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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First I feel like I had an epiphany about the nature of Howard and Beverly's relationship in terms of "are they lovers or not"?

The answer is both yes and no.

I feel like you have two people (yes, for all intents and purposes I consider Howard a person, just one from another dimension where anthropomorphic ducks are the dominant spe ies) who are as much in love with one another and need one another in ways many cannot understand.

The barrier, however, is that they are two different species with no sexual attraction to one another.

I believe that if, somehow, Howard could control his transformation into human that he and Beverly would be having sex very, very frequently. One will note that during the period of time Howard was human he instantly had sex with another woman -- which I think was also used as a wedge between Howard and Beverly by Dr. Bong, but that's another issue and I'm getting ahead of myself.

Getting back on track, we see that the two spend a lot of time together (in fact, I think those times when Beverly neglected work had more to do with not wanting to be away from Howard than a lack of interest), sleep together, etc. I think they spend a lot if time cuddling and are very, very comfortable with one another's bodies.

I also don't think either has any issues with the other being sexually attracted to others, only in that it cuts into their time together. I doubt Howard is the slightest bit upset about Beverly's indiscretions with Pro-rata, Paul Same, or Turnip-man. During the MAX series, she openly flaunts her sexual interest in other men several times with little but a shrug from Howard. In fact, the only time we see him display jealousy is during his nervous breakdown.

So, in conclusion, my theory is that while Howard and Beverly are extremely close, perhaps in ways that aren't good or healthy, they are not sexually active with one another. In fact, I my opinion, this resolves my rejection of the activities in the black and whites (inasmuch as Gerber didn't write them) as I now accept those specific scenes as some type of shared fantasy, with which I'm fine.

I am in no way, shape or form done talking about Howard, but I want to keep my thoughts cohesive.

Seems a reasonable enough analysis to me, Randy, and pretty much my interpretation too. I've never read any definitive answer from Gerber himself on the nature of Howard's relationship with Beverly, although I do recall reading that Beverly was largely based on his friend and collaborator on Omega the Unknown, Mary Skrenes.  I also haven't read anything as to how intimate Gerber's relationship with Skrenes was -- whether it was romantic or purely platonic or a bit of both.  I've had plenty of purely platonic relationships with women I was very attracted to but which never advanced to genuine romance (or even gratuitous sex, for that matter!).

Randy Jackson said:

First I feel like I had an epiphany about the nature of Howard and Beverly's relationship in terms of "are they lovers or not"?

The answer is both yes and no.

Thanks Fred. There's a lot more on my mind butit needs to come out slowly or it will sound like gibberish.

I did a little quick discreet research and, tonputnit delicately, assuming that Howard is constructed at all like terrestrial ducks, then he and Beverly would not be physically compatible, even if they were prepared to go the whole nine yards, as it were.

"Seems a reasonable enough analysis to me, Randy, and pretty much my interpretation too."

What he said.

At the risk of derailing the current action on this thread, having read down the previous page, I did a little research on the newspaper strip, and, while I have not found a full collection of them anywhere, I did run across this site, which shows that someone with a lot of time on their hands may be able to put a complete collection together someday.

All information is useful .

PowerBook Pete, the Mad Mod said:

At the risk of derailing the current action on this thread, having read down the previous page, I did a little research on the newspaper strip, and, while I have not found a full collection of them anywhere, I did run across this site, which shows that someone with a lot of time on their hands may be able to put a complete collection together someday.

A lot of people look at Howard -- in particular in Hollywood and sadly, at Marvel -- and dismiss him as a "funny animal", or certainly as little more than that, but if you feel back the layers Howard is actually quite depressing. Sure there's humor there, but little about Howard is actually funny.

(Tangent: for those of you that didn't know, my degree is in theatre. During my "existentialist" period (freshman/sophomore year) I wrote a mime clown play called Cinnamon the Clown. I thought it was the bees knees because it showed how depressing life really is until I showed it to one of ygd professors in my department who was kind enough to read it and give me feedback. He was straightforward and to the point: "who would want to watch this?"

He was very correct, and Cinnamon the clown was sent out to pasture. And no, there are ZERO surviving copies).

Anyway, back to Howard. Many of the events around him are funny in their absurdity, but if you look at them rationally while they are absurd they wouldn't particularly be funny if they happened to you or someone you know.

Howard was ripped from his own world and unceremoniously drafted into a conflict that had naught to do with him. He was then ripped from that situation into another, but this time with no support or purpose.

He meets the woman of his dreams who also loves him back, but they're sexually incompatible.

He's unable to find any sort of work that allows him to have any dignity (we've discussed the Gonzo the clown incident and I fully agree that had the producers explained the situation properly to all that Howard would have been more than happy to take as many pies in the face as they wanted. Unfortunately, they chose to act like producers).

His "girlfriend" keeps getting attacked/involved with weirdos, and worse she seems to like it (more on this later).

It's almost as if he has a secret enemy who can change reality at will and wants something he has (more on this later too, assuming you haven't figured this out).

So yeah, try living Howard's life. Nothing funny about it at all.

(Recounting all this reminds me of the character Loony Leo in Astro City, but his issues are very different).

So, back to the 200 pound supervillains in the room, let's talk about the person who I think may have much more influence over Howard's life than anyone, namelyh Dr. Bong.

Yes, his name and origin is a joke. However, he seems to be able to rearrange reality on the same level as the Scarlet Witch. You cannot take him lightly.

His fixation is Beverly, whom he doesn't really want as a lover but rather as a trophy. The problem is, Howard has that trophy.

I am of the opinion that the vast majority of the negative and absurd things that have happened to Howard have all been attempts to drive a wedge between Howard and Beverly, either by consistently placing distractions in Beverly's way (I think pretty much every man she's slept with since meeting Howard (including but not limited to Turnip-man, Winky-man, the country singer with the All Night party plus various and sundry people she "entertained" at th convention), or by creating situations so absurd (the kidney lady, Count Macho, the giant gingerbread man, Le Beaver) that Howard has a nervous breakdown and Beverly abandons him. Only problem issues so devoted he has to take direct action.

To put it another way, if not for Dr. Bong, Howard would probably find his life pretty mundane.

I have not watched all of the MCU. In fact, the last one I saw was Thor: Ragnarok. I haven't seen the final Avengers movies nor anything else recent. Heck, I haventg watched the Tom Holland Spider-Man yet. I have no idea olif there are plans for a Howard solo movie or not. (as I understand it the Howard that has beenshowing up from time to time is the 1986 version, which astounds me, but Hollywood gonna do what Hollywood gonna do

However, if they did properly want to reintroduce Howard to the MCU, this is how I'd do it.

Firstly I'd adapt the stories from Man-thing to explain why Howard is in the Marvel Universe. However, I would do it as a 90 second montage. Quick, done, let's move on.

I would then adapt Pro-rata to see how Howard met Beverly. Once again, minimal focus on the supervillains and shenanigans from Pro-rata,

put the focus on the interactions between Howard and Beverly.

I would begin exploring the mundane relationship between Howard and Beverly, but within the trappings of the Marvel universe. For instance Beverly comes back from buying groceries and we see the Sky first on fire, then full of boulders. Or Howard comes back from job hunting covered in snow but we see it's July by the calendar.

I'd the do another montage showing various situations they get into(Turnip man, winky man, etc.

Then somehow they find out about Dr. Strange. They go to see him and of course the Defenders and Dr. Angst. It would Howard refusing Stranger's offer to send him home seems obvious place to end the movie, but I'd actually continue on and adapt #24, even though it's not part of this storyline, it still fits in well here, plus outside of the opening mintage I'd leave Dakimh et al out of any potential movie. Instead we see Howard wandering around Cleveland to keyed up to go to sleep, wondering if he made the right decision with Dr. Strange, etc. Maybe he'd have an encounter with a talking dog from another universe that's contemplating suicide. In the end, he goes home to Beverly, credits roll.

After credits scene, we meet the kidney lady.

My creative side would want to treat the fantastic and absurd things happening as if they were the mundane, and place the difficulty with Howard and Beverly's relationship at the forefront.

A second movie would be similar to the first, covering Howard's run for president, walking away from Le Beaver, having his nervous breakdown, and eventually reuniting with Beverly after possessing the Son of Satan's powers destroy all the illusions around him.

Post credits scene would be a bell being struck by a clapper.

Third movie would be all about Dr. Bong as he makes his move. Beverly sacrifices herself to Bongfor Howard's Sake, Howard becomes human briefly. End movie. Dr. Bong wins...for now.

If a fourth movie was desired, adapt the entire Circus of Crime arc, although I personally think by then it would be pointless.

Anyway, that how I'd do it. Focus on the drama between Howard and Beverly rather than thd usual "big happenings" going on in the MCU. I doubt itg would sell very well, however.

As a teen in the '70s, I loved Howard the Duck, and although I wasn't familiar with existentialism at the time, I think part of HtD's appeal was his existentialist angst as much as the humor.  Based on the bulk of his comics writing, Gerber seems to have been filled with angst at the absurdities of life to a greater extent than any other comics writer I'm aware of, at least in mainstream comics.  Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar certainly expressed much angst as well in their comics. I've had that feeling of angst myself since before I was a teen-ager, trying to make sense of the world and gradually coming to the realization.that much of it pretty senseless, that the behavior of a lot of people is absurd, that horrible things can happen for no rhyme or reason and we just have to make our way as best as we can.  During Howard's mental breakdown sequence, Gerber made the point that even in his own world of ducks, Howard felt alienated and adrift.  He was an outsider even before he fell to our Earth.  Gerber didn't deal with that in depth, but that seems to be the primary reason he ultimately declined Dr. Strange's offer to send him back to his own world.  Howard's problems didn't stem simply due to being trapped in a world ruled by naked apes but from being trapped within himself wherever he was.  And even if his relationship with Beverly couldn't be consummated sexually, at least it was a relationship.  Of course, for the sake of stories, Howard couldn't be left to have a "happy ever after", so Dr. Bong was conjured as a personification of the forces working to keep Howard & Beverly separated.  It's the fate of any characters trapped in an ongoing series or even in limbo awaiting a comeback to never have a true "happy ever after" as some writer is anxious to make their lives miserable again in a new story.

I know Dr. Bong was intended to be ridiculous, but he actually displays the peers and abilities of a God. Much like Molecule Man and a few others I could name, I could easily classify Bong as one of the most powerful forces in the Marvel Universe. It's a good thing he's so fixated on Howard and Beverly or he could be truly scary, same as Wanda.

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