Jul 18, 2018

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1239: Howard the Duck #5, September 1976


(Apologies for the delays. It's marking season.)

It's fitting that today's issue is the last of the series I'll be looking at for a bit, and Howard and Bev finally get sick of Cleveland and hit the road. But not before Howard engages in an attempt at becoming some kind of star. He tries radio, television, and, finally, wrestling. I think a contemporary telling of this would see Howard trying to become a YouTube star, or start his own Bachelor-style reality show. Inevitably, nothing works, which perhaps should have been seen as a prophetic moment for the producers of the film version of Howard in the 1980s.

The impetus for this brush with celebrity is the strange couple's poverty. They can literally only afford a single chocolate bar at the beginning of today's story. It's not something we very often see treated in mainstream comics, especially superhero ones, the struggle to make ends meet in contemporary(ish) culture. Howard and Bev wrestle with this throughout the run, and perhaps are our first real jab in HtD at the state of the United States. Mr. Gerber is quite angry about a lot of things. He's going to use this duck to tell us all about them.

More to come...

Images of Supreme - The Supreme Posters - #19, September 1994 - Sam Liu and Jonathan Sibal

Jul 17, 2018

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1238: Howard the Duck #4, July 1976


One of the great things about this series and Man-Thing is the supporting cast that Mr. Gerber develops. Today we are introduced to Paul Same, who becomes the somnambulent Winkyman. Howard and Bev struggle to keep him out of trouble, even though he's doing some good.

There's a weird cognitive dissonance that I think most people who encounter Howard undergo. While the running gag is the random "You...you're a duck!" from a stranger, most people simply look and then continue on with their lives. Let's remember, of course, that HtD is firmly ensconced in the Marvel Universe, albeit a very, very weird part of it. For me, this is where Steve Gerber begins telling the Howard stories he wants to - he's done the guest star, he's done the parodies of his fellow writers. Now is time to get on to being strange, and being an astute cultural critic too, of course. Indeed, today's issue takes aim at the arrogance of art culture, something well on the minds of many comics creators in the 70s.

Howard and Bev are victorious, Paul is cured of his nighttime heroics, and life returns to...normal. More to come...

Jul 16, 2018

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1237: Howard the Duck #3, May 1976


And suddenly Frank Brunner is gone. 70s Marvel was a tumultuous place, especially in the realm of creator rights, and sudden dismissals or spur of the moment quitting were not uncommon. But rest easy, there's some fantastic artists stepping to fill his shoes.

This issue marks the last of the openly satiric of Marvel Howard stories. It begins with a spot-on parody of Don McGregor and Craig Russell's Killraven, and winds up with a parody of Master of Kung-Fu. In three issues, Howard has mocked quite expertly the major genres that his parent company publishes. Now things start to get weird.

More to come...

(Edit: Just realized that it wasn't this issue that opened with the Killraven parody. It was yesterday's. I'm going to plead marking season. My brain aches.)

Jul 15, 2018

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1236: Howard the Duck #2, March 1976


Mssrs. Gerber and Brunner turn their satiric lens on the superhero in today's issue. For me, it's a clear call back to the origin of Green Lantern, in that a mysterious thing from space chooses a particular individual to wield its power, and the hapless fool just acquiesces. I mean, if I found a talking ring (or turnip, in the case of today's comic) sitting in the middle of nowhere, I'm not sure I'd just pick it up and put it on.

Things go horribly wrong, of course. The turnip is actually interested in chaos more than justice, and it's up to Howard and Bev to rescue the schmuck who donned the vegetable helmet.

I love getting write things like that.

The only other thing that really stood out to me here was something that has always resonated for me from the HTD film. Howard and Bev, who don't really seem to have known each other very long, appear to share a bed, and hang around in various states of undress an awful lot. There's a scene in the movie in which Lea Thompson takes a chance on Howard being a good lover, but I hadn't realized that this semi-undressed aesthetic was actually an aspect of the comic as well. It's interesting that something like this could get past the Code.

More to come...

Jul 14, 2018

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1235: Howard the Duck #1, January 1976


We miss one of Howard's appearances, in Giant-Size Man-Thing #5, but it's another one-off. What really gets the ball rolling is today's issue, Howard's first. It's, I will say, a bit of a rocky start. Don't get me wrong: I love this comic. Howard meeting Beverly for the first time, his rage over losing a cigar, his already-cynical response to the cries of "You're a duck!" All the elements of Howard are there. But the series takes a few issues to really get going. Today, we have the obligatory Spider-Man appearance. If you think I'm overstating by calling it that, remember that Marvel so loved having their media darling in every comic that he even meets up with the Transformers in their eponymous series just under a decade after this comic comes out. Like his namesakes, that dude is everywhere.

Today's story parodies the popular sword and sorcery comics that Marvel was publishing around the same time. The genre had a slight renaissance in the 70s, and comics were not immune to its charms. And it definitely is parody. Mr. Gerber's penchant for ridiculous names (the villain is Pro-Rata, the Chief Accountant of the Universe!) makes it's first appearance, and there's plenty of set-gnashing and cynical dialogue that we are certainly led to read this as a playful jab at that other genre that everyone's enjoying a lot. And that's sort of the series, at least for a few issues.

So, good, verging on, but not quite tipping into, great. Do away with the media parody, Howard. Get on to skewering culture. More to come...

Jul 13, 2018

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1234: Giant-Size Man-Thing #4, May 1975


5 months later, Howard comes hurtling back to Earth, and lands in the American city that has most become associated with the foul-mouthed fowl: Cleveland, Ohio. A lot of strange, strange things are about to happen in Cleveland. But, as with the previous comic, today's comic is much more the Man-Thing's story. Howard sort of defeats a "Man-Frog" intent on destroying humanity. That's about it.

The Man-Thing story, however, reminded me why I've often seen Steve Gerber as both a man of his time and a man ahead of his time. Today's issue deals with Man-Thing being drawn to nearby Citrusville by the emotions surrounding the death of a local teen. At one point in the story, the boy's journal is made public. In the comic, rather than have copious text boxes over panels, the boy's story is told in a series of text pages, all illustrated with symbolic accountings of the story. It's a move I've seen Mr. Gerber use a couple of times, often to great effect. He pulls us out of the lull that can overcome a comics reader, in much the same way that coming across a series of comic pages in a novel might ask a reader to think more about the medium within which they're meshed.

The subject of the journal, as it turns out, is the boy's account of having been made to feel ashamed of his body since his earliest memories. Parents and family, teachers, classmates, all of these people end up being complicit in his death, their taunts driving him to find solace in food which, eventually, impedes the working of his heart so much that it one day stops. It's rare to find tales of male eating disorders, and given the era of this comic, it's downright miraculous. Except that Steve Gerber was both a writer of, and before, his time. When one mentions the series Man-Thing, the fact of the title is often met with disbelief and amusement. But Mr. Gerber's run on this series is one of the most astute and artfully-crafted comics I've read. I sometimes think if we just changed the name, people might pay more attention.

There is a part of me that wonders, too, if the body-shaming was in some ways standing in for another taboo societal issue that would certainly not have found its way into a mainstream comic. There are occasional references throughout Edmond Winshed's testament of behaviours that were discouraged by those around him. What one might call more effeminate behaviours, behaviours that would have been associated with homosexuality at the time (i.e., playing with a kitchen or dolls instead of guns). And even if that's simply me reading my through my own lens, the mark of a great piece of writing is that is is open, and receptive, to many different interpretations.

Unwittingly, I think I've just discovered a new favourite comic. I'll add it to the ever-growing list! Wonderful, poignant, everything I look for in a Man-Thing story.

More to come...