Here we go again, kids!
After a three-month break, Howard the Duck is back with a new volume and a whole new numbering for no discernible reason, save to make the book fall in line with all the relaunched post-Secret Wars titles. In that context, however, the move makes even less sense since the comic feels like it takes place in a slightly less absurd version of the Marvel Universe. I say less absurd because to me self-seriousness in light of the bizarre reality of a lived experience is more absurd than the absurdity of a wise-cracking sometimes suicidal talking duck. Since Howard is back it means that If It WAUGHs Like a Duck is back, the series that covers both the original and the current Howard the Duck comic book series one issue (of each) at a time. Be sure to follow the links at the bottom of the post back to the earlier installments if you’ve missed them.
Howard the Duck Vol. 6, #1
Cover Date: January 2016
Release Date: November 4, 2015.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Penciller: Joe Quinones
Inks: Joe Rivera,
Colorists: Joe Quinones
Letterer: Travis Lanham
While the new numbering upset me because it derailed the parallelism of my If it WAUGHs Like a Duck series, I will say that if the symmetry must be disrupted, at least it begins with the pleasant mirroring of volume and issue numbers—that is, we are on to volume 6, issue #1 (the current series) as we arrive at issue #6 of volume 1 (back in 1976). Similarly, while the current Howard the Duck begins again with Howard and Tara on the road from New York to the Florida Everglades, the original series finds Howard and Beverly on the road, having left Cleveland, and hitchhiking their way across Pennsylvania for New York.
Somewhere in the Poconos, Howard the Duck vol. 1 #6 has Howard and Bev in the middle of a bizarre gothic mash-up—from a weeping argument under torrential rain in the moors that leads to them (temporarily) parting ways, to angry villagers, a character named “Healthcliff Rochester” (a la the Brontës), a creepy old manor with baying hounds, a madwoman (not in the attic), and a monster (up in a tower) brought to life by electricity! Actually, there is a continuity error in the comic. The cover refers to a sinister cellar, and in the scene where they go to see the monster it looks like it’s in a cellar (stairs down into it, no windows), but in the dialogue, young Patsy (the young girl who lives in the manor and claims she is just making cookies in her lab) describes a tower and leads them up upstairs. But that is a rather minor detail. What is much more bizarre is the inclusion in this gothic tale of a religious cult led by the Reverend Joon Moon Yuc, referred to as “The Yucchies”—a clear reference to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and his cult of “Moonies,” members of his Unification Church who believed him the second coming of Christ, and which was very popular in the 1970s. The Reverend is colored with bright yellow skin and his features like a Yellow Peril serial villain. The racial caricature is not as pronounced as I’ve seen in other Marvel comics of the time, but is still gross. The Yucchies seem to want the manor property, which Rochester is selling and offers to Howard, because they believe Patsy is baking “unholy cookies,” and want to exorcise the place. And I guess the cookies are unholy, because they rise from the slab in the form of a gingerbread Frankenstein!
As you may be able to tell the plot makes no sense. Once again Gerber simply throws together a bunch of tropes common to gothic romance and throws in some references to timely cultural touchstones—like the Moonies, and a joke about real estate agents—and hopes it’s funny. But it isn’t. The one thing that does stick out to me, however, is that issue #6 is the first two-parter in the original Howard the Duck series. It is also the first month of its monthly printing, because up to this point it was only coming out every other month. It must have been selling well. The new monthly status means the option for a two-parter makes a lot of sense. The issue ends on a cliffhanger and the reader only needs to wait about four weeks before he gets to see what happens next. At the end of Howard the Duck #6 the cookie monster comes to life and Howard and Bev run for the door, but it is locked and they are trapped inside with it! To be continued…
The only things worth mentioning about this issue are 1) that my fears about Beverly feel like they have been confirmed. She is the absolute worst! I mean, not her character, so much as her lack of one. Her crying fit in the rain on the moors strikes me as the worst kind of characterization of a woman as emotional and unpredictable in place of having an actual personality, motivations and interests of her own. And 2) there is more Howard for President stuff on the letters page, with promises of more buttons and “sloppy notes” from Steve, and the claim that Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford are running on a combined ticket in hopes of beating out the popularity of the Duck. Oh, and there is a joke about their choice of Ronald Reagan to fill a new executive branch position, “The Old Ranger,” which just goes to show that just four years before Reagan took the presidency (a presidency, that in many ways, the U.S. has still not recovered from) Reagan was mostly considered a joke.
In 2015, we find Howard the Duck and his female companion, Tara (now openly a shape-shifter, there is a funny bit with her shape-shifting a hat, which since it is part of her, she still gets sunburned) driving down to Florida three months after the end of the last issue. So, right off this comic is not doing the line-wide “8 months later” thing that’s supposed to be when all the post-Secret Wars stuff happens. There is no sign that Secret Wars even happened at all, though I guess the final issue with Talos the Untamed using the Abundance Glove was Zdarsky’s version of the company-wide crossover event. At a roadside gas station Howard has an altercation with a cartoon Tea Partyer—which is a weird thing to say because even the real life Tea Partyers I’ve seen are cartoons, but then I am sure their cartoonish qualities are why Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert or whoever chose to put them on screen where I could see them. It is almost a political moment…Well, it is because all human…er, duck interactions are political, but I mean seemingly purposeful in making a comment on a political position. Almost as if the spirit of the Gerber volume of Howard the Duck found its way into a couple of panels of the current run. A trucker with a grudge having lost his job complains that Howard is an “alien” and that Obama probably gave him the job “on a silver platter.” He goes on to explain that this is the reason why he doesn’t pay taxes. Howard’s retort is great, but this is as far as the issue goes to be political: the radical position that we should be happy to pay our taxes to fund better schools and thus a better democracy of informed citizens. Tara comes along and saves Howard from having to fight the “perfect hick angel,” and on they go towards Florida.
Later in the issue there is a great Trump for President joke, too. So, I guess Marvel is letting Zdarsky have a little rope to work with in his humor and commentary.
What Tara doesn’t know, but eventually finds out, is that Howard wants to go to Florida to seek out the Nexus of All Realities (from whence he emerged back in Adventure into Fear #19) and get back to Duckworld with the help of the Abundant Glove (which he is still carrying around). It’s nice to see Howard with some angst again. He wants to go home because he is feeling alienated and alone in this world of crazy hairless apes. As he explained to Doctor Strange in a flashback he feels as if the Earth itself were trying to kill him because he doesn’t belong. I’d love for that alienation to ring a bit with political and philosophical commentary. The issue ends when, after having to fight off the Wizard and Titania who are trying to use the Nexus, Howard steps through it but goes nowhere! Instead, the Wizard is about to blast Howard for good, when he is saved by a pair of anthropomorphic animals that appear to have come through the other side, a Rosie the Riveter-like duck, and her companion a female Rocket Raccoon with a pink mohawk and a big gun.
The part of the issue that seems weirdest to me, however, is that in the flashback Aunt May is shown working at Howard’s detective agency as a secretary. She is drawn rather differently than previous issues. She looks significantly younger and in one panel is drawn with what I can only describe as some kind of Katy Seagal sexiness. It made me not know who she was supposed to be until Howard calls her by name. I am not sure what to say about this. It definitely is not the first time Aunt May has been de-aged, and not even the most sexual situation she’s ever been depicted in… Maybe I’m just showing my years as I realize I am closer in age and attitude to Aunt May than I am to all the young heroes most superhero comics focus on. Perhaps if I had gotten the normal cover version and not the special variant based on Ole Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers (part of Marvel’s Hip Hop variants), I would have seen May on the cover and would have recognized her right away.
The new issue #1 also has a back-up story, which I quite liked, and I love that the Howard the Duck series has continued with regular back-up features. (Maybe the extra pages is why this issue was a whole buck more than normal.) The story takes place between the end of the last volume and this new one, and involves the Black Cat hiring Howard to find the mysterious Gwen-Pool—a Deadpool variation in the form of Gwen Stacy (she even breaks the fourth wall at one point), kind of like that Spider-Gwen character that has her own title now, but I can’t bring myself to try out. The back-up is also part one of a multi-parter, so we’ll see how that works out, but right now the energy of story in word, line and color (by Chris Hastings, with Danillo Beyruth and Tamra Bonvillain, respectively) makes me more excited to follow this story than the main one.
Tallying the Bill
I’m glad Zdarksky and Quinones’s Howard the Duck is back. I missed it, which I guess means that I have bought into the new series. It might also just mean that after way too long a time where Marvel Comics were way too serious for me, I am vulnerable to its humorous comics, like this and Superior Foes of Spider-Man. As for the original Howard the Duck, it remains in the realm of the curious artifact of its time. I mostly find it unfunny and a little too in love with it estimation of its own cleverness. I do love those Gene Colan covers though. Anyway, I should try to keep in mind that Gerber was just into his first full year of a new kind of comic, so it may have taken some time for him to find his voice and rhythm. It shall all be revealed in the fullness of time and here in the monthly installments of If it WAUGHs Like a Duck—until then!