Randy Jackson Re-Reads Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck

With everyone else dipping their toes into the water--and given that lately it seems I'm more snarky than appreciative of comics--I thought I'd dip my own toes into the water with a reading project. So I'll be covering Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck. The comics I'll be covering specifically are (Adventure Into) Fear #19, Man-Thing #1, Giant-Sized Man-Thing #4-5, Howard the Duck #1-27, Howard the Duck Annual #1, and Max Howard the Duck #1-6.

Because of the nature of the comic, I'm also going to attempt to give some background on what was happening in the world when Gerber wrote these stories. We'll see how that goes.

So, let's get started.

(Adventure Into) Fear #19 - "The Land Between Night and Day"
Cover Date: December 1973
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artist: Val Mayerik

As the story begins, the Man-Thing is on a plain where several forces are gathered--WWII era American soldiers, Ancient barbarians, Bi-Planes and Rocket Ships. There's also a castle hanging in the sky. As the forces fight, a bridge of light comes from the castle to the Man-Thing, and the sorceress Jennifer Kale. She leads the Man-Thing up to the castle, but they are pursued by the barbarian army led by one Korrek. The light bridge is dissolved, killing Korrek's companions.  He attempts to attack the Man-Thing, but walks right through him.  He keeps going to attack Jennifer...

And she wakes up from a dream screaming. Her brother and Grandfather come to see what's the matter, then attempt to coax Jennifer back to sleep. Her brother Andy and her Grandfather meet in the kitchen, and her Grandfather is worried that the severing of the psychic link between Jennifer and the Man-Thing might be causing her to have horrible nightmares--and that there might be an occult reason as well.

After they leave, Korrek materializes in the kitchen out of a jar of peanut butter and a butter knife.  He pursues Jennifer and attacks her in her bed.  When her brother and Grandfather turn up, Korrek jumps out the window in retreat. Suddenly Dakimh the Enchanter appears hovering in Jennifer's room.

Dakimh explains about the Nexus of all realities, and how the Nexus is eroding because of construction in the swamp upsetting the balance.  He's there to acquire Jennifer as his apprentice. The two of them disappear.

Meanwhile, Korrek is in the swamp, and he's confused and depressed by his current surroundings. The Man-Thing, drawn by Korrek's despair, approaches.  For some reason, Korrek is happy about this. He attacks the Man-Thing with zero effectiveness. His inabilty to do any harm to the Man-Thing depresses Korrek further. Believing the Man-Thing to be a demon sent to kill him, Korrek surrenders himself, and then...

A talking duck wearing a coat, a hat, spats and smoking a cigar steps out of the brush, lamenting how absurd it is to be stuck on a planet of talking hairless apes.

Back in Dakimh's castle, he and Jennifer are having a discussion when they are attacked by a combination of US soldiers and barbarians.  Dakimh disappears, and the army takes her away by balloon.

Having created an unsteady alliance, Howard and Korrek join together.  Hearing voices, they move towards them, only to find demons battling construction workers.  Apparently the demons have been sent to kill the Man-Thing.

7/10

This is actually a good start to something that would be an ultra-mega-end-of-the-world-24-issue-crossover were it written today, but here it's just the start to a fairly normal Marvel comic epic--albeit one with an anthropomorphic duck.  The dialogue is pretty simple to follow, but there's also the trademark Gerber absurdity as well. Hearing the GI's talking like Sgt. Rock and having F.A. Schist own the construction company just adds a little something extra to the story, and Korrek's transformation from a blob of peanut butter sweetens the deal.

We don't see much of Howard here, but he is definitely part of the story.  I think I'd forgotten about the spats.

Given the normal 3 month turnaround from story submission to publication, this was likely written somewhere around September of 1973.  Here's a few things that were happening courtesy of HistoryOrb.com:

1st - 74-year-old Hafnia Hotel burns, killing 35 (Copenhagen, Denmark)
1st - George Foreman KOs Jose "King" Roman in 1 for heavyweight boxing title
2nd - Billy Martin fired as manager of Tigers
2nd - Netherlands wins hockey world's championship
2nd - Sandra Haynie wins LPGA Charity Golf Classic
3rd - General Walters, ends term as acting director of CIA
3rd - Jerry Lewis' 8th Muscular Dystrophy telethon
4th - William E Colby, becomes 10th director of CIA
5th - "Desert Song" opens at Uris Theater NYC for 15 performances
5th - 1st one-day Cricket international for WI (v Eng) - lose by 1 wicket
6th - NY Times reports almost all Superfectas run at Yonkers, Roosevelt & Monticello from Jan-Mar of 1973 were fixed
7th - Jackie Stewart becomes Formula 1 world champion
7th - Mike Storen becomes American Basketball Association's 4th commissioner
8th - 87th US Womens Tennis: M S Court beats E Goolagong Cawley (76 57 62)
8th - Billy Martin named manager of Texas Rangers
8th - Hank Aaron sets record of most HRs in 1 league (709)
8th - Rebecca Ann King (Colo), 23, crowned 46th Miss America 1974
8th - "Star Trek - Animated Series" premieres on TV
9th - 93rd US Mens Tennis: John Newcombe beats Jan Kodes (64 16 46 62 62)
Baseball Player Hank AaronBaseball Player Hank Aaron 9th - Kathy Whitworth wins LPGA Dallas Civitan Golf Open
10th - Muhammad Ali defeats Ken Norton
10th - NY Jets trade pro footballs leading receiver Don Maynard to St Louis
11th - Chile's President Salvador Allende deposed in a military coup
12th - 2 bettors win largest US Daily Double ($19,909.60 in Detroit)
12th - USSR performs nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya USSR
13th - ABC announces it obtained TV rights for 1976 Olympics
13th - Congress passes & sends a bill to Nixon to lift football's blackout
13th - Syrian/Israeli dogfight over Mediterranean Sea
14th - Indianapolis is awarded a WHA franchise
14th - Israel shoots down 13 Syrian MIG-21s
14th - Pres Nixon signed into law a measure lifting pro football's blackout
15th - Dutch Guilder devalued 5%
15th - Ohio State's Archie Griffith begins record 31 cons 100 yd rushing
15th - Secretariat wins Marlboro Cup in world record 1:45 2/5 for 1¼ miles
Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad AliHeavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali 16th - "Desert Song" closes at Uris Theater NYC after 15 performances
16th - Buff Bill OJ Simpson rushes 250 yards (2 TDs), beating NE Pats 31-13
16th - Kathy Whitworth wins LPGA Southgate Ladies Golf Open
18th - German FR & German DR admitted to UN
19th - Carl XVI Gustaf, becomes King of Sweden
19th - Frank Robinson homers in record 32nd ML park (Arlington Tx)
19th - NL refuses to allow San Diego Padres move to Washington DC
19th - Pirate Radio Free America (off Cape May NJ) forms
19th - USSR performs underground nuclear test
20th - Billy Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in battle-of-sexes tennis match
20th - Willie Mays announces retirement at end of 1973 season
21st - Jackson Pollocks painting "Blue Poles" sold for $2,000,000
21st - NY Mets go into 1st place (at .500) after trailing 12½ games
21st - Nate Archibald signs 7 yr contract with NBA KC Kings for $450,000
22nd - "Little Night Music" opens at Majestic Theater on Broadway
NFL Running Back and Convicted Criminal OJ SimpsonNFL Running Back and Convicted Criminal OJ Simpson 22nd - 20th Ryder Cup: US, 19-13 at Muirfield, Scotland
22nd - Balt Oriole Al Bumbry hits 3 triples vs Milwaukee Brewers
22nd - Henry Kissinger, sworn in as America's 1st Jewish Secretary of State
23rd - Former Argentine President Juan Peron returns to power
23rd - Kathy Whitworth wins LPGA Portland Ladies Golf Open
23rd - Largest known prime, 2 ^ 132,049-1, is discovered
24th - Guinea-Bissau declares independence from Portugal
24th - St Louis Cards Jim Bakken sets NFL record kicking 7 field goals
25th - 3-man crew of Skylab 3 make safe splashdown in Pacific after 59 days
25th - Mets beat Expos 2-1 on Willie Mays Night at Shea Stadium
26th - Concorde flies from Washington DC to Paris in 3h33m
26th - Turkey's state of siege ends (after 2½ years)
26th - Wilt Chamberlain signs with ABA San Diego Conquistadors
26th - Concorde makes its first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic in record-breaking time.
27th - Nolan Ryan strikes out 16 in 11 innings, for record 383 of season
Politician, statesman Henry KissingerPolitician, statesman Henry Kissinger 27th - Soyuz 12 carries 2 cosmonauts into Earth orbit (2 days)
27th - USSR performs nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya USSR
28th - Palestinian Terrorists hijack Austrian train
28th - ITT Building in New York City bombed to protest ITT's involvement in the September 11 1973 coup d'état in Chile.
29th - "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne" by Looking Glass peaks at #33
29th - "We're An American Band" by Grand Funk peaks at #1
29th - Balt Orioles pull their 5th triple play (5-4-3 vs Detroit)
29th - Insurance ind announces auto racers get into more highway accidents
29th - Soyuz 12 returns to Earth
30th - 3rd NYC Women's Marathon won by Nina Kuscsik in 2:57:07
30th - 4th NYC Marathon won by Tom Fleming in 2:21:54
30th - Mel Gray begins NFL streak of 121 consecutive game receptions
30th - Sandra Palmer wins LPGA Cameron Park Golf Open
30th - USSR performs underground nuclear test
30th - Yanks close 50th year at Yankee Stadium losing 8-5, Ralph Houk
30th - resigns as manager

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I started reading HTD with Colan's first issue and I think he was the best artist for the series, but Brunner did some beautiful work as well.  Frog Death was a great first solo story for Howard, landing him in the glory of Cleveland of all places.  I've never even been in Ohio at all, but a bit after I mostly quit collecting superhero comics I did get into Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, which is also mostly set in Pekar's hometown of Cleveland, and by pure coincidence I'm sure started publication the same year as Howard's series.  Reading the wiki piece on HTD, Gerber maintains that the humor in the series came from Howard's existential angst while most other writers, including the director of the turkey of a film known as Howard the Duck insisted it was a all a big joke about a space duck.  I'm inclined to fully agree with Gerber -- if HTD was solely about a space duck grooving in his duckiness and getting it on with a hot human babe, I wouldn't have bothered to buy a second issue of Howard the Duck.  But a duck from space dealing with ridiculous people and common frustrations of life, yeah, that kept me coming back, even before I'd read or heard about existentialism.
 
Captain Comics said:

Ahhhhh, Frank Brunner. Them was the days.

I started reading Adventure into Fear with #10 (OCT72), the first appearance of Man-Thing, through #19, and then followed him into his own titles. I immediately liked Howard, and devoured all his Steve Gerber stories.

I don't have the originals anymore. Reading from the Essentials volume I'm a little disappointed that they butchered the first two stories (Adventure into Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1) into 10 1/2 pages, mostly Howard's portions.

Howard was portrayed as a well-rounded character, sometimes fearful and sometimes heroic, with a knack of stumbling onto weird situations. His mistreatment in the movie was a combination of no-CGI-yet and the general disdain back then for comics by movie and TV directors.

That movie did have a nice cast.

...Will the Gerber'ed period of the HOWARD THE DUCK newspaper strip be looked at here ?

  Collections-wise , I think there were:

  At least 1 mass-market paperback collecting the strip (As I think all of the Marvel newspaper strips of the period received at least one MMPB .) , I suppose colorizing dailies .

  And a was-it-actually-authorized?? album-sized volume , announced as one of a series collecting the entire strip but the only one issued , which was published by a fan-level company , I suppose all in B&W !!!!!!! Balances out . I suppose .

Until you mentioned it, I forgot about the newspaper strip. I only saw it a few times. I got the impression it was a reworking of the comic book stories.

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...Will the Gerber'ed period of the HOWARD THE DUCK newspaper strip be looked at here ?

  Collections-wise , I think there were:

  At least 1 mass-market paperback collecting the strip (As I think all of the Marvel newspaper strips of the period received at least one MMPB .) , I suppose colorizing dailies .

  And a was-it-actually-authorized?? album-sized volume , announced as one of a series collecting the entire strip but the only one issued , which was published by a fan-level company , I suppose all in B&W !!!!!!! Balances out . I suppose .

...I think it did some of that , especially later on , as Gerber bottomed out and Wolfman was brought in to replace him , but not completely .

  BTW , I read somewhere something that indicated that , when in the late Seventies Marvel went on the big push for putting out newspaper strips  , Marvel , at least at first , offered these strips to newspaper editors for FREE . All of them ? Even Spidey'n'Stan ???

  So , there was , at first , quite high initial carriage of them...Then when they started to charge for them , naturally , the carriage went down . (" Carriage " ?)

  This correct ???

 



Richard Willis said:

Until you mentioned it, I forgot about the newspaper strip. I only saw it a few times. I got the impression it was a reworking of the comic book stories.

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...Will the Gerber'ed period of the HOWARD THE DUCK newspaper strip be looked at here ?

  Collections-wise , I think there were:

  At least 1 mass-market paperback collecting the strip (As I think all of the Marvel newspaper strips of the period received at least one MMPB .) , I suppose colorizing dailies .

  And a was-it-actually-authorized?? album-sized volume , announced as one of a series collecting the entire strip but the only one issued , which was published by a fan-level company , I suppose all in B&W !!!!!!! Balances out . I suppose .

No.  I've never read it, and I don't have access to read it. Additionally, I read an interview with Gerber in which he stated that he doesn't think it's canonical, so that's a good enough reason for me to ignore it.

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...Will the Gerber'ed period of the HOWARD THE DUCK newspaper strip be looked at here ?

 

Goofed this up.  Cover date was February 1975.

Randy Jackson said:

Giant-Sized Man-Thing #4 - "Frog Death!"
Cover Date: May 1975
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artist: Frank Brunner

Giant-Sized Man-Thing #5 - "Hellcow!"
Cover Date: May 1975
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artist: Frank Brunner

Howard is sitting forlornly in a jail cell. Commisioner Gordonski (yup, that's right) comes to interrogate him. Apparently, none of the police can figure out the midget in a duck suit. The commissioner tells Howard to take off all of his clothes, but is flabbergasted when he can't find a zipper. He runs away and tells the officers to let Howard go as he doesn't want the papers to find out that his officers "booked a duck".

The scene shifts to the farm of one Jubal Brown. He's walking around his farm when he encounters a cow wearing an opera cape.  Assuming it's a stray, he goes to make room in the barn for the cow, only to be attacked by the one and only...HELLCOW! Having drunk her fill, she transforms into a...flying cow and heads towards Cleveland.

Howard is reading a newspaper account of the killing, and he realizes it was one of the farm animals that did it. He thinks that perhaps if he can catch the killer, he can get a job with the police. He starts planning a cunning plan.

Meanwhile, we get the origin of the Hellcow. It seems that Dracula wandered by the farm one night and was really, really hungry, so he basically attacked poor Bessie and infected her with vampirism. Bessie has apparently been chasing Dracula for the last 300 years.

We see Howard walking down the street disguised as a normal human. Bessie, thinking this might be Dracula, attacks.  Howard is surprised that it's a cow, but he recovers quickly. They fight, and Howard is flung through the window of an auto parts store. He grabs a lug wrench and uses it as a cross to keep Bessie at bay. He realizes he needs to kill her, but to grab the hammer to drive a stake through her heart, he has to drop the wrench.  He does so, and after Bessie gets trapped in some tires he stakes her through the heart.

The police arrive, having been summoned by the store's alarm, including officer Tompkins, one of the police who arrested Howard earlier.  Howard eagerly displays his handiwork and identifies Bessie as the farm killer, but the officers take a look and walk away, probably to avoid the paperwork.  Howard realizes he's all alone again.

9/10

This is just a fun little story.  Frank Brunner does a great job of creating the sort of atmosphere one expects from a vampire story, and the events are the sort of thing one expects Howard to encounter. It is a little odd how the police refuse to do anything about prosecuting Howard for breaking into the Auto Parts store, but it's somewhat believable as well.

Presumed date of submission is February 1975.

I felt sorry for the cow. So did Howard if I remember correctly.

Hmm, a bit of unintended foreshadowing in having Howard contend with a vampire cow that was chasing Dracula, as comicdom's # 1 Dracula artist would soon also be comicdom's # 1 Marvel Duck artist (of course, Carl Barks remains the #1 comic duck artist!).  BTW, back on that previous GSMT, Brunner's cover is simply stunning.  Alas I didn't get that mag, having to suffice with reprints, but great cover and contents.  Love the story, but this is the 2nd story featuring a monstrous animal as a meanace, maybe just in keeping with the horror theme of the headliner strip.  But soon enough we'll have the horror of an out of control accountant and a killer space turnip (my dad gave me a plate of sliced turnips once -- I ate one slice thinking it was a potato; that was enough turnips for me).  So far Howard has shown courage in facing Thog's minions, Garrko and the Hell-Cow, but he's also shown to have a heart when he feels bad about, ahem, driving a stake into the cow.  Sort of like when Captain America felt sick about having to decapitate Baron Blood, but in both cases they did what they felt they had to do.  Also, Howard't trying to maintain a positive attitude and find solutions to his problems but keeps getting frustrated due to circumstances largely beyond his control. 

Yes, he did.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

I felt sorry for the cow. So did Howard if I remember correctly.

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