DisComfort Food Comics: Hector Plasm: De Mortuis by Dave Shevlin

Let me start by saying I LOVE Hector Plasm. This comic is one of my Top 10 single issues of alltime. It’s amazing and some of the best material ever produced in this industry.  It’s a reason why I put in the work to create this website.  For special comics that mean this much to me.  Problem is, I often seem to be the only one who ever talks about it.  So, who or what is Hector Plasm, you ask?  Well, whenever I try to get anyone to read Hector, my pitch is: it’s Hellboy, but better or Klaus for Halloween.

What I mean by that is we have a comic with one of those very special main characters that can work in any story, any genre.  They just slot in and WORK.  Hellboy is one of those characters.  Wolverine another.  Conan, strangely enough, another one of them.  And Hector is another in this rare line of multidimensional characters.

But that’s not the only reason. I reiterate Hector Plasm is the superior, more refined version of Hellboy. But why?  Comics is full of characters that end up being better than what came before.  A bold, exciting new formula that builds on what first showed up.  Batman is just a better version of The Shadow. Captain Marvel (until DC put a legal stop to it) a better version of Superman. The Punisher is just a sharper dressed version of Mack Bolan the Executioner. And then there’s all of the many characters that are just a shiny, repackaged Doc Savage.  Hector Plasm is THAT to Hellboy.  The newer, better, more interesting idea that does something better while being influenced by the original solid idea.  Hector should be carrying that torch forward like so many other characters have.  He should be like the mighty Oreo, completely taking over where once the Hydrox stood triumphant.  Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world.

Ok, so I’ve got you listening when I say Hector is Hellboy, but better, but what is the actual comic? Released in 2006, Hector Plasm: De Mortuis is a 48 page one shot by writer Benito Cereno, artist Nate Bellegarde and colors by Jacob Baake that collects most of the initial Hector Plasm comic stories that appeared in Invincible, Popgun and Western Tales of Terror.  They are all short stories that deal with the titular Hector.

Comixology’s description of the book is:

“Even ghosts tell stories…and the name whispered in hushed tones over the dying embers of campfires past is that of the drifter, the con man, the shaman, the witch doctor, the exorcist… HECTOR PLASM.”

Benito Cereno describes it as:

 ..”a combination of old unused concepts and things we liked, like horror comics, Quentin Tarantino movies, weepy emo slice-of-life love comics, “true” ghost stories, and the music of Tom Waits.”

But here’s what I think the book is:

Hector Plasm is basically Keanu Reeves but he’s a ronin Ghostbuster that takes care of the nasty root of all the random ghost stories you’ve heard from friends and family over the years, whether thats with the help of his ectoplasmic saliva powers, his magic sword that exorcises when it slices or just as an ear to listen. He is a very literal “Do-Gooder”.

I remember first encountering Hector in my freshman year of college as I started reading Invincible early on and I was absolutely hooked.  I remember being delighted when I saw him pop up in the Image PopGun anthology (Those books were so influential on me.  They introduced me to so many different creators when I was really branching out in my reading.)  I can even remember trying to hunt down a copy of Western Tales of Horror to no avail before I actually found a scanned copy of the issue Hector appeared in, maxing out my Google powers for a lifetime.  So when I saw this came out, collecting all Hector stories and expanding his universe at the same time, I leaped on it with a fervor I’ve rarely felt.

The opening story introduces us to Hector in such a brilliant way.  We come in on a man, seemingly addressing us the reader as he describes a “haint” that’s come around causing all types of trouble.  He then gives us a fearsome, almost legendary description of what Hector is, really dialing up his otherworldly fright and power.

Hector is presented as some ghoul, always traveling with an angel & demon, perhaps the Devil and the Angel of Death themselves.  It’s an amazing way to get you fully into what Cereno & Bellegarde are creating here.  You’re not exactly sure what it is but this ghost story immediately captures you.

Soon you see this is a ghost story, literally. The man telling the tale is the ghost and Hector disposes of him, where we get our first introduction to our main dude, the Sinner and Saint by his side.

He saves the little girl the ghost had kidnapped and I just love the first showing we get of him is him disspelling all the myth around him while showing he’s a super chill, caring man. I love that joke ending too. Bellegarde does such great work here with the sunken eyes, stubble, and as we’ll see always slightly different hair and clothes for Hector. He gives him a real life, variable look that I really appreciate. He also puts him in such cool outfits with all his tools and weapons attached somewhere. When you look at him, you FEEL how tired this man is. You feel his life struggle to do what he does.

The next story is Hector coming in to help a Native American man who has ghosts infecting his trailer. The strength of Hector, like I said, is he works in any situation. In this one he’s called in to help and he does by just talking with the man, seeing the ghosts, quietly and methodically finding out their deal and solving the problem.

I love that line “..the real sincerity was in his eyes.” It shows that Hector is kind and true and completely here to help anyone in need. It’s like peak Superman shit. It helps build such a great character. The story is wrapped up by Hector finding out the trailer is parked right over a burial ground. Luckily, the trailer can be driven a few yards away and the problem is solved. I love that we get a story that is about ghosts but it’s ACTUALLY just a slice of life story about a guy in a trailer needing a man with sincere eyes to help him. That is all I will ever need in comics. Cereno brings the warmth and charm of the ultimate ideal superhero – Otto Binder’s Superman and Captain Marvel – and infuses it into this chill ghost hunter that you want to hang out with. THIS IS EVERYTHING I COULD EVER WANT IN COMICS!

The next story we get is my favorite – The Life and Times of Hector Plasm: Who He Is and How He Came To Be. We learn he was born with a caul, a layer of the amniotic sac that usually isnt there on his head. This pegs him as a Benandanti (literally “good walkers”, a real life group of agrarian people who were said to be able to travel out of their bodies to combat witches or evil spirits in order to ensure good crops in 16th and 17th century Italy. Look them up, it’s fascinating stuff.

Cereno describes his use of the Benandanti in Hector Plasm as such:

Hector Plasm is a modern day member of a centuries-old cult called the Benandanti, or Well-Walkers. “It basically means do-gooders,” Cereno told CBR. “They are people chosen by an accident of their birth–that is, being born with a bit of amnion called a caul over their face–to fight witches and generally to serve as gatekeepers between the living and the dead. Originally, they protected a local village, healing people and banishing spirits, but in this modern world where there are fewer Benandanti and where the idea of a global village is becoming more prevalent, Hector patrols most of the world, encountering people and their non-corporeal remains as he goes.

And that’s what this story is all about. We see Hector grow from a young boy into the man he is today and all his various teachers throughout the years that taught him how to be the best Benandanti or Do-Gooder he can be.

This comic is perfect because like any self respecting 80’s/90’s kid, Hector wore some form of Bart Simpson shirt with him saying his famous catch phrase “Don’t Have a Cow Man!” I pity the children of today who won’t know this joy.

Interspersed throughout these childhood flashbacks is a first person narration of current day Hector reminiscing as he fights some spirits. It’s a wonderful way of showing what he learned growing up in his well wisher cult and what paranormal powers he possesses. It’s an extremely effective and entertaining way of easily making sure you understand his whole deal and character.

After being trained by an actual ghost and a group of gypsies, Hector has tutelage under a fellow Benandante who is old, wise and incredibly wealthy. When he passed, he left it all to Hector. I love this bit as it explains why Hector can travel all over the world doing what he has to, supplying the much needed funding explanation always needed in fiction. We see his nomad lifestyle is a quiet, lonely one but we also get a wonderful page of other people in his same profession he’s met before, presented in one panel documentary POV style. I love this page. It shows that there is so much more to this grand Hector Plasm universe in a quick cut compilation of interesting characters.

One of the last pages in this story perfectly lay out what a potluck of story genres Hector Plasm is. Yes, you get your action and ghost fights with a tinge of super heroic wonder, but a lot of times Hector gives you a slice of life story, taking you all over the world and enriching you with history and culture. And……… it’s a love story, but that’s a tale for another time. “Alice..”

The story ends with a great line springing from the real life history of the Benandanti. “..the idea was to protect the local village. The WORLD is our village now.” If that doesnt hook you hard and make you want to read Hector stories for the rest of your life, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

The book continues with even more fun tales after that. You get an old West shootout parody. You get Hector in Niagara Falls, just wanting to visit a museum, having to fight mummies and being rapidly aged 10 years in 20 seconds. The shit this guy has to deal with.

Another great one in here is Hector on a tour in the South, chuckling away as some ghosts fuck with a racist “Karen”. It’s incredibly cathartic.

The last story is another particular fave of Hector having to deal with the vengeful ghost of an old time college girl that killed herself thats back and causing trouble being summoned by some girls in the women’s dorm enjoying a bong and a ouija board – “two great tastes that taste great together”.

I love this one because it’s a charming mix of slice of life with Hector having to go deep into a girl’s college dorm, absolute horror in the ghost, and intense action as he tries to save everybody from this ghost that hops into the statue of a large bobcat, intent on murdering Hector.

Throughout all of these stories, Hector retains his humorous, everyman personality. It’s the real strength of the book that he can do and know all of these ghastly things but he does them in the same way we’d pump out paperwork or send e-mails all day, with a tired sigh and a Flintstone’s style “It’s a living” being muttered under our breath. Hector is the exact same as us while simultaneously being so much more. His “job” is to do good and protect us from ghosts and witches and the supernatural, but after it’s over he just wants to kick back and have a drink before it’s on to the next one. There is an extremely relatable component there that makes him such a special character. I think any reader, no matter how different we can be, can see a part of themselves in this overworked, ghostbusting wanderer. Cereno & Bellegarde have cracked that secret code here in making one of fiction’s greatest characters ever. They build on everything that came before to make a Cool Ranch blast of flavor that supersedes all that came before. Y’all can grow fat on your Hydroxes, I’m gonna enjoy my Oreos. Like I said, Hector Plasm is like Hellboy, but better and you owe it to yourselves to read this special comic.

Remember earlier, when I mentioned in a perfect world that Hector would have supplanted Hellboy and been a huge deal? Sadly, if reality, especially 2020, has taught us anything, it’s we are in a very imperfect world. Hector Plasm could be to Halloween like Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus is to Christmas. We should be getting an annual Hector comic every October to celebrate just like we get Klaus most Holiday seasons. They are equally just as incredible, inspiring comic characters. Sadly, in addition to this one shot, there exists just one more online story and one sole followup one shot, Hector Plasm: Totentanz. But, like Alice, that’s a story for another time.

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