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.


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’ve been out of town the last two weekends in a row, and weekends are when I do the majority of my comics reading. But I read through HTD #11 last night and through page 15 of this discussion today, so it’s time for me to resume my ex post facto participation.

On Treasury Editions: Along with Jack Kirby’s adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I number HTD among the best because it presented original material. I didn’t buy/read it until inspired by the 2002 “MAX” HTD series, though. If I’d’ve waited just a little longer, I could have read it in the “Essential” edition (as I am now) in glorious black and white. Colan’s art looks so good in black and white!

Randy Jackson: “One tends to forget how quickly Howard's campaign for President elapsed. It's really covered by only three issues.”

Exactly! (I was going to make the same point myself.) These days, it would occupy at least 12 issues in real time… much like the “election season” itself. I have to remind myself that 2015 is not an election year.

Fred Hill: “Dave Sim did a far more drawn out storyline of Cerebus running for President.”

It’s hard to look at Cerebus (especially the early issues) without seeing the Gerber/HTD influence.

ClarkKent_DC (on creator-specific characters): To my mind, it's a matter of finding the right creative team, with the right vision for the property. I don't believe that's impossible with any given character. Not even Howard the Duck.

I tend to agree. How about Dave Sim?

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Colan’s art looks so good in black and white!

I agree. This is probably because he used so much shading. The shading and the color sometimes fight with each other. I can't site the locations, but I think there were a couple of places in the Essential where an image just wasn't there because it was originally rendered in only color ink. That should have been dealt with in production.

In the case of Cerebus, Sim legally owns the character, having started up his own company with his now ex-wife and her brother, but all the characters he created for Aardvark-Anaheim are his.  I didn't notice the series until after it had already been around for a few years, but while looking around in a comics shop one night in 1983 I came across one of the Swords of Cerebus collections and decided to give it a try and wound up loving it and as soon as I could got the other collections and all the back issues I could find and afford.  I didn't stick around for the entire run, but have most of it in either floppies or the "phone-book reprints" up to about issue #200, long after the series had become far more of a laborious chore to get through than a fun read, and Sim's religious and political views, which I found ludicrous, overwhelmed the series.

Didn't both Gene Colan and John Buscema use a lot of washes on their black and white work? A wash doesn't reprint all that well.

Regarding Marvel Treasury Edition #12 (p.11), a commentator on the issue at the Supermegamonkey website argues Black Hole was a shot at Nova and makes a strong case. If the gentleman is right the "Black Hole sucks" line is mean meta-commentary on Nova, which sounds right. Red Wolf and American Eagle (who reportedly was originally going to appear in 1976) are possible alternative models for Sitting Bullseye.

"A World He Never Made!" was the cover title of Giant-Size Man-Thing #3. This has a fantastically good Gil Kane/Klaus Janson/John Romita cover showing the Man-Thing passing through a hole into another universe, giving the phrase the same double meaning it has with Howard.

Apparently the title is from Alfred Edward Housman's poem "The Laws of God":

"And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made."

Thanks: I didn't know that. Another thread on the board notes that "A World He Never Made!" was also the title of Silver Surfer #10.

I read issue #12 last night and up to p. 18 of this discussion just now.

“Duck’s Head Soup” is probably a reference to the Rolling Stones’ album Goat’s Head Soup.

Randy said: “This particular issue contains little to no humor…”

Gerber certainly has a unique voice, but I see a lot more absurdity than parody so far.

Dave Sim did do a HTD pin-up in one of the b&w issues.

There would be an ambitious reading project: 300 issues of Cerebus.

For some reason Marvel back then thought readers were studying poetry. Like Roy Thomas printing Ozymandius by Percy Bysshe Shelley when Ultron-5 was destroyed.

I liked the literary allusions even if I didn't recognize them as such right away and certainly wasn't studying poetry, and while I had no idea who Shelley was when I read that quote in the Treasury Edition reprint, it intrigued me enough to want to check out the poem itself and find out more about Shelley.  And as best as I can determine the "world he never made" was a variation of a quote from  a poem by A. E. Housman:  "And how am I to face the odds of man's bedevilment and God's? I, a stranger and afraid in a world I never made." (from the collection Last Poems, first published in 1922).  As an adolescent reading HTD in the '70s I couldn't make sense of the phrase but having read the source that inspired it I can finally suss it out and it seems perfectly apt.

I knew who Shelley was as a kid without reading any of his poetry because horror books kept mentioning his wife wrote Frankenstein.

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