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 (but soon to be ending) series – a pair of issues at a time. If you’ve been following along you know that I wait to read issues of the old series until the issue of the new series comes out.
Howard the Duck Vol. 6, #9
Cover Date: September 2016
Release Date: July 27, 2016.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Penciler: Joe Quinones
Inks: Paolo Rivera, Marc Deering, and Joe Quinones
Colorist: Joe Quinones w/Jordan Gibson
Letterer: Travis Lanham
I don’t have a lot to say about 1977’s Howard the Duck #14. It takes off fairly straight forwardly from the end of the previous issue. Now imbued with the dark demon soul of Damien Hellstrom (aka Bronze Age anti-hero Son of Satan) Howard’s dark side takes over. Sure he saves Winda from whatever evil plan the Reverend Yuc and Dr. Reich have in store for her, but he also berates her and slaps her around. Later he hunts down Bev (now back in Cleveland and staying with Paul Same—the artist from Howard the Duck #4 who transformed into Winky Man) and confronts her about their relationship. He belittles her and grabs her wrist painfully twisting her arm to make her kneel down in pain. In that moment he is the worst example of an entitled dude who thinks his own paranoid jealousy and reticence to express emotions aside from anger should be catered to. Thankfully, Damien Hellstrom smashes the devil duck with a car before Bev can be seriously hurt. The actual Son of Satan is able to get his dark soul back and then has to reconstruct Howard’s shattered soul culminating in one of Colan’s dark and lovely two-page spreads. Unfortunately, the age of the comic book copy I own is such that the dark colors are smudged and some of the light text on dark background is illegible because they eschewed caption boxes. Afterwards, Howard the Duck is back to his old self, regaining consciousness as the sun comes up and dismissing this sentimental moment as a “cornball capper.” And he’s right.
The issue ends with Howard, Bev and Winda living at Phil’s, followed by an epilog where Dr. Reich is revealed to be Hitler! (though he is never called that, just drawn in a Nazi uniform with Hitler’s features and mustache). Pretty sure this won’t be the last of Dr. Hitler and Reverend Yuc, but next, we are told, is Howard the Duck Annual #1 (which I probably won’t get to in this series, but is as racist and sexist a mainstream comic as I’ve read) and then (finally) “The Island of Dr. Bong!” Looking forward to finally reading an issue featuring what is likely Howard’s greatest foe.
The art in this issue suffers I think because of the new inker (Klaus Johnson). He’s generally a great and accomplished inker, but here I think his heavy inks make everything muddy, which is exacerbated by the problems of dark colors in those days. According to Wikipedia, he’s the inker on the majority of issues from here through issue #27, so let’s hope he won’t make me miss Steve Leialoha too much.
There are some good letters printed in Howard the Duck vol. 1, #14. There is a two-line letter from Roger Schoolcraft from Follansbee, West Virginia, calling the series “very very weird,” and asking that the team keep it up. John Kozek agrees with me that Howard’s true enemy is the absurdity of existence itself, and warns against too much “supervillain action.” Adam Castro (who gives no address) complains, comparing the issues features Howard’s fragile psyche to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. The 1976-7 show was a convoluted satirical soap opera, and sounds about the right tone for a Howard comic, actually.
In 2016, time is running out for volume 6 of Howard the Duck. Or is it? As I mentioned in the last installment of If It WAUGHs Like a Duck, issue #11 will be the final issue of this series, but an announcement on the letter page says that Marvel has some kind of Howard plans in 2017, and some Chip Zdarksky and Joe Quinones plans as well (I hope it is Nobody Likes Spider-Man).
Anyway, the letters page also includes photos of Joe Quinones hanging with Lea Thompson because she guest-stars in this issue. And let me tell you, this is the best issue of this comic so far (not including Howard the Duck vol.6, #2, but that issue didn’t feature Howard).
It turns out that the actress Lea Thompson (Aunt May is a huge fan, is that a dig at Lea’s age?) has been losing time and having frequent dreams about Howard where she is called “Bev.” She hires Howard to investigate what is happening to her, and after a barrage of Brooklyn hipster jokes that are so old they are lampshaded via editorial note as “stale” (a move that does nothing to return any form of vitality to the jokes) they discover Mojo is behind it all! Who is Mojo you might ask? Only the (literally) spineless master of the Mojoverse—a dimension where everyone is addicted to the hyperviolent TV programs he produces, cloning and creating actors (like my personal favorites the X-Babies) when necessary. He’s been kidnapping Lea Thompson to play Bev in his fictionalized account of Howard’s life that he produces when Howard’s actual life (which he films) gets too boring and ratings drop.
Mojo is a perfect Howard the Duck villain. While he first appeared in the Longshot miniseries (of 1986) and is mostly an X-Men villain, he strikes me as just the kind of villain Gerber might have come up with for his original run. I must not be the only one who thinks so because in his review of the issue for CBR, Matthew Little writes, that it “[s]tays true to Gerber’s vision.” I don’t know about that because Gerber’s vision would probably include being compensated and recognized as the creator of the character and would not be happy with anyone else writing Howard the Duck, but the review’s hyperbole aside, this issue comes the closest so far to feeling like the source material. As Little describes it, “a metafictional and satirical take on comic books of the 1970s.” Except, of course, modern Howard is not nearly as didactic in his cranky critique of culture.
In the final reveal of the issue, we see who has been ultimately responsible for manipulating Howard’s life for Mojo. It is two purple alien versions of Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones! Sigh. And just when it was so good… Leaving aside the Star Trek-like chest emblems on their uniforms that due to a food stain on Alien-Chip’s shirt looks like the Comedian’s bloody smiley face from Watchmen—which feels like a dig against DC’s Rebirth—this self-reflexive insertion of the creators into their comic was not only old already when Grant Morrison did it at the end of his late 1980s run of Animal Man, but Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction do it regularly in Sex Criminals. Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh about it. There is a long tradition in Marvel Comics for comics creators appearing in their books, sometimes heroes or villains visit the Marvel offices, one time Ralph Macchio (not the Karate Kid, Marvel’s editor named Ralph Macchio who is nicknamed “Karate Kid”), had an adventure with Dazzler at San Diego Comic Con, so looked at in that way such a self-indulgent moment might make sense with this iteration of Howard the Duck, but still I’d prefer something else. I guess we’ll see how far they take it in the series’ penultimate issue.
I do want to mention before wrapping up this installment of If It WAUGHs Like a Duck that Quinones’s art is on point this issue. Look at the credits above and you’ll see he had his hand n all the aspects of the art. The coloring is especially strong. Lea Thompson is mostly recognizable throughout and I love how Quinones draws Tara. Take a look at the short video above demonstrating the careful panel layout taking advantage of a page turn to provide a sense of focus and continuity. Great work!
Tallying the Bill
The first volume of Howard the Duck has reached full gear and is in motion. I am looking forward to reading more. On the other hand, the reveal at the end of volume six’s issue #9 definitely feels like beginning of the end game to me. Like Stephen King appearing in the Dark Tower you know one way or another this shit has got to be almost over. (I’ve never actually read any but the first book in that series, but heck I’ve read How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read—okay that’s a lie, I haven’t read that either). Lately, when comparing the two series, keeping in mind both how short runs tend to be these days and the knowledge that the Zdarsky/Quinones run was ending, I’ve been thinking about the approach to serialization in the 1970s (when writers frequently hoped to stay on a book indefinitely) versus the relatively quick turnover of creative teams at the Big Two these days, and how that shapes the narrative and characters. I have an idea, but I want to save it for the last installment of these series, in hopes that I’ve had a chance to develop it more by then.