In the history of comic books, many villains have tried to kill the heroes. In fact, it's what they do. Very rarely, they succeed in sending a costumed crusader to the Great Beyond. However, only one man has managed to destroy the entire Marvel Universe... Fred Hembeck, Destroyer of Worlds!
Okay, that's a bit much. Mister Hembeck didn't destroy the actual universe, but instead wrote and pencilled a one-shot years in the making that detailed the death of all the Marvel Universe's various heroes and villains.
The story opens with poor Fred Hembeck sitting in an alley thinking about the time he was paid to write and pencil "Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe", only to have the project blow up in his face due to the machinations of an evil twin. As Fred thinks it can't get any worse, who should walk up but Frank Castle, the Punisher. As the Punisher holds Hembeck at gunpoint, he demands to know if Fred is indeed the Fred Hembeck who was going to destroy the Marvel Universe. The Punisher grabs the prints Hembeck is holding, and begins to read the tale of "When Titans Croak".
At the start of the actual story, we are introduced to Crackers, the Clown Prince of Death. Why is death a clown? "Why, because death is the ultimate punch line, of course." The first hero to fall is Ant-Man, who went out like a popcorn kernel. More heroes die, including the Black Cat (dead of the black plague). Jameson gets wind of this, and continually tells his assistant to stop the presses until the publisher learns Spider-Man has died.
We then cut to Spider-Man in heaven, who starts to panic. Captian America tries to comfort him, but Spider-Man is having none of it. He thinks something fishy is going on, and then recalls how he died. He was lured into an alley by Doctor Octopus, where Spidey found the Scorpion, the Rhino, the Lizard, the Vulture, the Owl, and Toad (from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants). They made short work of Spider-Man is such small quarters, but were then crushed by a collapsing building.
Spider-Man and Captain America continue discussing the pros and cons of being dead, but the Web-Slinger wants to live. He begins to suspect Jonah Jameson of orchestrating all of their deaths as a way to sell papers, though he eventually drops this line of thought. Spider-Man still thinks this was all the fault of some master planner.
More heroes and villains die. The next Spider-Man character to die is Kingpin, and the deaths keep coming. The Great Beyond is becoming increasingly more crowded, and soon the Fantastic Four have arrived as well. Reed Richards immediately begins to suspect something, and learns that the Guardian Angels of Superheroes and Supervillains have been reassigned to the Mets, since some of the heroes were demonstrating tactics unbecoming of a hero. Reed quickly formulates a plan, planning to use someone very close to Spider-Man to show Fred Hembeck the way.
As the last of the heroes and villains die off, we cut back to Fred Hembeck and the Punisher. The Punisher is confused as to who was going to convince Fred to revive the heroes and not destroy the Marvel Universe. The spirit of Uncle Ben reveals that he was going to be the one, and then the Punisher reveals that he's actually Stan Lee. Stan Lee promises to give Fred Hembeck a job, and as the pair head towards the Marvel offices, Crackers comes and finds the pages for "Fred Hembeck Destorys the Marvel Universe".
There are not many people who could take the deaths of every hero and villain Marvel had in the eighties and make it funny. Fred Hembeck is one of those people. From Ant-Man to Zzzax, people enter the Great Beyond in creative and funny ways. Spider-Man also plays a semi-major part in the book, as does his Uncle Ben and the blustery publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Also, while the story itself is from the early mid-eighties, the humor is still (for the most part) fresh.
The writing is witty and all around superb, and the art, while it takes some getting used-to from non-Hembeck fans, works with and enhances the material. Add to that the spotlight given to Spider-Man, and you have yourself a nearly-perfect book. Also, it's a book that won't break the bank, as you can find it at your local comic book shop for around the cost of a new comic.
For the full story on "Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe", and the trials and tribulations Mister Hembeck went through to finally see it in print, go to Fred Hembeck's web site, more precisely, here.