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 sometimes wondered if Gerber meant Iris to take over Beverley's role of Howard's companion. It sounds unlikely, since Gerber reunited them later. Also it was Bev who was his companion in the newspaper strip. I guess it's impossible.

I suspect it was Lee's choice to have Kirby's Fantastic Four and Thor runs end on cliffhangers, to increase the likelihood of readers picking up the next issues.

Tomb of Dracula was briefly succeeded by a magazine of the same title, but I never saw it.

I vaguely remember the newspaper strip. Was it original stories or re-purposed panels from the comics?

I've not read it. It featured original stories, but Wikipedia says one story was a retelling of Howard the Duck #4. Gene Colan, Val Mayerik and Alan Kupperberg drew. Marv Wolfman wrote after Gerber was fired.

Incidentally, the blurb title on the cover of #4, "When the sleeper wakes!", is after a work of H.G. Wells's.

The 2002 Howard the Duck MAX mini-series was the first Howard the Duck that clicked with me, and indeed, the first I had read since the original Howard the Duck #1 in 1976. It inspired me to seek out and read all of the back issues of both his color and his black and white series. I remember the discussion on this board of the MAX series when it was new. I remember remarking at the time that this is what I imagine Gerber’s 1970s series would have been like if he had not been restricted by the CCA. I remember calling it the best Howard the Duck ever. (I also remember Randy disagreeing with me.) I do still pretty much feel that way, though. This is only my second read of the series, but it “clicked” with me on every level.

I’m still in a “Howard” mood, though, so as long as it lasts, I’m going to continue reading the “Other Ducks” over in the main forum. Won’t you join me? One final note to Randy: Good job!

Thanks Jeff. I guess it's a matter of perspective. The 20o2 series is good: I just think that the original series was generally better, perhaps because it was more of a new thing, much like watching Monty Python's Flying Circus now doesn't have quite the same impact as it did when it was more fresh. Or maybe that's reversed (I know what I'm trying to say, but I worry I'm not explaining myself well). At the time, there was nothing like Howard the Duck around. Sure, there was Mad and Cracked, but those didn't have the thoughtfulness of Gerber's work, nor the ability to take things in a more serious direction when it was warranted. In fact, the closest thing I can think of that compares would be Cerebus.  There's a feel to Gerber's Howard that's difficult if not impossible to duplicate. While I'm enjoying the recent Howard series, it's not really Howard to me, and I have doubts that there's anyone out there that could write him with the same feeling as Gerber.

One thing I forgot to say above is that I think Gerber's writing was more focused in 2002 than it was in the original series. In the MAX series I never had to guess what he was saterizing and I always got the joke. (I didn't always with the original.) I agree that Cerebus is the closest comparison to what Gerber was doing with Howard.

I'd guess most readers of the original series who were up on other comics, pop culture, and politics could figure most of the jokes (at least I know I did, as a high school kid at the time).  For me, the main differences with the MAX series was that it had an even more pronounced underground feel than the original series (and admittedly in the late '70s it was still several years before I would get ahold of any of the underground comix, including those published a decade earlier.  Even the MAX series avoided the more intense graphic raunchy sex & violence of the hardcore undergrounds, but it was several nudges closer than the original series.  Also, Gerber was that much older and experienced and hadn't lost his edge as happens with too many creative types as they get older.  Maybe because Gerber still retained the mix of compassion and outrage that fueled many of his best works.

I am currently re-reading Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck for the first time (that is, I'm reading it in its entirety for the second time over all). I always enjoy comparing my current opinion to my past self's opinion, and so far I've been jumping back and forth between Randy's original presentation (pp. 1-44) and when I initially joined the discussion (pp.44-47), but I'm getting tired of having to search for this thread every time I finish an issue. To that end, I'm bumping it up to the top. To make it worthwhile for everyone else, not only will I try to present new insights but, failing that, I plan to post a "pocket guide" to Howard the Duck when I am finished. 

Thank you for your indulgence. 

Howard's first appearance was Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1, but that was primarily a Man-Thing story. The first new "insight" I would like to offer is that I need never re-read those two comics as part of a Howard project again. (Man-Thing, yes, but not Howard.) "Frog Death" (Giant-Size Man-Thing #4) provides a better (and more Howard-focused) introduction to the character than him simply walking out of the bushes.

One of my better blog entries is devoted to Howard the Duck (along with Nevada and Howard the Duck MAX). You might enjoy it, Jeff.

Thanks for the heads up, Mark. I will definitely read it.

Got the link Mark? 

Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:

One of my better blog entries is devoted to Howard the Duck (along with Nevada and Howard the Duck MAX). You might enjoy it, Jeff.

"Howard the Duck" is the link. It works for me. I just read it.

I think you hit both the highlights and the lowlights, Mark. I'm not familiar with Nevada. I may seek that out.

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