Last week I wrote about Marvel’s oversized one-shot Incoming (see “Confessions Of A Comic Book Guy -- Incoming/Upcoming"), and how it might be nice if Marvel and DC did more of those kinds of cross-company overlooks, especially around the Holidays. What I neglected to say though was while not a “Christmas comic,” it would have made a great Christmas gift for comic fans. Retailers are always keen on selling customers on giving comic books as Christmas gifts, and this would have made a great gift for the person in their family already reading comics.The Fantastic Four's Cutest Member Is Now a HUGE Potty-Mouthed Threat.
Comic book fans naturally hated him, primarily because he wasn’t the Human Torch of course, but to be fair it was also because he was silly, and for Marvel fans, especially back then, that was the worst. Neither they nor the characters they loved got much in the way of respect and for them, H.E.R.B.I.E wasn’t just a silly character in a kid’s cartoon (intended specifically for kids) but an obvious sign of that disrespect. Plus, it needs to be said, that even among the many, many goofy irritating comic relief robot sidekicks that appeared in 1970s kids cartoons, H.E.R.B.I.E seemed especially annoying.
As for myself, if I remember correctly (and it really is getting to be a very long time ago), I don’t think I cared all that much. I certainly didn’t like H.E.R.B.I.E, but I managed to tolerate him - he was a minus, but the show had plenty of pluses. Chief among them being the voice cast which included the great Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The Addams Family) as The Thing and character/voice actor Mike Road (Zandor from The Herculoids) as Reed. And Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby worked on designs and storyboards for the series.
But in spite of fans' animus towards the character, or maybe because of it, he made his first Marvel comics appearance in 1979’s Fantastic Four #209 and inexplicably, kept on making appearances for the next 40 years as mostly a background character. Though he also didn’t seem to be favorite among creators either given the way H.E.R.B.I.E was treated being repeatedly destroyed, disrespected and possessed by evil entities. Even when he finally got a meaty role in Chris Eliopoulos' brilliant Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius, he served as young Franklin’s long-suffering babysitter and personal butt monkey.
And Val just unleashed all those decades of bent up repressed rage and resentment on the Marvel Universe, on basically a whim. This seems horribly out of character, given how she’s repeatedly proven herself to be smarter than her father. She was the only one who realized that by increasing the intelligence of the Dragon Man, “an artificial dragon-like humanoid android,” she could turn a perpetual menace into a valuable ally. After all, if she wanted to “liberate” an artificial life form from its programming, wouldn’t it have been more logical for her to start with the one she reprogrammed herself in the first place?
While it does have the advantage of having a "torn from today's headlines" quality (I keep finding headlines online about the "coming A.I. revolution"), as a lifelong lover of all things robotic, I can't say I’m keen on this “Robot Revolution” event. For one thing, it seems like a pretty standard rehash of dystopian SF tropes from people who don’t seem to have done a lot of research on artificial intelligence.
It's hard to imagine that being upgraded into a potentially existential threat to humanity will gain H.E.R.B.I.E any more fan respect, but then, I can’t imagine this permutation of the character lasting very long either. But then, I don’t suppose it’s exactly fair to say that “everyone hates H.E.R.B.I.E” anymore; too much time has passed and there are so many other fresher things for fans to feel aggrieved about. He must have his fans, just look at all of the H.E.R.B.I.E merchandise, nobody makes toys of a universally hated character. Maybe this undoubtedly short-term turn to "The Dark Side" is just the thing fandom needs to finally fully embrace him. And they'll express their affection for him in the only way they seem to know how; through outrage.
After all, nobody knew that everyone loved Hawkeye until Marvel temporarily killed him.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.