HEMBECK 1980: Fred Hembeck Reviews SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE

One of my absolute favorite creators in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s and beyond was Fred Hembeck. I first encountered his work as a single-tier strip on DC’s in-house promotional page, the Daily Planet. Eventually, my friend Glenn Hauman showed me one of the collections of Fred’s material that were being released by FantaCo, comprised mainly of the weekly strips that he’d do for the Buyer’s Guide to Comic Fandom as well as other pieces scooped up from hither and you. Hembeck was great–he had an appealing style, he didn’t take the subject matter too seriously (and simultaneously took it very, very seriously, a dichotomy I could appreciate) and he was a like a comic book archaeologist, digging through old issues to find weird and forgotten stories to spotlight. I followed his work doggedly. One of the best pieces he ever did from a historical point of view was his three-page review of SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, which saw print just after the film had first opened. It gives those of us looking back an unvarnished picture of what the fan community was thinking before, during and after the film was released.

The first page Fred produced was done before he’d seen the picture, and sums up both his enthusiasm for the project and his trepidations and concerns about what he’s seen and heard about it. The production of SUPERMAN THE MOVIE wasn’t without its problems, and those stories tended to filter through the fan community. (Also, Fred was working on tabloid-style pages for this strip, but he jam-packed a lot of words into a very small space, something he’d do routinely!)

The second page was Fred’s response to the movie after first having seen it. I can relate to this completely, as he fixates on every bit of business that troubles him, every storytelling choice that he woudl have made differently. It’s a positive review, but not overwhelmingly so.

The kicker comes on the third page, which Fred produced a week or two later, after he’d taken in a second showing of the movie. And it’s a complete turn-around. Having gone in knowing exactly what to expect, he simply adored it this second time through (so much so that he apparently briefly considered tossing away the first two pages completely.) Again, this is a paradigm that I can relate to, as I’ve had the same sort of experience on multiple occasions. But what’s terrific here is that Fred shows all three periods, and honestly.

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