Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

07 October 2008

Howard the Duck: Media Duckling

Collects: Howard the Duck v. 3 #1-4, Howard the Duck v. 1 #1 (1976, 2007-8)

Released: April 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 128 pages / color / $11.99 / ISBN: 9780785127765

Steve Gerber was, after Jack Kirby, probably the most outrageously imaginative people to ever work at Marvel Comics. Among the many strange (and almost always commercially unsuccessful) ideas he had was Howard the Duck, a duck-like humanoid who found himself in a world of hairless apes: “trapped in a world he never made,” as the oft-repeated tagline said. Gerber used Howard in the ‘70s as an outside observer to drive home his satires and occasionally to break through his own creative difficulties.

It is easy to argue Howard should have been retired after Gerber had a falling out with Marvel over the character; certainly, no one has ever really made Howard seem to matter like Gerber did, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone pulling off the outrageous setups Gerber wrote monthly without seeming cheesy or idiotic. Even when Gerber resurrected Howard for a miniseries with Marvel in 2002, it didn’t quite reclaim the magic.

Howard the Duck: Media Duckling coverBut any character that has been good once is begging to be reused, and into this breach steps writer Ty Templeton and penciller Juan Bobillo. In Howard the Duck: Media Duckling, Templeton seems to have an idea why Howard is so perfect for satire: he can take himself seriously, but not the world of the hairless apes, and the hairless apes take themselves seriously but not Howard. So Templeton uses Howard to fire a scattershot of satire at media, pundits, human rights in the era of Homeland Security, and the Internet. Easy targets, for the most part, but Templeton gives Howard enough surly character to make it amusing.

Templeton also realizes Howard is part of the Marvel Universe but exists uneasily with it; accordingly, the only Marvel characters / concepts Howard interacts with are She-Hulk (a lawyer / gamma-irradiated Amazon) and MODOT (Mental Organism Designed Only for Talking, a creation of Advanced Idea Mechanics). The absurdity practically drips off the page.

I generally like Bobillo’s art, and I’m mostly pleased with his work here. His style is well suited for the book, with the lack of realism allowing him free rein, and he does a good job of capturing the general cloud of chaos around Howard. I suppose what I have trouble with is his design for Howard; oddly, Howard doesn’t look cartoony enough, and he looks like he’s either sick or wet throughout.

As a bonus, this trade paperback includes the first issue of the first volume of Howard the Duck, written by Gerber and with art by Frank Brunner. It’s interesting if you want to know how that series begins, but it doesn’t give the flavor of Howard as much as later issues of that series do. Brunner’s style is smooth and rounded, completely different from Bobillo’s, so the contrast makes Bobillo’s work look a little unpolished.

There’s also the Howard the Duck story from Civil War: Choosing Sides, which is a real treat. Written by Templeton, this amusing story captures Howard registering as a superhuman, despite having no superpowers. Those in charge tell Howard, appropriately enough, they aren’t interested. Roger Langridge’s art echoes Brunner’s quite well.

Gerber died on February 10, 2008, and Templeton dedicated this trade paperback to him.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol (4 of 5)

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