Welcome to If It WAUGHs Like a Duck, the series where we examine both the original volume of Marvel’s Howard the Duck, and the newest series now in its second volume (6th volume overall; I know, confusing) – a pair of issues at a time.
Howard the Duck Vol. 1, #9
Cover Date: February 1977
Release Date: November 23, 1976
Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Gene Colan
Colorist: Michele Wolfman
Inker: Steve Leialoha
Letterer: John Constanza
Howard the Duck Vol. 6, #4
Cover Date: April 2016
Release Date: February 3, 2016.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Penciller: Joe Quinones
Inks: Joe Rivera and Rick Magyar
Colorists: Joe Quinones
Letterer: Travis Lanham
When we last left Howard the Duck in 2016 he was a prisoner of The Stranger—one of those cosmic beings I’m not all that familiar with or interested in—who wanted Howard’s new powers as the Living Nexus of All Realities for his own agenda of observing new realities or something. It is pointless to worry about it too much. What does matter is that our anatine protagonist is rescued by a wanna-be herald of Galactus (a former astronomer who stole a piece of power cosmic held in a sculpture made by Alicia Masters). She kidnaps Howard to convince Galactus to take her on, despite being annoying as heck, claiming they could use the duck to travel to a universe with no inhabited worlds. Galactus could live as the planet-devouring equivalent of a vegan. When the Silver Surfer shows up to help Howard, countless ships are on his heels. They are from other factions hoping to also get their hands on Howard—the Kree, the Skrulls, etc… Soon, Howard is zipping across the galaxy in the form of a silver surfing duck, with dozens of ships on his tail (not literally, they’re chasing him down), but the Guardians of the Galaxy help him, having been retrieved by Tara, Linda and Shocket. The issue ends with Howard confronting The Collector, who finally gets his hands on the duck again. Next issue promises to be a showdown between Howard the Surfer (of is it the Silver Duck?) and the Collector with whatever crazy cosmic powers he might have. Who knows? I don’t. He was the kind of character I may have read about in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (Deluxe Edition), back when I was 12, but heck if I can remember any of it.
Anyway, this synopsis is a long way of saying the current volume of Howard the Duck is a space adventure. It is a comedic space adventure and moves with an alacrity I appreciate, and something of an insider’s sense of humor, but as I have said in basically every one of these installments it just doesn’t feel like what a Howard the Duck comic is supposed to feel like. Or at least, what I imagine one should feel like.
And maybe that is good thing, because back in 1977, Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck continues to sputter along, trying too damn hard to be funny and relevant, but mostly falling flat.
Howard the Duck vol. 1 #9 opens immediately after election day. The scandal regarding leaked photos of Howard and Beverly in a bathtub together (could it really be drawn to suggest he is pleasuring her under the bubbles?) succeeds in undermining the groundswell of support for his presidential bid. He and Beverly are stuck bitterly professing their innocence in the abandoned campaign headquarters. Soon, they find out that “Canada’s Only Super-Patriot” is behind the fraud, and head to Canada to confront the man—who has a tendency to use hotel bellboys and robot planes in his nefarious plans—and prove their innocence. It may be too late to win the election, but it is not too late to win back their reputation, something Bev seems particularly concerned about. She complains more than once that she is now known across the nation as “a shameless hussy.” Well, if she’s lucky, maybe it will get her a role in a commercial, like it did for Donna Rice.
Speaking of Bev, she was mentioned in the current Howard the Duck for the first time, and mentioned with a wistfulness that suggests that Howard may regret something that happened between them. Not having read much more than 18 issues in sets of nine 40 years apart, I cannot pretend to have any idea what might have happened or how their relationship evolved. Given the pretty clear sexual relationship between Lea Thompson’s Bev and Howard in the 1986 film based on the comic I always assumed the Gerber-penned comic made their romance pretty explicit, but so far nothing. At the end of issue #9, Howard does seem to express some jealousy of the attention their Canadian Mountie ally gives her, and he storms off, but I can’t say for sure until I read further if I am interpreting that correctly. I am not sure how else I could, but this comic continues to confound me in what it considers humorous, so who knows…
But honestly, I don’t care for Beverly. She is a boring one-dimensional character, the worst example of female characters from the comics of the 1970s. She exists to basically be Howard’s feminine conscience and have no motive or sense of her own. He mostly takes her for granted, and she mostly complains and looks pretty. Now, if Chip Zdarsky is hinting towards bringing her back to address that, to re-imagine her contribution, now that I would be interested in. Sure, it is totally possible that in the next 20 issues of the first volume she evolves into a character to admire and want to see more of, but as of #9? Nope.
Anyway, back in 1977 Howard ends up going out on a tightrope set up over Niagara Falls to face the Canadian super-patriot who is wearing a beaver-themed robotic battlesuit, a furry exoskeleton that lets the old man walk and fight, and kidnap Bev who ends up up in a tree beset by hungry beavers. Le Beaver falls off the rope and the Mountie saves Bev. The end. WAUGH! This might be the only time Marvel Comics had a story set in Canada with nary a Wolverine or Wendigo in sight, just monstrously stupid Canada-jokes, and dialog peppered with bad French. If I were generous, I might say that the character of Le Beaver was supposed to be a critique of the madness of American nationalism. In other words, the one “super-patriot” in Canada is obviously insane, which means all of America’s many super-patriots must be as well… But I am not in a generous mood after nine lackluster issues.
In the letters pages of both these comics there is not much more interesting going on. In 1977, some dude named Bob Rodi (a student at the University of Dayton) writes in to explain how he doesn’t like anything “too popular,” so he held off getting Howard the Duck because there was too much hype. Just the perfect kind of bullshit narrow-minded perspective that Howard should be skewering, but that the letter writer seemed to be 100% earnest about. Another letter writer extols the virtue of Howard the Duck #6, which is in stark disagreement with my estimation of it. In 2016, there a rather long letter from some dude who is doing a series of posts about Howard the Duck, putting the new series in conversation with the first series…Wait a minute! That’s me! Hey hey! It was only the second letter I’ve ever written to Marvel, but the first to be published, and they didn’t even edit it down despite being a rather long letter. You can read it (and the response) by clicking here.
Tallying the Bill
Howard’s space adventure continues to be fun—and I enjoyed the Thing doing his best Reed Richards impression when it came to dealing with Galactus—but I am looking forward to Howard returning to Earth and dealing with more mundanely outlandish stuff like American politics, even if it is only his irreverent take on Marvel’s next crossover events like Pleasant Hill (which sounds like a first-person horror video game) or Civil War II: Recycled Boogaloo. I can honestly say I have no idea where the original Howard the Duck series is going. Will the story focus on Howard and Bev’s relationship as I think it might, or will it continue with a string of anemic parodies and attempts at satire? Eh, probably both, but only historical curiosity keeps me going at this point.