Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Incompleat Howard - Volume Four!

Howard the Duck - The Complete Collection Volume Four is the focus of this last lingering look at Marvel's most famous fowl. This is a wide-ranging collection of stories from Howard's career as he wraps up his black and white magazine phase and moves into that unenviable position of occasional guest-star. He also jacks out two more issues of his color series though all of the work is pretty much by divergent hands in both the arenas of writing and artwork. 

Howard the Duck #8 features one of Howard's most famous adventures, that of "Ducknight Detective". But first there's a story titled "The Grey Panther" by the regular team of Bill Mantlo, Gene Colan and Dave Simons. This yarn finds Howard and Beverly working in an unusual old folks establishment which we learn has nefarious schemes to rob the young of their vitality for the sake of the old, and all of this overseen by a mad doctor who dubs himself "The Grey Panther". Of course Howard and Beverly defeat this plan and escape. After that harrowing escape they visit a sunny Florida beach whee they meet an industrialist named "Spruce Payne" who hires to them help promote his products in the attire of two bogus superheroes -- Duckman and Duck Girl. This photo op gig though gets real when the men hired to play bogus villains Jokester, Puffin, and Quizling turn out to be baddies for real and are working for another villain named The Maller. When Payne goes missing it falls to Duckman and Duck Girl to save the day, which of course they do in a manner of speaking. This story by Mantlo is illustrated by Marshall Rogers who had won great acclaim for his work on a certain "Darknight Detective". This issue wraps up with anothe installment of "Street Peeple". 

In the ninth and final issue of the Howard the Duck black and white series we find our friend Howard and his best girl Beverly in New Orleans, and of course in the comic book world that means voodoo. 
Howard and Beverly become embroiled in a scheme by the third  Black Talon to bring a powerful "Duck Diety" back into this realm. He actually succeeds but thanks to Howard the duck god is less than impressed with Talon's ways and ends up punishing his own worshipper for acts of cannibalism. This story and the next one are by the regular Mantlo, Colan and Simons team. The second Howard story is a really signifcant one and has our devoted couple confronting aspects of themselves in motel mirrors and Beverly comes to the conclusion that she and Howard need to go their separate ways, at least for a time. In a game-changing move the story quietly comes to an end with Howard perhaps realizing at long last how precious their relationship was. Bill Mantlo now left Howard as the regular writer and is replaced on the third story by Steve Skeates who had been writing some offbeat episodes of Howard for Crazy magazine. The story seems to be a send up of The Big Sleep with Howard functioning as a mopey and bickery Philip Marlowe of sorts. He confronts a strange family, which the most strange is a two-headed bloke who turns out to be something else entirely. An article by Steven Grant closes out the issue and reprises Howard's history and implies that he will be returning to the color comic world. 

While all of that is going on Howard does indeed show up again in a color comic, specifically Marvel Team-Up #96 where he is still operating as a taxi driver and ends up in New York City helping Spider-Man defeat yet another deranged goober who celebrates the status quo. In fact he takes that name and wages a war on all fads. Quickly this war becomes a fad in itself and Howard and Spidey have their hands full. This story was written by Paul Kupperberg and drawn by same. 

Howard's next stop is in Bizarre Adventures #34, a color issue of the black and white magazine which features Christmas stories. In this Howard adventure by Steven Grant and Paul Smith the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life gets turned on its head when an angel in search of his wings tries to show a forlorn and suicidal Howard how his presence has made life better for those he has met. But it seems Howard's friends would've prospered quite nicely without him, in fact probably better. So forlorn the angel himself seeks the balm of the final embrace. 

When Howard the Duck #32 finally showed up on the racks it had been seven years since a color Howard title had been published. What prompted it? The movie coming from Lucasfilm, the folks who brought you Star Wars. (More on that later.) In this story we meet Howard (still wearing pants) when he meets Ceci Ryder, a lovely female trucker. In a story by Steven Grant, Paul Smith and Vinnie (Is-there-a-character-I-have-not-yet-inked?) Colletta the duo head underground to find a culture dedicated to reaping financial benefit from America's beautiful resources. It's led by a were-gopher and the pair a just able to survive and perhaps slow down  the scheme. When it's over Howard's back in Cleveland. 

Howard the Duck #33 sports a handsome Brian Bolland cover which makes me think of Uncle Scrooge. Over six months after the last issue the shine on Howard the Duck is tarnished after the movie doesn't deliver on the sales expected. This story is most interesting though for one reason in that it's the work of Val Mayerik, Howard's other creator and the first time I know of in which he worked on the character with a writer of his own choosing, a friend of his named Christopher Stager. In the story Howard gets rich by winning a contest and Beverly returns but leaves again when his personality is even nastier than it was before when he was mostly broke. A Dr. Clive offers Howard a chance to make more money and get companionship with his scheme to create life in the form of a female talking duck. But it costs Howard all his money and when she turns out to be a big-mouth spendthrift he takes off hooking up with another Walt Disney lookalike to skip out of town. The story is framed with Howard being interviewed on tell-all television show. It's not the greatest story really, though I found Mayerik's artwork quite fine. 

Now skip forward four years to 1990 and Howard shows up again in the hands of Steve Gerber. This time it's as a guest-star in the pages of the offbeat Sensational She-Hulk series (issues #14-17) featuring artwork by Bryan Hitch and Jim Sanders III. She-Hulk looks fantastic, but Howard seems a little off model to me and his pants are gone again. It's wild misadventure with She-Hulk and the former Blonde Phantom along with Howard battling the schemes of Dr. Angst who hasn't been seen since the Howard the Duck Treasury many moons before. He's causing cosmic trouble by bringing to Earth an endless array of mini-universes all trapped in tiny box-like shapes. Howard and She-Hulk end up in one dubbed the Baloneyverse and it gets worse from there. Dr. Angst escaptes jail and seeks out his old partners Tillie the Hun, Sitting Bullseye, The Spanker and The Black Hole. All of them have had a 90's redesign and they battle a She-Hulk who has gone gray and savage before becoming merely gray. The action of this hair-raising yarn is told by a big bald guy dubbed "The Critic" from a sect of the cosmic Watchers. He also gets involved together the heroes with the help of the Golden Age anti-hero The Terror stop Angst's plans. This is mostly a She-Hulk story (as it should be) and Howard is present but not so much signficant. 

When next we meet the Duck he shows up in the back of the venerable reprint comic Marvel Tales co-starring with another animal hero, namely Spider-Ham. Written and drawn by Paul Kupperberg the story is only a few pages long and the characters meet but do little to stop a plot by Duckter Doom. Frankly it left me confused. 

When next we encounter Howard it's now 1996, nearly a quarter century since his unexpected appearance in Adventures in Fear #19. The story is drawn by James Fry and Chris Ivy in that hyperbolic style so commonplace in the 90's and Steve Gerber steps up to write what I assume is his final Howard the Duck yarn. 

A lot has happened since Gerber began writing Howard the Duck stories. At one point he left Marvel and embraced the Direct Sales market with projects like Destroyer Duck, a character and debut comic book created  as part of Gerber's lawsuit to gain some ownership in Howard. It's a convoluted story that and to read about it in detail I recommend checking out this link

Anyway in this story from Marvel we have an unofficial crossover with Howard and  Spider-Man and the Circus of Crime with Rich Larsen's Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck. It's a ramshackle story featuring some of Gerber's more offbeat contributions to the MU such as the notorious Elf-With-A-Gun and the Turnip Lady. KISS even gets a quick cameo of sorts. Sadly it's mostly a stunt with shadowy figures in Spider-Man Team-Up #5 and Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1 meeting but not officially. For more on this check out this link.  

The collection wraps up with a bevy of black and white short stories by Steve Skeates and Pat Broderick done for Crazy Magazine back in the 70's. Frankly they aren't very good and not really in the tone of Howard as far as I can tell. Broderick's art is fine though. Also we get a cover gallery featuring Marvel's adaptation of the ill-fated movie among other things such as Howard's appearance in Marvel Age. 

And that as they say is that. I'm closing my series of posts with a bit of art by Frank Brunner done for  Gerber's Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck one-shot which gives the world Leonard the Duck and echoes the delightful cover he made for Howard the Duck #1 so long before. My closing thoughts are really questions. Why is the Howard the Duck movie regarded as being so terrible? I think the answer is that it didn't make a beaucoup of money as anticipated so it must have been bad. It's often ranked as among the worst movies ever made and that's just rubbish. It didn't do well in the marketplace and it has deficiencies but it's not that bad. Also why is Howard the Duck when he appears in later Marvel productions only identified as created by Steve Gerber when Val Mayerik even by Gerber's own admission technically created him. Sure they both deserve credit and since it's just a matter of credit and not profits why doesn't it happen. I'm unclear. All in all Howard the Duck was a wonderful comic with great artwork that caught a moment in the zeitgeist which elevated it. Being part of the Marvel Universe means never having say you're really dead, so I expect Howard will always return. So get down with that!

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  1. I sort of sped-read your post, RJ, so forgive me if you've already mentioned this, but Howard had to be redesigned because Disney objected to his resemblance (they alleged) to Donald. Ironic that Marvel is now part of Disney, eh? For an alternative cover (which was actually the original) see my post entitled 'Seeing Double: The Story Behind The Cover To The Sensational She-Hulk #14...' You can use it if you like.

    1. The collection includes Bolland's cover art as well as the explanatory info that went out with it. Enjoyed reading your post by the way. As for Disney, I fear that sooner than later we will ALL be sucked into that soul-sucking darkness spawned by Steamboat Willie.

  2. I enjoyed these HTD posts. 
    Sorry if I missed you mentioning this elsewhere -
    Gerbers final work on HTD was in the MAX series, a solid read with a good amount of Vertigo comics satarzing.
    The conversation between Howard & God in the final issue has some of my favorite writing by Gerber.