I remember reading was the reprint of the comic book MAD in one of their summer specials which featured Harvey Kurtzman and will Elder’s version of The Heap. I didn’t follow Airboy in the ‘80s, but I did buy and read the entire series at a quarter sale after it was cancelled. And of course, there’s Alan Moore’s version of Swamp Thing (which pretty much incorporates the Hillman material without actually coming right out and saying so outright). I don’t know what it is about the swamp monster concept that (some) readers find so appealing, but this one shot to the top of my “must read” list (and evidently yours, too).

I generally plow through a collection every night or every other night, except the Showcase Presents books, which usually take a little longer. At any given time I usually have 10 or 20 books ready for review. (Currently I have more than 25 collections waiting for review, and more than a few individual issues that I almost never get around to.) The upshot is that I read the books quickly, I just don't review them quickly. There's only so much time.

Which doesn't invalidate your point -- this one floated to the top for some reason. And that reason was that I had something I wanted to say right away. The Rickie Wood thing just floored me and I wanted to talk about it ASAP.

I've been trying to be a little more economical in my comics-related purchases the last few years, but this was going to be a hard one to pass up anyway ... and now you've made it harder, Cap.  Rrrrrr ...

Also ...

Also, if you've ever wondered -- as I have -- why Marvel opted for a dopey-looking carrot-like nose on Man-Thing, you need look no farther than this book, as that nose is virtually the only identifiable feature on The Heap, who otherwise looks sort-of like a haystack.

... a down-on-the-farm version of a swamp monster call The Haystack would be awesome!

I read faster than I write reviews/reactions to post, too. Too often in the past I have let my posting pace dictate my reading pace, but I’ve been moving away from that. I usually have three comics reading projects going at any given time, which I alternate for variety’s sake. I’ve adopted your technique for plowing through collections such as Jesse Marsh’s Tarzan; I am currently working my way through Turok, which I had fallen way behind reading. Every once in a while I like to put a little bug in your ear regarding a particular collection of another that has struck my fancy, and currently that collection is Comics About Cartoonists.

If I just wanted to read Roy Thomas's lengthy intro, where would I find it?

 

It might be worth trying to get the volume from a library via interlibrary loan. Eventually it might be possible to read it at Google Books or in an Amazon preview, but that doesn't seem to be the case currently.

In the 50s and 60s there was a 640 pound wrestler called Haystacks Calhoun.

Doctor Hmmm? said:

I've been trying to be a little more economical in my comics-related purchases the last few years, but this was going to be a hard one to pass up anyway ... and now you've made it harder, Cap.  Rrrrrr ...

Also ...

Also, if you've ever wondered -- as I have -- why Marvel opted for a dopey-looking carrot-like nose on Man-Thing, you need look no farther than this book, as that nose is virtually the only identifiable feature on The Heap, who otherwise looks sort-of like a haystack.

... a down-on-the-farm version of a swamp monster call The Haystack would be awesome!

You can see Haystacks Calhoun as himself (briefly) in the final scenes of Ralph Nelson's Requiem for a Heavyweight, a 1962 film with a script by Rod Serling.

Surprised Serling didn't take the story, give it a weird ending, and put it in Twilight Zone. Unless someone felt he had made enough boxing episodes with Steel and The Big Tall Wish.

It may pre-date The Twilight Zone. That particular story had been created as a TV drama, with Jack Palance as the boxer and Keenan Wynn as his manager.

Several years later, Nelson remade it as a theatrical movie, with Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason -- and some guy called Cassius Clay as the fighter who puts Mountain Rivera down for the last time.

I seem to recall that "Haystacks" was advertised as weighting "six-hundred-and-one pounds," but that was the usual rasslin' exaggeration. They claimed that he was impossible to pin (there would be a logistical problem with so round a fellow's shoulders.) Still, I'll bet he was no more than 375 pounds!

He was advertised at 601 the day Bruno Sammartino slammed him and became famous, leading to him being champion.

I know they announced Andre the Giant was 7'4" and over 400 pounds. Then he turned heel and suddenly he was 7'5" and over 500 pounds. Then he died a few years later.

Jack Palance would have fit in well in Twilight Zone. He did a pretty good Dracula movie.

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