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 know I read the Howard the Duck MAX series when it was out, but I don't remember a thing about it. 

I read the original run, including the black-and-white issues. While everyone sings Steve Gerber's praises and say he's the only one who captured Howard, I think that's mostly but not totally true. I don't think everything Bill Mantlo did on the book was terrible.

Nevada struck me as a thin reed to hang a series on from a book that should never have seen the light of day: Steve Gerber's "Dreaded Deadline Doom" issue, which was 20 pages of making excuses for why he didn't write a story that month.

Not a fan. 

Yeah, I agree.

I think, on Howard, Gerber was doing [Marvel imprint] Epic before Epic existed. Howard could easily be a stand-alone satire wholly separate from the Marvel Universe proper. It's kind of an odd duck (pun obviously intended) in the respect that it is in continuity.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

It has been said of Spider-Man that his popularity (a portion of it, anyway) can be ascribed to his full facemask. The theory goes that, because his entire face is covered, it’s easy for the reader to imagine himself Spider-Man. I don’t know about that; Peter Parker is shown often enough to squelch that particular idea as far as I am concerned.

I've always thought that theory was entirely poppycock, like the notion Charles Xavier and Magneto were written as avatars for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. or kid sidekicks are there to give the reader somebody to relate to, or that Shang-Chi's mother needed to be white so readers could relate to him (as if they couldn't if she wasn't).

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Yeah, I agree.

I think, on Howard, Gerber was doing [Marvel imprint] Epic before Epic existed. Howard could easily be a stand-alone satire wholly separate from the Marvel Universe proper. It's kind of an odd duck (pun obviously intended) in the respect that it is in continuity.

Sure. I've always thought of Howard the Duck as an indie/underground comic that somehow got published by a major publisher. 

This time through I've taken note of how much fun Gerber has with the language.

For example, this bit of narration...

"Leaping from parapet to parapet paripatetically, the daring assassin flees the scene."

...or this bit of dialogue...

"Okay, hate-crazed and maddened--docile yourself and spill!"

"Huh? 'Docile' isn't a verb...!"

Jeff of Earth-J said:

"Okay, hate-crazed and maddened--docile yourself and spill!"

"Huh? 'Docile' isn't a verb...!"

That's one of those odd bits of dialogue I've read out of countless thousands of comics that still stays in the brain. 

I'm going to try to work it in to my everyday vocabulary, as I have with "cromulant."

Might come in handy during Thursday's debate.

Let's talk format...

ESSENTIAL: When I read HtD for the first time, it was (mostly) in "Essential" format,which includes Annual #1, Treasury Edition #12 and G.S. Man-Thing #4-5 as well as #1-27. What it does not include is Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1. What it does include instead is the new splash page introducing HtD from the TE, plus 11 pages excerpted from Fear #19 & Man-Thing #1. That's really the way to go if you are gong to include any of the proto-HtD material at all. The bulk of this volume is drawn by Gene Colan, and his work looks great in b&w. But honestly, Howard benefits for color.

TRADE PAPERBACK: This is the format I'm reading now. It includes Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1 in their entirety (unnecessary), G.S Man-Thing #4-5 and the TE, plus #1-16. 

MASTERWORKS: This hardcover edition (Feb 2021) includes everything from the tpb except #15-16 and the annual. Why would someone pay almost twice as much (SRP) for two fewer issues? I don't know, but volume two will "read" better. The annual is the beginning of a new arc, and #15 carries directly on from the annual. #16 is the infamous "text" issue, and #17 carries on directly from #15.  The tpb ends with the text issue, and the story begun in #15 is split between volumes. 

The only Marvel Essential I bought was the HtD volume. There is a panel I noticed (still haven't re-read the whole series) that sticks in my mind. Some other-worldly image was printed (in the original comic) in color ink with no black linework. Showing poor editorial attention, this image is just empty white space.

They should have caught it and inserted a black and white image made from scanning an original of the comic. The scan could easily be converted to black lines. I guess they just dropped out all of the color and sent it to be printed. Almost pure profit.

THE ESSAY ISSUE: I'm still not quite sure what to make of the "text" issue. the very last thing in it is a "fan letter" Gerber wrote to himself. I pretty much agree with what he said in that.

Now, as threatened promised...


Fear #19 & Man-Thing #1: "Proto-appearances"

G.S. Man-Thing #4-5: "Frog Death" and "Hellcow": the true beginning

#1. Frank Brunner art; first appearance Beverly Switzler; Pro-Rata; Spider-Man

#2. Frank Brunner art; Space Turnip; McDonalds; Flash Gordon; War of the Worlds; Bev & Howard in bed together; Kidney Lady; first text page

#3. John Buscema art; Bruce Lee; Master of Quack Fu

#4. Gene Colan art begins; first appearance Paul Same; Sixth Sleeper; hard tyo pin down targets of satire this issue; education; [can't read my notes]

#5. Needs job; comics; children's TV; time payments; pro-wrestling; Kidney Lady returns

#6. Horror comics; cults; gothic novels (romance and horror); leads into...

#7. Cookie Creature (Sesame Street?); Dreyfuss Gultch; Howard;s Presidential campaign; political affiliation: All-Night Party

Treasury Edition - Defenders; Sitting Bullseye; Tillie the Hun; Spanker; Black Hole; Dr. Angst

#8. Presidential campaign politics; anohter text page

#9. Foriegn election interferance (Canada); Sgt. Preston Dudley, RCMP; Pierre Dentifris (a.k.a. Le Beaver)

#10-14. Nervous Breakdown; first appearance winda wester (#11); Kidney Lady (#11-12); Kiss (12-13); Joon Moon Yuc (#13-14); Hellduck (#13-14)

Annual #1 - "Theif of Bagmom" (Val Mayerick art)

#15. First appearance Dr. Bong; "Voyage of the Damned" begins.

#16. All text issue

#17-20. Dr. bong

#17. Yellow journalism; Rolling Stone magazine; Alice Cooper

#18-19. "Howard the Human"

#19. Women and relationships

#20-21. Sudd and SOOFI (Carmine Infantino fill-in #21)

#22-23. Star Wars (Val Mayerick art)

#24. Howard contemplates recent events; Paul and Winda's 10-issue cruise on S.S. Damned arrives

#25-27. Circus of Crime (Dr. Bong sub-plot)

#28-29. Fill-in issues

#30-31. Bill Mantlo and Gene Colan; last color issues; Iron duck; Dr. Bong sub-plot resolved.

I must say, having a better idea of what to expect, I enjoyed these issues more the second time through than i did the first. Randy doesn't count beyond #27 (the last Gerber issue), but I count #30-31 as they're drawn by Colan and tie up the sub-plots. Also, even though Howard the duck is Steve Gerber's baby, I think the (two) Mantlo issues are as good as the Gerber ones. I'm going to stop read Howard the Duck at this point, although there is another thread discussing the b&w series and non-Gerber issues. If I ever return to this character, you'll be the first to know.

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